Charles Worth & Textiles

Image result for silk fabrics charles worth

Textiles are a major element in any fashion style and a good designer will always seek to utilize the right fabric so that a specific style looks its best. For Charles Worth, fabrics played a major role in the design process to the point where he would commission textile manufacturers to create textiles for his exclusive use. Drawing on his background as a draper, Worth created relationships with a number of textile manufacturers, most notably the silk weavers of Lyon, France.

Charles Frederick Worth Haute Couture bridesmaid dress gown from American 1896. Probably made from silk and fabric material with contrasting woven flower floral pattern, pearl, bead and lace tulle. High neckline with blown up gigot puffed sleeve, contrasting color for the bodice, dress fully flared with train at the back. #Vintage #Haute #Couture #Fashion House of Worth.

Worth’s opinion of the role of textiles was neatly summarized in an interview quoted in the March 24, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

When a manufacturer invents any special fabric or design, he sends me a pattern asking if I can use it. The fabric may require a severe style of dress, or if light and soft it is adapted for draperies and puffings. If the material pleases me, I order a large quantity to be mades specially for me, and design my dresses accordingly. A purchase by a large firm of a great quantity of material influences other firms, and that material, with the style it is suited to, becomes the fashion. All my models are first made in black and white muslin, then copied in the material and coloring which I select.

Worth notes that with enough yardage and the right design, one can create a popular fashion. In the above quote, Worth notes that the textile manufacturer would come to him in the hopes of an order. However, knowing Worth’s tendency to commission custom fabrics, it was a two-way process in that Worth’s designs often drove textile development. In future posts we’ll be covering this in more detail but it’s interesting to hear from one of the leading designers of the day.

How Fashions Develop- A Perspective From 1896

It’s a commonly accepted part of today’s fashion wisdom that specific fashions are introduced on a seasonal basis (or faster) by armies of designers attempting to come up  with the next best thing. However, this connection between designer and customer hasn’t always been the case and in fact, throughout history, fashions have been introduced “from above” by people of higher social status, often a monarch and their inner circle. From there, the specific fashion moves downward through the social strata, adopted by an ever-widening group of people until it reaches the lower class where the fashion eventually becomes extinct.

Charles II

Charles II Presented With A Pineapple. c. 1675 – 1680

Probably one of the most specific examples of a fashion trend starting at the top was when October 7, 1666 King Charles II decreed that a new fashion was to be worn at Court consisting of a vet, waistcoat, and breeches, an outfit that ultimately evolved into the modern three-piece suit. While older fashions lingered on, the nobility and anyone else with pretensions of social standing were quick to adopt the new fashion.

1660, King of England, Charles II (1630 – 1685) with English statesman and writer William Temple (1628 – 1699). Original Artwork: Engraved by J Parker after a painting by T Stothard.

The traditional idea of fashion trends starting at the top of society has been largely replaced by the idea that fashion trends can start from a multitude of sources ranging from “street fashion” originating with the lower classes, political leaders, the military, and high-profile media figures. In today’s intern

However, central to the concept of fashion diffusion, whether it starts at the top, the bottom or somewhere in between, is the idea that most people are passive when it comes to fashion, only adopting what’s put in front of them to wear, a phenomenon that was noted during the 19th Century, usually in a negative fashion, by a host of commentators. Here is just one example from the March 10, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

The Paris leaders in dress are neither women in private life nor in public life, as one so often reads, but the inventors of toilets in the swell dressmaking establishments, who succeed in interesting their patrons in their creations. Not one woman in 500, or in 5,000, knows what she wants to wear, and not one in 25,000 what she should wear. The designers who make up designs for the dress goods manufacturers have more to do with the fashions in vogue, from season to season, than any queen on any throne.

No longer are fashions being disseminated by those of a particular social class (i.e., a king or queen) but rather it’s being driven by fashion designers. The author goes on to note that:

The loom owners come next, staking much upon their belief that a certain design will sell. Then the dress designers, who do nothing but make pen and ink and colored chalk pictures of fashion figures that they think will show off to advantage the goods in the market, come in for an important place in the line of fashion creators. The “big” dressmakers buy the designs of these artists, and employ other artists of their own to invent fashions, and only then does the woman who buys and wears the clothes come in for any place in the procession of those who are responsible for the modes of the times.

What is interesting here is that the author is describing the fashion industry (of the time)- essentially, the industry itself has created a self-sustaining structure, something that comes as no surprise today. Finally, the author somewhat cynically concludes by stating:

Do heather mixtures and chameleon mohairs, colored damaa and taconnes with filete effects, moire velous and wool and mohair jacquards, Mozambique checks and two-toned silk construction crepons, grenadines and et avimes, and so on and so forth—do any of these become the fashion because a duchess, wears them, or is It because Worth or somebody else coaxes her into having gowns made from them? The great popular demand for anything does not spring out of the fact that real queens wear certain things; too few people ever see them to know what they wear. It is because some of the people in the popular eye like stage queens exhibit taking toilets.

And here we finally hit at one of the major foundations of fashion trend-setting: the role of popular figures (“fashion influencers” as they are termed today). While the author only touches on this before concluding, it explains much of what we see today. The concept of fashion trends is not as modern as we would think and it’s always fascinating to see people’s reactions in earlier times.

Color And The Perfect Dress…

Color is one of the cornerstones of any dress design and as such, it’s one of the designer’s first considerations along with silhouette, line, and fabrics. So, once the color and fabric are selected, that’s it- on to the other parts of the design, right? Well, most of the time, yes. Generally, fabric color is set during the manufacturing process either by dying the filaments before they’re spun into threads or yarns; dying the yarns/treads before weaving the fabric, or dying the fabric after it’s been woven. So it would seem that’s settled…or is it?

Well, there are exceptions…through the use of specific fabric types and fabric manipulation, the designer can present new colors as well and even create the illusion of changing colors to create new color effects while adding variety and interest to the basic design. One of the simplest techniques involves the layering one or more fabrics over each other, a style characteristic of the Nouveau Directoire style that was popular during the years 1908 -1913. One such example is this evening dress from circa 1909:

Evening Dress c. 1909

Whelan-Hannan, Evening Dress, 1909; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1981.518.3)

Evening Dress c. 1909

Rear View

Evening Dress c. 1909

Side Profile

In this example, the underskirt is a medium hued turquoise colored silk satin covered with a black net overskirt. The turquoise underskirt is still visible under the black net but now it’s become considerably darker. At the same time, the shiny luster of the silk satin fabric has disappeared and the luster has been dulled down.

Below is a close-up of the upper front. In the center above the waistband, there’s a cut-out portion in the lace/net overlay where the underskirt fabric is visible and one can see the difference between the two colors side-by-side.

Evening Dress c. 1909

Close-Up of Bodice

Finally, just for completeness, the label:

Evening Dress c. 1909


In terms of color theory, the color palette of the above dress is monochromatic: the colors one sees with and without the netting are both a turquoise but one is a darker hue than the other with the dark hue created by the addition of the black net. This is a somewhat simplified explanation but important point is that the original fabric color was modified merely by the addition of another fabric. Of course, for this to work, it relies on a more solid structured fabric to be covered by one that’s thinner and semi-transparent such as net.

The layering effect described above is more pronounced in some eras more than others with the late Edwardian Era being one of the most prominent for this style. Here are a couple more examples of this style:

 Evening Dress Jeanne Paquin 1912

Color has always been area fascination for us and we hope to present a little more of this in future posts so stay tuned.

Fashion Friday- The Dress Of The Day

We are constantly on the search for the new and different when it comes to dress designs and not a day goes by when we find something new. Today we present an evening wedding reception dress (although it would work in daytime) from circa 1885 belonging to the Palais Galliera musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris:

Reception Dress Day Dress  c. 1885

Blanche Bouchet, Wedding Reception Dress, c. 1885; Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris.

Reception Dress Day Dress  c. 1885

Side Profile

Reception Dress Day Dress  c. 1885

Rear View

This dress has a silhouette characteristic of the Mid to Late 1880s and the side/back bodice and overskirt are constructed of, what appears to be, a light blue silk faille. In contrast, the front bodice and underskirt are constructed of , what appears to be, a blue silk velvet with beadwork in a floral pattern. In viewing this dress, the first thing that the eye is drawn to is the beadwork and the skirts are arranged to show off the large floral motif to its best advantage. The floral motif continues up the front of the bodice in two pieces, cut to create a set of facings that become wider as they approach the neckline, and ending with a matching tall mandarin-style collar. Finally, the velvet beading is also carried out in the cuffs.

Below are some close-up pictures that I created from the original pictures with photo editing software (not perfect but it should give a good idea of the dress details):

Day Reception Dress c. 1885

Close-Up of the front bodice.

Above is some more detail of the front bodice- one can get a better sense of the beading on the blue velvet background set against a lighter blue tint. What is especially interesting is the texture of the light blue silk. Allowing for the vagaries of digital imaging, one can make out horizontal striping on the fabric for the shoulders and overskirt. The stripes are at a 45 degree angle on the bodice front to the left and right of the velvet panels- no doubt these were cut on the bias (at least we think so, a physical examination would clear up this point conclusively). Whether these stripes are the result of using different colored filaments in the weave or simply the product of the weaving process itself is difficult to tell.

Below is a close-up of the lower front under skirt and it’s here that one can see the flowered motif really come to life, the flowers and vines becoming much larger, creating a garden effect.


Below is a close-up of the texturing mentioned above. From the picture, it would appear that a darker shade of blue have been woven into the fabric, interspersed with the lighter blue yarns (these would be the weft yarns). The warp yarns would only be the lighter blue. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the dark blue weft yarns were also thicker than the lighter blue yarns so they would be more prominent. Overall, the textile effect is brilliant and it’s a pity that we cannot have examined this in person.


This dress is an interesting example of the styles that were coming out in the mid to late 1880s: elegant with simple, sharp lines. In contrast to the 1870s, this style is disciplined and “tidy”, relying more on the basic effect of the fabric and its surface decoration rather than added in trims and embellishments. It would seem that everything on this dress is done for a purpose and is all part of a cohesive whole with perfect balance and proportion. It’s a pity that we couldn’t get better pictures of the dress (the Palais Galliera is a horrible website to maneuver through) but we hope we’ve been able to adequately portray at least a portion of the dresse’s essence. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

Dressing The Seasons In Tombstone

We’ve been focusing a bit on color lately and while it may seem a bit excessive, we believe that color is one of the most critical elements in design and thus worthy of constant consideration. In a previous post, we used an example drawn on Spring colors and as a contrast, we’re now presenting some Fall colors as with my 1897 day dress:

Karin Historic House Tour Tombstone 2017

For color, we have the following palette:

Color Palette_Fall1

Here we see a palette with deep color shades of red, brown, and green combined with two neutral colors, black and white.

As for the outfit I’m wearing, it’s late 1890s suit, constructed from a pattern originally published in an 1897 issue of the Delineator. The bodice/jacket is characterized by a short-rise lower profile sleeve cap and narrow lower sleeves. The skirt is a gently curved skirt, constructed with narrow gores. The skirt fabric is an 1890s vintage, new-old stock, silk-wool blend and is almost as light as air (trust me, it’s not heavy at all!).

Here are some more views inside our No. 11 (note the newly upholstered couch in a bright blue jewel tone 🙂 ):

Karin Historic House Tour Tombstone 2017

Karin Historic House Tour Tombstone 2017

And just for fun, here’s a color palette based on the above picture:

Color Palette_Fall2

As you can see, color is an important element and it’s always foremost when we create our designs.