A Little More From No. 11…

My choices were: Tea and scandal, or attending the Helldorado parade…you can guess. 🙂



In The Works…

Busy building the frilliest of frillies and underpinnings, because plain old cotton just won’t do.



A Lobster Tail Bustle…

In keeping with our current 1880s them, we recently came across this fantastic example of an 1880s “lobster tail” bustle or tournure from the from the collection of Anton Priymak of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Although fabric coverings on bustles tended towards solid colors, occasionally one sees more colorful fabrics used such as the floral print above. In the absence of a more close-up examination in person, we’d venture to guess that the fabric is most likely a cotton print and the pattern motif is very reminiscent of Japonisme. This is certainly an interesting example and just the fabric alone is amazing- that’s definitely going to be an inspiration for the future. 🙂



1890s Day Wear, Part 4

In the past three posts on 1890s styles for day wear, we have shown quite a slew of pictures and commentary that seem to discuss the “X-Silhouettes,” “wasp-waists,” “Gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves” ad nauseum. While this may seem somewhat pedantic, it is really aimed at defining what made the 1890s so different from the prior two decades in terms of styles. At the same time, style doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather is a reflection of the greater society. In the case of the 1890s, it was a time of transformation for women and dramatic shifts were occurring in women’s roles and fashions and styles were quick to mirror these shifts.

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In this installment, we will be discussing this a little more while at the same time attempting to provide some of the technical basis for the styles themselves- in short, a look underneath the hood, so to say. 🙂 With that, let’s proceed…


Styles of the 1890s style, whether day or evening, were based on three elements:

  • Corsetry (to define shape)
  • Gigot Sleeves
  • Gored Skirts

Corsetry was the most important in that it defined most of the basic silhouette. During the 1890s, corsets tended to be longer with a more pronounced inward waist bend (i.e., wasp waist) although this is more of a general rule- much like today, there were exceptions in that there were a variety of corset styles to fit individuals with varying body types. The subject of corsetry can easily justify many posts in its own right so we’re not going to get too much into detail but suffice to say, the corset was the core of 1890s styles (and 1870s and 80s for that matter) upon which everything else was built.

Just to illustrate, below are a few examples of early 1890s corsets:

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Corset, Maison Léoty, French. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.45.27a, b). The hook located on just below the second button was designed to lock the front skirt in place and to prevent it from riding up. A loop would be installed in the inside front skirt which would lock into the hook.

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Corset, Worcester Corset Company, American, c. 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3119a–c)

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Side Profile

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Corset, 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.57.51.1)

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Front Close-Up

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Rear View

As it can be seen from the above examples, the trend was towards lengthening the corset to cover the hips. Previously, corsets had tended to run shorter in order to accommodate the wearing of a bustle (i.e., “dress-improver”) but with its decline, there was no longer this need (plus the longer length helped to accentuate the wasp-waist look). In the example below, one can see the difference:

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Corset, c. 1885 – 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3497a–c)

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Side Profile

Besides corsetry, the gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeve further defined the basic early to mid-1890s style. Essentially, the gigot sleeve was a sleeve with an extreme excess of ease in the sleeve cap.

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Le Moniteur de la Mode, September 1895

In the above fashion plate, one can see a somewhat extreme version of the gigot sleeve style. Fantastical? Here’s an image from circa 1895:

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Miss Annie Burbury, c. 1895, Sidney, Australia

And this day dress… 🙂

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Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1896; FIDM Museum (S2006.870.22AB)

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Close-Up Of Sleeve

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As can be seen from the above, gigot sleeves came in a variety of styles and could be very large, often using over a yard of fabric in their own right. So how were those large shapes maintained? Here were some of the methods:

Sleeve supports included wire frames, boned undersleeves, or interlinings of various stiff fabrics such as Fibre Chamois:

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Finally, we turn to skirts, or more specifically A-line skirts. Compared to their predecessors of the 1870s and 80s, skirts of the 1890s were built on fairly simple lines, consisting of multiple gored panels arranged so that there was more fullness towards the rear.

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From the above illustrations, one can see that skirts were just one unit, usually one color with minimal trim; the over and under-skirt combinations common to the 1870s and 80s had fallen out of use had for the most part been superseded although it still lingered on in some instances. Style-wise, times had moved on…

Now, earlier we mentioned that by the early 1890s, the bustle had disappeared and this is certainly true as far as the “cage” or “lobster” varieties. However, there was one exception and that was the bustle pad. Even though skirts were by no means trained to the same extent as before, there was still the need for a pad to help fill the gap at the base of the lower back (anatomically, the base of the lower back dips in slightly) and provide some support for the rear of the skirt. Also, many of these pads also covered the hips, providing further support for the skirt.

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Bustle Pad, Horsehair (?), c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.45.48.6)

We freely admit that the above survey is somewhat repetitious of previous posts, but we wanted to clearly delineate what makes up the essence of 1890s “style.” Often times, people tend to consider the last three decades of the 19th Century as one continuous period for fashion and tend to get the various style elements confused. Each decade was fairly distinct and especially so with the 1890s. In any event, we hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion through Mid-1890s day wear and in future posts we’ll be taking the story further to the end of the decade.



Creating The Look…

Styles are defined by their silhouette and nowhere is this more evident in the styles of the 1870s and 1880s which were built upon skirts being draped towards the rear and supported by a supporting structure known as the bustle (also known as the tournure). As described previous in this previous posts and others, the size and positioning of the train might have varied but the overall effect was still the same. So how was this achieved? Simply, draping fabric and fastening to the rear only works with the lightest of fabrics, in almost all cases support is required and that’s where the bustle came into play. Bustles varied in styles and shapes and were made from various materials, ranging from ones constructed of elaborate steel cage structures to ones that were little more than a pillow.

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A somewhat simplified chart depicting the three major Bustle Era styles.

Below is a selection of some of the bustle styles that were out there during the 1870s and 1880s:

Bustles The Galliera Museum – the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

The above examples show two of the more common bustle styles, the “lobster” and the pillow. The “lobster” style gets its name from its resemblance to a lobster shell and was held rigid by steel boning or reeds.

Here’s a semi-rigid example from the 1870s (probably more mid-1870s):

Bustle c. 1870s

Bustle, c. 1870s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2008.89)

Bustle c. 1870s

The above style employed a fabric shell, typically made of a tightly woven cotton fabric with steel boning or reeds. This style was also common during the 1880s:

Bustle 1883

Bustle, 1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.23.3)

Bustle 1883

Side Profile

The above example is interesting in that while it’s similar to the 1870s example, it differs at the top where a large pad has also been installed- no doubt to help create the more sharply defined silhouette characteristic of the Late Bustle Era dresses such as this one:

Evening Dress c. 1884 -1886

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

Here’s another typical example from 1885 that employs an open cage-like structure made from flexible steel bones secured by tape strips:

Bustle 1885

Bustle, 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3095)

Bustle 1885

Side Profile

Bustle 1885

Interior

Steel or reed boning where not the only materials in use as demonstrated by this 1873 example utilizing horsehair padding:

Bustle 1873

Bustle, 1873; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2002.251)

Bustle 1873

The idea of the bustle creating the dress silhouette can especially be seen from this example:

Bustle 1870 - 1888

Bustle, c. 1870 – 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972.209.48)

Bustle 1870 - 1888

The example below is especially fascinating in that its shape dates it: late 1870s, most likely circa 1878 – 1880 (although the museum has is labeled 1870 – 1888). Note that the silhouette is slender from the waist to mid-way down and then flares out in the demi-train style that was characteristic of the later 1870s such as with these examples:

Day Dress 1878

Side Profile

Day Dress 1880

Side Profile

The above bustle examples are on the complex side and could almost be considered works of art on their own. However, there were more simple designs out there such as various types of pads:

Bustle c. 1895 - 1905

Bustle, c. 1895 – 1905; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.44.48.8)

Bustle Pad 1875

Bustle Pad, made from linen and stuffed with horse hair. Victoria & Albert Museum (T.57-1980)

Bustle Pad c. 1885

Bustle Pad, French, c. 1885 Glazed calico trimmed with silk cord and stuffed with what appears to be straw; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.337-1978)

And there were some other interesting designs:

Bustle 1884

Bustle, Steel Frame, c. 1884; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.131C-1919).

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Bustle 1871

British, c. 1871. Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.27.4)

The above examples are only a small sampling of what was available and no matter what style a bustle came in, its primary job was to support the dress and help define its shape. When we reproduce 1870s and 1880s fashions, we are constantly mindful of the supporting structures that are necessary for wearing these fashions in the most optimal way and they are almost as important as the dresses themselves.