Fashion-wise, the 1890s have always been a source of fascination for us and one that we’ve been focusing on intensely in recent posts. While this may seem somewhat excessive, we would argue the contrary in that 90s are one of the most misunderstood periods for fashion. In the popular mind, 1890s styles seem to be nothing more than a never-ending parade of women in with excessively large Gigot, or leg-of-mutton sleeves and wasp-waists created by tight-laced corsets. It’s an era of excess with lots of “stuff” going on and for many it’s a major turn-off, especially compared to the liberating styles that were to be developed in the 1910s and 20s by Poiret, Chanel, Vionnet, and others.
However, we would argue that the 1890s marked the beginnings of major fashion shifts that were to come to full flower in the following decades and it’s evident in day wear. During the 90s, we seen the introduction of more functional day wear styles that reflected women’s shifting roles in society and especially in going to work outside of the home and participating in outdoor activities such as bicycling. Also, in terms of design we see a simplification of dress styles that relied less on trim and excess yardage (especially compared to the 1870s and 80s) and more on the decorative effect of the existing fashion fabric.
Naturally, as with all of fashion there were exceptions to every rule and many styles of the 90s retained elements of previous ones but we’re painting with a broad brush here. With that said, let’s proceed…
Today we take a look at one unique example of 90s style:
This dress ensemble was an ensemble made for James McCreery & Co. (1867 – 1954), a major New York dry goods retailer that was active during the late 19th Century. The dress has the silhouette typical of mid-1890s styles to include the gigot sleeves and cinched wasp waist. The purple fashion fabric is a wool combined with black silk velvet for the sleeves. The same velvet is also used as trim along the skirt hem and stripes along the bodice front and back. Also, depending on how you view it, the sleeves are trimmed with stripes of the purple wool fabric. Finally, note must be made of the striped black and white waist that’s visible under the upper bodice and at the sleeve cuffs- this is probably a faux waist that’s part of the overall dress.
However, what is most notable about this design is that the front bodice is cut asymmetrically, a feature that’s emphasized by the black and white trim panels running along the front bodice edges. The bold front bodice treatment balances out the black gigot sleeves, serving to create a style that’s both balanced and bold. Interestingly enough, the Metropolitan Museum of Art website terms this as a half-morning dress but to us, that really just doesn’t seem to be the case but that’s just our opinion.
But wait, there’s more! Although there’s no information from the Met website, it appears that this was an ensemble that also came with a black velvet jacket and separate waist:
There isn’t a good picture of the waist but it appears to be made of a white silk with gold embroidery and this is also carried over into the wide collar seen on the jacket. As with the bodice, the jacket is cut asymmetrically at the top. Compared to the bodice in the first set of pictures, the look is definitely more restrained and almost unexceptional. Perhaps that’s where the “mourning” aspect comes in but we seriously question that. 🙂
The above dress is an interesting example of one of the better dress designs to come out of the mid-1890s and especially since it did not directly come out of the Paris couture house (although they did license designs for the American market) with a specific designer name. We would certainly love to know more about the design and how it got its initial inspiration but we fear that this information is probably lost to the ages. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the 1890s- in future posts we’ll be bringing more 1890s dress designs to light. 🙂