Transitioning Into The Mid-Bustle Era…

Even as early as 1876, one can see the transition away from the full trained style characteristic of the First Bustle Era to the Mid Bustle or “Natural Form Era.” This transition was a gradual one, gathering steam until coming into full flower by 1878. One of the best sources for documenting fashion change is through mass media and especially fashion magazines. Of course, these do need to be used with a bit of caution in that often they were ahead of their audiences and not everyone would immediately adopt a new style (even if they had the financial means to do so).

To begin, let’s look at this fashion plate from January 1875 of Le Moniteur De La Mode:

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 3, January 1875

Here we see the full train and bustle style in full flower, especially with the one pictured on the right. And here’s a few more examples focusing on day wear:

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 4, January 1875

Some more seemingly transitional styles- note the bodice extends over the hips with the dress on the right. We’re unable to tell with the dress on the left due to the mantle but the mantle pretty much neatly covers the hips. With both dresses, the bustle and train are restrained, making for a smooth silhouette.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 5, January 1875

The dress on the right maintains the earlier train/bustle style but it’s a bit tucked in towards the middle which acts to control the fullness. On the other hand, with the dress on the left, we see a hybrid of sorts that also maintains the earlier train/bustle style but then maintains a fairly large skirt volume all the way to the hem- to us, it almost seems that this style is trying to create a modified bell skirt style reminiscent of the 1860s. Not the most flattering style, to say the least.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 46, November 1875

Finally, with this example, we see another attempt to tighten up the silhouette and place a greater emphasis on a low demi-train. It’s definitely a hint at what’s to come. The above plates, along with others from the 1875 issues of  Le Moniteur De La Mode show an interesting mix of dresses: some have the extensive trains and bustles characteristic of the First Bustle Era while others show a smoother, more restrained style although the bustle is still noticeable at hip level.

Moving forward into 1876, we see the near-total elimination of any sort of bustle at hip level and an extension of the bodice over the hips. Also, interestingly enough, we see a number of dresses constructed in a princess line style with no waistline whatsoever. At the same time, we see greater emphasis being placed on the lower skirt and the development of a more complex lower train. Below are some examples from the 1876 issues of Le Moniteur De La Mode:

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 33, August 1876

The above dress is especially compelling with its clean princess line that emphasizes a cylindrical silhouette, aided by the stripped fabric that further serves to emphasize the vertical line. At the bottom, there’s a very simple multi-pleated demi-train. The whole effect is drastically different than what was before.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 40, September 1876

With the above two dresses we see the cuirass bodice in full flower, completely covering the hips. Both dresses also employ extensive pleating and swagged fabric which accentuates the cylindrical silhouette of the Mid-Bustle Era and it combined with extensive trains (well, we’re assuming for the dress on the right).

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 45, November 1876

And without the swagging and pleating except along the hem and train. The dress on the right have a very elaborate train that’s an extension of the over and under skirts and they provide an interesting contrast both in color and texture. On the right, we see a more simple princess line dress that employs a rust brown and blue patterned overskirt over a plain rust brown underskirt. Both examples have no train at hip level and the train has been pushed to the bottom of the dress. No matter if it’s a princess line or not, the emphasis is on a slender “natural” form that’s been sculpted through corsetry and the right underpinnings. 🙂

Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 47, November 1876

Finally, this dress displays all the attributes of the Mid Bustle Era style with very precise, clean lines. With this dress, the strategically placed striped edging delivers the greatest impact and creates a look that definitely reads “18th Century revival”. Christian Lacroix would be proud. We’ll conclude this post by saying that the above commentary is based on a very small sample of fashion illustrations culled from two years of one fashion publication but it’s still compelling to see an evolutionary process happening right in front of us on its pages. We intend to delve into this a bit more and hopefully gain a better understanding about how fashions evolve and change.

Color Selection For Dresses- 1870s Style

One of the central tenets of choosing colors for a particular dress is that one must choose colors that are appropriate for when and where a particular dress or gown is going to be worn. A dress that looks fabulous in the noonday sun may look absolutely horrible when viewed in a gas-lit ballroom at night. In short, context is everything when selecting a suitable color or color combination for a particular dress and it’s one of the fundamental principles that drives our designs. However, this is not simply us reciting a fashion truism- From the January 1875 edition of Le Follet, Journal Du Grand Monde:

It is necessary to be very careful in the selection of shades for evening-dress, as they are so very different by day and gaslight. Many of the best shades for day wear have quite a faded or dull appearance by night. Thus, the peacock-green, so beautiful in the sunlight, takes a yellowish tinge by gaslight. Those greens with the most yellow in them are the best for evening toilette. Yellows of different shades- buttercup, sulphur, and, above all, maize- are all good for this purpose. Reds gain in brightness; rubies also become more brilliant; nacarat [a shade of pale red-orange] appears lighter; cerise changes to ponceau  {a red poppy color]. A rather yellow white is preferable to the purer white, and silver-grey looks well; but the bluish-grey is not a good shade for night.

Here’s an example of nacarat:

And cerise:

Image result for cerise color

And finally ponceau:

This is just one example but it makes an important point in that one must always be mindful of context when recreating historical fashions.

Paul Poiret & Resisting Change

Paul Poiret has always been fascinating to us and his designs and innovations never fail to amaze. At the same time, Poiret is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of not adapting to a changing zeitgeist (the spirit of a particular historical period). Poiret was a bit of showman and he utilized all manner of publicity in order to advance his innovations such as eliminating the corset-created silhouette as an essential design element (even though other couturiers were working on similar designs at the same time such as Jeanne Paquin) and the introduction of the jupe-culotte.

Paul Poiret, Jupe Culotte, 1911; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.8a, b)

Poiret was also instrumental in introducing a simpler, less structured silhouette starting with the Directoire style in 1906:

The First World War disrupted the French fashion industry and Poiret was no exception. Called up for military service, Poiret was assigned to work on simplifying the production of uniforms and while he was successful in this area, his fashion house barely kept itself afloat financially. After the war, Poiret tried to pick up where he’d left off in 1914 but the fashion world had moved on with an emphasis on more simple designs such as those created by Coco Chanel. Poiret’s designs failed to catch on and combined with financial mismanagement and a nasty divorce from his wife Denise, he was ultimately forced to close his fashion house in 1929. In future posts, we’ll delve into some of Poiret’s post-WWI designs and the overall decline of Poiret’s influence as a designer.

Costume College Approaches…

And we’re coming down to the wire here as Costume College approaches…

This year I will be reprising my Paul Poiret presentation (revised and expanded) as well as presentations on designers Charles Frederick Worth and Elsa Schiaparelli. When I presented the class on Schiaparelli last year, it was definitely outside our comfort zone but in it was well received and one of the attendees had even recreated Schiaparelli’s iconic Lobster Dress 🙂 :

One of the fundamentals of our design philosophy is that here at Lily Absinthe, we are interested in all eras of fashion and as such, we draw inspiration for all eras when it fits the particular design objective we may have in mind and especially when it comes to designers who came after the Belle Epoch.

 

Schiaparelli in particular has always been a source of fascination for both Karin and I in that she combined the shocking and outrageous with the practical and down-to-earth ranging from surrealist-inspired shoe-hats and immaculately tailored suits and elegant evening dresses. Moreover, we’re fans of her widespread use of pink- she even has a distinct shade of pink she named “shocking pink.” 🙂

Image result for shocking pink schiaparelli

We look forward to seeing you all there!

 

 

Some Fashion Theory From Maison Worth

During his lifetime, Charles Worth was extremely wary of journalists and rarely gave interviews. When questioned during those rare interviews on the nature of fashion, his answers were vague and provided little insight as to his thought processes as a designer. However, upon his death in 1895, his sons were somewhat more forthcoming about Maison Worth’s approach to fashion and in particular, Jean Worth who managed the design side of the house. In an interview by a one Marie A. Belloc for Volume I (November 1896-April 1897) of The Lady’s Realm, Worth comments on the nature of fashion, stating:

It would be impossible to lay down any general theory or rule, so much that is indefinable and so many hidden influences go to the making of a mode—especially nowadays, when many marvels of colouring once reserved to painters and artists are within the reach of every intelligent artisan who cares to spend his Sunday afternoon at the Louvre, or who can afford a seat in the upper gallery of the Opera. Take, for instance, the rainbow effects that were lately the only wear among the Paris populace. No doubt Loïe Fuller and her serpentine dance were responsible to a great extent for the sudden interest taken in prismatic colouring; but the Japanese had, of course, long delighted in these multi-coloured effects, and the French eye had gradually become accustomed to rainbow variations. The famous American dancer simply crystallised floating impressions, which had long been with us.

As far as who sets fashion, Worth goes on to explain that:

There can be no doubt that certain élégantes, who have the courage of their convictions and a belief in their own charms, can impose whatever style of dress suits them best on the world at large. For instance, a beautiful woman with a long neck wears a high collar, and all her plain friends follow her example. A notable leader of Fashion gets tired of narrow skirts, and appears suddenly in a full round jupe. Her appearance creates a sensation, and the next day, those women who have seen her in some public place or on some official occasion, wearing with grace and effect what appeared outré and old fashioned, follow her example.

Seems pretty basic but he’s tapping into the psychology of human nature in that there are some who are leaders and others who are followers and it’s the leaders who determine the next big thing in fashion (which was, no doubt, also good for Maison Worth’s bottom line).

In regard to changing fashion styles, Worth notes that:

 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. Of course, there are certain people who can wear anything and look well…

Worth goes on to note that color is one of the most important part of any design and especially how it relates to the individual:

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…

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.

Throughout this interview, the theme of color can be seen and there’s no denying that it’s a powerful concept, especially influencing fashion. At the same, Worth also notes that people are resistant to change and will only do so when a fashion leader (i.e., fashion influencers) decides to make a change.  It’s also interesting that both Worth senior and junior  sought to bring about color combinations that were harmonious to each other as well as the individual client. Below are just a few examples:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890 – 1895; Royal Ontario Museum (969.223)

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1874; Rhode Island Institute of Design Museum ( 2005.89.12)

Worth, Ensemble Dress, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.620a–e)

Worth, Evening Gown, 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1094a–g)

Worth, Reception Dress, c. 1877 – 1878; Cincinnati Art Museum (1986.1200a-c)

Worth Day Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

Throughout the late 19th Century, Maison Worth utilized just about every possible color in varying combinations and for the most part, they seem to work. Stay tuned as well delve into more fashion theory according to Maison Worth

To be continued…