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! 🙂

And Now For Another Cape…

Today, we have another interesting cape for your viewing pleasure. This particular cape was made circa 1893-1895 and definitely epitomizes high ’90s style:

Cape Jacket, c. 1893 – 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.11-1932)

And let’s take a look at a few close-ups of the rear:

Close-up of the decorative trim pattern.

This cape is an interesting style with plain cape of red velvet combined with a decorated smaller over-cape and collar consisting of panels of black beaded lace applique. The same appliques also run along with hem of the cape and finished off with a red silk ribbon running down the front. It’s an interesting combination. Interestingly enough, this cape was made in India by a one “Mrs. Ball of Umballa & Kasauli,” no doubt a concern that catered to the European trade in the British India of the time. We hope you’ve enjoyed looking at this example of 1890s cape style and we look forward to finding more examples to post here.

Capes & Capelets In The 1890s

During the 1890s, the cape evolved from a traditional article of outerwear into a major fashion item in its own right, transcending the purely practical and evolving into a fashion work of art. Moreover, because of the loose sizing and easy construction, capes especially lent themselves to mass production and retailers offered them in a variety of styles as can be seen from this 1895 French advertisement:

Or this 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog:

And of course, nothing would be complete without some extant examples starting with this relatively functional but highly decorated cape with Medici collar:

Cape c. 1890s; Thierry de Maigret auction website.

The body appears to have been made from a finer wool, probably a worsted or perhaps a cashmere but it’s hard to tell without a closer examination. But what really makes what would otherwise be an ordinary cape stand out is the extensive soutache pattern running across the length of the cloak and collar. Here’s a couple more examples in the same vein:

Cape, c. 1890s; Kerry Taylor Auction Website

Besides wool, velvet/velvet plush was another favorite base fabric:

And cape designs could be very elaborate:

Evening Cape, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1976.318.16)

The piecing of the fabric pieces at the back is simply amazing and the design effect is incredible. Here’s a side profile that shows the collar to good effect:

Here’s a close-up of the collar:

Finally, we have this example that incorporates extensive lace and beading over silk velvet:

A. Walles, Capelet, c. 1895; Auction Website

And here’s a close-up  of the lace and beading:

Below are some unique views of a cape that are usually omitted. It’s interesting to see how it’s all laid out:


Here’s a view of the collar, laid out flat:

And the whole cape laid out flat:

We hope you have enjoyed this short excursion into the world of 1890s capes. In future posts, we’ll be posting more about this fascinating garment.

1898 Opera Cape

A because we’ve been focusing on 1890s capes recently…here’s a picture from 1898:

Woman Wearing Opera Cape, 1898; Powerhouse Museum (P3576-22), Sydney, Australia.

This picture is interesting in that the woman is wearing what appears to be either a waist or a light bodice. Also, the skirt appears to be of a watered silk moire fabric. One advantage of the 1890s short capes was that they simply draped over the shoulders, thus no interference from the sleeve heads which could be quite large during the Mid-1890s.