Fabrics are a major part of fashion and often are the center of focus of a dress design. In terms of style, a fabric could be said to consist of three elements: 1) the fabric’s specific type and construction; 2) the fabric’s decoration (i.e. does the fabric have some sort of decorative motif or is it plain?); and 3) the fabric’s color. This is illustrated in this commentary from the April 1890 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
In the way of dress materials, the newest is a gauze with wide woven stripes in a fabric much more transparent than the ground of the material, these stripes being figured in large patterned designs in the thicker stuff. The effect thus produced is very pretty, and, when the gauze is made up over a colored satin underskirt, the toilette thus composed will be charming.
As for silks, brocades were definitely a thing:
The newest silks are brocades, having very small sprays of flowers in their natural colors scattered over a black ground. Some of the designs are very tasteful as well as novel, and especially one representing a single stalk of the fuchsia with its pendent blossoms, and another showing one of the crimson clover. These floral designs are repeated on the foulards of the season- snowdrops or ears of wheat being represented on the black grounds, and fuchsias on cream-white or pale silver-gray.
Here are some fashion plates from Peterson’s that help illustrate this a little:
Peterson’s Magazine, March 1890
Peterson’s Magazine, May 1890
And here are some extant examples of garments that incorporate one or more style elements noted above:
Worth, Ballgown, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.11a, b)
Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Da Dress, c. 1889-1892; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.270&A-1972)
Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)
The above examples are only a small sample but they serve to underscore some of the fashion trends that were underway during the later 1880s/early 1890s. In future posts, we hope to further document this most interesting period of fashion transition.