Pattern Licensing From Maison Worth

Charles Worth is famous for being a pioneer in the world of haute couture and his impact on late 19th Century was immense. Although Worth’s designs are well known, the business aspects of Worth’s fashion empire are relatively unknown, aggravated by a lack of substantial documentation and a natural reticence on his part to discuss the topic. What we do know is fascinating and offers insight into Worth as a designer and below is just one small element for consideration.


One fascinating aspect about Charles Worth was that although he positioned himself as an exclusive couturier, he also licensed printed paper patterns of some of his designs. It’s well noted that Worth himself shied away from any overt publicity this to and you really have look hard for the evidence but it’s there. One example of this is this Redingote style was offered for sale for as a printed pattern in the 1882 edition of The Ladies Treasury:

And here’s the accompanying commentary:

Redingcotes are most popular in Paris. M. Worth makes them for summer dresses instead of polonaises. They are made in grenadines, over contrasting colours, for evening dresses. A mauve grenadine, on which are moons of black satin, two inches in diameter is made plain, over a lining of maize yellow satin. The grenadine is turned off in the front, to the sides, and is outlined in jet embroidery, black. A full frill of thread lace goes round the neck, and continues down the centre of the bodice. The petticoat of black satin has a pleated flounce of satin, and a front breadth of yellow satin, which is nearly hidden in jet embroidery, and bows of moire ribbons.

This style is M. Worth’s protest against the bunched-up paniers at the back, which it is said he detests.

Worth’s licensing of patterns is an interesting aspect of his business and is an area that’s not well documented. Of course, it would be interesting to locate the actual pattern but so far, our efforts to do so haven’t been successful. What’s also interesting is that even though Maison Worth was doing very well financially, it’s interesting that he would even bother with such pattern licensing- the revenue from pattern licensing could not have been much when compared to sales of his haute couture. Unfortunately, details about business side of Maison Worth are thin and we may never know the precise answer but it’s interesting to speculate on. As we find out more, we’ll be posting it here. Enjoy!



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:

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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.



Further Defining 1880s Style

In a previous post, we discussed the influence of the bustle, or more properly the tournure or “dress improver,” in defining 1880s style. Specifically, in contrast to bustles of the early 1870s, those of the 1880s were designed to create a very sharply defined train. Often times, the bustle/train became the center of focus for the dress, dominating the visual effect. One example of this effect can be seen with this circa 1885-1888 dress ensemble:

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Afternoon Dress, c. 1885 – 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2033a–e)

In the above picture, we see an asymmetrical skirt in a solid royal blue silk. The skirt has been drawn up sideways so as to create a flat surface on the right and draping on the left. On the right side there are panels of a floral pattern which matches the fabric used for the lapels and cuffs on the bodice. The bodice has been arranged so as to create a jacket/waistcoat effect with the “waistcoat” fabric being ruched and pleated. In the above picture, we also a see a wide belt also made from the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels that is very suggestive of an obi  (the wide belt typically found on a kimono). While the fabric pattern is decidedly Western, the style is definitely influenced by Japonisme and it definitely catches the eye, possibly minimizing the massive train.

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Side Profile

In the above picture, we see the same dress only the wide belt has been replaced by a thin belt of royal blue silk that matches the rest of the dress. With this substitution, the focus is brought back onto the train.

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With optional shawl.

In the above picture, the dress is now worn with a shawl made of the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels. The shawl definitely provides contrast to the solid royal blue of the dress and serves to balance the train somewhat.

However there is one caveat: the staging of the dress for the museum display can make a difference and skew our perceptions- often times one will see a dress in a museum display in which is displayed without the proper bustle and underpinnings thus creating a flat look. On the other hand, it can also be overdone so we have to be careful. In the case of the above dress, in the pictures below, we see that the train and bustle have been toned down; it’s probable that a different bustle was used in these pictures:

To get a more balanced perspective of the 1880s silhouette, here’s some period pictures:

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Mr. Garrigan and lady, Montreal, 1888; McCord Museum (II-87490.1)

Above, we see the characteristic “shelf bustle” in full flower and, for this woman, the style works. The train, skirt, and bodice appear to be in relative proportion.

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Mrs Hughes, in cuirass bodice suit with shelf bustle and flower pot hat, c. 1887; State Library of New South Wales collection.

Here is a less effective rendition of this style. The bustle and train appear to be an appendage that’s been tacked on and it lacks unity and the proportions are somewhat off. The woman’s severe look also doesn’t help the look.

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Archduke Josef Karl of Austria and spouse, Archduchess Clotilde, neé Princess of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, c. 1884

Here we see a definite mismatch in proportions between the train, skirt, and bodice. The bodice bottom is too short in relation to the bustle and skirt- it looks oddly truncated.

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Mrs. G. S. Davidson, Montreal, 1884; McCord Museum (II-73351.1)

In this picture, the bustle is more restrained, perhaps because it was taken in 1884 before the second bustle trend has completely taken hold.

Fashion is a constant process of extremes followed by reaction and it was no different with  the tournure as we see from the following comments from the February issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

The diminution of tho tournure, the falsely -so- called “dress-improver,” appears to be definitely decided upon. Worth is using all his powerful influence in that direction,
as he dislikes very much the ungraceful stiffness imparted to the upper portion of the toilette by its undue dimensions. The newest articles of this description are composed of ruffles of hair-cloth— the genuine “crinoline”— and the sides are simply laced together underneath, neither steel springs nor whalebone being used in the fabric.

The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just at the back of the skirt-band, and three rows of steel springs are set in the lower part of the skirt to hold it out. This is merely a return to the combination which was in vogue before the present— or, rather, the recent—exaggeration of this detail of feminine dress.

Even Worth had enough of the “shelf bustle” and was pushing back- the results were to become strikingly evident as the 1880s gave way to the 1890s. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of the “shelf bustle” and stay tuned for more.



1880s Style- A Color And Texture Perspective

Color and texture were two major elements in the daytime styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

“Contrast” could also be a bit more subtle- note how the jeweled texture of the under bodice/underskirt also goes a long way in visually setting the two fabrics apart:

Day Dress 1887

Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Contrasting colors were also employed:

Day Dress 1885-86 1

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:

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Edouard Alexandre Sain, The Red Parasol, Private Collection

With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

Close-Up Bodice Front

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:

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Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)

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Side Profile

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Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:

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Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria circa 1885:

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Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)

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Full View With Train

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Rear View

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Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂 In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into 1880s fashion effects and it’s clear that there were an almost unlimited range of design by possibilities and we hope that this will serve as an inspiration in recreating styles of the 1880s.



Patterning A Worth Gown

I‘ve been quietly studying and lifting a pattern from one of the many Worth gowns in our collection. It’s harder than one would think, because I have to take fangirl breaks! She’s an 1881 silk voided velvet on faille polonaise and skirt, in mint condition…it’s like Himself is whispering in my ear, saying…”Do it!” Hmmm… 🙂

The basic fashion fabric it “voided” silk velvet on silk faille. It’s also pattern matched everywhere on the seams. It’s one of the few gowns that we own that is closed lined and not with open seam allowances. It’s completely lined with silk moire, except for the sleeves.