The 1880s were drawing to a close and with it the Late Bustle Era. While the fashion press hinted at new trends for the 1890s, older styles still prevailed as revealed by this commentary in the April 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine when it discussed Parisian fashions:
The fashions of the present spring show but little positive change, so far, from the styles, of the past winter. This was to be expected, after the thorough revolution in the make of dresses which has taken place during the past six months. The .adoption of flat-plaited skirts, of short demi-trains, and of modified leg-of-mutton sleeves, together with the revival of dresses with corsage and skirt or over-skirt cut in one piece, such as the redingote, and the polonaise, and the princess dress, are sufficient to mark the* inauguration of a new era in feminine toilette. Hooped skirts are abolished, to the great misery of the dressmakers who have discovered, after years of disuse, that it is much harder to make a gracefully cut skirt falling in straight plain folds, than one that admitted of being looped up here and bunched up there whenever any irregularity presented itself.
It’s interesting that the writer notes that dressmakers used loops and folds characteristic of 1880s dresses to conceal their mistakes. What’s also interesting is that reference of made to the leg-of-mutton sleeve although its manifestation was no doubt a lot more muted that what was to come in the Mid-1890s. 🙂 The writer further notes that:
The polonaise and princess-cut dresses are very advantageous for spring wear, as they can be worn for promenading without a wrap as soon as the mild weather definitely makes its appearance. A very elegant form of the latter style of costume is to have the dress in cashmere, with underskirt, plaited vest, and corsage-revers in satin. The satin underskirt is made in flat square plaits in front, the perfectly plain princess-cut dress in cashmere falling over it in straight loose folds…
The redingote is universally adopted for the more elegant form of demi-toilette, such as is in vogue for small dinners, soirees musicales, and such like informal entertainments. It is made in brocade, usually in a solid color, and opens from the throat downward over an underdress that may be in lace, or in satin, or embroidered gauze, or in crepe de Chine, being about a quarter of a yard shorter than the round underskirt. Very often the sleeves are made with high puffed epaulettes. When the underdress is in crape or gauze, a wide belt in some soft silken material is often added with good effect. The whole dress should be in one color, every portion of it matching in shade..
So what this might have looked like? Well, to begin, here’s one fashion plate from the same issue of Peterson’s:
The redingote style is further illustrated in this plate:
The left dress above is interesting in that the redingote takes on the appearance of a elongated tail coat and the overall effect is distinctly neo-directoire.
The above plates illustrate a number of variations on the redingote with an princess line underneath and what’s interesting is that the line between outerwear and garments worn inside is blurred. And just to be complete, here’s a couple of extant dresses that captures many of the elements described above. First, this dress from 1888 embodies the whole idea of the redingote combined with a princess line dress:
From all appearances, both the outer redingote and the inner princess line dress both appear to be continuous and in fact, appear to be of one piece. Of course, these are only photos so without the benefit of examining closer, they may be in two pieces but we seriously doubt it. Style-wise, we see a large vertical sweep that draws the eye up towards the center bodice. The patterned “interior” fabric really stands out when combined with a solid dark outer fabric. Finally, it’s interesting that the rear silhouette has been softened, lacking the sharply defined bustle silhouette characteristic of earlier 1880s dresses. Next, there’s this day dress that was made in 1889:
Although hidden by the netting, the bodice features a faux vest underneath:
While it appears that the bodice and skirt are two separate pieces, the overall effect is still vertical with an emphasis on the large vertical paisley design motif in skirt. While we acknowledge that some of our conclusions may be stretching a bit, it’s interesting to note the various micro style trends that were going on towards the end of the bustle era. Here you can see the beginnings of the transition to 1890s style and to us, the transition is fascinating to watch.
One of the more interesting micro fashion trends that were occurring during the late 1880s/early 1890s was the revival of Directoire style. Originally a reaction to the overly-ornate aristocratic fashions of the late Eighteenth Century, the Directoire aesthetic focused on simplifying fashion, initially drawing upon Classical antiquity for inspiration. As with the original, the Directoire style of the 1880s/1890s was a reaction to the highly structured styles of the late 1880s and it also sought to introduce a less structured style (although this was a matter of degree). So what was this style, as reinterpreted? According to the January 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
In gowns, the Empire and Directoire styles are the novelties. The Empire gowns have a simple basque back, while the front is rounded and quite short, being covered from tho armpits with the draped Empire belt. The belt is of the dress-material, or one of its combinations. The back of such basque is in box-plaits. The skirts of both the Empire and Directoire gowns are all in straight lines, owning over an underskirt, in front, the whole length. Rich brocades, combined with satin peau-de-soie, are mostly used for dressy occasions.
Gowns for the street are made in the same style in cloth. The long continuous breadths of the redingote are well adapted for these cloth costumes. One of tho novelties of the season is for combining black with a contrasting color. The short broad revers on the front of the bodice, in Directoire gowns, are generally of the same color as the
front of the gown. All sleeves are full; that is, either puffed, for lace or dinner dresses, and for cloth, silk, or woolens. The coat-sleeve is large at the top, and pushed up at the armhole.
What’s interesting in the above commentary is that there’s an emphasis on straight vertical lines. Jackets were definitely a key element, principally with revers in bodices combined with tight sleeves with large sleeve caps. Let’s see how this is looks…
As it can be seen from the above illustrations, jackets were a definite style element, and were either short jackets or, in some cases, cut-away versions. The Redingote was often blended in and it was sometimes difficult to tell where outerwear ended and inside dresses began:
The late 1880s take on the Directoire style is an interesting in that it emphasized the skirt and jacket/coat combination and that a tidy silhouette while at the same time avoiding the severity found with a closely-fitted bodice. Also, with the skirt, we see a de-emphasis on the train, the elaborate bustle structure that was in style just a couple of years before; at best there was a minimal bustle mostly consisting of some sort of pad. When viewed across several decades, this represented a seismic style shift that was to ultimately play out through the 1890s. We hope you have enjoyed this little excursion into one of the more little-known byways of late Nineteenth Century fashion and we hope to be posting more soon. 🙂