Fashion Transition- The Late 1870s

Change has always been a key characteristic of fashion and the late 19th Century was no exception. While the late 19th Century was seemingly an era of bustles and trained dress designs, in reality that wasn’t the case and there one can see a series of transformations through the 1870s, 80s, and early 90s. Fashion change has always been an endless source of fascination for us and especially the years from 1876 through 1883 and today we return to this theme.


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.



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:

worth_dinner-dress_1897_1

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.



Some More From Pingat…

Lately, it seems that Emile Pingat has become the subject of interest for us here at Lily Absinthe and combined with our love for 1890s fashions in general, we’ve been finding all manner of Pingat’s designs. For today’s consideration is this circa 1894 ball gown:

Pingat, Ball Gown, c. 1894; Museum of Fine Arts Boston (56.816)

Rear View

As ball gowns go, this is a relatively simple design with a minimum of trim (mostly beading on the front bodice), relying instead on combinations of lace, and silk satin to achieve its effect.  With roses strategically placed on the skirt front, collar and shoulder, there are pops of color that offset the blush pink/ivory silk satin. The gigot sleeves combined with gored skirt definitely place this dress safely in the mid-1890s and create the classic hourglass style that was typical of the period. Overall, as with many of Pingat’s designs, this is elegant and clean and would definitely make an excellent bridal gown. Although best known for his outerwear, Pingat also produced many elegant dress designs- ball gowns, evening/reception dresses and day dresses and this is just one excellent example.



Pingat & Tea Gowns

No sooner did we say that tea gowns didn’t seem to be a thing with Emile Pingat than this amazing circa 1892 example from the National Gallery of Australia came along:  🙂

Emile Pingat, Tea Gown, c. 1892; National Gallery of Australia (NGA 92.1129.A-B)

This design takes the while idea of a “tea gown” and takes the style to the extreme, elevating it to an extremely fashionable garment. Utilizing complementary colors of acid yellow and dark brown, the gown combines a silk satin skirt and bodice and velvet sleeves with a Medici collar. The effect is further enhanced by the same brown velvet running along the skirt hem. Finally, a large belt with a jeweled design and decorative panel running down the gown front completes the gown’s dramatic effect. With the belt, it’s difficult to tell if it’s a princess line or not but in either case, the silhouette is a typical 1890s style. With the Medici collar and jeweled velvet sleeves, this gown reads Renaissance with a nod to aesthetic dress. And here’s the rear view:

Fashion has always been a play between extremes and this tea gown is no exception in that Pingat’s design pushes the boundaries of what a tea gown was intended to be- what was once meant as a casual garment for wear at home has now been transformed far beyond that definition to the point where it bears little difference between it and full-on formal wear. Of course, one could argue that perhaps it’s more a matter of the dress being mislabeled by the museum and we acknowledge that it’s quite possible too although the neo-Renaissance style seems to belie that a bit. In either case, without further documentation, all we can do is speculate but one can’t deny the dramatic style effect either way.