Early Princess Style…

It’s generally accepted that the princess dress style began to gain traction around 1876-1878. However,  as with most fashion trends, the princess dress didn’t just spontaneously appear but rather it was a product of an evolutionary process that we’ve managed to trace back to at least 1874.  One of the more logical places for the princess style to develop was with house dresses because of their simple, relatively loose construction. Below are two designs that were offered for sale as patterns in the October 1874 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The Griselda Polonaise is described as:

The recent styles, however furnish a concession to the rage for jackets, and by a clever addition of a “basque,” or “jacket ” back, give the effect of two separate parts to the costume. A stylish example of this is illustrated in the “Griselda” polonaise, one of the prettiest, and at the same time, one of the most practical designs of the season. It is long, straight around, with just enough fullness to make it graceful, and is fitted with a slashed basque, which comes far enough forward to furnish the jacket effect. The revers collar extends into square tabs at the back—tho ends of which are finished with woolen ball, or tasseled fringe to match the basque. Plaitings may be employed if the design is used in the making of an alpaca suit, but the whole amount of fringe required, will not be over a yard and a-half.

What is interesting about the “Griselda Polonaise” is that it’s not referred to at all as a princess dress but rather focuses on the faux jacket style that serves to create an illusion that there are two separate parts the dress. Of course, one look at the dress front illustration makes it clear that this is a one-piece garment.

The Camilla Gabrielle as:

A new style of the princess dress will be found in the “camilla” gabrielle, a very dressy design, easily arranged however, and adapted to a wide class of materials…it forms a ladylike indoor dress for either city or country, requires a comparatively small amount of material, and but little trimming to make a stylish dress.

Both of the above styles are very elegant versions of the indoor house dress while at the same time emphasizing that they don’t require a lot of expensive materials.  Here’s an extant example of a house dress from circa 1875:

House Dress, 1875; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

This dress has a princess silhouette and is constructed from a combination of lavender and dark purple/eggplant silk taffeta. This style is very similar to the above engravings from Demorest’s with a few  variations on decorative treatments. What’s striking about this dress is the use of contrasting dark and light panels, a feature that would become common into the late 1870s. Also, we can see that with this style, it wasn’t too far of a leap to migrate into a full-blown day dress suitable for wear outside the house as can be seen with this example:

Another interesting feature about the earlier princess style dresses is that we can also see an evolution from a long polonaise into a more proper dress and this is evident with the these two dress styles that appeared in the June 4, 1876 and August 2, 1876 issues of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

In the above two fashion plates, one can see very visible underskirts that are more than simple hems but rather suggest that the style started with a two-piece skirt and polonaise with the polonaise becoming longer to the point where an underskirt was either no longer needed or remained in a vestigial form with an elaborate hem and train.  Now, just to throw some other elements into the princess dress style, there’s this plate, also from an 1876 issue of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

Here we see the princess line combined with an outer redingote combined with the suggestion of an underskirt and waist/vest (we believe that much of this would have actually been of a one-piece construction.  The redingote, combined with the wide lapels and elaborate tails, definitely reads Directoire; whether this was solely a concept piece only depicted in a fashion plate or actually makes for interesting speculation. In the end, the only major takeaway from all of this is that fashion evolves while at the same time combining other style elements in a seemingly endless variety of combinations and it can be said that there’s definitely a lot to consider in designing a recreation of the princess style dress, whether it’s a house dress, tea gown, or full-blown day/afternoon dress.

Evolution of an 1879 Dress- Redux

With the coming of Spring and the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve had a lot of extra time to go through our collections and refurbish and update as necessary. In the course of doing so, we came across this wonderful picnic dress that’s given us excellent service…

So we thought we’d take another look at the design process that guided the creation of this dress…

In keeping with the theme of fashion inspiration and design, we present a short overview of the process applied to a picnic gown, narrated by Karin.  With the coming of Spring, comes longer and warmer days and the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy those days. 🙂 Picnics are a favorite with us because they give us an opportunity to wear our designs in a relaxed atmosphere (balls are fun too, don’t get me wrong) and we just naturally associate it with Impressionist picnics. 🙂

Claude Monet1

Claude Monet- “The Artist’s Family In the Garden” (1875)

With the arrival of spring, vegetation begins to flower in a riot of color and that is where we find our inspiration. As we noted in a previous post, greens are a special favorite with us but they’re not the only favorite…

There is a host of other colors to include shades of blue, red, magenta, pink, and lilac…

Lilac is one of those easily overlooked colors but it struck a responsive chord with us. We’ll let Karin continue the story…:-)

It’s no secret, I have a thing for sheer frothy summer picnic gowns straight from an Impressionist painting. My favorite lilac summer gown started with every intention of being “that white Met dress” that I have a crush on:


The original gown inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website. It has three of the four “food groups” that interest me with gowns: pleating, ruffles, shirring, ruching…guess which one this one doesn’t have. 🙂 Pleating…mine will have it.

However, the moment I announced that I was going to make this gown on Facebook, a friend of mine posted that she was going to use this same cotton batiste! Thus, the evolution began…so I decided to dye it.

First, the lilac rinse. The top of the sample has been left plain:


Everything came from my work studio and was carefully dyed to harmonize and not match. This is how to create depth so things don’t appear to be flat.


Vintage fabrics have stories to tell. This vintage eyelet came from a Lid family friend’s chalet in Switzerland (and some stories, I’m sure!) It took over four sheet dips of  color to get the right shade. I’ve been carefully using this gift of fabric over the years and there are only two meters left.


Second and final color later and silk ribbons to match, because…you never know, right? Color is clear and not muddy, not an easy thing to do. I’m an artist myself and as such, I usually get ideas from other painters…Tissot is one of my favorites. 🙂


Foundation skirt front, very girly with both micro pleats, shirring, and ruffles, book is showing my inspiration dress. That’s a lot of narrow hemming! Et voila…


Lilac summer gown (the first version) standing next to my W&G treadle machine that I made the hat with. The gown (like most of mine) will eventually evolve. This version had no collar, just an antique piece of lace slipped in the piped neck edge and after wearing it once, I hung it up and told Adam:

“It’s BORING and flat, it will never again be worn”.

A re-direct was required. I like the next version much better…


Final version with a shaped velvet edged lapel that is curved to fit over the bust with no ruffles…more tailored, much better! The difference is that it’s now balanced visually, nothing “floats” near the face, which is better for me. I’ve learned to say “never say never”…


Summer gowns and stagecoaches? Count me in! See how the collar curves with the bust? That has to be done with a curved neck edge (on the lapel) slipped onto a straight neckline. I like that much better. 🙂


Of course, the garden photo Rancho Los Camulos…matching the bougainvillea was a happy surprise. <3 Monet would approve.

And now, back to Adam…

So there you have it, straight from the designer herself- often the design process takes various twists and turns, sometimes in response to a change in conditions or sometimes as simple as someone else is looking to create a similar dress. Also, a chance encounter with a specific piece of fabric or variable dye results can send the design process spinning in an unanticipated direction. In short, it’s not a mechanical process as one would find with designing a car or an airplane: it’s more art than science. But also note that “design” is not the only factor at work here; it’s also essential to have an understanding of how garments are constructed and the interactions between textiles, dyes, and construction.

Fashion plates, original images, and extant examples are all useful (and essential) but unless one understands what is going on “under the hood”, so to say, the end results will not be optimal. The design process is a bit more complicated than one would initially think but at the same time, it’s not magical and mysterious (no matter what some designers will claim). The key is diligent study and constantly being open to new possibilities and have a willingness to learn new techniques.

Has our opinions on the design process changed over time? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that with the additional research that we’ve done since this post was originally written, we’ve become even more aware that there are no certainties when it comes to the design process and that one’s sense of aesthetics is in a constant state of flux and as a result, we must always be open to new possibilities. 🙂


Stepping Back To 1878…

And for a change of pace, we step back a few decades to circa 1878 with this wonderful Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form day dress that’s identified as a wedding dress1This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble”, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/156665. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.:

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Below is a nice close-up showing details of the fashion fabric and some of the details.

Side Profile

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorate effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late Nineteenth Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the Nineteenth Century but only by the very rich.2For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions. 🙂

Today’s Fashion Feature- The House Dress

For today’s fashion feature, we switch gears just a bit and present a very unique circa 1879 house dress1We do admit that you could also possibly consider this to be a tea gown but to us it read more like a house dress. Purely subjective on our part to be sure.. Even more interesting is that this dress has an accompanying picture of the dress’s original owner, something that one rarely sees:

House Dress, c. 1879; Antiquedress.com website

The dress is a princess line style and the silhouette is somewhat loose, a style that was characteristic of house dresses of the late 1870s and 1880s and in the dress has a closed front. The dress is constructed from a red wool with a gold embroidery floral design that runs down the dress front and continues along the hem.  Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t that large so it’s hard to make out details, Here’s some close-up views:

Here’s a nice view of the floral design motif at the bottom front and the corner provides a perfect opportunity to expand on the design and make it stand out. The leaves are ferns that are reminiscent of neo-classical floral motifs found in France during the Napoleonic era. Here’s another view of the lower dress front:

The sleeves are pretty simple and unadorned except on the cuffs:

Below is a good close-up view of the cuff treatment; a large gold embroidered flower and white lace at the bottom:

And here’s a close of the embroidered flower from the cuff:

And the pocket:

The back is also very interesting with it’s seam treatment running down the entire length of the back, flaring into pleats towards the bottom:

To make this dress complete here’s a picture of it being worn back around circa 1879:

This dress is definitely a finer, more upscale version of the utilitarian house dress and was clearly meant for wear when visitors came calling. This is also reinforced by that fact that the dress’ owner felt it was respectable enough to have their photograph taken while wearing it. It’s amazing, to say the least and it would be interesting to know more about the lady in the above pictures but unfortunately, the auction website that we got this from was a bit sparse on details. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past.

And For A Little Princess Line Style…

Princess line dresses have always been a source of fascination for us, especially since they represented a dramatic break from the previous style characteristic of the early 1870s. Here’s one interesting example, circa 1874-1879 from the National Museum of Scotland that we recently came across while searching for something completely different:

Day Dress, c. 1874-1879; National Museum of Scotland (H.TM 30)

This dress is made from a combination of violet silk taffeta and a dark blue silk velvet. The dress and bodice back and front are made from the lighter violet silk taffeta while the dark blue velvet sleeves, collar, and bodice front panel provide a contrast in both luster and texture. Wide bands of the same velvet also run across the dress front in swags and along the hem and the top of the demi-train. In terms of silhouette, the dress is firmly in the Mid Bustle Era with its cylindrical style and moderate train at the top widening out into a demi-train at the bottom. Finishing the look is a row of cut steel buttons running down the front. And now for some side profile views:

In the above picture, there’s a better view of the demi-train and one can see the row of knife pleating running along the hem of the train as well as the cuffs. On the dress itself, the pleating is larger and wider. In terms of function, this was a more formal train with its demi-train and was probably an afternoon or reception dress meant for daytime wear.

This dress is a wonderful example of various design elements characteristic of the era to include contrasting textures and luster in fabric selection and the use of analogous colors, combined with draping and pleating. This dress hits all the high points and is definitely a source of inspiration for any recreation efforts.