A Lobster Tail Bustle…

In keeping with our current 1880s them, we recently came across this fantastic example of an 1880s “lobster tail” bustle or tournure from the from the collection of Anton Priymak of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Although fabric coverings on bustles tended towards solid colors, occasionally one sees more colorful fabrics used such as the floral print above. In the absence of a more close-up examination in person, we’d venture to guess that the fabric is most likely a cotton print and the pattern motif is very reminiscent of Japonisme. This is certainly an interesting example and just the fabric alone is amazing- that’s definitely going to be an inspiration for the future. 🙂



Further Defining 1880s Style

In a previous post, we discussed the influence of the bustle, or more properly the tournure or “dress improver,” in defining 1880s style. Specifically, in contrast to bustles of the early 1870s, those of the 1880s were designed to create a very sharply defined train. Often times, the bustle/train became the center of focus for the dress, dominating the visual effect. One example of this effect can be seen with this circa 1885-1888 dress ensemble:

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Afternoon Dress, c. 1885 – 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2033a–e)

In the above picture, we see an asymmetrical skirt in a solid royal blue silk. The skirt has been drawn up sideways so as to create a flat surface on the right and draping on the left. On the right side there are panels of a floral pattern which matches the fabric used for the lapels and cuffs on the bodice. The bodice has been arranged so as to create a jacket/waistcoat effect with the “waistcoat” fabric being ruched and pleated. In the above picture, we also a see a wide belt also made from the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels that is very suggestive of an obi  (the wide belt typically found on a kimono). While the fabric pattern is decidedly Western, the style is definitely influenced by Japonisme and it definitely catches the eye, possibly minimizing the massive train.

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Side Profile

In the above picture, we see the same dress only the wide belt has been replaced by a thin belt of royal blue silk that matches the rest of the dress. With this substitution, the focus is brought back onto the train.

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With optional shawl.

In the above picture, the dress is now worn with a shawl made of the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels. The shawl definitely provides contrast to the solid royal blue of the dress and serves to balance the train somewhat.

However there is one caveat: the staging of the dress for the museum display can make a difference and skew our perceptions- often times one will see a dress in a museum display in which is displayed without the proper bustle and underpinnings thus creating a flat look. On the other hand, it can also be overdone so we have to be careful. In the case of the above dress, in the pictures below, we see that the train and bustle have been toned down; it’s probable that a different bustle was used in these pictures:

To get a more balanced perspective of the 1880s silhouette, here’s some period pictures:

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Mr. Garrigan and lady, Montreal, 1888; McCord Museum (II-87490.1)

Above, we see the characteristic “shelf bustle” in full flower and, for this woman, the style works. The train, skirt, and bodice appear to be in relative proportion.

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Mrs Hughes, in cuirass bodice suit with shelf bustle and flower pot hat, c. 1887; State Library of New South Wales collection.

Here is a less effective rendition of this style. The bustle and train appear to be an appendage that’s been tacked on and it lacks unity and the proportions are somewhat off. The woman’s severe look also doesn’t help the look.

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Archduke Josef Karl of Austria and spouse, Archduchess Clotilde, neé Princess of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, c. 1884

Here we see a definite mismatch in proportions between the train, skirt, and bodice. The bodice bottom is too short in relation to the bustle and skirt- it looks oddly truncated.

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Mrs. G. S. Davidson, Montreal, 1884; McCord Museum (II-73351.1)

In this picture, the bustle is more restrained, perhaps because it was taken in 1884 before the second bustle trend has completely taken hold.

Fashion is a constant process of extremes followed by reaction and it was no different with  the tournure as we see from the following comments from the February issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

The diminution of tho tournure, the falsely -so- called “dress-improver,” appears to be definitely decided upon. Worth is using all his powerful influence in that direction,
as he dislikes very much the ungraceful stiffness imparted to the upper portion of the toilette by its undue dimensions. The newest articles of this description are composed of ruffles of hair-cloth— the genuine “crinoline”— and the sides are simply laced together underneath, neither steel springs nor whalebone being used in the fabric.

The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just at the back of the skirt-band, and three rows of steel springs are set in the lower part of the skirt to hold it out. This is merely a return to the combination which was in vogue before the present— or, rather, the recent—exaggeration of this detail of feminine dress.

Even Worth had enough of the “shelf bustle” and was pushing back- the results were to become strikingly evident as the 1880s gave way to the 1890s. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of the “shelf bustle” and stay tuned for more.



Defining 1880s Style- The Silhouette

When it comes to mid to late 1880s style, it’s easy for one to conjure up visions of dresses with severely sculpted lines that were largely defined by an extremely angular “shelf bustle.” Naturally, as with all fashions, they manifested themselves in both extreme and moderate versions but it was the more extreme versions that caught the attention of the press and assorted satirists. One of the most oft-repeated quips was “one could set a tea service on top of the bustle.”

Here’s just one example from an 1883 German humor magazine in which the women is likened to a Centaur:

bustle-satire-fliegende-bltter-magazine-1880s

From Fliegende Blätter; Band LXXVIII (1883), p. 147.

Interestingly enough, the above cartoon was made in 1883 when the bustle was re-emerging- perhaps they were ahead of the fashion curve? 😉

All joking aside, to a great degree, 1880s style was defined by the “shelf bustle” as shown in the picture below:

Evening Dress c. 1884 -1886

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

Structure was everything in Victorian fashion and below are some examples on how the distinctive 1880s silhouette was created:

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Bustle, c. 1885; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.399)

Bustle 1884

Bustle, Steel Frame, c. 1884; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.131C-1919).

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Within the parameters created by the basic silhouette, there was a wide variety of possible styles. As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice. Below are just some examples:

Godeys_Jan 1887

Godey’s Ladysbook, January 1887

In the above plate, on the left one can see a combination jacket/waistcoat styled bodice combined with with a solid colored overskirt covering a patterned underskirt. Interestingly enough, the waistcoat fabric matches the pattern on the underskirt. On the right, one can see a solid bodice trimmed with an embroidered panel that matches the pattern of the underskirt. At the same time, the pattern on the overskirt matches the basic fabric of the bodice. While there may be contrasts in fabric patterns, the do harmonize in the way that they’re both used on the skirts and the bodices. At the same time, the colors also harmonize even when they’re contrast colors.

As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice.

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_2

In the above plate, we see the use of different shades of the same color that are used to harmonize. The dress on the left simply combines a lighter brown with dark brown trim on the bodice lapels and are continued down the dress front (the dress appears to be a princess line but it’s hard to tell from the plate). The dress on the right is a bit more sophisticated in that not only do we see a dark and light shades of green combined, but we also see the use of a striped overskirt combined with a striped and patterned bodice. Interestingly enough, in both dresses, the dark color is only used on the trim and patterns, the light color makes up the majority of both dresses.

Below is another example of how colors and patterns could be combined:

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_3

Magazine des Demoiselles, 1887

On the left, we see the use of contrasting colors, in this case rose-colored vertical stripes combined with a light gray. The stripes are distributed around the skirt and on the sleeves and front of the bodice. There appears to be only one skirt. On the right, we see a solid dark gray/blue overskirt and bodice combined with a black floral pattern with a rose background for the underskirt, cuffs, collar, and bodice front. It also appears that the bodice cuts away to reveal a waistcoat of the same patterned fabric- to us, the patterned fabric conjures up visions of cut velvet.

The following fashion plates from 1886 and 1887 further illustrate some other possible combinations:

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Peterson’s Magazine, November 1886

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Peterson’s Magazine, February 1887

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Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

Fashion plates are are well and good but what about actual dresses? Well, in answer, here are some extant examples::-)

Day Dress c. 1885

Day Dress, French, c. 1885; Silk plain weave (taffeta) and silk plain weave with warp-float patterning and supplementary weft, and silk knotted tassel; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.34a-b)

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Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

Pingat 1 1888

Pingat, Promenade Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.7758a, b)

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Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.68.2a–c)

Day Dress 1888 1

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

1888 Day Dress

Madame Arnaud, Paris, Morning Dress, c. 1888; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (2008.46.1)

For many, the typical 1880s silhouette is off-putting and in our experience, we have found that for most people looking to recreate the styles of the 1880s, they tend to gravitate towards either towards the beginning of the decade with the Mid-Bustle Era styles or towards the end of the decade where the bustle was diminishing and we start to see a more cylindrical, upright profile that was to carry on into the 1890s.

However, we would argue that while there is no denying that the late 1880s fashion silhouette was defined by an often extreme, angular bustle, this was not always the case and there are many instances where women toned it down- just looking at the variety of bustle appliances and pads that were available for sale is testament to that. As with all fashion, there were those who went to extremes and others who tended to be more conservative and especially for those of more modest means.

Just as important, if not more so, the 1880s offers a variety of styles to suit every aesthetic and a lot of room for developing a unique “signature” style that’s unique to the individual. So, why not give it a try? 🙂



1880s Style- A Color And Texture Perspective

Color and texture were two major elements in the daytime styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

“Contrast” could also be a bit more subtle- note how the jeweled texture of the under bodice/underskirt also goes a long way in visually setting the two fabrics apart:

Day Dress 1887

Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Contrasting colors were also employed:

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Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:

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Edouard Alexandre Sain, The Red Parasol, Private Collection

With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

Close-Up Bodice Front

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:

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Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)

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Side Profile

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Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:

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Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria circa 1885:

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Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)

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Full View With Train

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Rear View

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Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂 In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into 1880s fashion effects and it’s clear that there were an almost unlimited range of design by possibilities and we hope that this will serve as an inspiration in recreating styles of the 1880s.



Fashion Plates & Fashion History

When we originally wrote this several years ago, we were more focused on the fashion plate as an accurate means of documenting how garments looked during the late 19th Century. However, as time went on, our opinion has shifted somewhat to the idea that fashions plates depicted what was possible and as such, served as inspiration more than anything else. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that most of the 19th Century fashion press got its start as a means of promoting the sales of printed paper patterns. For example, The Delineator was owned by Butterick, one of the leading pattern manufacturers and another major publication, Demorest’s Family Magazine for all intents and purposes is glorified pattern catalog. But what is more striking is that the fashion plates of the period go a long ways towards documenting evolutionary changes in fashion silhouettes which is extremely useful. Combined with original photographic images and extant examples, we can get a very good picture of how garments appeared and as such, fashion plates are just one more valuable tool but not the only tool.


Fashion plates are often criticized as fashion history documentation because their representations of period fashions that bear no relation to what those particular period fashions ACTUALLY looked like. At best, they’re fantastical distortions of reality, representing an ideal that could never be attained (of course, the same argument can be made about today’s fashions as depicted in the fashion press).

Cover Petersons 1887

However, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that fashion plates, both colored and black and white, played a practical role in the transmission of fashion information during the 19th and early 20th Centuries; fashion photography would not come into its own until the 1910s. While  the study of fashion plates as an art form in itself has become popular today, this was not what they were intended to be. Rather, it was a blueprint for individuals to be able to replicate a given design.

Cover Godeys 1885 Cover Harpers Bazar 1885

However, at the same time, fashion plates did present ideal views of their subject garments with their unnatural poses and the models were perfect physical representations. But never the less, fashion plates were first and foremost meant to be a practical means of transmitting fashion information. Ultimately, the fashion plate was a practical tool and used as such.

Cover Delineator 1890

More specifically, the fashion plate was deliberately constructed to impart information to the viewer and specifically to enable the viewer to be able to make a garment based on the plate- in short, “how to do it” blueprints and as such they were often used as supplements to accompanying sewing patterns and were typically printed in magazines. Magazines such as The Delineator, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Harper’s Bazar, and Peterson’s Magazine were only a few of the many magazines that were available to the home sewer and professional dressmaker.

Petersons June 1870

Fashion Plate from Peterson’s Magazine, June 1872.

Above is a fairly typical fashion plate- it looks like a simple illustration of a group of dresses. Well, yes and no- the poses are somewhat stilted with the emphasis on showing as much of the dress as possible. Notice how the decorative treatments are given the best angle possible and especially on the train. This was deliberately done in order for the viewer to see the entire design in order to replicate it.

But it was not only fashion plates. Patterns and more detailed information were also supplied:

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Evening Polonaise Pattern from Peterson’s Magazine, May 1872.

Petersons Nov 1880

Fashion plates simply illustrated what was possible and were meant as a source of inspiration, not necessary something to be followed line-for-line. But more importantly, fashion plates showed the progression of styles through the late 19th Century and just by glancing at them, one can readily see differences and especially in the silhouette as it evolved from the 1870s through the  1890s. Here are some some examples from the 1870s and 1880s:

Godey's Lady's Book, November 1872

Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1872

Englishwomens Domestic Magazine June 1876

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, June 1876

Plate 2

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Le Mode Illustree 1878

La Mode Illustree, 1878

Fashion Plate, 1881 from the Revue de La Mode.

Revue de La Mode, 1881.

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Revue de La Mode, 1885

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C. 1886

Petersons April 1889

Peterson’s Magazine, April 1889

As we move into the 1890s, still more shifts in the what was considered to be the ideal silhouette can be seen:

1892

Journal Des Demoiselles, January 1892

Journal Des Demoiselles, August 1893

Journal Des Demoiselles, August 1894

Delineator 1898 Dec

The Delineator, December 1898

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The Delineator, December 1898

What is interesting about this progression of plates is that by the 1890s, it’s all about the front of the dress. While there are frontal views in earlier plates and rear views in later plates, it is still obvious that the emphasis had shifted which is consistent with the movement away from the bustle. The 1880s provide some interesting ground in that the views seem to almost split 50-50, at least based on a very unscientific examination of fashion plates from various sources, both online and in books.

The above is only a small sample of the fashion illustration that was characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries but it does show that even then, the dissemination of fashion information was being done on a large-scale industrial basis, pushed along by technical advances in the printing trades. Moreover, with the rise of mass-circulation fashion magazines such as Godey’s, Petersons, and Harper’s Bazar, fashion’s reach extended to almost the entire world and most notably in America. The “pretty” and “fantastical” fashion plate served a very specific and practical role that today is easily overlooked. In the end, fashion plates were an art form in terms of their ability to impart information rather than existing as representations of fashion.