The Power of the Pleat!

Behold the power of a pleat! It’s not the fold itself, it’s…the understitching. When a pleated ruche is placed in directions that defy gravity, understitching is required. Invisible handwork like this requires me to use a darning needle for (long and thin) so I can sit on the floor with the hem closer to my eye level. For me, using this technique allows me to tack each pleated corner so it stays in place. Why so particular? These diagonal ones in the front will take the brunt of walking, but the piped longer ones on the skirt back and train will flutter, because their hem is free.


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Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era Style

The Mid-Bustle or Natural Form Era of the late 1870s/early 1880s was characterized by a drastic reduction in train sizes, shifting away from the extreme bustling, and an emphasis on a more upright cylindrical style. However, within this general trend, there existed a wide variety of styles that all worked to show off this new silhouette to its best advantage. Below is just one style that was out there during the Mid-Bustle Era, in this case a circa 1878-1880 afternoon dress:

Merlot-Larcheveque, Afternoon Dress, c. 1878-1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.39)

From the pictures, it appears that the dress was constructed of burgundy red silk taffeta for the skirt front and inner bodice combined with a floral patterned striped silk brocade in a combination of black, brown, burgundy, and gold colors. The striped fabric has been arranged so as to create the illusion of a robe that leads down to a demi-train.  The pseudo-robe effect is further enhanced by the princess line and there’s no separate bodice and skirt combination (at least as far as we can tell, anyway).

In this picture, we get a better view of the upper part of the dress and we can see that the dress is one piece although the “bodice” opens up. Ivory lace is used on the cuffs and around the neckline, serving to outline the wearer’s face and hands. Below is a close-up of the striped fashion fabric:

And below is a good illustration of the dress silhouette:

While there’s a bit of a rear bustle projection, it’s relatively restrained and more about supporting the demi-train. Note that the dress train extends from the bottom rather from the waist as was the case with earlier 1870s styles. Here’s another view of the train:

The fact that this dress has a demi-train suggests that it was meant for more formal daytime occasions (hence the designation “afternoon dress”). Below is a full-on view of rear of the dress:

The dress label- Merlot-Larcheveque, 25 Boulevard des Capucines, 25, En face le Grand Hotel. Unfortunately, we were unable to find out more about the maker.

The above picture is a black and white view of the dress that was taken back in the 1950s and while it doesn’t capture the dress colors, it does highlight the pattern of the outer fashion fabric very nicely. Overall, this dress is an excellent illustration of one type of  Mid-Bustle Era style which involved creating the illusion of an underskirt covered by an outer robe.  Stay tuned for more!


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The Late Bustle Era/1880s Silhouette

With all our recent discussion of 1880s styles, here’s an excellent illustration of the Late Bustle Era silhouette that we recently came across. Moreover, it’s also an interesting example of the use of texture in fabric selection- a tomato red silk overskirt and bodice combined with a darker red silk velvet underskirt that provides a harmonious contrast.

Day Dress, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.6a, b)

This dress was clearly a day dress and could easily fulfil the role of visiting or afternoon dress. It was clearly a dress meant to be seen in public.


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And Now For Some Mid-1890s Style

1890s style is definitely a thing with us and today we present you this circa 1895 evening dress:

Rouff, Evening Dress; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.6477a, b)

The color and texture combination of this dress are a very harmonious combination of an olive velvet bodice combined with a black silk satin skirt and bodice front panels. To finish the style, there’s gold embroidery and fringe which serve to offset the black skirt and front bodice.  Although there’s only one picture of the dress, it does appear that there’s a separate bodice and skirt and the skirt appears to be have been made from the black silk satin fabric; the gold embroidery is a floral design that’s rectangular, running down each side of the front part of the skirt and then running along the skirt bottom, above the hem. It’s too bad that there’s no pictures of the dress from the back or sides.

Close-up of trim detail.

Above is a close-up view of the bottom skirt front and the gold embroidery can be clearly seen. Also, one can also see that black beaded appliques were also used as part of the floral pattern design. In terms of style, the wide neck line and low shoulders  suggest an evening dress style but this style would also work as a reception dress. It’s a fascinating dress and we only wish that there were some more pictures available- there’s a lot of details that are obscured. But, nevertheless, this is another source of dress inspiration, especially with the large leg-of-mutton sleeves.


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A Mid-Bustle Era Dress

Gray is a color that works for a variety of fashions and especially when it comes to daywear. Here is just example that every effectively combines complementary shades of gray (we kind of cringe using that phrase… 😄 ), made by a one Amedée Françoise (unfortunately, we were unable to find anything in English about this Couturiere):

Day Dress 1880

Day Dress, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (43.72.2a–c)

Day Dress 1880

Side Profile

As can be seen from these pictures, this dress combines a solid dark gray silk underskirt with an embroidered patterned silk bodice and train. The patterned bodice fabric has a darker gray background and while this would simply serve to darken the entire dress, this fabric actually has the opposite effect partly because of the fabric’s luster and the white and lavender embroidered pattern.

Day Dress 1880 - Rear

Left Three Quarter Rear View

Style-wise, this dress is firmly in the Mid-Bustle Era, 1880 to be precise, and as such it’s characterized by having a cylindrical profile, low demi-train, and defined balayeuse. Moreover, the bodice is reminiscent of an 18th Century coat with cutaway lapels.

Day Dress 1880

Rear View

Except for the the band of tassels running along the hem, the skirt is unadorned with a smooth back and three rows of knife pleating on the front. Interestingly enough, the train appears to be composed of two different shades of gray silk fabric; the darker gray makes up the majority of skirt while the lighter shade is seen peeking out at the bottom where the skirt and train begin. Although it’s hard to tell from the available pictures, we would be inclined to say that this appears to be a minimal underskirt. Also, this light gray matches the trim. Finally, the bodice is also relatively unadorned except for fringe and tassels running along the edges. Below are some close up views that better illustrate the contrasts in the two base fabrics:

Sleeve Detail

Detail View Of Button

Detail View Of Fabric

Label – Amedee Francois

This dress utilizes a masterful combination of grays to achieve an effect that is both understated and elegant at the same time; with this this dress, the fabrics and cut do all the talking. 🙂


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