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Mid-1890s Spring Style

With the arrival of Spring, we tend to think in terms of linen and cotton and such as with this circa 1890s day dress:

Day Dress, c. 1895; Augusta Auctions Website

While the Augusta Auctions website describes this dress being made of cotton, it could have just as easily been linen but either way, it definitely reads as a warmer weather garment. This dress is of a style that consists of a skirt combined with what could be termed a waist worn over the skirt top. Of course, it also raises the question of when does a bodice become a waist or vice-versa? This dress seems to occupy that middle ground where sometimes it’s hard to determine; the bodice/waist is a little heavier than what we normally associate with the waist yet at the same time, it’s a bit more loosely structured that a standard dress bodice (or course, make no mistake, a corset was worn underneath).1For some more discussion on waists, click HERE. Here’s a couple more examples of this particular style:

The above French fashion plate illustrates this style nicely, albeit with a little variation; it’s clear that this was more of a youthful style and was especially useful when it came to outdoor activities:

And it would appear that this was a popular style as far back as the late 1880s with this pattern promotion in March 1889 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

Below are some more views of the dress:

As can be seen from these pictures, the basic fashion fabric is a green/putty colored cotton with ivory stripes dress. White/ivory colored Guipure lace trims the bodice/waist. Finally, the shoulders are trimmed with black silk satin bows along with black silk satin belt and cuff stripes.

This is a simple yet elegant dress for the Spring and Summer and we especially envision this as the perfect seaside dress. 🙂



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! 🙂