The late 1890s isn’t really a time period that embraces my love of pleating, but I found some ways to sneak some in!
Some wisdom pearls need repeating… 🙂
Behold the power of a pleat! It’s not the fold itself, it’s…the understitching. When a pleated ruche is placed in directions that defy gravity, understitching is required. Invisible handwork like this requires me to use a darning needle for (long and thin) so I can sit on the floor with the hem closer to my eye level. For me, using this technique allows me to tack each pleated corner so it stays in place. Why so particular? These diagonal ones in the front will take the brunt of walking, but the piped longer ones on the skirt back and train will flutter, because their hem is free. 🙂
Seaside fashion has always been a theme in 19th Century fashion and a a standard feature in most fashion journals of the time. Much of what’s depicted in fashion plates of the late 19th Century that’s labeled “seaside” are really no more than conventional warm weather styles that could just as easily be used in a variety of settings and there’s nothing really uniquely “seaside” about them and in fact, some seem pretty elaborate for an outdoor setting by the beach. But, fashion is always interesting even if the context is a bit muddied:
The above plate is interesting on a few levels- from the background, it appears that the two ladies are talking to a man in front of what can only be changing sheds, judging from all the clothes on the rail. We suspect that it’s more about the men changing into clothes more suitable for going in the water… Style-wise, we see the Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era in full flower with the dress on the left wearing a Directoire style bodice/coat worn with a trained skirt. The use of vertical lines on the coat/bodice and the horizontal trim stripes on the skirt are an interesting combination that’s not often seen. The dress on the right is a bit more conventional with a polonaise worn over a plain trained skirt. The Polonaise is combined with a matching apron/short overskirt, creating an interesting silhouette. Of course, we speculating here a little and we wonder if this was ever actually constructed.
With the dress on the left, long pleats and outline trim accentuates the demi-train. The cuirass bodice sweeps below the hips, further accentuating the overall silhouette. The dress on the right has a smaller train and instead places emphasis on vertical lines, especially the two revers running along the bodice front.
In the above plate, the dress on the left seems to be a compromise style where the hip bustle and train have not been completely abandoned. Also, the elaborate tassel trim running along the overskirt give the dress a more busy appearance, distracting somewhat from the overall silhouette. The dress on the right follows a princess line, de-emphasizing the hip and waist and placing the focus on the front and lower skirt with a combination of large bows and pleating.
Of course, the above dress styles would work in a number of environments other than just the beach but it must be noted that these are fashion plates, which by their very definition are meant to depict idealized fashions in idealized locations. Basically, they’re more about fantasy and that fantasy in turn generates sales. But in spite of the fantasy element, these plates are an interesting illustration of Mid-Bustle style. One final note- efforts were made to devise more practical beach wear but it was going to be a lengthy process; for more on this, check here.
Even as early as 1876, one can see the transition away from the full trained style characteristic of the First Bustle Era to the Mid Bustle or “Natural Form Era.” This transition was a gradual one, gathering steam until coming into full flower by 1878. One of the best sources for documenting fashion change is through mass media and especially fashion magazines. Of course, these do need to be used with a bit of caution in that often they were ahead of their audiences and not everyone would immediately adopt a new style (even if they had the financial means to do so).
To begin, let’s look at this fashion plate from January 1875 of Le Moniteur De La Mode:
Here we see the full train and bustle style in full flower, especially with the one pictured on the right. And here’s a few more examples focusing on day wear:
Some more seemingly transitional styles- note the bodice extends over the hips with the dress on the right. We’re unable to tell with the dress on the left due to the mantle but the mantle pretty much neatly covers the hips. With both dresses, the bustle and train are restrained, making for a smooth silhouette.
The dress on the right maintains the earlier train/bustle style but it’s a bit tucked in towards the middle which acts to control the fullness. On the other hand, with the dress on the left, we see a hybrid of sorts that also maintains the earlier train/bustle style but then maintains a fairly large skirt volume all the way to the hem- to us, it almost seems that this style is trying to create a modified bell skirt style reminiscent of the 1860s. Not the most flattering style, to say the least.
Finally, with this example, we see another attempt to tighten up the silhouette and place a greater emphasis on a low demi-train. It’s definitely a hint at what’s to come. The above plates, along with others from the 1875 issues of Le Moniteur De La Mode show an interesting mix of dresses: some have the extensive trains and bustles characteristic of the First Bustle Era while others show a smoother, more restrained style although the bustle is still noticeable at hip level.
Moving forward into 1876, we see the near-total elimination of any sort of bustle at hip level and an extension of the bodice over the hips. Also, interestingly enough, we see a number of dresses constructed in a princess line style with no waistline whatsoever. At the same time, we see greater emphasis being placed on the lower skirt and the development of a more complex lower train. Below are some examples from the 1876 issues of Le Moniteur De La Mode:
The above dress is especially compelling with its clean princess line that emphasizes a cylindrical silhouette, aided by the stripped fabric that further serves to emphasize the vertical line. At the bottom, there’s a very simple multi-pleated demi-train. The whole effect is drastically different than what was before.
With the above two dresses we see the cuirass bodice in full flower, completely covering the hips. Both dresses also employ extensive pleating and swagged fabric which accentuates the cylindrical silhouette of the Mid-Bustle Era and it combined with extensive trains (well, we’re assuming for the dress on the right).
And without the swagging and pleating except along the hem and train. The dress on the right have a very elaborate train that’s an extension of the over and under skirts and they provide an interesting contrast both in color and texture. On the right, we see a more simple princess line dress that employs a rust brown and blue patterned overskirt over a plain rust brown underskirt. Both examples have no train at hip level and the train has been pushed to the bottom of the dress. No matter if it’s a princess line or not, the emphasis is on a slender “natural” form that’s been sculpted through corsetry and the right underpinnings. 🙂
Finally, this dress displays all the attributes of the Mid Bustle Era style with very precise, clean lines. With this dress, the strategically placed striped edging delivers the greatest impact and creates a look that definitely reads “18th Century revival”. Christian Lacroix would be proud. We’ll conclude this post by saying that the above commentary is based on a very small sample of fashion illustrations culled from two years of one fashion publication but it’s still compelling to see an evolutionary process happening right in front of us on its pages. We intend to delve into this a bit more and hopefully gain a better understanding about how fashions evolve and change.