Mid-1890s Style: Evening Gowns

For fashion, the 1890s was all about “going large” and that was especially true during the years 1895-1897 when fashion reached extreme levels with massively sized gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves, narrow waists and large gored skirts. This trend was especially evident with evening gowns1The terms “evening gown” and “evening dress” are used somewhat interchangeably. For the purposes of consistency, we have chose to use the term “evening gown.” as can be seen below with these fashion illustrations:

Evening Gowns, 1895; Le Moniteur de la Mode

This style is interesting in that it utilizes a prince line combined with the hourglass “X” silhouette and gigot sleeves.

Illustrations are useful but nothing beats the real thing. Here’s some examples of extant evening gowns from the high 90s:

Evening Gown, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.59a, b)

Rear View

And for some close-ups of the shoulder/sleeve:

Close-Up Of Shoulder

Shoulder Detail

Why do these shoulders give off a Dynasty 1980s vibe? 🙂 Below is something a little different with a different sleeve color and fabric:

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Nordiska Museet

The black velvet sleeves offer an interesting contrast to the silk bodice and skirt not only in colors, but also in luster. The sleeves seems to suck up all the light around them while the silk skirt and bodice do just the opposite. The gown pictured below also does a similar thing although it’s a bit muted:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion

Here we have a contrast between the brown velvet bodice inserts and the gold silk bodice and skit. The eye is definitely drawn towards the bodice and by extension, the face. The circa 1893 gown design by Maison Worth below also offers an interesting contrast:

Worth, Evening Ensemble Dress, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.622a–c)

The silver gray and gold floral design skirt and outer bodice make an interesting contrast to the red silk inner bodice and skirt insert panels. Here the contrast is between colors rather than luster. Now for something a bit different, there’s this circa 1895 gown design by Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2339a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

And again, there’s contrast but this time between the ecru lace skirt and ivory silk bodice, also trimmed in ecru-colored lace- here the contrast is between textures. Also, the cut of the bodice is interesting, more reminiscent of an 18th Century design with its waistcoat silhouette. Finally, we see an inversion of the velvet/silk contrast theme in this circa 1887 gown, also from Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.332a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

With the above gown, the skirt and outer bodice is made from a salmon/peach silk velvet combined with a gold/champagne belt and under bodice. However, most of the gown is dominated by the salmon/peach silk velvet while the gold/champagne belt and under bodice give a pop of color. Also, the bodice is small in relation to the skirt with the skirt dominating. The above is only a small sampling of the variety of evening gowns that existed but it should give an idea of some of the period aesthetics. Stay tuned for more posts! 🙂

Goodbye 2019!

New clients, more travel, a corgi puppy added to the family….I am grateful for the blessing of another year spent with friends, family, and fabric shopping! This gown was a confection of silks and extant laces, and I enjoyed every minute wearing it. Most of my 2019 work was for clients, so next year’s pictures will be fun.  🙂

And For The Latest In Dress Fabrics- Glass!

One wouldn’t normally associate glass with dress fabric but glass fabric does exist but it does and originally made its appearance at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago in the form of an evening dress constructed by the Libbey Glass Company from glass fabric.

Image result for spun glass fabric

In an effort to increase the company’s public profile, William L. Libbey became a major exhibitor at the Columbian Exhibition, creating a large pavilion in featured the company’s products and even included a complete glass factory where the public could witness the various phases of glass manufacture. Also Libbey created a number of displays featuring various glass products to include household furnishings to include screens, window curtains, and lamp shades. And of course, there were all manner of souvenir glass novelties such as neckties and  that were distributed by Libbey. 🙂

The Libbey Pavilion.


One of the glass novelties was this tie made from glass cloth.

The displays provided to be very popular and in response, an well-known stage actress named Georgia Cayvan asked if Libbey could make a glass dress.  Up for a challenge, Libbey agreed to do so and proceeded to make one, constructed of a glass fabric developed by Hermann Hammesfahr who worked for Libby.

Weaving the glass fabric.

The glass fabric was actually a combination of glass and silk filaments which provided for greater flexibility; the warp threads were silk and the weft threads were glass (work on developing glass fabric would eventually lead to such modern-day products such as fiberglass and fiber optic cables). Below are some pictures of the dress, which was put on display at the Libbey Pavilion:

The dress proved to be very popular to the point where one newspaper even predicted that eventually everyone would be wearing glass clothing. One of the viewers, Infanta Eulalia of Spain, saw the dress and commissioned one for herself in the form of a very simple evening dress:

For some more details on the Infanta’s dress, the particulars can be viewed here:

Apparently, the  dress was a hit with the Infanta and as thanks, she gave the Libbey Glass Company permission to use the Spanish Coat of Arms as part of its advertising artwork. As for the dresses themselves, while the glass fabric was flexible enough to allow them to be worn, they provided to be brittle and not practical for any sort of extended wear. In the case of Ms. Cayvan’s dress, it was worn for at least one performance but that was pretty much it. What became of the dress is unknown.

In the of the Infanta’s dress, it was eventually donated to the the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 1924 where it remains today. Unfortunately, only the skirt has survived and was in poor condition until restoration was begun in 2016. An interesting set of blog post documenting the skirt’s restoration can be found here.   Here are some views of the restoration process:

These glass dresses were a bit ahead of their time and it would have been fascinating to have been able to see these dresses when they were new. 🙂