Something Blue- A Reception Dress From the 70s…

Just when we thought we’d seen it all when it comes to 1870s style, there’s always something new to us that grabs our attention and in this case, an interesting circa 1876 reception dress from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht:

Reception Dress, c. 1876; Centraal Museum, Utrecht (4468/001-002

This dress features a dual solid/patterned fabric combination characteristic of 1870s style with the skirt and undertrain constructed of what appears to be a bright blue silk taffeta silk combined with a floral patterned silk brocade bodice and train. The bodice front features a narrow plastron of the same blue silk taffeta found in the dress and undertrain. The neckline is relatively modest, combined with a high Mandarin-like collar. The sleeves are three-quarter and are trimmed with ivory/champagne-colored lace.

The dress silhouette is interesting in that combines elements of both Early and Middle Bustle Eras. First, the bodice is suggestive of an early pannier polonaise style, a style that was to come into its own by 1880. However, note that the bodice is a separate entity from the pannier draping. At the same time, the bodice rear extends into a full train that style-wise is more characteristic of an earlier bustle era style.  Also, it’s interesting to note that while there’s a fully developed train going on, it’s more suggestive of later Mid-Bustle/Natural Form styles but nevertheless, some form of bustle was utilized and it’s especially a good candidate for a cage style bustle. Finally, we’d like to note the use of two horizontal rows of loose gathering on the dress front along with the loosely pleated hem serve to give the dress front more fullness.

The above picture provides a good view of the train and it’s clear that the bustle that would have been used with this dress would have emphasized the fullness of the train on the vertical plane. Now, let’s take a closer look at the bodice:

The high Mandarin collar and cut-out neckline are very angular and geometric and the theme is carried on further down the bodice front with the plastron that features a faux diamond cut-out below the neckline that reveals the pleated blue plaston.

The plastron’s vertical knife pleats draw the eye upwards towards the neckline, emphasizing the silhouette’s slender vertical lines, a style characteristic found in later Mid-Bustle/Natural Form styles. The overall effect is further emphasized with the minimal use of trim.

In the above picture, one can get a good idea of what the silk brocade looks like- note the bright blue velvet flowers outlined in gold on a background of striated blue and gold fabric. The excellent condition of the colors and the fabrics are simply amazing and it’s obvious that this dress was stored well, away from light. Below are some more close-ups from various parts of the dress:

 

Below is a nice view of one of the cuffs:

Finally, here’s a couple more full views of the dress from different angles:

The pictures above and below really give a good view of the dresse’s fullness in the front which nicely combines with the fullness of the train.

Below is a another nice view of the train.

For us, this is a very interesting dress in its transitional nature, combining earlier and later style elements and a fairly harmonious manner (although some could argue that the effect is somewhat clumsy but we beg to differ). It also shows that often, dresses are difficult to pigeon-hole in terms of style and only shows that fashion history is always full of unique surprises.



Designing For The 70s

When designing an 1870s dress, one is often faced with an overwhelming number of choices. While the basic 1870s style was characterized by the all-encompassing bustle silhouette, all of the other details were far from uniform and there were a bewildering variety of choices available in selecting the fabrics and trims. Moreover, there were many available choices in bodice, skirt, sleeve, and train design to include the princess line that came into vogue in the late 1870s. Finally, compared to earlier eras, there is also a variety of color choices, all made possible by the development of aniline dyes.

With all these choices, where does one begin? One of the most effective methods that we have successfully employed throughout the years is through the use of contrasting colors. Below are some examples of the possibilities:

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, June 1876

The color contrast could come in the form of a striped fashion fabric with one basic color and the stripes with the other color as shown on the above left figure. On the right, the contrast comes from the trim, in this case large bows and ribbons.

1876

With the above plate, the contrast comes from the fabrics themselves. The dress on each figure consists of two sets of fashion fabric and in some instances, one of the fabrics could be patterned. Below is another example of this:

In the above plate, we see a base fashion fabric combined with a second fabric that’s been draped over the first. The large scale use of fringe enhances the contrast and in the case of the left figure, the second fabric looks like it’s ready for slide off. Of course this is fashion plate and a bit of artistic licence is to be expected. 😉

Fashion Plate c. 1876

Wide stripes could also be used for a more dramatic effect as demonstrated with the above two figures. The cuirass bodice offered a wider “canvas” for these effects because of its larger continuous surface era. The princess line dress offered even greater scope for dramatic effect as seen below:

Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1876

In the above plate, the dress on the left uses contrast to its fullest extent by unifying the contrasting colors in a continuous flow of fabric and especially with the train. The dress on the right is a little different in that contract color is limited to stripes and edge trimming and with the embroidered back panel on the bodice enhancing the overall effect.

The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, July 1877

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

In the above plate, the contrast effect is achieved through the use of striped trims to “outline” the dress in key areas. Once again, the princess line allows for this technique to be used to its greatest effect. Now let’s look at some examples of extant garments:

Day Dress, American, 1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1969-147-1a,b). This dress is constructed from steel grey silk taffeta and pale pink silk plain and striped satin; grey silk knotted fringe and pink satin cording.

A color contrast can be achieved through a variety of methods. One of the easiest, as shown above, is to utilize two solid colors with one color acting as the base fashion fabric that covers the largest expanse while the other plays a secondary role with the contrast color. Note that the backside of the fashion fabric that has been turned out as shown along the bottom of the skirt while on the bodice there are revers and a faux waist coat. Below is another example of the solid color method:

With the above example, the secondary contrast fabric has been used to create a series of stripes running in a up the skirt on a diagonal angle to create a spiral effect. On the front of the bodice is a large panel in the same color along with two large sleeve cuffs. Another creative way to approach contrast colors are to use two different colors in two different fabrics as with the silk velvet combined with a silk faille in the dress below:

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a--c)

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a–c). Constructed of silk faille and silk velvet with tatted lace.

But why stop there? 😉 Contrast can be also achieved by having one of the fabrics be a stripe or other type of pattern as with the dress below:

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

In the above example, the two contrast fabrics are nearly equal in volume with the striped fabric being employed as an overskirt on the bottom and as trim on the bodice. Plaids and checks were also employed as with this dress:

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Note how the striped fabric is dominant in the above dress, comprising most of the bodice, overskirt, and train. The solid color fabric shows up in the sleeves and underskirt and it’s the same color as the stripes in the patterned fabric with the ecru providing the contrast. This is just one possibility of many.

The princess line dress also offers many possibilities. While is maintains the bustle silhouette, the fact that there is no separate bodice and skirt creates a unified whole that runs smooth and uninterrupted as with this dress:

Czech Dress1

Day Dress, 1870s; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Czech Dress2

Czech Dress3

Czech Dress4

All right, so we went a bit overboard with the last dress but it’s an interesting color combination of light pink and steel grey (although it’s hard to detect with the lighting- it shows up best on the rear). In the front is a wide panel of light pink that’s offset by the steel grey on the remainder of the dress (with the exception of some detail on the rear). The above examples are just a small sampling of the color possibilities that are available. Combinations could simply be a matter of varying color shades such as dark and light blue or they could involve a combination of two different colors.

In choosing an effective color combination, keep in mind that while Victorians loved combining different colors, they also sought to have those colors harmonize at the same time, acting as complementary colors. Below is an illustration of a Victorian era color wheel developed in 1867 by Charles Blanc:

In the above illustration, the complementary colors are directly opposite of each other (e.g., yellow-purple, green-red, blue-orange). Naturally there are various shades in between and the complementary pairs will shift. The above is admittedly an over-simplification but it does give an idea of what designers were aiming for during the late 19th Century. And just to complicate matters further is the idea of saturation. Saturation refers to the intensity/vividness of a color. Colors that are highly saturated are bold and rich, while those that are desaturated lack in vibrancy.

color_saturation

An effective color combination could employ the principle of using two colors that are the same except for the difference in saturation. This is somewhat related to juxtaposing fabrics of two fabrics of different color shades as mentioned above:

The above is by no means a comprehensive overview and admittedly a lot of this is subjective. The best suggestion we can give is to look and pictures of original fashion plates and extant garments, making allowances for fading and deterioration. Certain combinations are going to look “right”, others not so much (and some could be downright ghastly- no different than today). We hope that this has provided some ideas to help you get started. 😎



A Brief View Of Men’s Clothing- The Sack Coat

Over the years we have been asked about making men’s clothing. While we are naturally flattered by the prospect of creating more period clothing designs from the late 19th Century, we have had to politely refuse on the grounds that it’s not our main business focus. More importantly, men’s clothing calls for a skill set- primarily tailoring- that is different from those used for women’s clothing. While there is some overlap (Redfern and especially with tailor-mades for women), it’s very much a separate speciality and we would argue that it’s an art form with a rich set of traditions that are not easily mastered. Well-tailored clothes are a joy to behold and just the words “Savile Row” sets our hearts racing.

All hyperbole aside, we have chosen to restrict ourselves to the female side of historic clothing simply because if we made both types of clothing, we could not do justice to either. With that said, we would still like to present our views on the men’s side of clothing so from time to time we will be posting articles here covering various topics of men’s clothing and accessories.  🙂


So, where to begin? Probably the best place to begin is with the sack coat/sack suit which gradually developed into the dominant style for men’s daywear during the late 19th Century, supplanting the earlier frock coat and the derivative morning coat. The sack coat/suit and the frock coat. The sack coat was meant for informal day wear while the frock coat/morning coat were reserved for more formal occasions (although there was often a lot of overlap between the two).

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The sack suit, or lounge suit as it was termed in Great Britain, originated in France as the sacque coat during the 1840s and took its name from the way it was cut (contrary to popular belief, the sack coat did NOT get its name from its loose fit “like a sack”). In contrast to the more elaborate frock coat whose back was constructed from four basic pieces, the sacque coat was simplified, consisting of two basic pieces. Moreover, the sack coat was designed to fit loosely.

EPSON scanner image

Sack coats usually had three or four button holes and often it was worn buttoned only at the top. In terms of colors and fabrics, wool of various weights was the predominant fabric although linen was often used for lighter weight coats intended for wear in more warmer climates. In terms of colors, they could range from solids to plaids, stripes, and checks. However, towards the end of the 19th Century, the dominant style increasingly were darker, sober colors such as charcoal gray, black, brown, and navy blue. Often they were accompanied by a matching pair of trousers and waistcoat, thus creating the three-piece suit. At the same time, the sack coat and trousers could be in different colors and fabrics. Below are some examples:

To start, here’s an image of an early sack coat from c. 1863 – 1864:

Sack Suit - Early

Sack Suit, c. 1863 – 1864

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Three men wearing sack coats, c. 1860s; Image from Joan L. Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995

The second image really shows up just how loose-fitting sack coats were in the 1860s, especially with the coat worn by the man with his back to the camera. This is in contrast to the 1880s, 90s, and early 1900s where the coats (and accompanying trousers) become increasingly more narrowly-fitted and cut closer to the body.

In the next image, we have one from 1870:

WaterfallsAugust1870

The West End Gazette, August 1870

The coat still hangs relatively loose but the trousers are gradually becoming cut more narrow.

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Sack Suit

Sack Suit, British, c. 1875 – 1880

A bit on the loud side, the use of loud fabrics steadily diminished during the late 19th Century. Sack suits could be made from linen as well as wool as with this suit that was intended for wear in warmer weather:

Sack Suit4

Sack Suit, c. 1885 – 1900; McCord Museum (M973.137.4.2)

 

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Sack Suit2

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Sack Suit, c. 1895

Sack Suit3

Sack Suit, c. 1911; Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The above picture depicts the ultimate development of the sack suit and it’s easy to see that the modern business suit was not far off in the future.

During the late 19th Century, the sack suit became the standard “uniform” for anyone aspiring to a degree of respectability and especially those involved in business and the professions. In fact, it could be argued that the sack suit was instrumental in democratizing clothing in that it allowed any man to look like someone substantial and respectable. The sack suit was relatively cheap which had been made possible by industrialization and the development of the ready-made garment industry in America and Great Britain.

In conclusion, we would argue that if you are looking for that “one” outfit that accurately symbolizes the 19th Century man, it would have to be the sack suit. While fashion choices were often dictated by social and economic factors, it would be safe to say that the sack suit was the “default” outfit to be worn wherever possible- the sack suit symbolized respectability and social status. Even the laborer, miner, cowboy, and farmer wore sack suits when the occasion demanded and they had the means. In contrast with today’s emphasis on casual wear, dressing up was considered essential to showing one’s better side and more importantly, securing respect from one’s peers. Naturally, the above is a broad generalization but it does go a long way towards capturing the zeitgeist or spirit of the time.



Parisian Color Trends For Fall 1889

Georges Garen, Embrasement de la Tour Eiffel, 1889; Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Color is a major element in fashion styles and, as with style in general, it’s constantly in a state of flux. The situation was no different during the Nineteenth Century and while there was no entity like Pantone to constantly monitor the color trends, they were still noted. In the October 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine, it was noted that:

The newest color of the season is a rich deep shade of chaudron-red, which has been christened Eiffel-color, after the famous tower of the Exhibition. It is supposed to be of the same hue as the red-painted iron-work of that stupendous edifice, since its tint has been mellowed and modified by the weather. Green, except in the dark-emerald shade, has gone entirely out of vogue. Yellow, in the warm golden tones, will be a good deal used for trimmings,

Probably the most interesting comment is about “chaudron-red” which is a mash-up of French and English for “cauldron red” (or Eiffel Red) and it describes the original color that the Eiffel Tower was painted when it was first erected for the Paris Exhibition of 1889. The original paint was meant as a protective coating and had a copper-red color because of its active ingredient, iron oxide, which gives the paint its protective quality, preventing rust to the steel that made up the Eiffel Tower’s construction (even to this day, iron oxide paint is used for treating steel beams). So what did this look like? Probably something like this:

Interestingly enough, recently, when it’s time to repaint the Eiffel Tower in 2021, it has been suggested that it be repainted in the original chaudron-red, similar to the shade depicted above. So far, the French Ministry of Culture has not made a decision…

Besides “Eiffel Red,” it’s noted that green is completely out except in a dark emerald shade, perhaps along these lines:

And for yellow something like these:

And now well things together with some examples of the above colors at work, starting with this evening dress from Maison Worth:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.59.20)

James McCreary & Co., Visiting Dress, c. 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art

Detail of Cuff

Both of the above dress examples incorporate many of the colors noted in Peterson’s although we must note that there are also plenty of examples where other colors were used; in fashion there’s never any absolutes, just broad generalizations. We hoped you have enjoyed this brief excursion into trending colors of 1889 and stay tuned for more in the future. 🙂



Something Plum- 1880s Fall Colors

It’s hard to believe that we’re moving towards the Fall, especially here in the American Southwest but it’s true and one can see it in the shifting of the sun. Although colors were not formally assigned to a season as it common today in the fashion world (this was before Pantone, after all 😉), darker colors did tend to be associated with the colder months of the year. Below is one interesting dress that uses plum as its base color and to us, it’s the quintessential Fall dress (although we wouldn’t say no to wearing it other times of the year). 😎


Plum has always been one of our favorite colors and especially in the Fall. Recently, we came across this wonderful circa 1883-1889 day dress in the collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Day Dress, c. 1883 – 1889; Goldstein Museum of Design (1963.007.002a-b)

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter frontal view.

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Rear View

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter rear view.

Style-wise, this is a classic 1880s day dress with three-quarter sleeves and distinct over/underskirts. There doesn’t appear to be much of  a bustle effect (but this is probably due to the museum’s staging). What’s striking about this dress is its use of a solid dark plum color underskirt combined with a silk brocade overskirt and bodice. Also, the trim on the bodice is fairly minimal while we see extensive ruching and layers of pleating for the underskirt. Here’s a close-up of the silk brocade fashion fabric on the bodice back; the pattern is suggestive of chinoiserie:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of bodice back.

And here’s part of the underskirt with its extensive ruching:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of overskirt.

Here’s a close-up of the bodice front which utilizes a jacketed/under-vest effect with facing lapels. It’s interesting but attempt but it strikes us as a bit disorganized- it’s attempting to meld typical design elements of the period but in a clumsy manner. Also, the fringe appears to be an afterthought and does little to add to the overall design effect. C’est la vie….

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of front bodice.

On the other hand, the middle back is neatly done and the train appears tidy in comparison with the bodice front:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of rear.

Plum and its shades and tints have always been favorites with us and are always a source of inspiration for many of our designs. When combined with utilizing fabrics with varying degrees of luster, patterns, and textures, the results are phenomenal and offer a high degree of individuality. Let it inspire you as it’s inspired us. 😎