Happy Birthday Charles Worth!

Happy Birthday Charles Worth! Born October 13, 1825, Charles Worth was a pioneer in the development of the fashion industry and laid the foundation for many key details of the fashion world that survive to this day. In commemoration of the day, albeit belated, here’s an interesting circa 1878 reception dress he created: 🙂

Worth, Reception Dress, c. 1878; FIDM Museum (2006.25.2AB)

This skirt and base bodice of this dress is constructed from a black silk velvet combined with sleeves of a dark gold covered in black lace with black beaded passmentarie. More black beaded passmentarie covers the front skirt and bodice front. Below is a close-up of the front bodice:

And here’s a view of the rear upper shoulders and neck:

And here’s a rear profile view:

In terms of the age of the dress, it would appear that the skirt is fuller than what would be expected for a natural form/Mid-Bustle Era dress silhouette. Also, the bodice  hem appears to be riding high on the hip, something that was done to optimize the drawing of the train to the rear through use of a bustle. Of course, it could also be a matter of staging, without viewing it in person it can often be hard to tell. Time-wise, we’re inclined to place this one more towards 1875-1876. Well, hopefully we’ll one day have an opportunity to view this dress in person but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures and once again, happy birthday Charles Worth!



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:

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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)

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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.



And For Some 1880s Fall Color…

Plum has always been one of our favorite colors and even more so as we move into Fall. Recently, we came across this wonderful circa 1883-1889 day dress in the collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design and we just couldn’t resist sharing it with the rest of you: 🙂

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Day Dress, c. 1883 – 1889; Goldstein Museum of Design (1963.007.002a-b)

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter frontal view.

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Rear View

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter rear view.

Style-wise, this is a classic 1880s day dress with three-quarter sleeves and distinct over/underskirts. There doesn’t appear to be much of  a bustle effect (but this is probably due to the museum’s staging). What’s striking about this dress is its use of a solid dark plum color underskirt combined with a silk brocade overskirt and bodice. Also, the trim on the bodice is fairly minimal while we see extensive ruching and layers of pleating for the underskirt. Here’s a close-up of the silk brocade fashion fabric on the bodice back; the pattern is suggestive of chinoiserie:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of bodice back.

And here’s part of the underskirt with its extensive ruching:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of overskirt.

Here’s a close-up of the bodice front which utilizes a jacketed/under-vest effect with facing lapels. It’s interesting but attempt but it strikes us as a bit disorganized- it’s attempting to meld typical design elements of the period but in a clumsy manner. Also, the fringe appears to be an afterthought and does little to add to the overall design effect. C’est la vie….

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of front bodice.

On the other hand, the middle back is neatly done and the train appears tidy in comparison with the bodice front:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of rear.

Plum and its shades and tints have always been favorites with us and are always a source of inspiration for many of our designs. When combined with utilizing fabrics with varying degrees of luster, patterns, and textures, the results are phenomenal and offer a high degree of individuality. Let it inspire you as it’s inspired us. 🙂



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

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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.]



The Ensemble Dress From Maison Worth, Redux

In a previous post, we commented on the ensemble dress, a sub-style that was popularized by Charles Worth consisting of a combination day and evening dress consisting of a base skirt and two separate bodices for day and night wear. Today we feature another example of this style that was made around 1888, starting with the day bodice:

Worth Combination Day/Evening Dress, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1093a–e)

The overskirt and bodice of this dress appear to have been constructed from an apricot silk, most likely taffeta or faille, combined with an underskirt constructed from a champagne silk satin covered in a gold floral brocade pattern. Here are some close-ups of the fashion fabric and the front underskirt:

Inset on each side are panels of gold silk satin covered in jeweled white lace which set-up the floral brocade underskirt. Compared to the skirts, the day bodice is fairly simple, constructed of the same apricot silk with a lace-up (or faux lace-up) front trimmed with an asymmetrical jeweled collar that starts out dense on the left side and thins out as it makes its way around the neck and down the front right side. Finally, the bodice features three-quarter sleeves trimmed in lace.

And now for the evening bodice:

Worth Combination Day/Evening Dress, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1093a–e)

The evening bodice appears to be constructed of the same apricot silk as the day bodice and overskirt. Decorating the bodice front, shoulders, and neckline is a somewhat asymmetrical jeweled decorative pattern- note the ribbon bow on only the left shoulder. Below is another side view:

While this ensemble dress is somewhat more understated than some of Worth’s other ensemble dresses, it’s still a solid contender, presenting practicality with understated elegance.