More From The Atelier: Fall Fashions Continued

Since we got a good reception in the last post on Fall designs, we decided to take this a little further. When we think of “Fall Colors”, we tend to think in terms of browns, golds, orange, cinnamon which all are suggestive of the leave falling. At the same time, there are other colors outside of this range that will also work to a lesser degree such as dark green, blue-grey, plum, and lavender. Now we grant that this is somewhat of a subjective interpretation on our part but what is key that the tones should not be muted or dull, but rather should be bright hues. We even favor jewel tones if used judiciously. The essential point is that as Fall progresses, the days grow shorter and the sun’s intensity diminishes as it shifts (at least in places other than Southern California), thus the garments’ colors need compensate. Unlike today’s fashion, Victorians exploited the possibilities provided by the advent of synthetic dyes and this was reflected in their use of bright colors. Often one or several colors were used in combinations that sometimes seem jarring to modern aesthetic sensibilities.

Victorian Era Colors- These were intended for house paint but the colors were were used in fabric dyes and often came in bright hues.

By way of example, below is a Parisian fashion plate from September 1885:

Le Moniteur de la Mode, September 1885

Le Moniteur de la Mode, September 1885

Having the right colors for the Fall is critical but it’s only the beginning. In order for those colors to have the most impact, it is essential that they be integrated into a design that delivers the maximum impact. Whether the dress is a day dress, evening dress, or ballgown, the same rule applies. One example of this can be found with the following evening dress:


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


Maker’s Label

This dress dates from the mid 1880s or Late Bustle Era, characterized by the return of the bustle in all its glory for a second run. However, unlike the Early Bustle Era of the early 1870s, the silhouette created by the bustle and train is more extreme with the bustle shelf perpendicular to the rest of the dress (there were those who joked that one could set an entire tea service on the “shelf” created by the bustle). It’s a pity that there are no available pictures of the front and rear of this dress.

But more importantly for our purposes, with the bustle and its attendant train, we now have a larger “canvas” to display style elements and in the above example, the designer took full advantage of this, utilizing long long vertical knife pleating and large velvet chevrons. To complement the train, the designer also incorporated three rows of knife pleating along the hem in complementary colors. The design itself is relatively simple, utilizing sharp clean lines that are not obscured by any trim. As for the colors, they are a dark cinnamon-red and a light peach/salmon with a hint of orange. The luster of the silk fashion fabric make the colors lively and it was no doubt deliberately designed so as to make the dress stand out in a candle or gas light room (in terms of lighting, this dress would not work that well for daytime wear). Here, the colors are allowed to speak for themselves.

Below is some examples of day dresses that also use this idea in varying forms:



The above day dress is from circa 1876 and is made from a silk taffeta and unfortunately the photography doesn’t do justice to the dress. This is a relatively simple design with a clean lines which creates a very simple silhouette. Once again, there is a minimum of trim which is somewhat atypical for mid 1870s dresses. In some ways it could be argued that this is a transitional piece, incorporating elements from both Early and Mid Bustle Eras. One can make out the presence of a train and bustle but it’s not as extreme as what was prevalent during the early 1870s. At the same time, the silhouette is not completely vertical. Ultimately, there’s room for interpretation on these points.

But even more compelling is the use of two complementary colors, an orange rust and a dark cinnamon. One can see contrasting stripes consisting of both large bold ones on the bodice and much smaller ones along the hemline. The use of contrasting colors is taken even further with the use of a darker colored overskirt and train. This dress may not seem as bold as the first one but bear in mind that the photography of the two examples greatly differ and we are dealing with garments that are over a 100 years old. More importantly, the second example is a day dress which tended to be more muted color-wise than evening dresses or ball gowns.

We’ve saved the best for last, the ballgown… 🙂

Ballgown, Worth, c. 1890; Preservation Society of Newport County


Closeup of the fashion fabric.

Closeup of the fashion fabric.

This ballgown was made for a Mrs. Ella Rives King of Kingscote, a large mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. During the mid to late 19th Century, Newport was a popular summer residence for the rich and over the years a number of mansions were built there of which Kingscote was only one. These mansions are preserved to this day by the Preservation Society of Newport County and are open for visiting on a seasonal basis.

Ella Rives King1

Now to the gown itself. As stated above, it’s constructed from a silk brocade and while it’s not explicitly stated in what little information that was available, it’s safe to say that the design was woven into the fabric given Worth’s ties with the silk weaving industry in Lyon, France. Draped along the neck line the left side of the bodice is a gold colored tulle. From the pictures it’s hard to tell what exactly has been placed to give the tulle a metallic sparkle effect. The centerpiece of the gown, however, is the fabric itself consisting of a gold colored floral pattern against a darker orange background. From a distance, the effect is suggestive of falling leaves but we’re probably reaching a bit here. 🙂

This ballgown is a relatively simple (of course, nothing is “simple” when it comes to the haute couture of the period) design both in silhouette and style- with the exception of the tulle on the left neckline, there’s nothing else to distract from the fashion fabric itself. This is in contrast to Worth’s usual designs which tended towards an elaborate laying of fabrics and trim. Moreover, it stands in contrast to Doucet who tended to favor a more softer (some say “fluffy”) look. Finally, one could even argue that the floral design and color combination give it an almost impressionist look although at the same time it could be considered too “busy”. Whatever one’s position it, it’s still eye catching.

In the above examples, we’ve attempted to give some or our “design philosophy” which, simply put, consists of combining color, fabrics and construction to create garments that are not only historically appropriate but ones that deliver the greatest aesthetic impact.

3 thoughts on “More From The Atelier: Fall Fashions Continued

  1. I’m going to be attempting to recreate the Worth poppy ballgown (last set of images). What would you suggest for the beading on the tulle sash? I was thinking seed pearls or maybe Swarovski crystals?

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