Previously, we’ve seen what was trending for Fall/Winter in the November 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine so let’s now take a further look at the December 1886 issue:
Below is a description of each figure, from left to right:
Fig. I – Walking Dress, Of Dark Green Cashmere. The long wrap is made of striped woolen, plain in front and over the arms, and cut to figure to the waist at the back. It falls in full plaits over the tournure, and is trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with large full bows of yellow ribbon and two stiff feathers.
Fig. II – Visiting Dress, Of Red Camel’s Hair. The petticoat is of velveteen of a darker shade than the dress. The skirt is put on full around the bodice, and is draped in front diagonally. At the back, it falls in straight folds. The long bodice is made full in front. The skirt and cuffs are trimmed with fur, and a fur boa is worn around the neck. Hat of red velvet, trimmed with velvet and a stiff bird’s-wing.
Fig. III – Evening Dress, Of Yellow Silk. The skirt is short and laid in long box-plaits. At the back, it is quite full over the tournure. The front is trimmed with a wide panel of the silk, embroidered in light-brown. The very plain bodice has the same embroidery down the front, and is edged with large pearl beads.
Fig. IV – Evening Dress, Of Light Blue Surah. The skirt is laid in plaits at the sides and back. In front, it is plain, with a fall of deep white lace over it. The tunic is put on full to the bodice, is looped away from the lace with a bunch of white roses on the left side. At the right side, it is drawn further back, and falls in a puff behind. The bodice is plain, pointed back and front, and is trimmed with folds of the silk and knots of satin ribbon.
Fig V – Walking Dress, Of Black Figured Cloth. The bodice is cut long at the back over the tournure, then falls in straight full folds. In front, it is quite plain, but opens at the side over a velvet panel. The bodice in front is very long, plain, and pointed; The whole dress is trimmed with rosary-beads. large velvet bow.
Of particular interest from the above description is the use of Surah for evening dresses stands out. Surah is an even-sided fabric woven in a twill pattern from fine silk filaments or wool (today, polyester is also used). Often patterns are printed on it by the direct print/rolle method.1 This fabric has a smooth, fine hand and a bright, shiny luster. Below are two examples:
And just for interest, here’s an example of a dress from the period made of silk surah:
Another fabric of interest is camel’s hair:
Camel’s hair is typically woven in a twill pattern and can be 100% camel hair or more often, a blend of wool and camel’s hair. Camel’s hair has a soft, silky hand and was widely used in day dresses during the late 19th Century.2
So what was trending from Paris in December 1886? According to Peterson’s:
Walking-suits are now shown in soft-finished cloth and in vigogne [vicuña], the favorite colors being silver-gray, dark brown, and prune-color. A costume in silver-gray cloth has a long full tunic, draped at the back over a plain underskirt bordered with a wide band of Astrakhan-fur. The short tight-fitting jacket is sleeveless, and is bordered with a band of gray Astrakhan, the whole front of the wrap being composed of Astrakhan. This jacket is worn over a blouse-waist in white crape [crepe], finished at the wrists and throat with bands of gray and silver passementerie. Sometimes, the blouse-waist is composed of scarlet crape with similar trimming. The tunic is sloped forward in front, and terminates there at the waist in two long scarf ends, turned over each other, and each finished with a large gray-and-silver tassel.
Another very graceful and artistic walking-dress is in seal-brown vigogne and golden brown Sicilienne. The vigogne overskirt reaches the edge of the hem in front, and is sloped upward at the sides, and looped at the back over a perfectly plain Sicilienne under skirt. The dress is cut Princess, and has a vest and sleeves of the Sicilienne, ornamented with gold passementerie. Over this is worn a dolman-shaped wrap, finished in front with long ends that turn over each other, and at the waist at the back with a wide band of gold-and-brown passementerie, simulating a belt, and seeming to confine the dolman to the figure.
For visiting or reception wear, Worth is making costumes in satin and velvet. The skirt of one that I saw has a very short satin overskirt in front, the back being formed of long wide. flat plaits, and the velvet underskirt being laid in plaits in front, and gathered at the sides half-way down its length. The corsage is in satin. A novelty in the make of this dress was that the drapery was all lined with black brocaded satin.
The above notes are interesting in that it mentions the use of vigogne. or vicuña, and Sicilienne as dress fabrics. So what are these?
Well, first we will start with the vicuña whose wool is one of the rarest natural fibers in the world. Vicuña wool comes from the Vicuña, a camelid found in the high alpine areas of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Vicuña is related to the llama but has not been domesticated. The wool is extremely fine and has excellent heat retention in relation to its weight. The wool is expensive because Vicuña can only be shorn once every three years and they live in the wild and thus, were usually killed and then shorn to the point where they nearly extinct in the 1960s (today, they have been revived and are not killed).3
Today, Vicuña wool is still very expensive, averaging roughly $21,000 for just an off-the-rack suit coat.
Given the wool’s relative rarity, I would suspect that a good portion of the wool being marketed as Vicuña in the late 19th Century was probably a wool blend with cheaper fibers making up the bulk of the fabric. 🙂
As for Sicilienne, it was a variety of poplin fabric composed of silk and wool fibers. The fabric was a unbalanced plain weave with silk filament as the warp fiber and wool as the weft fiber. The individual wool fibers are thicker and heavier than the silk filaments thus creating a pronounced ribbed appearance. According to some references, the wool was cashmere. We hope you have enjoyed this little trip into 1886 and hope you all have drawn some inspiration. There were a variety of fabrics and colors available to Victorians and many of the same fabrics are obtainable today (although you may have to pay a premium as in the case of the Vicuña 🙂 ).
1. [Tortora, Phyllis J. and Ingrid Johnson, Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition.]↩