Happy Birthday Charles Worth!

Happy Birthday Charles Worth! Born October 13, 1825, Charles Worth was a pioneer in the development of the fashion industry and laid the foundation for many key details of the fashion world that survive to this day. In commemoration of the day, albeit belated, here’s an interesting circa 1878 reception dress he created: 🙂

Worth, Reception Dress, c. 1878; FIDM Museum (2006.25.2AB)

This skirt and base bodice of this dress is constructed from a black silk velvet combined with sleeves of a dark gold covered in black lace with black beaded passmentarie. More black beaded passmentarie covers the front skirt and bodice front. Below is a close-up of the front bodice:

And here’s a view of the rear upper shoulders and neck:

And here’s a rear profile view:

In terms of the age of the dress, it would appear that the skirt is fuller than what would be expected for a natural form/Mid-Bustle Era dress silhouette. Also, the bodice  hem appears to be riding high on the hip, something that was done to optimize the drawing of the train to the rear through use of a bustle. Of course, it could also be a matter of staging, without viewing it in person it can often be hard to tell. Time-wise, we’re inclined to place this one more towards 1875-1876. Well, hopefully we’ll one day have an opportunity to view this dress in person but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures and once again, happy birthday Charles Worth!



Some Commentary on Walking Dresses & Walking Suits From the 1880s

O

ne of the more interesting styles to develop during the 1880s was the walking suit/walking dress and they were both practical and stylish, incorporating both a wide variety of cuts, fabrics, and colors and were intended for wear while out in public. Just to preface, from what we’ve seen in the research we’ve done, the terms “walking dress” and “walking suit” seemed to be used somewhat interchangeably and it doesn’t appear that the concept was fully formed until the early 1890s with its characteristic jacket-waist-skirt combination. However, looking at this style in the 1880s, it would appear that first and foremost, the skirt was untrained and the hem tended to be a off the ground. Also, to a great degree, the bodice tended to be styled as a “jacket-bodice” in which the bodice was constructed to mimic a jacket over a visible vest or some sort of decorative treatment- often shirred chiffon. But, as mentioned above, the concept doesn’t seem to have been fully formed and the boundaries could get hazy at times (no doubt influenced by marketing concerns since much of the fashion press of the times was owned by various pattern-making concerns such as Butterick).

File:Woman walking, carrying a child and turning around; another child holding on to the woman's dress (rbm-QP301M8-1887-052a~11).jpg

The walking dress in action…

What ultimately became the distinct walking suit of the 1890s seems to have gotten it’s start by 1884 as a walking dress that was meant as a more practical garment. Below is some commentary from the December 1884 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

In opposition to these dazzling house toilettes are the sober, neat street costumes which are almost universally worn. The material is usually some dark shade of cloth. Heavy serge and bure, a thick worsted goods with a coarse, shaggy surface, are especially popular for walking suits. The skirt is almost plain, simply a plaiting around the bottom, but a broad band of fur encircles it about a quarter of a yard from the bottom. A full overskirt drawn up high over the hips, and a little tight fitting fur-trimmed jacket complete a costume rich in its quiet simplicity. To be worn with it is a little bonnet fashioned from the same material, with plume 3 or tips of some contrasting color and velvet strings.

One suit is of dark-brown cloth, the skirt consisting of bayadère stripes {fabric]1A fabric with bayadère stripes is a fabric with horizontal stripes in strongly contrasted colors. of a lighter hue mingled with a grayish blue traversing the ground. No trimming except the foot plaiting of plain brown. Drapery and corsage are also of plain brown. The latter opens at the side beneath the full plaits of the waist proper so as to leave the striped vest unbroken in front. Cuffs and close collar are of the striped goods, and a band of the same about two inches wide reaches down the shoulder seam from the collar to the insertion of the sleeve.

The above passage defines the walking outfit as streetwear that is plain with an emphasis on darker colors and plain woolen fabrics. Skirts are meant to be simple and untrained with a minimum of gathering. At the same time, it’s noted that that the underlying vest is somewhat more colorful and loud and that the bodice is to be arranged to show it off to the best advantage. Finally, it must be noted that the skirt could be in a contrasting material, striped in the above example. The above points are further discussed in this passage below from the same issue:

The newest winter walking suits consist of skirt, jacket basque, and vest, real or simulated, and street-coat or cloak. The walking-jacket is not at all so indispensable a part of them as formerly. The jacket-basque, with vest, is cut in such a way that it completes a dress fit for the street; and when the temperature demands additional clothing, a longer, more protective. and adjustable garment is found necessary to meet varied requirements.

This is really an improvement, but a greater one is the getting rid of looped and bunched-up drapery from heavy cloth materials. “Tailors” proper—what are known as “ladies’” tailors—would have served a really good purpose, if they had strictly adhered to the original idea, maintained a certain standard, and not endeavored to copy the follies of tulle in solid cloth.

Redfern, the great Isle of Wight tailor, has done this less than others. He gets up astonishing contrasts in colors; his “yachting ” suits, his “men of war” costumes for girls, and his cloth “gowns,” are original and striking, but they are useful and suitable; his coats are full of inside pockets, and his traveling costumes seem made for the “road” and to have a satchel, or lorgette slung across them.

The above comments on Redfern are also interesting in that we see tailors trying to incorporate elements in their work that are more in the area of dressmaking, much to Demorest’s disapproval. Below is an illustration from the April 1885 of Demorest’s that illustrates some of the ideas expressed in the above passages in regard to the utility of the walking suit/walking dress. In the right figure, the skirt is simple with a minimum of gathering and the pattern provides a nice contrast to the solid colored skirt front and bodice sides and back. The jacket/bodice is also faced in the same material as the underskirt and helps create the appearance of a long waistcoat reminiscent of early 18th Century styles.

And just to show some of the variations in jacket/bodice styles, here’s another illustration, this time from the May 1885 issue of Demorest’s:

And lest we think it was just Demorest’s that was presenting this style to the public, below is an illustration below from the October 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Below are some extant walking dresses from the 1880s, starting with this one from circa 1885:

Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.8a, b)

And below is another example from circa 1884-1885; and yes, it’s labeled as being a day dress and that’s true but it also encompasses elements of the walking dress style.

Day Dress, c. 1884-1885; Museum of London (32.26/2a)

Finally, we have this circa 1885 walking dress from Worth:

Worth, Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.771a, b)



Fabric Trends- Spring 1890

Fabrics are a major part of fashion and often are the center of focus of a dress design. In terms of style, a fabric could be said to consist of three elements: 1) the fabric’s specific type and construction; 2) the fabric’s decoration (i.e. does the fabric have some sort of decorative motif or is it plain?); and 3) the fabric’s color. This is illustrated in this commentary from the April 1890 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

In the way of dress materials, the newest is a gauze with wide woven stripes in a fabric much more transparent than the ground of the material, these stripes being figured in large patterned designs in the thicker stuff. The effect thus produced is very pretty, and, when the gauze is made up over a colored satin underskirt, the toilette thus composed will be charming.

Interesting, that could be referring to Edwardian styles. 🙂 As for silks, brocades were definitely in vogue:

The newest silks are brocades, having very small sprays of flowers in their natural colors scattered over a black ground. Some of the designs are very tasteful as well as novel, and especially one representing a single stalk of the fuchsia with its pendent blossoms, and another showing one of the crimson clover. These floral designs are repeated on the foulards of the season- snowdrops or ears of wheat being represented on the black grounds, and fuchsias on cream-white or pale silver-gray.

Here are some fashion plates from Peterson’s that help illustrate this a little:

Peterson’s Magazine, March 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, May 1890

And here are some extant examples of garments that incorporate one or more style elements noted above:

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

Worth, Ballgown, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.11a, b)

 

 

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1890; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2015.688.a-b)

Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Day Dress, c. 1889-1892; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.270&A-1972)

 

 

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)

The above examples are only a small sample but they serve to underscore some of the fashion trends that were underway during the later 1880s/early 1890s.



Trending For January 1890

Today we travel to January 1890 as the extreme bustle fashions of the late 1880s were fading out and transitioning to something different. So how did the new decade open up for fashion? Below is a fashion plate and accompanying description from the January issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_Jan 1890_1

Fig. I – DINNER DRESS OF STRIPED RED AND BLACK SILK. The front of the skirt and surplice-vest are of gauze of a lighter shade, over a plain silk of the color of the gown. The overdress is a princess polonaise, which a short train and elbow sleeves. The revers, which begin at the back of the neck and are run down the entire length of the skirt, are covered with either a passementerie of silk cord or else heavy Spanish lace, in black. A black velvet ribbon, three inches wide, forms the girdle. Long black Suede gloves.

Fig. II – EVENING DRESS OF PLAIN EMBROIDERED BLACK GAUZE LACE. The underskirt is of the plain material and laid in accordion plaits [pleats]. The overdress and bodice are of embroidered gauze or lace and simply gathered to form the sides and back. The bodice is pointed front and back, and has Grecian brebelles (?) across the bust. The shoulder-straps are simply sprays of flowers corresponding with the design and color of the embroidery on the overdress; the same trim the front and sides of the dress, arranged in festoons tied with knots of pale-green ribbon. Likewise, a similar ribbon forms the girdle and adorns the shoulder straps. Long Suede gloves, High coiffure.

Fig. III – EVENING-DRESS, OF PRIMROSE SATIN AND BROWN VELVET. The skirt of this gown is much wrinkled in front, and has a moderate train. The sides are of the golden brown velvet and also are slightly wrinkled over the hips. The pointed bodice is composed of satin and velvet, with a, simple puff for a sleeve. Long white Suede gloves. High coiffure.

Fig. IV – POMPADOUR EVENING-DRESS, OF FIGURED BLUE CHINA SILK combined with a striped Pompadour brocade, The skirt is short and the edge trimmed with two rows of fringe. The full bodice has a short jacket of the brocade which is worn over the full bodice. The edge of the full bodice, the sleeves, and the ends of the sash are also fringed. Hair dress low.

Fig. V – VISITING OR HOUSE DRESS, OF PALE ROSE SURAH OR NUN’S VEILING. The edge of the short, round skirt is finished by a wide ruching of pinked-out silk. The bodice is cut in one with the skirt on the right side, and it laps surplice-fashion over a vest of pale-green surah or China silk; the same forms the long sash and the deep ends for the full sleeves. A large black velvet or lace hat entirely covered on the brim with ostrich-tips. In front, a high standing loop of velvet ribbon.

In Figure I, we see an underlayer of a skirt and surplice/vest made of a light gauze in a light red or rose color (we assume that the skirt of a base layer to anchor the gauze). Covering this it an polonaise utilizing a princess line with a small train and designed to be open in front so as to show the gauze underlayers. The overdress fabric is striped with dark and light red, the light red being the same shade as the skirt and surplice-vest and makes for a dramatic effect, especially when combined with the revers which are decorated in a passementerie. Finally, black velvet ribbon is ties around the waist and draped down the front to create a girdle effect that is reminiscent of Medieval fashion and for this dress gives the impression of the overdress being a robe. The overall effect is dramatic and perfectly fitting for a dinner dress. Below are some extant examples of dresses with similar style effects:

Rear View

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)

Figure II is an evening dress that is somewhat understated, utilizing an light green plain underskirt with accordion pleats. The overdress and bodice are constructed of a black gauze. The black overdress is somewhat offset by the use of flowers for the shoulder straps and  for decoration on the dress.  Finally, as with the dress in Figure I, there is a sash of light green that is also arranged to create a Medieval style girdle.

Figure III is an interesting combination of primrose satin and brown velvet. The skirt has a moderate train and is in primrose satin and the bodice is of brown velvet with the primrose satin trimming the front and shoulder straps. The bodice is pointed and has stripes of skirt-length brown velvet running on each side. The primrose and brown make for a complementary color combination and was often used during the late 19th Century. Primrose is not a term often used these days so here’s what the color looks like (don’t let the “rose” in “primrose” fool you). Below is the color itself:

Primrose

And in dress form…although it could be argued that this is more of a gold color…

Worth c. 1892

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1892; Museum at FIT (P87.20.24)

Style-wise, here’s something very similar to Figure III:

 

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1880-1890; Preservation Society of Newport County

The dress in Figure IV is a bit of a mystery in that the description reads that the dress is made of “figured blue China silk” yet the fashion plate portrays a white fabric with what appears to be some sort of design in black. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics combined with looking at a fashion plate that is over 110 years old with attendant fading and the like. In any event, it doesn’t bear much of a resemblance.

Getting past the fabric description, the skirt has two layers with each layer trimmed in fringe. The bodice is covered in short bolero made from a brocade and also trimmed in fringe. Style-wise, this dress is a mishmash of styles that are not harmonious and overall, this style just does not work. Well, every era has its fashion fails…

In contrast to the dresses in Figures I, II, and III, the dress in Figure V is more restrained as befitting of a house or visiting dress. The skirt is made of a pale rose colored surah or nun’s veiling that is round with no train and is plain except for rouching of pinked silk running along the skirt hem. Underneath is a vest of pale green surah or China silk that is covered in a bodice that matches the skirt. Finally, a matching light green sash in surah or China silk tied with long tails creating the Medieval girdle effect completes the dress. Overall, the dress style resembles a draped robe.

Nun’s Veiling

In this collection, we see that each of these dresses attempts to create a draped effect, mostly through the use of a loose over bodice combined with a long sash that has been tied to create a girdle similar to Medieval style. With the exception of the dress in Figure IV, each of these dresses gives the effect of a robe that has been bound by the sash. Depending on one’s perspective, one can see Japanese and Classical Greek influences at work and it could be argued that this style hints at what was to later develop during the Teens.

Tea Gown, c. 1890; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above was just the beginning of the 1890s and as we will see in future posts, fashion underwent some dramatic changes during this period. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



More Fashion for Fall and Winter 1886

Previously, we’ve seen what was trending for Fall/Winter in the November 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine so let’s now take a further look at the December 1886 issue:

Peterson's_Dec 1886

Below is a description of each figure, from left to right:

Fig. I – Walking Dress, Of Dark Green Cashmere. The long wrap is made of striped woolen, plain in front and over the arms, and cut to figure to the waist at the back. It falls in full plaits over the tournure, and is trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with large full bows of yellow ribbon and two stiff feathers.

Fig. II – Visiting Dress, Of Red Camel’s Hair. The petticoat is of velveteen of a darker shade than the dress. The skirt is put on full around the bodice, and is draped in front diagonally. At the back, it falls in straight folds. The long bodice is made full in front. The skirt and cuffs are trimmed with fur, and a fur boa is worn around the neck. Hat of red velvet, trimmed with velvet and a stiff bird’s-wing.

Fig. III – Evening Dress, Of Yellow Silk. The skirt is short and laid in long box-plaits. At the back, it is quite full over the tournure. The front is trimmed with a wide panel of the silk, embroidered in light-brown. The very plain bodice has the same embroidery down the front, and is edged with large pearl beads.

Fig. IV – Evening Dress, Of Light Blue Surah. The skirt is laid in plaits at the sides and back. In front, it is plain, with a fall of deep white lace over it. The tunic is put on full to the bodice, is looped away from the lace with a bunch of white roses on the left side. At the right side, it is drawn further back, and falls in a puff behind. The bodice is plain, pointed back and front, and is trimmed with folds of the silk and knots of satin ribbon.

Fig V – Walking Dress, Of Black Figured Cloth. The bodice is cut long at the back over the tournure, then falls in straight full folds. In front, it is quite plain, but opens at the side over a velvet panel. The bodice in front is very long, plain, and pointed; The whole dress is trimmed with rosary-beads. large velvet bow.

Of particular interest from the above description is the use of Surah for evening dresses stands out. Surah is an even-sided fabric woven in a twill pattern from fine silk filaments or wool (today, polyester is also used). Often patterns are printed on it by the direct print/rolle method.1 This fabric has a smooth, fine hand and a bright, shiny luster. Below are two examples:

And just for interest, here’s an example of a dress from the period made of silk surah:

Day Dress, c. 1884-1886; Les Arts Decortifs (UF 50-6-1 AB) ©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

Another fabric of interest is camel’s hair:

Camel’s Hair

Camel’s hair is typically woven in a twill pattern and can be 100% camel hair or more often, a blend of wool and camel’s hair. Camel’s hair has a soft, silky hand and was widely used in day dresses during the late 19th Century.2

So what was trending from Paris in December 1886? According to Peterson’s:

Walking-suits are now shown in soft-finished cloth and in vigogne [vicuña], the favorite colors being silver-gray, dark brown, and prune-color. A costume in silver-gray cloth has a long full tunic, draped at the back over a plain underskirt bordered with a wide band of Astrakhan-fur. The short tight-fitting jacket is sleeveless, and is bordered with a band of gray Astrakhan, the whole front of the wrap being composed of Astrakhan. This jacket is worn over a blouse-waist in white crape [crepe], finished at the wrists and throat with bands of gray and silver passementerie. Sometimes, the blouse-waist is composed of scarlet crape with similar trimming. The tunic is sloped forward in front, and terminates there at the waist in two long scarf ends, turned over each other, and each finished with a large gray-and-silver tassel.

Another very graceful and artistic walking-dress is in seal-brown vigogne and golden brown Sicilienne. The vigogne overskirt reaches the edge of the hem in front, and is sloped upward at the sides, and looped at the back over a perfectly plain Sicilienne under skirt. The dress is cut Princess, and has a vest and sleeves of the Sicilienne, ornamented with gold passementerie. Over this is worn a dolman-shaped wrap, finished in front with long ends that turn over each other, and at the waist at the back with a wide band of gold-and-brown passementerie, simulating a belt, and seeming to confine the dolman to the figure.

For visiting or reception wear, Worth is making costumes in satin and velvet. The skirt of one that I saw has a very short satin overskirt in front, the back being formed of long wide. flat plaits, and the velvet underskirt being laid in plaits in front, and gathered at the sides half-way down its length. The corsage is in satin. A novelty in the make of this dress was that the drapery was all lined with black brocaded satin.

The above notes are interesting in that it mentions the use of vigogne. or vicuña, and Sicilienne as dress fabrics. So what are these?

Well, first we will start with the vicuña whose wool is one of the rarest natural fibers in the world.  Vicuña wool comes from the Vicuña, a camelid found in the high alpine areas of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Vicuña is related to the llama but has not been domesticated. The wool is extremely fine and has excellent heat retention in relation to its weight. The wool is expensive because Vicuña can only be shorn once every three years and they live in the wild and thus, were usually killed and then shorn to the point where they nearly extinct in the 1960s (today, they have been revived and are not killed).3

Vicunacrop.jpg

Today, Vicuña wool is still very expensive, averaging roughly $21,000 for just an off-the-rack suit coat.

Given the wool’s relative rarity, I would suspect that a good portion of the wool being marketed as Vicuña in the late 19th Century was probably a wool blend with cheaper fibers making up the bulk of the fabric. 🙂

As for Sicilienne, it was a variety of poplin fabric composed of silk and wool fibers. The fabric was a unbalanced plain weave with silk filament as the warp fiber and wool as the weft fiber. The individual wool fibers are thicker and heavier than the silk filaments thus creating a pronounced ribbed appearance. According to some references, the wool was cashmere. We hope you have enjoyed this little trip into 1886 and hope you all have drawn some inspiration. There were a variety of fabrics and colors available to Victorians and many of the same fabrics are obtainable today (although you may have to pay a premium as in the case of the Vicuña 🙂  ).

Stay inspired!


1. [Tortora, Phyllis J. and Ingrid Johnson, Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition.]

2. [Ibid.]

3. [Ibid.]