Butterflies, Ballgowns And Now Chrysanthemums

It’s a truism in fashion that the natural world has always been a source of inspiration for artists and fashion designers and the late 19th Century was no exception. Examples of natural inspiration in fashion abound and in particular have often been a source of inspiration for many of Maison Worth’s designs. In a previous post, we discussed two examples of Worth’s use of the natural world theme in the form of wheat stalks and butterflies. Today, we look at another example, this time Chrysanthemums with this circa 1895-1900 evening dress:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1898-1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (976.258.5a–c)

With a multi-gored trained skirt and minimally sleeved bodice, the dress silhouette reads late 1890s and more specifically in the 1898-1900 time frame. This dress is constructed of a salmon-colored silk satin and features a Chrysanthemum floral motif pattern. With the exception of the upper bodice, there is no trim on this dress and the Chrysanthemum design speaks for itself. Below is a close-up of the bodice:

The bodice features a semi-wrap style and continues the Chrysanthemum floral pattern with a jeweled net backed with salmon-colored tulle at the bustline. The sleeves are minimal, consisting of two strips of silk satin, some white chiffon and trimmed with gold fringe. Below is a close-up of the design motif:

As it can be seen in the picture above, the decorative design is composed of embroidered appliques that give the appearance of a velvet. It’s an amazing contrast to the silk satin skirt and bodice. Finally, not only does this dress have the Worth label, but also a label with a unique dress number which was likely to have been to a specific client. It would be interesting to know more about this… :-).

What’s also striking about this dress is that the design is not a singular occurrence but rather as part of a family of ball/evening gowns Maison Worth produced around the same time:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

House of Worth, Ballgown, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Worth, Ballgown, 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1250a, b)

The above garments are all masterpieces in their own right, all featuring a large design with a natural theme. Also, judging from the silhouettes and styles, it’s clear that these garments share many of the same pattern blocks.1Although they produced haute couture, Maison Worth was still a business and early on adopted many mass production techniques although they’d never publicly admit it.  Ultimately, while each of these dresses was a unique work, they all had common characteristics that made them part of a collection. Either way, they’re all artworks to be enjoyed in their own right. 🙂


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1880s Style – It Wasn’t All Parisian Couturiers

When looking at historical fashions, it’s quite easy to be attracted to the more elaborate and flashy styles of Worth, Pingat, Felix, or Doucet. However, there was a lot more than that and one often finds interesting designs from lesser known (or completely unknown) designers and especially here in the United States. Also, while the Parisian couturiers were acknowledged as fashion leaders, their designs were aimed at a limited market and far too costly for most. But, as always, the market attempted to fill in the gap in a variety of ways to include sewing patterns based on Parisian designs (licensed or not) as well as local dressmakers creating knock-offs. Department stores also created designs for customers of more modest means (comparatively speaking to the clientele that frequented Worth et al.). Below is an evening dress that was made for Wechsler & Abraham of Brooklyn, New York sometime during the 1880s (more on the date later):

Evening Dress, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art ( 2009.300.654)

This is an interesting design in that it combines bodice and train in a gold silk brocade with, what appears to be, a pink blush taffeta. The color combination is an interesting one and not one that we’d readily expect, they’re definitely not complementary colors as defined in color theory but nevertheless, the pink blush does provide a neutral background for the bodice and train and it leads the eye  to follow the dress upward from train to bodice to the wearer’s face. Now what’s even more interesting is that the train wraps around the upper part of the pink blush skirt and is swagged.

With the side profile picture above and the rear picture below, one can also better see the designer’s use of draping to create a visual flow that leads the eye. It would seem that there was definitely some thought put into this design.

Here we get a better view of the gold brocade silk fabric with its floral design. The bustle/train has been artfully shaped (or maybe it’s just the museum staging… 😁). Now, in terms of dating, we would venture that this is from the 1883-1886 time frame- we’ve definitely moved beyond the “natural form” era with the train and to be honest, this could probably work all the way towards the end of the 1880s although the look might be looked a little dated by then. Finally, one other detail in that the majority of evening dresses/gowns of the period either had no sleeves or three-quarter sleeves. In all honesty, this dress is more suggestive of a dinner or reception dress but it could have easily done double duty. Ultimately, this is somewhat subjective but we’re just putting it out there. 😁

Mme.Ludinart, 129 Boul. St.-Honoré, Paris, Reception Dress, c. 1889; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0202 ab)

And just for comparision, above is a similar design made by a Parisian dressmaker dating from about 1889. The color combination is very similar although the bodices are different and this one has no sleeves. Now here’s a dinner dress from the early 1880s- well, perhaps 1882-84 or so, judging from the train:

Dinner Dress, c. 1880-1882; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.2)

In terms of general style, this is almost identical to our gold brocade & blush pink dress shown above and it only shows that the dividing line between “evening dress” and “dinner dress” or “reception dress” is pretty thin. Of course, the dress could have simply been mis-labeled (it happens more than one would think) but still…in the end, it can be pretty subjective and we by no means profess to have the answers, it is though-provoking.


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And Trending From Maison Worth For March 1894

When it came to the media, Charles Worth was very reticent about discussing the details of his highly successful couture business. However, with his sons Gaston and Jean increasingly taking over the daily operations of Maison Worth, this attitude began to change and during the 1890s, one increasingly sees Worth designs being featured in the fashion press. One example of this can be found with the March 17, 1894 issue of Harper’s Bazar where a Worth evening dress is featured:

This dress is described in Harper’s thusly:

This superb gown is of very light ciel-blue satin bordered with black fur. It is further enriched with bead embroidery in iris dc~igns. The pointed waist is draped across the bust. and has a jabot falling between branches of embroidery done on the satin. Fur shoulder-straps complete the square décolleté. Short puffed sleeves of dotted mousseline de soie are under a ruffle of beaded satin. The graceful skirt falls in godet pleats, and is trimmed with embroidery and fur. The coiffure is without any ornament, a looped tress at the back extending above the top of the head giving a pretty profile. The fan is of black lace figures appliqued on tulle.

The silhouette is standard mid-1890s and interesting enough, the skirt gores are referred to as godets.1In modern usage, godets refer to triangular panels set into a skirt to make the skirt flare out more. The only different is that these panels are more inset into the skirt as opposed to being full panels.  In terms of skirt style, they are very similar to other Worth dresses of the the 1890s and early 1900s- all employed a graceful train and were constructed of solid silk satin with some sort of long flowing decorative motif, often floral or “sheaf of wheat.” Here’s a few well-known examples that follow in the same vein:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1893 – 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.10a–c)

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1901; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1894; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4799 84-9-2AB)

Ballgown, Worth, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

While the skirts are similar, the bodices exhibit a wide range of variation different trim, fabrics, and decorative effects. Also, sleeves for the most part tend to be minimal except for examples from the mid 1890s, which comes as no surprise. 😉 As for the color, ciel blue, here’s an approximation:

The one interesting, and subtle, twist with this dress design is the use of fur as trimming on the skirt hem and shoulders. We wonder if this design was ever actually made or simply was a concept that Jean Worth fed to the fashion press. Someday, we may know the answer.


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Another 1893 Ensemble Dress From Maison Worth

Here’s another ensemble dress from Maison Worth, also from circa 1893. Style-wise, it’s similar to the example that we presented in a previous post but perhaps a little more restrained. Here are a few views:

Worth 1893 Day Reception Afternoon Dress

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

To us, this bodice reads visiting/afternoon dress, more of a formal day-oriented garment. Below, the bodice reads more of a reception dress or possibly evening dress- although that’s probably stretching things a bit.

Worth 1893 Day Reception Afternoon Dress

The Alternate Bodice

Once again, we see a jacket style for the day bodice with a filler of tulle. The skirt and jacket bodice are a pea-green silk brocade with black lace trim and accents. The night bodice with its light cinnamon colored silk velvet provides a pleasant contrast to the pea green. Compared to yesterday’s example, this dress is a bit more restrained but it’s still a nice design. The silk brocade fabric is interesting and we only wish that there were some close-up pictures of the fabric detail. It’s evident that both the dress and the one in yesterday’s post used identical or fairly similar pattern pieces. Finally, here’s an interesting part of the ensemble- matching shoes:

Worth 1893 Shoes

Matching shoes to outfit.

Stay tuned for more posts on this subject. 🙂

 


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