What’s Old Is New Again- A Tea Gown From The 1890s

Today’s tea gown selection was created by Maison Worth sometime in the 1890s and presents a style that looks back more to the 18th Century Robe à la Française, a dress style that was popular during the years 1720-1780  than the 1890s:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890s; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0179 ab)

This gown is consists of an outer part constructed of a pink silk brocade with an Oriental floral motif. The inner part consists of the front and sleeves and are constructed of a gold silk brocade featuring a floral motif similar to the the outer part. Also, below the waist the fabric is covered with a lace forepart and finally, there’s a faux stomacher (stomachers were normally a separate item but here it’s integrated into the overall gown) also made of a silk brocade and is jeweled. Here’s a closer view of the gown front:

The sleeves are also trimmed with lace and the interior of the sleeves are lined with a red velvet. Also, the edges of the front are trimmed in red velvet and one can see two inset panels flanking the stomacher. Finally, to finish things off, there’s a lace jabot. Below are more pictures of the gown from various angles:

And with the rear views, we get a good look at the Wateau Back, a fairly standard feature for tea gowns during the late Nineteenth Century and the style characteristic of the Robe à la Française. From a style/design perspective, this is a very busy gown between the floral designs, lace, and pink and gold silk base fabrics. Of course, this complexity of design is to be expected from Maison Worth. As for dating this gown, while it’s difficult to make a precise guess, we think that it’s safe to say that judging from the relatively restrained sleeve caps that it probably wasn’t made in the Mid-1890s but rather more likely either early or late in the decade. Ultimately, this gown is an excellent example of how prior fashion styles inspired design and this one takes is pretty far by even including a faux stomacher. Upon initial viewing it appears to actually BE an 18th Century gown and it actually had us fooled for a moment. 🙂 We hope you’ve enjoyed this unique example of a tea gown as interpreted by the leading couture house of the time, Maison Worth. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

 

The Princess Line Dress In The 1890s: One Example From Maison Worth

With its clean silhouette, the princess line dress was a very popular dress style during the late 19th Century, offering a wealth of fashion possibilities in terms of fabric and trim choices. Originally developed during the late 1870s, the princess line dress greatly influenced a shift in styles away from the bustle, instead focusing on a more slender, cylindrical silhouette.  While the princess line was more common during the 1877-1882 time frame, one still sees exampled well into the 1890s as with this one that was created by Maison Worth in circa 1896:

Worth, Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.2)

The above example is a good illustration of the perfect princess line style: the waist is completely de-emphasized with a smooth canary yellow silk panel combining skirt and bodice into one unit. At the same time, the gold colored silk brocade sleeves, collar, and front inset panels present a contrast that draws the eye to the upper body. Although this dress is described as a “bridesmaid” dress, it would have been perfectly suitable as a dress for everyday wear (in contrast to today’s interpretation of the bridesmaid dress). Here’s some close-up of some dress details:

Rear view of the collar and shoulders.

Close-up of the collar.

Shoulder detail.

The above picture illustrates the front inset panels with beaded trim.

In terms of style, this dress is relatively restrained to the point of blandness and while it pushed no fashion boundaries, it does illustrate the basic characteristics of the prince line style. What’s especially interesting is that although the princess line style is attributed to Worth, there are very few extant examples of princess line dresses that can be linked to Maison Worth such as this one:

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1880; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of the princess line style. 🙂

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! 🙂

Black As A Fashion Color Revisited…

Our recent post on the subject of black as a dress color prompted me to do a little more digging into the role of black in styles of the 1880s and 90s so here we go… 🙂


In the course of researching the use of black dresses for other than mourning wear, we were struck that there aren’t many extant black dresses/gowns in pure black. On the other hand, one sees black frequently used in combination with another color or colors with black being predominant. The utility of black as a dress color is commented on in the June 1892 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine which notes in its commentary on current fashions that:

Old-fashioned gauzy-looking stuffs are used for dresses as well as for the elaborate garnitures which are now so popular. There are all-wool and silk-and-wool crépons in black, which are very much liked by conservative ladies; and as all-black dresses are not only tolerated, but highly commended for evening wear, attention has been drawn to the preparation of many elegant and
appropriate fabrics for this purpose.

Black’s utility is also noted in the November 1891 issue of Demorest’s when commenting the use of black foundation skirts or petticoats:

…though not an individual part of each costume, the foundation skirt is by no means abandoned: made. of silk, most perfectly fitted, trimmed at the foot with narrow ruffles or one or two plaitings, and just escaping the ground, it replaces the conventional petticoat, and when one wears black dresses habitually, one petticoat, or foundation skirt will serve for several dresses. When colors are worn, it is usual to have this undershirt matching in color the material of the dress, and on the street only the dress skirt is raised.

And just to give an idea of what one of these foundation or under skirts might have looked like, here’s one example:

Underskirt, c. 1893 (Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.42.54.2)

Demorest’s also notes in its March 1892 fashion commentary that:

A NOTE of black runs through many of the fashions for spring. Black garnitures are used on almost all colors, in silks black forms a. background for brilliant or delicate blossoms or vines, all-black dresses trimmed with jet are considered very stylish, and when a touch of color is necessary for becomingness, the vest is the favorite point for introducing it. Vests in plain red, blue. yellow, or the favorite sage-green, when used in all-black dresses are either veiled with lace having a more or less decided pattern, or seeded with finely cut jet beads or the more conspicuous clone, or nail-heads.

Now, lest you think that the commentary in Demorest’s was only there to sell patterns, here’s a passage from the fashion commentary in the March 1892 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Black dresses are much too useful, especially when the wardrobe is a limited one, to be discarded. A black dress with change of vests, or ribbons or other trimmings, can be transformed into a great variety of costumes and is always lady-like. Black net is rather newer than black piece-lace, for dresses.

And, as for underskirts (aka foundation skirts), in the same issue, Peterson’s notes that:

Underskirts At Present: probably because the upper skirt must be held up, are richer than ever. They are even richer than the dress itself. Thus, under a woolen dress of the most modest description, you may see a rich silk skirt of the same. color as the over-dress, and trimmed with a deep lace flounce, beaded with rows of velvet. Then again, under a black dress you may see a shot silk skirt, trimmed with a black lace flounce or pinked-out frills of the same silk. There is a new silk made especially for these under-skirts and is called the frou-frou silk- the “rustling ”
silk. one might say in English.

To show just how black was worked with, let’s start with this evening gown made in 1895 from Maison Worth:

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1897 – 1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy (00000113)

Three-Quarter Rear View

What’s interesting about this evening gown is that the black silk fashion fabric is given further pops of “color” in the form of beading that reflects any ambient light. It’s a very clever effect and definitely draws the eye. At the same time, the wearer’s face would have been lightened up by the ecru/ivory lace running along the neckline. To take this idea further, here’s a day dress from c. 1897-1899 where we see a similar color scheme:

Day Dress, c. 1897-1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

And for one one example of manipulating black in dress styles, here’s this day dress from Maison Felix:

Maison Felix, Day Dress, c. 1893-1895; FIDM Museum (2008.5.51AB)

With this day dress, we see a lighter color used as an underskirt combined with shirring around the neckline of the bodice, both in an ivory color. The distribution of color is more vertical and the contrast is toned down by the use of a black lace overskirt in the front.

And there were instances where black was more of a background color as with this circa 1896 evening gown design from Worth:

Worth, Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

Here we see the gold appliques take center stage while the white neckline trim plays the role of lightening up the wearer’s face.

This has only been a small sampling of what’s out there but we think it goes a long way towards establishing that black was very much part of the period fashion aesthetic and could be utilized in a number of different ways to achieve various style effect. In the future, we’ll be examining this topic in more depth so stay tuned! 🙂

The Fashion Insight Of Maison Worth: An Interview With Jean-Philippe Worth

During his lifetime, Charles Worth revealed very little of his design philosophy or how he approached the design process. From a business perspective, Worth was prudent given the rampant fashion piracy of the period. However, for posterity, it’s sheer frustration. In the case of Maison Worth, Charles Worth for the most part revealed little and granted few interviews with journalists. Moreover, he took great pains to ensure that journalists had no access to his atelier whatsoever for fear that they’d gather information that would ultimately be used to pirate his designs (a very real threat).

Fortunately for posterity, Charles Worth’s son Jean-Philippe Worth was more forthcoming. In an interview by a Marie A. Belloc for the 1896 edition of Lady’s Realm, Worth provided some insight into Maison Worth’s design process. When asked where he looked for inspiration, Worth replied:

I am always on the look-out for new and old ideas and new schemes of colouring. Colouring, as you are aware, plays an important part in modern dress. I even yet remember with what difficulties my father met when he tried to impose the slightest modifications in the hard, metallic tints which were for so long literally the only colours introduced into dress. An attempt at anything artistic was looked at with terror and suspicion…

To quote but one instance: every woman in Paris possesses some garment in which a combination of blue and green plays a
subtle part. For years my father tried to introduce this eminently becoming harmony of colour. Some of the most beautiful brocades ever made to our own order were tinted in this fashion. But it was not till an accident- in other words, the courage and audacity of one of our handsomest clients- brought the beautifying qualities of this combination before the public that we were ever able to make the experiment on a large scale; and the same may also be said of yellow and pink, pale blue and
violet, and many others of the symphonies of colour now universally adopted. Of course, it is only fair to add that nothing can be more horrible than these violent contrasts, unless combined and imagined by a really artistic eye. But that is more or less true with anything connected with colour and form; for what looks well on a red haired woman makes a brunette look sallow, and so on.

Worth’s comments is revealing in that while it’s possible to come up with new fashion ideas, it’s far more difficult to get people to adopt them. In the example he gives, basically it wasn’t until one of Worth’s more influential clients adopted the idea of a harmonizing color scheme of blue and green that it was adopted by others. In short, it took a “fashion influencer.”

Illustration from the article.

Worth further discusses fashion inspiration, noting:

As to where I get my ideas: sometimes from a piece of old Church embroidery or a scrap of Louis Quinze brocade, picked up in an old curiosity shop. Often I have reconstituted a whole piece of material from a small breadth taken out of a Court costume or vestment. When I am satisfied, or as satisfied as I am ever likely to be, with a design, it is reproduced to my order in different schemes of colouring, and even of material. I very much enjoy designing picture-costumes. Often an artist will come with his future sitter, and together we will discuss what kind of material and what genre of colouring will suit the lady in question…

I am as ready to take an idea from a primitif [primitive] of a martyred saint as from a Lely or a Gainsborough. There is no greater mistake than to decide too long beforehand on the models of the coming winter or summer, for it is really impossible to tell at any given moment what the coming season will bring forth…for instance, a very bitter winter will to a certainty mean the prevalence of fur on every kind of gown, while an exceptionally mild season brings out light cloths, and even lace.

In this somewhat rambling statement, Worth indicates that inspiration can come from just about anywhere- pretty much something that just about any designer will say. What’s interesting is his observation that one can’t wait for too long in selecting the fashions for the next season and that the weather of a particular season affects the succeeding season- that pretty much sums up the fashion cycle today.

As for changing fashion, Worth notes that :

As for me, I naturally do not concern myself with the popular modes. The moment a fashion becomes exaggerated- in other words, universal—we have to begin to think of something to replace it. I am often asked by English clients whether the big sleeve has come to stay. All I can say is, that exaggeration will kill any model, however becoming. Not only does it make the fashion common, but a woman rarely looks well or artistic in an outré garment.

In the above, Worth gives an abbreviated version of the fashion cycle: fashions are introduced, become exaggerated, and then are replaced by new fashions. The fashion cycle is a constant that’s been present throughout history in one form or another.

Ultimately, while Jean-Philippe Worth’s comments really don’t offer any unique insights in regard to Maison Worth, they do demonstrate that many of fundamental ideas underlying modern fashion design were also present back in the 1890s. In future posts, we hope to unearth more about fashion theory as it applied to the couture of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.