Trending For October 1886

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hile studying old fashion plates may not seem as exciting as looking at pictures of extant original dresses, they still yield a wealth of information, especially if one carefully reads the descriptions that accompanied them. It’s easy to be put off by the fading and often poor state of preservation that many of these plates are in but if we can see past that, we believe that the reward is worth it.


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ctober 1886 was an interesting time for fashion. The bustle was definitely back in force, refining the earlier bustle styles of the early 1870s and creating a more tidy and sharply defined silhouette than what was found in 1870s styles. In this post, we step back to October 1886 with this plate from the October issue of Peterson’s Magazine. Of special interest is the wedding dress in Figure I on the far left.

Petersons_Oct 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, October 1886

Below is a description of the above plate:

Fig. I.- WEDDING DRESS, OF BROCADED SILK AND WHITE ILLUSION. The skirt is made of three deep plaited [pleated] ruffles of illusion over white silk, the two upper ruffles falling in deep curves in front. The bodice, short tunic in front, and train are of the brocaded silk. The tunic is caught up with clusters of orange-blossoms. The bodice has a plaited vest of the illusion, with lace revers at the sides. The sleeves are open, on the outside of the arm, over an illusion sleeve, which is full at the elbow, and trimmed with sprays of orange-blossoms. Orange-blossoms at the throat and in the hair, from which a long veil of illusion falls.

Fig. II.- WALKING-DRESS, OF VERY DARK GRAY CASHMERE. It is made in plaits all around the skirt, with side-panels of plaid velvet. The close-fitting bodice is made with two revers of the velvet, both placed on the right side, and coming to a sharp point in front of the waist. Collar and cuffs also of the velvet. Gray felt hat, with ribbon and wings of the colors in the plaid velvet.

Fig. III.- EVENING-DRESS, OF LIGHT CANARY-COLORED SURAH. The skirt is trimmed with many narrow flounces, with a pointed apron-front of white lace, nearly to the bottom of the ruffled skirt. The train is plain, and trimmed with white lace. The bodice is cut with a sharp point, both front and back, and is ornamented with folds of the surah and white lace on the left side. Puffs of canary-colored ostrich-tips and ribbon trimming. Yellow bird in the hair.

Fig. lV- EVENING DRESS, OF POPPY-RED SILK. The skirt has a narrow knife-plaiting at the bottom. The back fails in large plaits, with a short full tunic over them. The front is trimmed with drooping rows or black lace, natural habitat of the cyclamen is in the woods, and this with long loops of poppy-colored ribbon. Panniers of black lace at the sides. The high bodice has a jabot of black lace down the front. Bow of red ribbon on the left side of the neck. Red poppies in the hair.

Fig. V.- WALKING DRESS, OF DARK-BLUE WOOLEN MATERIAL. The skirt falls in straight plaits at the back, with a short tunic over it. The front of the skirt at the bottom is trimmed with a broad band of striped blue-and-red bouclé material, and it is plaited at the waist. The bodice is made with a sharp point, with a reddish-blue velvet waistband, revers, and collar of the same material. The vest is of the striped bouclé. Dark-blue felt hat, trimmed with a red bird and wings.

Starting with the wedding dress in Figure I, it is styled with the skirt arranged in the front with three rows of vertical ruffles with the top two rows swaged to the rear. The base fashion fabric is a white silk covered by a layer of white illusion. Illusion is a  lightweight netting fabric with diamond-shaped holes and constructed from silk (today, it is more likely to be made of nylon and it primarily used for bridal veils). It is a form of tulle fabric, characterized by its soft hand and excellent drapability.

Illusion- Note the Diamond-Shaped Holes

White Silk Brocade – There was an endless variation in brocade patterns.

The bodice and overskirt/train is a silk brocade with the sleeves constructed from same illusion as the skirt. Covering the upper sleeves is lace that has been formed as revers. Also, interestingly enough, the front of the bodice is pleated in a fan pattern, giving the appearance of a vest. Finally, the dress is trimmed in orange blossoms in the front and in the headpiece. Overall, it’s a fairly “traditional” look that embodies the white wedding trend that was beginning to take hold during the late 19th Century.

Figure II is a fairly conventional day dress combined with plaid velvet to create a “highland” effect of sorts. The skirt and bodice are of a gray cashmere (although it appears to be more of a blue) combined with plaid velvet side-plates on the skirt. The plaid velvet is also used for the cuffs as well as on the front of the bodice (although the illustration distorts this somewhat, making it look more like a sash). Below are some modern-day examples of cashmere that easily could be used to make this dress:

Dark Blue-Gray Cashmere-Wool Blend

Dark Blue Cashmere

Figure III is an evening dress made of canary (sort of a light yellow) surah combined with white lace. The front of the skirt is trimmed in rows of narrow flounces and is covered in the front with a lace apron. Style-wise, this is a conventional med-1880s look with an emphasis on pleating running all the way up the front of the skirt. For color, the plate is a bit faded so here’s a bit more on the color canary which is essentially a yellow. It can vary in intensity from bright, as on the left, to a more subdued as on the right:

As indicated in a previous post, surah is a twilled silk fabric and would have looked something like this (unfortunately, it’s not an easy fabric to find, especially in any shade of yellow):

Surah

For Figure IV, we see another variation on the pleating/flounce theme only this time it is limited to the front apron which is done in black lace. To complement the black lace apron is a jabot of matching back lace running down the front of the bodice. The bodice and skirt are constructed from a poppy-red silk and the skirt hem has a row of knife pleating. Overall, this a relatively simple style for an evening dress and if we did not have the description from Peterson’s to go on, it would be easy to mistake for a day dress. Here is a sample of the color:

Poppy Red

Poppy Red

Unfortunately, the color depicted in the late is more of a wine color but as we know, colors can change dramatically in 100 plus year-old documents and especially those involving color printing processes so take this all with a grain of salt. 🙂

Finally, Figure V depicts is a fairly conventional day dress with the basic skirt and bodice constructed of a dark blue wool. However, the front of the skirt and skirt hem are trimmed in a blue-red bouclé, a fabric woven from loosely spun yarns giving a looped pile effect. In more recent times, bouclé has become the signature fabric found in many Chanel designs.  Although not stated, it is assumed that this was composed of wool fibers. Below is an example (unfortunately, we were unable to find a red-blue color):

All of the above dresses are fairly conventional in terms of style but they do exhibit some interesting uses of fabrics and trims and especially with the velvet trim in Figure III and the bouclé in Figure V. While perhaps not spectacular when compared to the creations being produced by Worth, Doucet, and Pingat (to name a few), it does demonstrate that the limits of particular styles were constantly being pushed in both big and small ways.



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:

CI55.40.1ab_F

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:

504083D

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)

504084D

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.



Trending For January 1890

Today we travel to January 1890 as the extreme bustle fashions of the late 1880s were fading out and transitioning to something different. So how did the new decade open up for fashion? Below is a fashion plate and accompanying description from the January issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_Jan 1890_1

Fig. I – DINNER DRESS OF STRIPED RED AND BLACK SILK. The front of the skirt and surplice-vest are of gauze of a lighter shade, over a plain silk of the color of the gown. The overdress is a princess polonaise, which a short train and elbow sleeves. The revers, which begin at the back of the neck and are run down the entire length of the skirt, are covered with either a passementerie of silk cord or else heavy Spanish lace, in black. A black velvet ribbon, three inches wide, forms the girdle. Long black Suede gloves.

Fig. II – EVENING DRESS OF PLAIN EMBROIDERED BLACK GAUZE LACE. The underskirt is of the plain material and laid in accordion plaits [pleats]. The overdress and bodice are of embroidered gauze or lace and simply gathered to form the sides and back. The bodice is pointed front and back, and has Grecian brebelles (?) across the bust. The shoulder-straps are simply sprays of flowers corresponding with the design and color of the embroidery on the overdress; the same trim the front and sides of the dress, arranged in festoons tied with knots of pale-green ribbon. Likewise, a similar ribbon forms the girdle and adorns the shoulder straps. Long Suede gloves, High coiffure.

Fig. III – EVENING-DRESS, OF PRIMROSE SATIN AND BROWN VELVET. The skirt of this gown is much wrinkled in front, and has a moderate train. The sides are of the golden brown velvet and also are slightly wrinkled over the hips. The pointed bodice is composed of satin and velvet, with a, simple puff for a sleeve. Long white Suede gloves. High coiffure.

Fig. IV – POMPADOUR EVENING-DRESS, OF FIGURED BLUE CHINA SILK combined with a striped Pompadour brocade, The skirt is short and the edge trimmed with two rows of fringe. The full bodice has a short jacket of the brocade which is worn over the full bodice. The edge of the full bodice, the sleeves, and the ends of the sash are also fringed. Hair dress low.

Fig. V – VISITING OR HOUSE DRESS, OF PALE ROSE SURAH OR NUN’S VEILING. The edge of the short, round skirt is finished by a wide ruching of pinked-out silk. The bodice is cut in one with the skirt on the right side, and it laps surplice-fashion over a vest of pale-green surah or China silk; the same forms the long sash and the deep ends for the full sleeves. A large black velvet or lace hat entirely covered on the brim with ostrich-tips. In front, a high standing loop of velvet ribbon.

In Figure I, we see an underlayer of a skirt and surplice/vest made of a light gauze in a light red or rose color (we assume that the skirt of a base layer to anchor the gauze). Covering this it an polonaise utilizing a princess line with a small train and designed to be open in front so as to show the gauze underlayers. The overdress fabric is striped with dark and light red, the light red being the same shade as the skirt and surplice-vest and makes for a dramatic effect, especially when combined with the revers which are decorated in a passementerie. Finally, black velvet ribbon is ties around the waist and draped down the front to create a girdle effect that is reminiscent of Medieval fashion and for this dress gives the impression of the overdress being a robe. The overall effect is dramatic and perfectly fitting for a dinner dress. Below are some extant examples of dresses with similar style effects:

Rear View

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

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

Figure II is an evening dress that is somewhat understated, utilizing an light green plain underskirt with accordion pleats. The overdress and bodice are constructed of a black gauze. The black overdress is somewhat offset by the use of flowers for the shoulder straps and  for decoration on the dress.  Finally, as with the dress in Figure I, there is a sash of light green that is also arranged to create a Medieval style girdle.

Figure III is an interesting combination of primrose satin and brown velvet. The skirt has a moderate train and is in primrose satin and the bodice is of brown velvet with the primrose satin trimming the front and shoulder straps. The bodice is pointed and has stripes of skirt-length brown velvet running on each side. The primrose and brown make for a complementary color combination and was often used during the late 19th Century. Primrose is not a term often used these days so here’s what the color looks like (don’t let the “rose” in “primrose” fool you). Below is the color itself:

Primrose

And in dress form…although it could be argued that this is more of a gold color…

Worth c. 1892

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1892; Museum at FIT (P87.20.24)

Style-wise, here’s something very similar to Figure III:

 

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1880-1890; Preservation Society of Newport County

The dress in Figure IV is a bit of a mystery in that the description reads that the dress is made of “figured blue China silk” yet the fashion plate portrays a white fabric with what appears to be some sort of design in black. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics combined with looking at a fashion plate that is over 110 years old with attendant fading and the like. In any event, it doesn’t bear much of a resemblance.

Getting past the fabric description, the skirt has two layers with each layer trimmed in fringe. The bodice is covered in short bolero made from a brocade and also trimmed in fringe. Style-wise, this dress is a mishmash of styles that are not harmonious and overall, this style just does not work. Well, every era has its fashion fails…

In contrast to the dresses in Figures I, II, and III, the dress in Figure V is more restrained as befitting of a house or visiting dress. The skirt is made of a pale rose colored surah or nun’s veiling that is round with no train and is plain except for rouching of pinked silk running along the skirt hem. Underneath is a vest of pale green surah or China silk that is covered in a bodice that matches the skirt. Finally, a matching light green sash in surah or China silk tied with long tails creating the Medieval girdle effect completes the dress. Overall, the dress style resembles a draped robe.

Nun’s Veiling

In this collection, we see that each of these dresses attempts to create a draped effect, mostly through the use of a loose over bodice combined with a long sash that has been tied to create a girdle similar to Medieval style. With the exception of the dress in Figure IV, each of these dresses gives the effect of a robe that has been bound by the sash. Depending on one’s perspective, one can see Japanese and Classical Greek influences at work and it could be argued that this style hints at what was to later develop during the Teens.

Tea Gown, c. 1890; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above was just the beginning of the 1890s and as we will see in future posts, fashion underwent some dramatic changes during this period. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



More Fashion for Fall and Winter 1886

Previously, we’ve seen what was trending for Fall/Winter in the November 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine so let’s now take a further look at the December 1886 issue:

Peterson's_Dec 1886

Below is a description of each figure, from left to right:

Fig. I – Walking Dress, Of Dark Green Cashmere. The long wrap is made of striped woolen, plain in front and over the arms, and cut to figure to the waist at the back. It falls in full plaits over the tournure, and is trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with large full bows of yellow ribbon and two stiff feathers.

Fig. II – Visiting Dress, Of Red Camel’s Hair. The petticoat is of velveteen of a darker shade than the dress. The skirt is put on full around the bodice, and is draped in front diagonally. At the back, it falls in straight folds. The long bodice is made full in front. The skirt and cuffs are trimmed with fur, and a fur boa is worn around the neck. Hat of red velvet, trimmed with velvet and a stiff bird’s-wing.

Fig. III – Evening Dress, Of Yellow Silk. The skirt is short and laid in long box-plaits. At the back, it is quite full over the tournure. The front is trimmed with a wide panel of the silk, embroidered in light-brown. The very plain bodice has the same embroidery down the front, and is edged with large pearl beads.

Fig. IV – Evening Dress, Of Light Blue Surah. The skirt is laid in plaits at the sides and back. In front, it is plain, with a fall of deep white lace over it. The tunic is put on full to the bodice, is looped away from the lace with a bunch of white roses on the left side. At the right side, it is drawn further back, and falls in a puff behind. The bodice is plain, pointed back and front, and is trimmed with folds of the silk and knots of satin ribbon.

Fig V – Walking Dress, Of Black Figured Cloth. The bodice is cut long at the back over the tournure, then falls in straight full folds. In front, it is quite plain, but opens at the side over a velvet panel. The bodice in front is very long, plain, and pointed; The whole dress is trimmed with rosary-beads. large velvet bow.

Of particular interest from the above description is the use of Surah for evening dresses stands out. Surah is an even-sided fabric woven in a twill pattern from fine silk filaments or wool (today, polyester is also used). Often patterns are printed on it by the direct print/rolle method.1 This fabric has a smooth, fine hand and a bright, shiny luster. Below are two examples:

And just for interest, here’s an example of a dress from the period made of silk surah:

Day Dress, c. 1884-1886; Les Arts Decortifs (UF 50-6-1 AB) ©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

Another fabric of interest is camel’s hair:

Camel’s Hair

Camel’s hair is typically woven in a twill pattern and can be 100% camel hair or more often, a blend of wool and camel’s hair. Camel’s hair has a soft, silky hand and was widely used in day dresses during the late 19th Century.2

So what was trending from Paris in December 1886? According to Peterson’s:

Walking-suits are now shown in soft-finished cloth and in vigogne [vicuña], the favorite colors being silver-gray, dark brown, and prune-color. A costume in silver-gray cloth has a long full tunic, draped at the back over a plain underskirt bordered with a wide band of Astrakhan-fur. The short tight-fitting jacket is sleeveless, and is bordered with a band of gray Astrakhan, the whole front of the wrap being composed of Astrakhan. This jacket is worn over a blouse-waist in white crape [crepe], finished at the wrists and throat with bands of gray and silver passementerie. Sometimes, the blouse-waist is composed of scarlet crape with similar trimming. The tunic is sloped forward in front, and terminates there at the waist in two long scarf ends, turned over each other, and each finished with a large gray-and-silver tassel.

Another very graceful and artistic walking-dress is in seal-brown vigogne and golden brown Sicilienne. The vigogne overskirt reaches the edge of the hem in front, and is sloped upward at the sides, and looped at the back over a perfectly plain Sicilienne under skirt. The dress is cut Princess, and has a vest and sleeves of the Sicilienne, ornamented with gold passementerie. Over this is worn a dolman-shaped wrap, finished in front with long ends that turn over each other, and at the waist at the back with a wide band of gold-and-brown passementerie, simulating a belt, and seeming to confine the dolman to the figure.

For visiting or reception wear, Worth is making costumes in satin and velvet. The skirt of one that I saw has a very short satin overskirt in front, the back being formed of long wide. flat plaits, and the velvet underskirt being laid in plaits in front, and gathered at the sides half-way down its length. The corsage is in satin. A novelty in the make of this dress was that the drapery was all lined with black brocaded satin.

The above notes are interesting in that it mentions the use of vigogne. or vicuña, and Sicilienne as dress fabrics. So what are these?

Well, first we will start with the vicuña whose wool is one of the rarest natural fibers in the world.  Vicuña wool comes from the Vicuña, a camelid found in the high alpine areas of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Vicuña is related to the llama but has not been domesticated. The wool is extremely fine and has excellent heat retention in relation to its weight. The wool is expensive because Vicuña can only be shorn once every three years and they live in the wild and thus, were usually killed and then shorn to the point where they nearly extinct in the 1960s (today, they have been revived and are not killed).3

Vicunacrop.jpg

Today, Vicuña wool is still very expensive, averaging roughly $21,000 for just an off-the-rack suit coat.

Given the wool’s relative rarity, I would suspect that a good portion of the wool being marketed as Vicuña in the late 19th Century was probably a wool blend with cheaper fibers making up the bulk of the fabric. 🙂

As for Sicilienne, it was a variety of poplin fabric composed of silk and wool fibers. The fabric was a unbalanced plain weave with silk filament as the warp fiber and wool as the weft fiber. The individual wool fibers are thicker and heavier than the silk filaments thus creating a pronounced ribbed appearance. According to some references, the wool was cashmere. We hope you have enjoyed this little trip into 1886 and hope you all have drawn some inspiration. There were a variety of fabrics and colors available to Victorians and many of the same fabrics are obtainable today (although you may have to pay a premium as in the case of the Vicuña 🙂  ).

Stay inspired!


1. [Tortora, Phyllis J. and Ingrid Johnson, Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition.]

2. [Ibid.]

3. [Ibid.]