Today’s Fashion Feature

Today we travel back to 1896 for today’s fashion, a combination of cape and evening gown or reception dress.

Here’s a rough translation of the illustration’s description:

Silk brocade skirt with large knots; bodice neckline covered with silk muslin embroidered with pearls and sown with precious stones.

The first thing that catches the eye is the dress, and more specifically, the belt with its ornate front piece. The centerpiece of this dress is clearly the Swiss Waist or corselet belt1The terms “Swiss Waist,” Swiss Belt,” and “Corselet” were often used interchangeably. and essentially was a fitted belt/sash. The dress is constructed from a yellow silk brocade with a floral pattern with large repeats. The illustration only hints at the design and it’s unknown if there was a fabric with this specific pattern. The bodice neckline is covered in an embroidered silk muslin with jewels and pearls. Depending on the number and quality of the jewels and pearls, this part of the dress could cost substantially more than the rest of the dress. 🙂 Here’s are some examples of how elaborate the Swiss Waist or corselet style could get:

John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Wilton Phipps, 1884; Private Collection

Swiss Belt; from The Cutters’ Practical Guide to the Cutting of Ladies’ Garments by WDF Vincent.

And for an extant dress:

Day Dress, 1896-1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.833a, b)

And some closer views of the corselet:

59.40.3a-b_detail 0002

In terms of silhouette, this appears to be either a ball or evening gown, or possibly a reception dress, characteristic of the mid 1890s and the cape would make the perfect garment for wear over gigot sleeves. Unfortunately, there’s no commentary on the cape itself but it’s probable that it was constructed from a lavender/light purple silk velvet decorated in what appears to be some sort of floral trim. Color-wise the combination of yellow and lavender/purple are complementary and make for an aesthetically pleasing combination that fits in for almost any social occasion.

1890s Style- Chartreuse & Black

Today we shift gears a bit and move towards something more formal with dinner dresses. As the name  implies, the dinner dress was a fairly formal dress that was meant for formal dinner gathers (although there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be worn for more informal at-home dinners).1While specific dress terminology such as “dinner dress” or “afternoon dress” or “visiting dress” were used, we suspect that these categories were not as rigidly observed in practice and that there was a lot of overlap between the dress types. Here’s an interesting example of a dinner dress from circa 1894:

Dinner Dress, 1894; Maryland Historical Society Fashion Archives (1978.95.63a,b)

Colore-wise, this dress uses a three-color combination of black, chartreuse, and yellow with black being dominant. The outer and inner skirt are made of a black silk taffeta as well as the upper sleeves and part of the front bodice. The lower sleeves, revers, epaulets, and hem trim  and constructed from a chartreuse velvet which makes for a striking effect, presenting a contrast in luster and fabric textures while at the same time lessening the severity of the black. The yellow silk ruching on the bodice front quickly catches the eye, centering focus on the dress front. Finally, running down the front of the dress is a chartreuse and white floral pattern. Compared to the black and chartreuse, the yellow presents a color contrast that pops. Essentially, the chartreuse and yellow at as analogous colors set upon black which is neutral. Below are some close-ups:

Here’s another view of the floral pattern running down the front of the inner skirt. Also, one can see one of the chartreuse velvet sleeves trimmed with jeweling at the cuff. Below is a picture of one of the epaulets. Note the use of jeweled trimming around the edge and that it’s lined with the same patterned fabric as seen on the front of the inner skirt:

The blending of revers and epaulets is an interesting style feature and variations of this were present in many dresses of the period. The upper sleeves exhibit the leg-of-mutton or gigot style which are accented by the epaulets, creating a pagoda-like effect. Like many dresses that we’ve viewed online, we would love to have examined this one in person and who knows, maybe that chance will come someday.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this! 🙂