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:

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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.



Group Portrait- 1890s Style

And just for something different, we found this interesting group image from the late 1890s illustrating warm weather daywear:

In this group portrait, one can see a variety of shirt waist styles ranging from the fairly plain to ones with elaborate pleating and ruching. Also, the two women with neck ties caught our eye- they’re very similar to an ascot. The skirts are fairly similar with no obvious adornment and topped off with sashes or belts. Finally, it must be noted that the hats overwhelm everything else and definitely catch the eye on first view- each one is unique and very elaborate styling. The one in the middle is especially interesting with it’s avian theme; it’s hard to tell if that’s a complete bird, just the wings, or something that simulates a bird. 😉 Ultimately, the shirt waist was one of the defining elements in 1890s fashion and the variety of styles and materials that they were used is amazing and it’s even more amazing seeing them in a period image. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

From the September 25, 1898 edition of the Los Angeles Times.



Seaside Fashion…

During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.

Beach 1890s

Sometimes bathing costume was not available…

It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).

Redfern Yachting Fashion Queen 1887

Some of Redfern’s “boating” or yachting fashions in the July 16, 1887 issue of The Queen.

Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Full Front View

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Another Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Side Profile

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Rear View

This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.

Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:

Yachting Fashion c. 1897

Yachting Dress, c. 1897; Preservation Society of Newport County

This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.

And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂

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But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Close-Up Of Front

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Front Three-Quarter Profile

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.

Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Side Profile

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂

Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:

Day Dress 1895

Day Dress, American, c. 1895; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York ( P84.25.2)

The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).

Beach 1890s

And sometimes one had to improvise at the beach…

Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂

 



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.



And For Another Waist And Skirt Style…

And continue the theme of 1890s waist and skirt style, today we focus on another skirt and waist combination that was featured in an 1896 edition of La Mode Pratique:

Here’s a rough translation of the description:

Dinner dress for a young woman; satin skirt; batiste bodice with polka dots decorated with a yoke and a belt of guipure lace1Guipure was a heavy lace consisting of embroidered motifs joined together by large connecting stitches.; draped satin collar; long white suede gloves.

This is a very elegant version of the waist and skirt style with the skirt being constructed of a brown silk satin combined with a waist/bodice2The terms “bodice” and “waist” or “blouse” were often used intern changeably. The term “corsage” was also used both in English and French. Often the lines seem to blur. constructed from a silk batiste trimmed with a matching lace collar and belt made of a white or ivory guipure lace (hard to tell from the illustration). What is also interesting is that the waist is a belted waist, meant for wear over the dress rather than being tucked in at the skirt waist line. Finally, to complete this outfit, there is also a pair of white suede gloves.

As can be seen from the above illustration, this style is a bit more formal than what was normally associated with the typical waist and skirt style of the era- that of a simple skirt and blouse-like shirtwaist (or waist. Here, the belted waist becomes more formal, bordering on a conventional dress bodice but yet, not quite; filling a niche- dressy but not too dressy- and is a perfect way to make an outfit serve in multiple roles. Moreover, we believe that this style is a perfect candidate for being recreated, because of its versatility. To us, the belted waist is a very under-represented style when looking at today’s recreated garments yet it was a very popular style of the 1890s. The belted waist came in a variety of styles for a number of price points to include sewing patterns for the home-sewer like these:

And here’s an extent example:

Day Dress, Cotton, c. 1890s; Augusta Auctions

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this close-up of just one of many waist and skirt styles that were in existence during the 1890s and we hope to be posting more in the future. 🙂