Looking Underneath The Dress- The House Of Worth

Haut couture has always been an extremely personal experience for the client and this was especially true during the late 19th Century. Garments were designed to precisely fit the individual and constructed of the finest fabrics and trim; one could not help think that the garment in question had been exclusively designed for the client from the ground up. However, the reality was quite different: underneath all the exquisite fabrics and glittery trim were the garment’s basic structure- a structure that gave a particular garment its shape and that structure was based on common pattern pieces. The fabrics and trim might change from garment to garment but their basic structure utilized the same slopers or basic pattern blocks that could be modified as needed for a particular client and style (De Marly, Diana. Worth: The Father of Haute Couture. Holmes & Meier, 1990).

The House of Worth was generally acknowledged as the leading couture houses in Paris (and by extension, the world) and as such, its designs reflected this. However, underneath all the exquisite fabrics and trims, the dresses made by Charles Worth often used the same basic pattern blocks (albeit modified for the individual client). It’s often all too easy to get lost in all the exquisite details found on Worth dresses and especially with ball and evening gowns. For example, let’s take a look at these two ball gowns:

Ball Gown Worth c. 1895 - 1900

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Both of the above gowns were made during the late 1890s and both have the same silhouette and share identical lines. Only the fabrics and trim change. Here’s another pair of evening dresses made during the mid 1890s:

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1894; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4799 84-9-2AB)

Evening Dress Worth c. 1895 - 1896

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1895 – 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (35.134.2a, b)

Similarities could also be found in a variety of dress styles:

worth_dinner-dress_1897_1

Worth, Dinner Dress, 1897; Costume Museum of Canada

Worth Evening Dress c. 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.638a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Worth Day Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Side Profile

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Side Profile

Surface treatments might differ (i.e. smooth fabric versus ruched fabric) and trains an sleeve lengths and trim can vary but at the root, these dresses share many of the same internal structural components. When one thinks about it, it only makes sense- while haute couture may have only been worn by a narrow segment of the market, within that specific market segment there was a heavy demand and it could only be met by utilizing various industrial production practices. Of course, the client was blissfully unaware of this, their only concern was getting the desired garment. In short, one could term it “mass production luxury goods” which is almost a contradiction in terms.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into what was going on underneath the dress, so to say, and we hope to be making more posts about this in the future.

1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 4

ball gown fashion plate 1899

By the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeve trend was in full bloom and while perhaps not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, it did exert an influence on evening dresses.
Fashion Plate Ball Gown 1897 Evening Gown

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Morin-Blossier, Evening Gown, c. 1894; Vintage Textile sales website

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Close-Up Of Bodice

Maison Felix Evening Dress 1895

Maison Felix, Evening Dress, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.16.1a–d)

Evening Gown c. 1895

Evening Gown, c. 1895; The Museum at FIT (2007.27.1)

The above are just some examples of the gigot sleeve trend going on during the mid 1890s. Although not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, we still see greater attention paid to this area than before.

Evening Gown Ball Gown Worth c. 1896 - 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion

However, as with all fashion trends throughout the ages, a particular style will be developed to an extreme and a subsequent reaction will arise in opposition. This was the situation with gigot sleeves and by the late 1890s, sleeves had once again acquired become slender proportions. Fixing a precise date as to when this shift began is not easy but even as early as late 1896, there were rumblings in the fashion world as detailed in this passage from the September 13, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

The world may stop wondering now, for at last Mrs. Fashion has consented to speak about autumn and winter modes. The gist of her talk, however concerns skirts and sleeves (after all the two vital points of dress) both of which are to grow beautifully smaller and narrower until the reaction against width has been satisfied.

Already indeed, the circumference of the smallest skirt is reduced by more than half of what it was in the spring while a skirt  with godets all around is to midish opinion, almost as old fashioned as overskirt and paniers [sic].

In reaction, evening dress sleeves began to become somewhat simplified with an emphasis on decorated straps or sleeves constructed with loose layers of gauze/tulle. Of course, there was a wide degree of variation in the sleeve style but nevertheless, one can see a movement away from the over gigot style.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

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

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

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

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Worth Evening Dress 1896

Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

Worth Ball Gown 1899

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Aside from the sleeves, there was little else to distinguish evening dresses during the 1890s- all were designed in a distinct hourglass style with narrow waists and large multi-gored skirts with trains of varying length. Finally, although the pronounced bustles of the late 1880s had disappeared, padding was still used as a means of maintaining  a smooth silhouette and providing support to the train.

Transitions in fashion styles is not always clear-cut and direct, rather it’s often more of a blur as an older style gives way a newer one. Fashion change came at a much slower pace than what we see today and changes that were measured in years are now measured in months, if not weeks and days. By no means to we profess to have the last word when it comes to evening fashions of the 1890s but rather, we try to point out some of the salient featured. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1890s evening wear and we look forward to posting more about this in the future.

Selections From The FIDM Museum 3

 

W

hile the the 26th Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition at the FIDM Museum was a bit of a disappointment, there were some items in the Museum’s permanent collection that made up for it immensely. One such item was an evening gown designed by Maison Félix, a couture house that was a contemporary of the more well-known houses such as Worth and Doucet:

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Evening Gown, Maison Felix, c. 1893; FIDM Museum (2016.5.26A-D)

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Below are some more detail pictures:

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

The Train

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Sleeve Detail

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Trim Detail

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Close-up of the bodice

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Close-up of the front bodice neckline

This dress dates from 1893 and as such, lacks the gigot sleeves that were to come into vogue during the mid 90s. It has a train which is characteristic of formal evening wear but the rigid bustle/train effect of the later 1880s has clearly been discarded. The brown velvet paired with the gold/champagne silk are analogous warm colors and harmonize very nicely. The trim is relatively restrained, limited to the neck and skirt and the gold silk fabric has an embossed pattern that makes for an interesting dull/shiny contrast in the fabric’s luster. Overall, this is a design that reads elegance and restraint as opposed to a making bold statement.

This dress was one of the high points of our visit to the FIDM Museum and we look forward to viewing more from the Maison Félix in the future.

Selections From The FIDM Museum 2

T

oday we feature another gown from the FIDM Museum permanent collection, this time a dinner gown that was made by Doucet circa 1899 – 1900:

Dinner Gown Doucet c. 1899-1900

Jacques Doucet, Dinner Gown, c. 1899-1900; FIDM Museum

Dinner Gown Doucet c. 1899-1900

Unfortunately, I was unable to get any good full-length pictures of this gown and there was only one angle available however, I got some good detail of the capelet top which is the center of focus. As with many of Doucet’s designs, the capelet utilizes gold netting combined with gold metallic trim that simply reads “rich”. The rest of the gown is black with vertical stripes of black jet beading and serves as a backdrop of sorts to the gold capelet. This is definitely one of those “high 90s” styles that’s rich and a bit over the top.

This is an interesting example of Doucet’s work and I’ll be seeing about getting some more pictures to augment what I got. It’s definitely worth taking a look at in person.