Stitching in the ditch on a Friday or any other night…fun! 🙂
In the past three posts on 1890s styles for day wear, we have shown quite a slew of pictures and commentary that seem to discuss the “X-Silhouettes,” “wasp-waists,” “Gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves” ad nauseum. While this may seem somewhat pedantic, it is really aimed at defining what made the 1890s so different from the prior two decades in terms of styles. At the same time, style doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather is a reflection of the greater society. In the case of the 1890s, it was a time of transformation for women and dramatic shifts were occurring in women’s roles and fashions and styles were quick to mirror these shifts.
In this installment, we will be discussing this a little more while at the same time attempting to provide some of the technical basis for the styles themselves- in short, a look underneath the hood, so to say. 🙂 With that, let’s proceed…
Styles of the 1890s style, whether day or evening, were based on three elements:
Corsetry was the most important in that it defined most of the basic silhouette. During the 1890s, corsets tended to be longer with a more pronounced inward waist bend (i.e., wasp waist) although this is more of a general rule- much like today, there were exceptions in that there were a variety of corset styles to fit individuals with varying body types. The subject of corsetry can easily justify many posts in its own right so we’re not going to get too much into detail but suffice to say, the corset was the core of 1890s styles (and 1870s and 80s for that matter) upon which everything else was built.
Just to illustrate, below are a few examples of early 1890s corsets:
As it can be seen from the above examples, the trend was towards lengthening the corset to cover the hips. Previously, corsets had tended to run shorter in order to accommodate the wearing of a bustle (i.e., “dress-improver”) but with its decline, there was no longer this need (plus the longer length helped to accentuate the wasp-waist look). In the example below, one can see the difference:
Besides corsetry, the gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeve further defined the basic early to mid-1890s style. Essentially, the gigot sleeve was a sleeve with an extreme excess of ease in the sleeve cap.
In the above fashion plate, one can see a somewhat extreme version of the gigot sleeve style. Fantastical? Here’s an image from circa 1895:
And this day dress… 🙂
As can be seen from the above, gigot sleeves came in a variety of styles and could be very large, often using over a yard of fabric in their own right. So how were those large shapes maintained? Here were some of the methods:
Sleeve supports included wire frames, boned undersleeves, or interlinings of various stiff fabrics such as Fibre Chamois:
Finally, we turn to skirts, or more specifically A-line skirts. Compared to their predecessors of the 1870s and 80s, skirts of the 1890s were built on fairly simple lines, consisting of multiple gored panels arranged so that there was more fullness towards the rear.
From the above illustrations, one can see that skirts were just one unit, usually one color with minimal trim; the over and under-skirt combinations common to the 1870s and 80s had fallen out of use had for the most part been superseded although it still lingered on in some instances. Style-wise, times had moved on…
Now, earlier we mentioned that by the early 1890s, the bustle had disappeared and this is certainly true as far as the “cage” or “lobster” varieties. However, there was one exception and that was the bustle pad. Even though skirts were by no means trained to the same extent as before, there was still the need for a pad to help fill the gap at the base of the lower back (anatomically, the base of the lower back dips in slightly) and provide some support for the rear of the skirt. Also, many of these pads also covered the hips, providing further support for the skirt.
We freely admit that the above survey is somewhat repetitious of previous posts, but we wanted to clearly delineate what makes up the essence of 1890s “style.” Often times, people tend to consider the last three decades of the 19th Century as one continuous period for fashion and tend to get the various style elements confused. Each decade was fairly distinct and especially so with the 1890s. In any event, we hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion through Mid-1890s day wear and in future posts we’ll be taking the story further to the end of the decade.
Styles are defined by their silhouette and nowhere is this more evident in the styles of the 1870s and 1880s which were built upon skirts being draped towards the rear and supported by a supporting structure known as the bustle (also known as the tournure). As described previous in this previous posts and others, the size and positioning of the train might have varied but the overall effect was still the same. So how was this achieved? Simply, draping fabric and fastening to the rear only works with the lightest of fabrics, in almost all cases support is required and that’s where the bustle came into play. Bustles varied in styles and shapes and were made from various materials, ranging from ones constructed of elaborate steel cage structures to ones that were little more than a pillow.
Below is a selection of some of the bustle styles that were out there during the 1870s and 1880s:
The above examples show two of the more common bustle styles, the “lobster” and the pillow. The “lobster” style gets its name from its resemblance to a lobster shell and was held rigid by steel boning or reeds.
Here’s a semi-rigid example from the 1870s (probably more mid-1870s):
The above style employed a fabric shell, typically made of a tightly woven cotton fabric with steel boning or reeds. This style was also common during the 1880s:
The above example is interesting in that while it’s similar to the 1870s example, it differs at the top where a large pad has also been installed- no doubt to help create the more sharply defined silhouette characteristic of the Late Bustle Era dresses such as this one:
Here’s another typical example from 1885 that employs an open cage-like structure made from flexible steel bones secured by tape strips:
Steel or reed boning where not the only materials in use as demonstrated by this 1873 example utilizing horsehair padding:
The idea of the bustle creating the dress silhouette can especially be seen from this example:
The example below is especially fascinating in that its shape dates it: late 1870s, most likely circa 1878 – 1880 (although the museum has is labeled 1870 – 1888). Note that the silhouette is slender from the waist to mid-way down and then flares out in the demi-train style that was characteristic of the later 1870s such as with these examples:
The above bustle examples are on the complex side and could almost be considered works of art on their own. However, there were more simple designs out there such as various types of pads:
And there were some other interesting designs:
The above examples are only a small sampling of what was available and no matter what style a bustle came in, its primary job was to support the dress and help define its shape. When we reproduce 1870s and 1880s fashions, we are constantly mindful of the supporting structures that are necessary for wearing these fashions in the most optimal way and they are almost as important as the dresses themselves.