Style Analysis- The Early 1890s

When starting out to study any fashion era, it’s easy to get lost in the details- the old phrase of not seeing the forest from the trees comes to mind here. 🙂 But this situation is easy to overcome by approaching things in a systematic manner. To help, we found the following method to be very helpful in approaching l1890s styles.  Some key elements to look for when classifying garments are:

  • Silhouette- What basic shape is the garment or dress (since that is mostly what we are dealing with)? The easiest characteristic to look for is the bustle- is there one? Maybe a vestigial one? Does it have a sharp, shelf-like appearance or is it softer?
  • Skirt- Is it straight or does it have a train? Many formal dresses has some sort of a train, usually extending out from the bottom of the dress (for example the “fan train” or “mermaid tail” commonly found with Mid-Bustle dress designs). Is there just one skirt or a combination over and underskirt?
  • Bodice- Is there just a single bodice or is it a combination of an outer bodice/jacket and an under bodice/vest? Are the sleeve caps extended or blend in with the bodice body? The leg-of-mutton sleeve is an extreme case of this and reaches its height during the 1895 – 1897 time frame (although there were always exceptions).
  • Fabrics- What is the basic fashion fabric? Wool? Silk? Cotton? Some sort of a combination? Woolens were very common for day dresses and especially those meant to be more “practical” such as with the house dress. Cashmere was (and still is) a better grade of wool and of course, silk was used for more finer dresses for wear in public or for some sort of social event. China silk, dupioni, shantung, taffeta, faille, and bengaline were some of the more popular choices for silk fabrics. Brocades and velvets were also employed although often only as contrast fabrics. There was a wide variety of yardage used and one could easily write a book on it.
  • Trims- What sort of trim is there? Knife-pleated fabric along the hemline? Netting? Embroidery? Buttons? The possibilities are almost endless.

The above is only a very cursory review but it provides a good roadmap in analyzing fashion and especially if one is designing their own dress or simply classify a dress.

In this post we’re going to apply the above scheme a bit towards understanding the development of one of the key trends of 1890s fashion- the development of the jacket-bodice/jacket and skirt style. To begin, below are some examples of extant garments from the early 1890s that should give a better idea of what to look for. We start first with wedding/day dress from 1891:

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Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

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Side View

The above was made as a wedding dress and has provenance as such but it also illustrates one of the more typical day dress styles that are characteristic of the period. This dress was obviously meant to worn in public and could have been used for visiting or as a dress to be worn at home to receive visitors; the beadwork gives it a simple elegance. Style-wise, we see that the bodice is acting as a jacket (somewhat) and some sort of shirt-waist or vest was worn underneath (the display mannequin just has some black velvet filler).

Here’s another example, a little more elaborate day dress from circa 1887-1891:

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Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

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Close-Up

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This is clearly a much more fancy dress than the first one but it does share the same over-bodice/jacket style. If you look at the top two pictures carefully, you can see that the fashion fabric is a light brown faille or taffeta. The fabric lining the inside of the collar and trimming each side of the bodice appears to be a peach-colored chiffon and it acts as a contrast to better show off the beading.

Below is another example, this time a visiting/reception dress from circa 1891:

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Visiting/Reception Dress, c. 1891, attributed to Mme. Lambele de St. Omer, No.30 E. 21st St, New York; Smith College Clothing Collection (1985.5.4ab)

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The above dress utilizes a combination of rust-colored silk faille, rust/gold brocade, and a claret-colored velvet. The brocade overskirt skirt is covered with rust-colored silk tails leading down from the bodice/jacket and underneath is a matching silk underskirt. The bodice is styled as a jacket, suggestive of a bolero with its high sleeve caps and wide lapels/revers. The sleeves are made of velvet and contrast with rust-colored silk on the rest of the jacket/bodice. The vest is also made of a rust-colored silk. Also, it must be noted that the skirt does have a small bustle made of spring steel. Besides the classic bolero style effect, we also see the overskirt being topped off with a waistband of the same brocade material giving the appearance of a sash wrapped several times around the waist, giving the effect of an obi found on a kimono. It is interesting that the brocade pattern runs at a 90 degree angle to the pattern on the skirt.

Each of the above dresses attempts to utilize color and trim in different ways. The first dress is a mono-colored and uses the leaf-patterned embroidery to provide a contrast. The second dress uses two different colors- a light brown/khaki color as the base combined with peach-colored chiffon accents covered with elaborate beadwork. Finally, with the third dress, we see the use of three different colors (rust, claret, and gold) in three different fabrics to achieve its effect. The third dress is far more ambitious and it succeeds.

In the above three pictures, we have seen three very different dresses that still share come common style elements. In particular, each dress’s bodice is styled as more of a jacket than a true bodice and it continues a trend that stared in the 1880s and would culminate with the development of “tailormade” walking suits during the mid to late 1890s. While an under-bodice or vest was usually worn underneath, a shirtwaist could also be used. Below are some early examples of the walking suit style:

Redfern, Bodice Jacket, 1892; National Gallery of Victoria- Melbourne (D187-1974)

Walking Suit, c. 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Front Close-Up

Ultimately, all the above dresses feature a jacket and skirt style but each executes it in a different manner and this trend was present throughout the 1890s. Where before dresses tended to consist of a bodice/skirt or princess line styles, they were now supplemented by the jacket/jacket-bodice and skirt style. One of the end results was a style that was extremely practical for everyday wear which reflected women’s increasing involvement in public life.



Fabric Trends- Spring 1890

Fabrics are a major part of fashion and often are the center of focus of a dress design. In terms of style, a fabric could be said to consist of three elements: 1) the fabric’s specific type and construction; 2) the fabric’s decoration (i.e. does the fabric have some sort of decorative motif or is it plain?); and 3) the fabric’s color. This is illustrated in this commentary from the April 1890 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

In the way of dress materials, the newest is a gauze with wide woven stripes in a fabric much more transparent than the ground of the material, these stripes being figured in large patterned designs in the thicker stuff. The effect thus produced is very pretty, and, when the gauze is made up over a colored satin underskirt, the toilette thus composed will be charming.

Interesting, that could be referring to Edwardian styles. 🙂 As for silks, brocades were definitely in vogue:

The newest silks are brocades, having very small sprays of flowers in their natural colors scattered over a black ground. Some of the designs are very tasteful as well as novel, and especially one representing a single stalk of the fuchsia with its pendent blossoms, and another showing one of the crimson clover. These floral designs are repeated on the foulards of the season- snowdrops or ears of wheat being represented on the black grounds, and fuchsias on cream-white or pale silver-gray.

Here are some fashion plates from Peterson’s that help illustrate this a little:

Peterson’s Magazine, March 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, May 1890

And here are some extant examples of garments that incorporate one or more style elements noted above:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.59.20)

Worth, Ballgown, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.11a, b)

 

 

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1890; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2015.688.a-b)

Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Day Dress, c. 1889-1892; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.270&A-1972)

 

 

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)

The above examples are only a small sample but they serve to underscore some of the fashion trends that were underway during the later 1880s/early 1890s.



Taking A Step Back To 1878…

And for a change of pace, we step back a few decades to circa 1878 with this wonderful Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form day dress that’s identified as a wedding dress1This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble”, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/156665. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.:

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Below is a nice close-up showing details of the fashion fabric and some of the details.

Side Profile

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorate effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late 19th Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the 19th Century but only by the very rich.2For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions. 🙂



Doucet & 1890s Style

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century, it was by no means the only one. Couturiers such as Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, and Jeanne Paquin, just to name a few, were in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at Doucet and his take on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet was one of Worth’s leading competitors and like Worth, he utilized a number of marketing techniques that are now standard in the fashion industry to include dressing celebrities (and especially actresses). Doucet’s creations tended to have a softer silhouette, utilizing large quantities of lace, tulle, and chiffon as well as metallics and lame.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

The above ballgown, made sometime between 1898 and 1900, is made from what appears to be a silk chiffon backed by layers of lame. Unfortunately there are no close-up pictures available- it would be very interesting to have a close look at the fabric. With the exception of some tulle at the top of the bodice and leaf garlands on the shoulders, there is no trim and the dress relies on the richness of the materials themselves.

However, Doucet’s designs were not always so “simple”. Here we see one of Doucet’s more iconic work, a ballgown made sometime in the 1898 – 1902 time frame:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Side Profile

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Rear View

Here once again we see the fabric itself as the central focus of the dress style only this time there is an elaborate floral pattern created by leaves and foliage appliques on a gold lame background backed by what appears to be a silk chiffon underlayer. The upper bodice and sleeves are lace the overall effect is of shimmering gold.

So what about day wear? Here’s one example:

Day Dress Doucet c. 1890

Doucet, Day Dress, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC10445 2001-4AC)

The fashion fabric for this dress is a silk crêpe de chine with a stencil print pattern of bamboo stalks and the sparrow motif has been hand-painted separately. The fabric was most likely made in Japan for the export market and is an excellent example of the Japonisme theme that was often utilized by fashion designers during the 1880s and 90s. One again trim is minimal, limited to the hem, sleeves and collar finished off with a silk chiffon fichu.

However, designers could also works against type as with this ballgown that Doucet made sometime around 1890:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890sDoucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Close-Up of Bodice

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Rear View

The use of black and white stripes, artfully cut and blended together (especially on the bodice) reads “modern”, something we would expect to see from the 1950s. The black and white chevrons on the skirt front are especially bold and they immediately draw the eye. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this dress (at least from what I could tell from the museum website) and it raised some interesting questions in regard to provenance- it reads so differently than the majority of Doucet’s work that we almost wonder if this is a dress that’s been mislabeled- it certainly bears further study.

Although we can see two different approaches to design by Worth and Doucet (with a bit of overlap), it’s evident that there was an increased emphasis on making using the dress itself as a canvas for creating the design’s major effect. By this time, the use of trim is completely secondary and does little to distract the eye from the main attraction of the fabric design and this can be especially seen with Doucet’s two very different ballgown designs. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief excursion into some of Doucet’s designs. Stay tuned as we bring you more in the future.



Something New…

Renaissance Revival style of bodice in our collection, circa 1880, with a hand smocked center front inset, silk covered tasseled wrist lacing cords and a surprise scarlet lining for the rear tails with heavy lead weights. She’s a beauty, should we lift a pattern?  🙂

Interior view- the seam finishing is a fascinating study in itself.