You Learn Something New Everyday…

It’s funny how one can be so focused on examining an image for a specific detail that you  completely overlook something that’s glaringly obvious with another detail. In a post we published yesterday, we cite various examples about how color can also be expressed through a pattern on a fabric as well as with a solid colored piece of fabric. One example that we used was this one:

Day Dress, c. 1880; The Museum at FIT (P92.21.1)

On the surface, this dress appears to have the standard silhouette appropriate for the 1878-1881 time frame with it’s princess line. But, it was pointed out to us by one of readers that the dress has a high train  and underlying bustle that firmly puts in the late 1880s. Since we were so intent on the fabric itself, we didn’t stop to look very closely at the pictures, especially with the rear views:

Back Bodice Close-Up

Looking at the rear views, we noticed that the train was definitely NOT late 1870s/early 1880s. Rather, it appears that the extreme train characteristic of the late 1880s was created by the use of what appears to be a simple overdrape of fabric combined with swagging the front skirt and combining it with a underskirt. It’s a complicated and awkward arrangement. Here it is broken down:

When we first looked at the pictures, we originally thought that perhaps the dress wasn’t staged well by the museum staff- it does happen. But on closer examination, we realized that no, this was dress was designed to accommodate a later 1880s style bustle.

So what’s the story? We wished we knew but we can offer some theories. First, we believe that given it’s tightly sculpted cylindrical silhouette and princess lines, this dress started life sometime in the 1878-1881 time frame and was later modified (clumsily) to fit the late 1880s style. But…the fact that the fabric completely matches would suggest that maybe this was made in late 1880s. The princess line wasn’t unknown during late 1880s but it doesn’t show up a lot except with tea gowns and “house” dresses. Also, for a conversion there is a lot of extra work that was put in that really wasn’t necessary with the double layer front skirts. In the end, it’s hard to tell but we tend to lean towards the dress having been made in the late 1880s. It’s probably not the what we’d readily call “haute couture” but then again, garments during this era had quite a lot of variation in the construction quality (like every era…). It’s certainly an interesting riddle and we thank our reader for pointing this out to us. 🙂


Postscript:

After some further consideration, we have to conclude that this dress is truly a product of the Mid-Bustle (aka Natural Form) Era and that it was staged incorrectly for museum display. To us, the biggest giveaways are the functional vertical row of buttons running down the back and the tightly square-off shelf in the rear. First, the button row is consistent with the princess line silhouette- after all, there has to be a way to put on and remove the dress- and this would completely interfere with a proper late 1880s train and bustle. Finally, note that the button row extends out flat on the shelf- this is something that looks awkward and unnatural (and not found on any originals garments or patterns that we’ve examined. The upper rear of a later 1880s dress was more like this:

Also, the earlier dress style emphasized a cylindrical silhouette that was decorated with a second skirt that swagged in both front and rear. With this example, it appears that all of this was undone and stretched out to accommodate the late 1880s bustle. Below are some examples:

Three-Quarter Rear View

Rear View

This has been a fascinating exercise in figuring out the style and time frame based on dress style and how that can be misleading when an extant original isn’t displayed correctly. Of course, we could also be dead wrong but I seriously doubt it. 🙂

Sapphire…

Image result for sapphire color

Fall colors traditionally focus on earth tones but for us here at Lily Absinthe, we take a broader view… Recently, jewel tones have caught our eye and especially in Sapphire as with this circa 1880s evening dress from Maison Worth: 🙂

Whittaker Auctions1 Evening Gown c. 1880s

Front Three-Quarter View

Whittaker Auctions1 Evening Gown c. 1880s

Rear View

The dress appears to be constructed from a sapphire-colored silk satin trimmed with metallic beading and black lace. This is very similar to a Worth evening dress in our collection and as such, the metal trim gives the dress significant weight. Here’s a close-up of the hem detail:

Whittaker Auctions1 Evening Gown c. 1880s

Unfortunately, there’s not much information on this dress since the pictures were derived from Pinterest and it was not possible to find the original website that they came from except for a note that this dress was originally on an auction website. Also, the staging is poor so without a physical examination, there’s no real way to tell narrow down the date. However, that said, judging from the dress silhouette, the odds are good that it’s from the early to mid 1880s.

Just for interest, below are pictures of some of the bodice interior:

Whittaker Auctions1 Evening Gown c. 1880sWhittaker Auctions1 Evening Gown c. 1880s

As with most evening dress bodices from the era, it was boned (although some of the bones are now missing) and lined with what appears to be a white silk satin. The finishing work is amazing, even with the wear and tear and shattered silk. Inspiration comes to us from many sources and this one will definitely be at the top of our list. 🙂

 

Achieving The Look – The Underlying Structure…

Styles are defined by their silhouette and nowhere is this more evident in the styles of the 1870s and 1880s which were built upon skirts being draped towards the rear and supported by a supporting structure known as the bustle (also known as the tournure). As described previous in this previous posts and others, the size and positioning of the train might have varied but the overall effect was still the same. So how was this achieved? Simply, draping fabric and fastening to the rear only works with the lightest of fabrics, in almost all cases support is required and that’s where the bustle came into play. Bustles varied in styles and shapes and were made from various materials, ranging from ones constructed of elaborate steel cage structures to ones that were little more than a pillow.

Bustle_Phases

A somewhat simplified chart depicting the three major Bustle Era styles.

Below is a selection of some of the bustle styles that were out there during the 1870s and 1880s:

Bustles The Galliera Museum – the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

The above examples show two of the more common bustle styles, the “lobster” and the pillow. The “lobster” style gets its name from its resemblance to a lobster shell and was held rigid by steel boning or reeds.

Here’s a semi-rigid example from the 1870s (probably more mid-1870s):

Bustle c. 1870s

Bustle, c. 1870s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2008.89)

Bustle c. 1870s

The above style employed a fabric shell, typically made of a tightly woven cotton fabric with steel boning or reeds. This style was also common during the 1880s:

Bustle 1883

Bustle, 1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.23.3)

Bustle 1883

Side Profile

The above example is interesting in that while it’s similar to the 1870s example, it differs at the top where a large pad has also been installed- no doubt to help create the more sharply defined silhouette characteristic of the Late Bustle Era dresses such as this one:

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)

Here’s another typical example from 1885 that employs an open cage-like structure made from flexible steel bones secured by tape strips:

Bustle 1885

Bustle, 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3095)

Bustle 1885

Side Profile

Bustle 1885

Interior

Steel or reed boning where not the only materials in use as demonstrated by this 1873 example utilizing horsehair padding:

Bustle 1873

Bustle, 1873; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2002.251)

Bustle 1873

The idea of the bustle creating the dress silhouette can especially be seen from this example:

Bustle 1870 - 1888

Bustle, c. 1870 – 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972.209.48)

Bustle 1870 - 1888

The example below is especially fascinating in that its shape dates it: late 1870s, most likely circa 1878 – 1880 (although the museum has is labeled 1870 – 1888). Note that the silhouette is slender from the waist to mid-way down and then flares out in the demi-train style that was characteristic of the later 1870s such as with these examples:

Day Dress 1878

Side Profile

Day Dress 1880

Side Profile

The above bustle examples are on the complex side and could almost be considered works of art on their own. However, there were more simple designs out there such as various types of pads:

Bustle c. 1895 - 1905

Bustle, c. 1895 – 1905; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.44.48.8)

Bustle Pad 1875

Bustle Pad, made from linen and stuffed with horse hair. Victoria & Albert Museum (T.57-1980)

Bustle Pad c. 1885

Bustle Pad, French, c. 1885 Glazed calico trimmed with silk cord and stuffed with what appears to be straw; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.337-1978)

And there were some other interesting designs:

Bustle 1884

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

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Bustle 1871

British, c. 1871. Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.27.4)

The above examples are only a small sampling of what was available and no matter what style a bustle came in, its primary job was to support the dress and help define its shape. When we reproduce 1870s and 1880s fashions, we are constantly mindful of the supporting structures that are necessary for wearing these fashions in the most optimal way and they are almost as important as the dresses themselves.