1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 3

The high 1890s- that period from 1895 through 1896 when enormous gigot sleeves, acres of lace, and multi-gored skirts ruled the fashion world and evening wear was no exception. In this post, we continue our survey of 1890s evening wear with a focus on ballgowns in particular; also, as noted in the last post, in the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeves trend also affected evening wear but to not as great extent as was the case with day wear.

So, what was the mid-1890s ballgown like? Here’s a brief description from the September 14, 1895 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

To approach the new. ball dress from a technical standpoint is to talk at once of the cut or its skirt. ‘Tis sliced out of taffeta in two straight front and three wedge-shaped back pieces, for in these days of undivided skirt patterns all the fullness goes to the rear. Underneath it Is braced by a lining of stiffly starched muslin and inside up to the knees are mewed a great many overlapping flounces of silk muslin edged with lace or rows of little variegated palettes.

As was the case for daywear, the basic style centered around creating an “X” or hourglass silhouette through a combination of corsetry, gored skirts, and wedge-shaped tops. Gigot sleeves helped accentuate the top but they were used in varying amounts of fullness and in some instances were minimal such as with these examples:

Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1895 Worth

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1895; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2003.288.1-2)

Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1895 Worth

Ball Gown Jeanne Paquin 1895

Jeannie Paquin, Ballgown, c. 1895; Staatliche Museen Berlin (2003,KR 424 a-c)

Evening Dress Ball Gown 1897 Worth

Worth, Evening Dress, 1897; Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation via Europeana (2006.6.0416)

And now for some with more elaborate sleeve treatments:

Evening Dress c. 1895

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.59a, b)

We would be inclined to say that the above dress is more of an evening dress than a ballgown but sometimes the dividing line can be fluid. And here’s a ballgown with a bit more sleeve:

Evening Gown Ball Gown Worth c. 1896 - 1897

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeana Fashion

Doucet Ballgown 1897

Doucet, Ballgown, 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (49.3.26a, b)

From most of the extant examples, it would appear that when it came to mid-1890s ballgowns, their design pretty much followed the general trends of the time with the exception that the sleeves which tended to not be as extreme as was found with daywear. On the other hand, evening gowns (a more general term for dresses that were worn for formal occasions other than balls) tended towards daywear in sleeve style. In the end, it’s logical that ballgowns would diverge some from sheer practicality:- ballgowns placed an emphasis on bare arms and a low cut bodice (a continuation of the earlier 1870s and 80s style), and gigot sleeves worked against this.

It’s easy to get lost in all the details and that especially with evening wear. In the next installment, we’ll delve more into the late 1890s. Stay tuned!

(To Be Continued…)


Fashion Push-Back…1890s Style

Today, it’s often said that the fashion industry has way too much influence over dictating what people should wear and that people are far too willing to uncritically follow the dictates of big-name fashion designers. Commentators further advocate that the fashion consumer needs to liberate themselves from the chains created by the fashion industry and be free to follow their own minds as to what’s fashionable and what’s not as they see fit.

The idea of “pushing back” against the dictates of the fashion is actually not a new one as can be seen in this article in the December 19, 1897 edition of the Los Angeles Times entitled “The Triumph of the Crinoline”:

Sometimes, even in fashions, common sense has her own way and every women is chuckling with glee over the defeat of the great Parisians dressmakers dressmakers who wish to do away with crinolines [the term crinoline refers to stiffening the skirt itself rather than wearing an additional appliance]. Two months ago those great and gifted men, Worth, Doucet, Pingot [Pingat] and their ilk, cut a new skirt with with just four straight seams, actually sloped it in at the foot and left the bottom as limp as a wet moldering leaf. Right royally they ordered this to be worn and the secret leaked out that Greek draperies were to be our models for the coming half-dozen years. With one accord the women have flouted, scorned and rejected the new skirt, and until further notice crinoline, hair cloth, or what you please to use as stiffening, will be work to a depth of six inches at every skirt’s foot.

There is no denying, though, that French ruling as to the length of evening costumes is followed everywhere. Great Is the joy among small women over tho arrival of the train, and their stout sisters rejoice with them, for a train makes long lines and equally fervid self-congratulation should stout women express at the marked advance in favor of the black and white gown.

The outrage expressed above is relatively trivial in the scheme of fashion in general but it’s interesting that it sparked push-back. Could this be one of the dresses in question (or just bad staging)?

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.299a, b)

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Side Profile

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Three-Quarter Rear View

The specific issue raises as many questions as it answers and it bears a little more research just to what the specifics are. But in any case, it still shows that consumers of fashion were not as passive as one would think. 🙂

1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 2

John Lavery Ball Gown 1894

John Lavery, “Miss Mary Burrell”, 1894 – 1895; Glasgow Museums (35.297)

And now we move on to the Mid 1890s when gigot (aka leg-of-mutton) sleeves began to come into its own as a major fashion trend. The gigot sleeve built on the “X” or wasp-waist dress silhouette that had slowly began to take hold in 1890 – 1891. As the decade progressed, the size of gigot sleeves increased to excessive proportions to the point of absurdity as satirized in this 1895 cartoon in Punch:

All joking aside, the gigot sleeve was a revival of an earlier style that was popular during the 1830s (yes, that which is old is new again! 😉 ) and as with its earlier incarnation, sleeve size ballooned to extreme size. Here are a couple views of the 1830s version:

Image result for 1830s gigot sleeve

Image result for 1830s gigot sleeve

Gigot sleeves could be quite large and complex to the point where special structures were needed to support them:


Gigot Sleeves Pattern

Pattern For A Gigot Sleeve

And now, we’ll see some examples as it applied to 1890s evening wear, first with a creation from Worth, circa 1895 – 1896:


The dress is constructed from an ivory colored silk that’s better illustrated below.





And for some detail:

And for another example from 1894:

Evening Dress 1894

Evening Dress, 1894; Cincinnati Art Museum (1996.375a-e)


Evening Dress c. Mid-1890s

Evening Dress, c. Mid-1890s; National Museums of Northern Ireland

Evening Dress c. 1895

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Nordiska Museet

From the above, we have a good representative example Mid-1890s evening dresses. Now, it must be noted that while evening and day dress sleeve styles tended to mirror each other, it was not so strict when it came to ball gowns and in the next we’ll look at this phenomenon further.

(To be continued…)



The Czarina Of Dress – A Look At Jeanne Paquin, Part II

Maison Paquin

Beraud, Jean (1849-1935), Workers Leaving Maison Paquin, c. 1900; Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet.

In our last post, we discussed Mme. Paquin’s early years as a couturiere in the 1890s. However, it was not until the early 1900s that she began to come into her own and in this post, we’ll be taking a look at this period. During the early 1900s, Paquin’s fashion house grew in stature, aided by her husband’s business acumen, she proved to be an expert marketer, frequently utilizing publicity stunts to attract public attention. More importantly, Paquin made an extra effort to cater to her clients’ needs, taking into account their personalities and preferences; this was in contrast to the aloof approach taken by some of the other fashion houses such as Worth and Poiret who tended to operate on the “we know what’s best for you and you’ll like it” principle.

Paquin’s working style was noted at least as early as 1896 as detailed in the March 22, 1896 issue of the Los Angeles Herald:

Ask Paquin to make you a dress, and say “What shall I have?” Does this clever artist recall a gown worn by Empress this or Queen that, or Actress So-and-So, and say such and such a thing “would be pretty.” Not at all. Your figure is taken into consideration in selecting rough or smooth, large pattern or plain goods. Your eyes, hair and skin are considered In selecting the chief color. Then with a roll of the warp printed silk for a cue, Paquin will coil a twist of one color about it. and then another, and the harmony and contrast are decided upon, end when you are clothed in the result of this cogitation you go forth In the nearest degree to a right mind on the subject of dress that you have ever had likely.

In terms of design, Paquin was also solidly grounded, using a combination of color, light, and texture to create dazzling effects. Many of her designs were inspired by Oriental influences or by previous historical eras and many of her designs were novel that combined various fabrics and trim in unexpected ways. At the same time, Paquin was also practical, incorporating elements in her designs to give women greater mobility such as the use of hidden gussets in hobble skirts to allow greater leg movement.

Paquin’s stature was such that in 1900 she was elected as the President of the fashion section for the 1900 Exposition Universelle and later was honored by the French Government with the Legion of Honor in 1913.

Paquin_Worlds Fair_1900_1

Paquin Display, 1900 Exposition Universelle(© Léon et Lévy / Roger-Viollet)


Fashion Sketch For A Ball Gown, Paquin, 1900; V&A Museum (E.334-1957). This was one of a number of designs created by Paquin for the 1900 Exposition Universelle

Below are some representative examples of Paquin’s designs during the early 1900s. First we start with some day wear:


Day Dress, Paquin, . 1905 – 1907; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.27a, b)


Three-Quarter Rear View

69.149.11a-c_threequarter_front 0002

Afternoon Suit, Paquin, c. 1906 – 1908; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1350a–c)

69.149.11a-c_back 0002

Rear View

69.149.11a-b 0002

View without the jacket.

And now for some formal styles such as these two 1895 vintage ball gowns:

Paquin Ballgown 1895

Jeanne Paquin, Ballgown, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2115a, b)

Paquin Three Quarter Rear View

Three Quarter Rear View

Paquin 1895

Jeannie Paquin, Ballgown, c. 1895; Staatliche Museen Berlin (2003,KR 424 a-c)

Looking at the above two examples, they’re essentially the same design only with different fabrics and trims. In terms of design, both are relatively simple although the second one is more elaborate with a beaded pattern continuously running on both the skirt front and the rear skirt/train.

Moving forward to 1900, we see another of Paquin’s designs:

Paquin Ballgown 1901

Jeanne Paquin, Ballgown, 1901; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.32.3a, b)

Paquin- Skirt

Close-Up Of Skirt

Design-wise, we see a continuation of the earlier 1890s style. The skirt and bodice are constructed of an ivory silk satin covered with a beaded floral motif and supplemented by yellow silk velvet ribbons and white lace which all combine to create a three-dimensional effect.

And in 1904, we see a drastic reduction of the train in this evening dress:

Jeanne Paquin 1904

Jeanne Paquin, Evening Dress, 1904; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.39.112.2)

Jeanne Paquin 1904

Side Profile

Unfortunately, examples of Paquin’s earlier work are not abundant to it’s hard to get a complete picture of where she was going design-wise. Compared to Worth or the other leading designers, her designs are relatively simple (and I use this term loosely) but nevertheless betray a certain elegance. In future posts, we’ll be showing examples from later years which reveal some amazing details that set her apart from other designers.

(To be continued…)

1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 1

For a change of pace, we’re now going to take a look at 1890s evening wear. As with  1890s day wear, evening wear styles also were characterized by the “x” or “Wasp Waist” silhouette and, for a brief period during the Mid 1890s, the gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves. Moreover, 1890s evening wear styles were focused on the fashion fabric itself and the minimizing of extraneous trims.

At the opening of the decade, we see see a continuation of later 1880s trends but by 1889, bustle size had dramatically shrunk to little more than a pad, if that. At the same time, the train still remained.

Fashion Plates 1890s

Revue de la Mode, February 15, 1890

From the above plate, we see both an over/underskirt combination as with the dress on the left and a solid one-piece skirt on the right. As the decade progressed, we would see a reduction in the train and a shift to a single gored skirt.

Fashion Plates 1890s

The Delineator, May 1891


Fashion Plates 1890s

L’Art et la Mode, 1891

Fashion Plates 1890s

L’Album des Modes, 1891

With the above three plates, not only do we seen skirts in transition, but also with the sleeves. Pure ballgowns still maintained a minimal strap-like appearance but for other formal wear styles, we begin to see more fuller sleeves, often extending to the mid-arm. However, things were still in a state of flux…

Here’s one example of a somewhat minimalist ball gown, c. 1892:

Evening Dress c. 1892

Evening Dress, c. 1892; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0173)

Evening Dress c. 1892

Close-Up, Bodice

Evening Dress c. 1892

Close-Up Side Profile

Evening Dress c. 1892

Close-Up, Side Profile

Evening Dress c. 1892

Three-Quarter Front Profile

Evening Dress c. 1892

Rear View

With the above ball gown, the emphasis is definitely on the train which is made from a yellow silk satin with a metallic embroidered pattern. The skirt itself consists of an underskirt of yellow silk satin covered by a yellow chiffon overskirt. Interestingly enough, the bodice front and back are of two fabrics: on the back is a silk satin that matches the train and on the front made of the same yellow chiffon as the overskirt.

Finally, here’s one more example, this time an evening dress from circa 1890 – 1891:

Evening Dress c. 1890 - 1891

Evening Dress, c. 1890 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening Dress c. 1890 - 1891

Side Profile

Evening Dress c. 1890 - 1891

Three-Quarter Rear View

As with the first example, the emphasis is on the train; the entire dress and bodice is made from a yellow silk satin with an simple repeating embroidery pattern consisting of wavy lines. The sleeves are full, acting as a counterpoint for the train and are made from a burgundy/wine colored silk velvet. With the sleeves, one can see the beginning of what would later become the trend towards the massive gigot sleeve characteristic of the Mid-1890s.

(To be continued…)