The Princess Line Dress In The 1890s: One Example From Maison Worth

With its clean silhouette, the princess line dress was a very popular dress style during the late 19th Century, offering a wealth of fashion possibilities in terms of fabric and trim choices. Originally developed during the late 1870s, the princess line dress greatly influenced a shift in styles away from the bustle, instead focusing on a more slender, cylindrical silhouette.  While the princess line was more common during the 1877-1882 time frame, one still sees exampled well into the 1890s as with this one that was created by Maison Worth in circa 1896:

Worth, Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.2)

The above example is a good illustration of the perfect princess line style: the waist is completely de-emphasized with a smooth canary yellow silk panel combining skirt and bodice into one unit. At the same time, the gold colored silk brocade sleeves, collar, and front inset panels present a contrast that draws the eye to the upper body. Although this dress is described as a “bridesmaid” dress, it would have been perfectly suitable as a dress for everyday wear (in contrast to today’s interpretation of the bridesmaid dress). Here’s some close-up of some dress details:

Rear view of the collar and shoulders.

Close-up of the collar.

Shoulder detail.

The above picture illustrates the front inset panels with beaded trim.

In terms of style, this dress is relatively restrained to the point of blandness and while it pushed no fashion boundaries, it does illustrate the basic characteristics of the prince line style. What’s especially interesting is that although the princess line style is attributed to Worth, there are very few extant examples of princess line dresses that can be linked to Maison Worth such as this one:

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1880; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of the princess line style. 🙂

Mid-1890s Style: Evening Gowns

For fashion, the 1890s was all about “going large” and that was especially true during the years 1895-1897 when fashion reached extreme levels with massively sized gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves, narrow waists and large gored skirts. This trend was especially evident with evening gowns1The terms “evening gown” and “evening dress” are used somewhat interchangeably. For the purposes of consistency, we have chose to use the term “evening gown.” as can be seen below with these fashion illustrations:

Evening Gowns, 1895; Le Moniteur de la Mode

This style is interesting in that it utilizes a prince line combined with the hourglass “X” silhouette and gigot sleeves.

Illustrations are useful but nothing beats the real thing. Here’s some examples of extant evening gowns from the high 90s:

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

Rear View

And for some close-ups of the shoulder/sleeve:

Close-Up Of Shoulder

Shoulder Detail

Why do these shoulders give off a Dynasty 1980s vibe? 🙂 Below is something a little different with a different sleeve color and fabric:

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Nordiska Museet

The black velvet sleeves offer an interesting contrast to the silk bodice and skirt not only in colors, but also in luster. The sleeves seems to suck up all the light around them while the silk skirt and bodice do just the opposite. The gown pictured below also does a similar thing although it’s a bit muted:

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

Here we have a contrast between the brown velvet bodice inserts and the gold silk bodice and skit. The eye is definitely drawn towards the bodice and by extension, the face. The circa 1893 gown design by Maison Worth below also offers an interesting contrast:

Worth, Evening Ensemble Dress, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.622a–c)

The silver gray and gold floral design skirt and outer bodice make an interesting contrast to the red silk inner bodice and skirt insert panels. Here the contrast is between colors rather than luster. Now for something a bit different, there’s this circa 1895 gown design by Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2339a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

And again, there’s contrast but this time between the ecru lace skirt and ivory silk bodice, also trimmed in ecru-colored lace- here the contrast is between textures. Also, the cut of the bodice is interesting, more reminiscent of an 18th Century design with its waistcoat silhouette. Finally, we see an inversion of the velvet/silk contrast theme in this circa 1887 gown, also from Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.332a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

With the above gown, the skirt and outer bodice is made from a salmon/peach silk velvet combined with a gold/champagne belt and under bodice. However, most of the gown is dominated by the salmon/peach silk velvet while the gold/champagne belt and under bodice give a pop of color. Also, the bodice is small in relation to the skirt with the skirt dominating. The above is only a small sampling of the variety of evening gowns that existed but it should give an idea of some of the period aesthetics. Stay tuned for more posts! 🙂

Directoire Style Returns…

One of the more interesting micro fashion trends that were occurring during the late 1880s/early 1890s was the revival of Directoire style. Originally a reaction to the overly-ornate aristocratic fashions of the late Eighteenth Century, the Directoire aesthetic focused on simplifying fashion, initially drawing upon Classical antiquity for inspiration. As with the original, the Directoire style of the 1880s/1890s was a reaction to the highly structured styles of the late 1880s and it also sought to introduce a less structured style (although this was a matter of degree). So what was this style, as reinterpreted? According to the January 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

In gowns, the Empire and Directoire styles are the novelties. The Empire gowns have a simple basque back, while the front is rounded and quite short, being covered from tho armpits with the draped Empire belt. The belt is of the dress-material, or one of its combinations. The back of such basque is in box-plaits. The skirts of both the Empire and Directoire gowns are all in straight lines, owning over an underskirt, in front, the whole length. Rich brocades, combined with satin peau-de-soie, are mostly used for dressy occasions.

Gowns for the street are made in the same style in cloth. The long continuous breadths of the redingote are well adapted for these cloth costumes. One of tho novelties of the season is for combining black with a contrasting color. The short broad revers on the front of the bodice, in Directoire gowns, are generally of the same color as the
front of the gown. All sleeves are full; that is, either puffed, for lace or dinner dresses, and for cloth, silk, or woolens. The coat-sleeve is large at the top, and pushed up at the armhole.

What’s interesting in the above commentary is that there’s an emphasis on straight vertical lines. Jackets were definitely a key element, principally with revers in bodices combined with tight sleeves with large sleeve caps. Let’s see how this is looks…

Directore

Directoire

As it can be seen from the above illustrations, jackets were a definite style element, and were either short jackets or, in some cases, cut-away versions. The Redingote was often blended in and it was sometimes difficult to tell where outerwear ended and inside dresses began:

The above style was available from Butterick’s as a sewing pattern.

The late 1880s take on the Directoire style is an interesting in that it emphasized the skirt and jacket/coat combination and that a tidy silhouette while at the same time avoiding the severity found with a closely-fitted bodice. Also, with the skirt, we see a de-emphasis on the train, the elaborate bustle structure that was in style just a couple of years before; at best there was a minimal bustle mostly consisting of some sort of pad. When viewed across several decades, this represented a seismic style shift that was to ultimately play out through the 1890s. We hope you have enjoyed this little excursion into one of the more little-known byways of late Nineteenth Century fashion and we hope to be posting more soon. 🙂

19th-Century American Dress: Behind the Scenes at The Costume Institute Conservation Laboratory

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one of the most extensive collections of late Nineteenth Century garments. One of the more notable examples from their collection is one that should be familiar to anyone with a familiarity with 1880s fashions and is often cited as a perfect example of the mid to late 1880s silhouette:

Evening Dress, American, c. 1884 – 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

Curious to know more about this dress? Well, now you can with this video that was produced by the Met:

A Trip To The Fashion Museum Bath, Part II

The second dress we viewed at the Fashion Museum Bath was a complete contrast to the first: this time we were looking at an ivory-colored evening dress/day dress that was also made by the House of Worth either in the early 1890s (unfortunately there’s not a precise date). Once again, we’ll start with some general views of the entire dress:

The two above views really show off the skirt front and because it’s lying flat, one can readily discern the longer trained skirt back. The lining is a rough cotton and from what we could tell, the pieces have been flat-felled (although we can’t be 100% certain).

Unfortunately, given the close space I was working in, I was unable to get a good full-length picture so these will have to do. The dress is constructed of an ivory/pink blush silk moire fabric with both bodice and skirt having vertical stripes with alternating pink blush and ivory strips of which the ivory strips have the watered silk appearance characteristic of moire. The bodice sleeves and neck are three-quarter and trimmed with silk lace and ribbons. Here are a few more views that show off the fashion fabric better, in the bright morning light the pink blush was almost lost to the naked eye.

Here’s a closer view of the bodice:

The above two pictures give a good view of the bodice front. The buttons are fully functional and it appears that the buttonholes were sewn in by hand, utilizing strips of gimp. Below are two views of the bodice back:

The bodice has the characteristic back “tail” that laid over the train and one can get a good look at the fashion fabric itself. The pink blush stripes are very subtle and faint in some places- possibly a product of sun fading. Below are some more views of the skirt:

The above two pictures give a good view of the hem on both sides. On the outside, one can see a combination of pleating combined with small bows. On the inside, the hem is a simple double-fold with a hidden catch stitch. Below is a detail view of one of the sleeves:

And here’s the bodice opened up to reveal the interior:

As with most bodices of the period, the interior is lightly boned on top of the major seams to give the bodice structure. The bone casings are made of a gauze silk/cotton(?)-like fabric and have been stitched into the lining and seams allowances.

Boning channels have been sewn in parallel to the buttonhole line.

And, if you have ever wondered just what sort of stitching was used for finishing the interior of the bodice, here’s a good close-up view:

Interior view of the bodice with stitching and the iconic Worth label.

Judging from the skirt and the bodice, we’d date this one from the early 1890s. The longer skirt back suggests that a bustle appliance of some sort would have been worn, most likely probably a pad (small pads were still in use during the 1890). Because of the bodice’s fragility, I was unable to get a good look at just how large the sleeve caps are but there’s definitely some room there. It’s definitely not the full-blown gigot sleeves of the mid 1890s but the style of the bodice is definitely headed that way. The skirt is composed of multiple gores, at least five to seven (we were unable to get an exact count).

From this picture, one can get a good idea of the fashion fabric.

The fashion fabric, as stated previously, is an ivory/pink blush silk moire fabric with both bodice and skirt having vertical stripes with alternating pink blush and ivory strips of which the ivory strips have the watered silk appearance characteristic of moire. This is an interesting choice of fabric and it’s pretty subtle. Although it’s hard to say with 100% certainty, this dress reads “bridal” and it would certainly work for that purpose although it could just as easily answer as a better visiting/afternoon dress or even a reception dress, depending on the event. Well, this pretty much wraps up our visit to the Fashion Museum Bath and we want to thank the staff for their assistant and patience. We hope to return in the near future and view some more dresses from their collection. Merci beaucoup! 🙂