1890s Day Wear & Poplin

From the July 16, 1899 issue of La Mode Illustree, this elegant yet functional walking suit style described as a toilette de visites ornee d’applications (roughly translated as a “Visiting outfit decorated with appliqués”):

This style features a simple wrap-around multi-gore fan skirt characteristic of the 1890s and decorated with a large floral design on the outer corner of the wrap skirt. The bodice is interesting in that it’s a jacket-bodice that’s intended to mimic a jacket over a vest although if you study the illustration, it seems that the vest blends into the jacket revers but you can just barely make out a faint line dividing the two- talk about optical illusion. 😉

Here’s some more details from the description: The dress is made from a bottle-green summer-weight poplin.  Also, the skirt is decorated with a large white lily appliqué on the right front of the skirt and white trim run along the edge of the skirt. On the jacket-bodice, the lily theme is taken further with a white decorative lily motif trim on the sleeves and bodice front- it’s also noted that the appliqués are edged in bottle-green silk to match the overall dress color.  At the top of the vest portion of the jacket-bodice, there’s a silk green plastron covered by white ecru lace.1This is an extremely rough English translation from the description in the original publication.

This is an interesting style and it would have been nice to see fully created. What really sticks out is the use of a poplin fabric. During the late 19th Century, poplin was a plain weave fabric that usually combined silk warp yarns with wool weft yarns and often given a moire finish.2Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition; today, Poplin is woven from a variety of fibers, mostly cotton and the finish is often flat. Often confused with Broadcloth, Poplin is heavier. Although the fashion illustration doesn’t really provide any clues in terms of finish, it still bears more investigation as a fabric for spring and summer garments.

Looking Underneath The Dress- La Maison Worth

Haute couture has always been an extremely personal experience for the client and this was especially true during the late 19th Century. Garments were designed to precisely fit the individual and constructed of the finest fabrics and trim; one could not help think that the garment in question had been exclusively designed for the client from the ground up. However, the reality was quite different: underneath all the exquisite fabrics and glittery trim were the garment’s basic structure- a structure that gave a particular garment its shape and that structure was based on common pattern pieces. The fabrics and trim might change from garment to garment but their basic structure utilized the same slopers or basic pattern blocks that could be modified as needed for a particular client and style.1(De Marly, Diana. Worth: The Father of Haute Couture. Holmes & Meier, 1990)

The House of Worth was generally acknowledged as the leading couture houses in Paris (and by extension, the world) and as such, its designs reflected this. However, underneath all the exquisite fabrics and trims, the dresses made by Charles Worth often used the same basic pattern blocks (albeit modified for the individual client). It’s often all too easy to get lost in all the exquisite details found on Worth dresses and especially with ball and evening gowns. For example, let’s take a look at these two ball gowns:

Ball Gown Worth c. 1895 - 1900

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Both of the above gowns were made during the late 1890s and both have the same silhouette and share identical lines. Only the fabrics and trim change. Here’s another pair of evening dresses made during the mid 1890s:

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1894; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4799 84-9-2AB)

Evening Dress Worth c. 1895 - 1896

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1895 – 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (35.134.2a, b)

Similarities could also be found in a variety of dress styles:


Worth, Dinner Dress, 1897; Costume Museum of Canada

Worth Evening Dress c. 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.638a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Worth Day Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Side Profile

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Side Profile

Surface treatments might differ (i.e. smooth fabric versus ruched fabric) and trains an sleeve lengths and trim can vary but at the root, these dresses share many of the same internal structural components. When one thinks about it, it only makes sense- while haute couture may have only been worn by a narrow segment of the market, within that specific market segment there was a heavy demand and it could only be met by utilizing various industrial production practices. Of course, the client was blissfully unaware of this, their only concern was getting the desired garment. In short, one could term it “mass production luxury goods” which is almost a contradiction in terms.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into what was going on underneath the dress, so to say, and we hope to be making more posts about this in the future.

1890s Bathing Costume

Recently, we decided to get out of the house (and maintain social distancing) and take a drive along the Pacific Coast. That drive prompted us to think about how Victorians experienced the seashore during the 1890s and thus this post was born. It’s a little off our usual beaten path but we think that you’ll like it. 🙂

During the Victorian Era. During the late 19th Century, various forms of specialized dress rapidly developed and especially when it came to sporting activities. This was an especially revolutionary development for women in that it signaled that the status of women in society was changing. Where once Women were expected to remain focused solely on domestic activities, they were now increasingly leading public lives and often independent of men (granted, this was an uneven process that continues up to the present).

One of the most dramatic developments was the development of “bathing costume” which allowed women to go swimming at a lake, river, or seashore while maintaining decorum and modesty. However, this was not a smooth process and there was resistance from the more conservative elements to the point where the wearing of bathing costume was either completely illegal or subject to stringent regulation to the point where women could be arrested for indecent exposure if their bathing costume failed to meet local standards.

Le Monitor 1893

Le Moniteur de la mode, c. 1893

Specific bathing costume can be traced back at least the 1850s but it wasn’t until the 1890s that bathing costume emerged as a major trend, spurred by the idea that going to the beach was considered to be a healthful social activity.

Too often we think of people in the Victorian era as being bored or even morose. These photos humanize an era by capturing those elusive smiling Victorian faces.:

And the market responded… 🙂 The catalog advertisement below is only one of the wide variety of ads that were out there during the 1890s:

Jordan, Marsh & Co., Women's Bathing Suits Spring and Summer, 1897 Mohair plus water plus a hot summer day, what could be more comfortable than that?:

Page From An 1897 Jordan Marsh Catalog

Bathing costume during the 1890s usually consisted of a top, blouse, short bloomers or knickers and a skirt. Stockings and special “bathing boots” made of canvas and cork soles were also worn, all with the idea of the woman not showing too much skin. The fabrics used for making bathing costume were usually wool flannel, wool jersey, mohair, linen, cotton, or some combination thereof. Needless to say, these were not intended for serious swimming (that would come later) but rather wading or simply lounging on the beach. Style-wise, bathing costumes had a nautical theme with sailor collars and the predominant use of blues and blacks.

Victorian Bathing Suits

Posed Picture, c. 1902; Library of Congress

Below are some examples of bathing costume. First, here is one from c. 1878 – 1880 where we see the basic silhouette and style that was to predominate in the 1890s starting to become established:


Bathing Costume, c. 1878 – 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.77.1a–c)


Rear View Of The Top


Front View Of The Top


The Bottom

Here’s a later version from the 1890s:


Bathing Costume, c. 1890s; McCord Museum (M992.115.2)

As can be seen from the above, bathing wear had a nautical style reminiscent of naval uniforms of the period, a theme that was to continue on into the early 1900s.

However, even back in the 1890s, there could be dramatic exceptions to the norm when it came to fashion and that was especially evident with this “startling bathing costume” pictured in the August 22, 1897 edition of the San Francisco Call:


The above outfit is certainly a departure from the typical dark-colored nautical-theme in that the base color is white, constructed of horizontal layers of white wool serge. The model is wearing only the knickers and a one-piece bodice/shirt. She appears to be perhaps holding a skirt or cape of sorts. What is interesting is that the front and back of the top match the horizontal layers of the knickers and it appears to almost be a one-piece outfit. This is definitely fashion-forward beach wear of the time. 🙂

Finally, we leave you with this picture below of some frolicking beach-goers, all dressed in variations of the standard 1890s bathing costume style:

Santa Monica 1898

“Out for a Time,” Long Beach, c. 1898; California State Library

We hope you have enjoyed this little summer excursion to the beach. 🙂

At The Beach…

As noted in yesterday’s post, interest in sports and outdoor life by both men and women led to the development of specialized clothing to include bathing costume. The attractions of going to the beach as a relief to the hot summer weather was attractive to the point where the 1880s and 1890s, there was a rapid growth of seaside resorts such as Atlantic City and Coney Island. California also had its seaside resorts such as Coronado and Santa Monica. Below is a poem with illustrations from the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call:


From the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call.

And here’s the poem from the above illustration:

Dance, old sea, for your charmer neareth!
There! She is wrapped in your lace of foam!
Never your summery smile she feareth!
Ha! She is down near the sea pears home!

Rare as the pearl her pink foot presses-
Rare as the pink of the pearls, her charms!
Wave that enfolds her, what fortune blesses-
What bliss- as she sways in the wild wave’s arms.

Happy sea, by our west shore golden;
Seas of the east- do they chafe and reel,
There where naught can the maids embolden
More than their sandal shoons to wet?

Perhaps the verse is not the best but it’s certainly enthusiastic and celebrates the superiority of the California coast. 🙂 In the end, whether it’s fashion, music, or popular culture in general, nothing is really ever “new.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion back to 1896.

Hotel Del Coronado, c. 1890

Seaside Fashion…

During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.

Beach 1890s

Sometimes bathing costume was not available…

It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).

Redfern Yachting Fashion Queen 1887

Some of Redfern’s “boating” or yachting fashions in the July 16, 1887 issue of The Queen.

Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Full Front View

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Another Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Side Profile

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Rear View

This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.

Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:

Yachting Fashion c. 1897

Yachting Dress, c. 1897; Preservation Society of Newport County

This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.

And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂


But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Close-Up Of Front

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Front Three-Quarter Profile

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.

Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Side Profile

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂

Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:

Day Dress 1895

Day Dress, American, c. 1895; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York ( P84.25.2)

The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).

Beach 1890s

And sometimes one had to improvise at the beach…

Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂