1890s Day Wear & Poplin

From the July 16, 1899 issue of La Mode Illustree, this elegant yet functional walking suit style described as a toilette de visites ornee d’applications (roughly translated as a “Visiting outfit decorated with appliqués”):

This style features a simple wrap-around multi-gore fan skirt characteristic of the 1890s and decorated with a large floral design on the outer corner of the wrap skirt. The bodice is interesting in that it’s a jacket-bodice that’s intended to mimic a jacket over a vest although if you study the illustration, it seems that the vest blends into the jacket revers but you can just barely make out a faint line dividing the two- talk about optical illusion. 😉

Here’s some more details from the description: The dress is made from a bottle-green summer-weight poplin.  Also, the skirt is decorated with a large white lily appliqué on the right front of the skirt and white trim run along the edge of the skirt. On the jacket-bodice, the lily theme is taken further with a white decorative lily motif trim on the sleeves and bodice front- it’s also noted that the appliqués are edged in bottle-green silk to match the overall dress color.  At the top of the vest portion of the jacket-bodice, there’s a silk green plastron covered by white ecru lace.1This is an extremely rough English translation from the description in the original publication.

This is an interesting style and it would have been nice to see fully created. What really sticks out is the use of a poplin fabric. During the late 19th Century, poplin was a plain weave fabric that usually combined silk warp yarns with wool weft yarns and often given a moire finish.2Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition; today, Poplin is woven from a variety of fibers, mostly cotton and the finish is often flat. Often confused with Broadcloth, Poplin is heavier. Although the fashion illustration doesn’t really provide any clues in terms of finish, it still bears more investigation as a fabric for spring and summer garments.



Doucet & 1890s Style

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century, it was by no means the only one. Couturiers such as Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, and Jeanne Paquin, just to name a few, were in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at Doucet and his take on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet was one of Worth’s leading competitors and like Worth, he utilized a number of marketing techniques that are now standard in the fashion industry to include dressing celebrities (and especially actresses). Doucet’s creations tended to have a softer silhouette, utilizing large quantities of lace, tulle, and chiffon as well as metallics and lame.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

The above ballgown, made sometime between 1898 and 1900, is made from what appears to be a silk chiffon backed by layers of lame. Unfortunately there are no close-up pictures available- it would be very interesting to have a close look at the fabric. With the exception of some tulle at the top of the bodice and leaf garlands on the shoulders, there is no trim and the dress relies on the richness of the materials themselves.

However, Doucet’s designs were not always so “simple”. Here we see one of Doucet’s more iconic work, a ballgown made sometime in the 1898 – 1902 time frame:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Side Profile

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Rear View

Here once again we see the fabric itself as the central focus of the dress style only this time there is an elaborate floral pattern created by leaves and foliage appliques on a gold lame background backed by what appears to be a silk chiffon underlayer. The upper bodice and sleeves are lace the overall effect is of shimmering gold.

So what about day wear? Here’s one example:

Day Dress Doucet c. 1890

Doucet, Day Dress, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC10445 2001-4AC)

The fashion fabric for this dress is a silk crêpe de chine with a stencil print pattern of bamboo stalks and the sparrow motif has been hand-painted separately. The fabric was most likely made in Japan for the export market and is an excellent example of the Japonisme theme that was often utilized by fashion designers during the 1880s and 90s. One again trim is minimal, limited to the hem, sleeves and collar finished off with a silk chiffon fichu.

However, designers could also works against type as with this ballgown that Doucet made sometime around 1890:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890sDoucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Close-Up of Bodice

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Rear View

The use of black and white stripes, artfully cut and blended together (especially on the bodice) reads “modern”, something we would expect to see from the 1950s. The black and white chevrons on the skirt front are especially bold and they immediately draw the eye. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this dress (at least from what I could tell from the museum website) and it raised some interesting questions in regard to provenance- it reads so differently than the majority of Doucet’s work that we almost wonder if this is a dress that’s been mislabeled- it certainly bears further study.

Although we can see two different approaches to design by Worth and Doucet (with a bit of overlap), it’s evident that there was an increased emphasis on making using the dress itself as a canvas for creating the design’s major effect. By this time, the use of trim is completely secondary and does little to distract the eye from the main attraction of the fabric design and this can be especially seen with Doucet’s two very different ballgown designs. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief excursion into some of Doucet’s designs. Stay tuned as we bring you more in the future.



Chartreuse For The Summer…

Chartreuse has always been one of our favorite colors and especially during the spring and summer. This is a dress that I made for myself awhile back and it’s still one of my favorites. 🙂

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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.