Project: Circa 1884 Evening Dress- Part 1

We thought that we’d start out 2022 with a discussion about our last project: a circa 1884-inspired evening dress. This was a fabulous project for us in that we were able to utilize just about every couture sewing technique in the construction and utilizing authentic materials, and trims. The project began with the client coming to us wanting a circa 1880s ballgown that would have no train and a yellow color theme. Beyond this, the client pretty much gave us carte blanche in our design choices. So where to begin? Well, we turned to Harper’s Bazar, one of our major go-to sources for late 19th Century fashion when we need inspiration and in particular, Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar 1867-1898:

Basically, we focused on the right cover image as our starting point. As you can see, the book has gotten a lot of wear over the years and is now falling apart…

And now a little more on the inspiration image on the book cover…it’s actually based on this illustration that appeared in the February 23, 1884 issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Harper’s Bazar, February 23, 1884

Here’s the dress description (I have edited it slightly to make it easier to read):

Figure 2: EVENING DRESS: This graceful dress with a small train is made of sea-foam green silk trimmed with white lace and large clusters of roses of variegated colors- pink, cream, and deep red- held by flots of green velvet or satin ribbon. A deep flounce of ribbon crosses the front and falls upon a narrower flounce. The apron over-and skirt is caught up on each side and joins the back of the, which forms the small train; the back breadths are arranged in a large puff, and in uneven drapery below. The flowers are posed alike on each side of the skirt.

The low pointed corsage [bodice] is of silk, covered by lace put on smoothly as a transparent. A drapery of the silk begins on the right shoulder, crosses the front, and is lost under the flowers on the left side. A smaller bouquet is placed on the left of the corsage. The high coiffure has a cluster of pink and pale green ostrich tips.  Painted silk fan, silk stockings, and satin slippers the color of the dress.

As you can no doubt determine from this somewhat long-winded description and accompanying illustration, flowers play a major role in the dress design and this was a major factor in designing the client’s dress except that we used yellow flowers at the client’s request.

To be continued…

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