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:

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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.



A Look At Fans…

Fans were a key fashion accessory during the late 19th Century and ranged from the purely functional to something far more decorative than functional and were art pieces in their own right. Below is an account of our visit to a small exhibit of fans at the FIDM Museum a few years back.


During the late 19th Century and early 20th Centuries,   were considered an essential fashion accessory and especially for any woman who wanted to present herself in the best possible light. Recently, we had an opportunity to take a look at some as part of the A Graceful Gift: Fans from the Mona Lee Nesseth Collection Exhibition at the FIDM Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Introduced into Europe during the 17th Century from the Far East, the folding fan evolved from a functional item designed to keep the user cool to something that was more decorative than practical.

Folding fans came in a variety of materials ranging from the very simple and utilitarian to the ornate and materials ranged from wood to brass and ivory. The fan itself was usually made from a treated parchment (although other materials such as silk were used) which often featured painted or printed scenes. Below are two fans from 18th Century France and the variation in style is readily apparent, from the practical…

To the ornate…

Now, from the FIDM Museum exhibit:

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Fan, Spanish, c. 1850 – 1865

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Close-Up Of Fan.

The frame appears to be made of mother of pearl. All manner of scenes were painted on the fan leaves, many focusing on Oriental themes, a reflection of the then-current fascination for Chinoiserie. Painting scenes on the fan leaves were also popular as an at-home pastime and blank leaves were readily available.

Below is another example:

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Fan, French

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Close-Up Detail

Finally, here is a fan that is attributed to having once belonged to Phoebe Apperson Hearst:

FAN_FIDM Museum1

Fan, Félix Alexandre, artist Dumoret, jeweler France, c. 1875–85; Constructed of Mother-of-pearl, point de gaze lace, gilded silver & diamonds; FIDM Museum (2013.975.2AB)

Overall, it was a small but interesting exhibit. Fans are an easily overlooked fashion accessory but were considered an essential element in any respectable woman’s wardrobe. As applied to recreating period fashions today, vintage fans are readily available at a variety of price points but it must be noted that many of these are fragile with age and are not able to withstand any sort of prolonged use. There are also reproductions and restored originals but it’s been our experience that the reproductions are for the most part, substandard and a faint echo of the originals. We hope you all have enjoyed this brief overview of fans and in the future we’ll be posting more in regard fashion accessories. 🙂



1890s Bathing Costume

Recently, we decided to get out of the house (and maintain social distancing) and take a drive along the Pacific Coast. That drive prompted us to think about how Victorians experienced the seashore during the 1890s and thus this post was born. It’s a little off our usual beaten path but we think that you’ll like it. 🙂


During the Victorian Era. During the late 19th Century, various forms of specialized dress rapidly developed and especially when it came to sporting activities. This was an especially revolutionary development for women in that it signaled that the status of women in society was changing. Where once Women were expected to remain focused solely on domestic activities, they were now increasingly leading public lives and often independent of men (granted, this was an uneven process that continues up to the present).

One of the most dramatic developments was the development of “bathing costume” which allowed women to go swimming at a lake, river, or seashore while maintaining decorum and modesty. However, this was not a smooth process and there was resistance from the more conservative elements to the point where the wearing of bathing costume was either completely illegal or subject to stringent regulation to the point where women could be arrested for indecent exposure if their bathing costume failed to meet local standards.

Le Monitor 1893

Le Moniteur de la mode, c. 1893

Specific bathing costume can be traced back at least the 1850s but it wasn’t until the 1890s that bathing costume emerged as a major trend, spurred by the idea that going to the beach was considered to be a healthful social activity.

Too often we think of people in the Victorian era as being bored or even morose. These photos humanize an era by capturing those elusive smiling Victorian faces.:

And the market responded… 🙂 The catalog advertisement below is only one of the wide variety of ads that were out there during the 1890s:

Jordan, Marsh & Co., Women's Bathing Suits Spring and Summer, 1897 Mohair plus water plus a hot summer day, what could be more comfortable than that?:

Page From An 1897 Jordan Marsh Catalog

Bathing costume during the 1890s usually consisted of a top, blouse, short bloomers or knickers and a skirt. Stockings and special “bathing boots” made of canvas and cork soles were also worn, all with the idea of the woman not showing too much skin. The fabrics used for making bathing costume were usually wool flannel, wool jersey, mohair, linen, cotton, or some combination thereof. Needless to say, these were not intended for serious swimming (that would come later) but rather wading or simply lounging on the beach. Style-wise, bathing costumes had a nautical theme with sailor collars and the predominant use of blues and blacks.

Victorian Bathing Suits

Posed Picture, c. 1902; Library of Congress

Below are some examples of bathing costume. First, here is one from c. 1878 – 1880 where we see the basic silhouette and style that was to predominate in the 1890s starting to become established:

CI50.77.1a–c_F

Bathing Costume, c. 1878 – 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.77.1a–c)

CI50.77.1ac_B

Rear View Of The Top

CI50.77.1ac_F

Front View Of The Top

CI50.77.1b_F

The Bottom

Here’s a later version from the 1890s:

M992.115.2-P1

Bathing Costume, c. 1890s; McCord Museum (M992.115.2)

As can be seen from the above, bathing wear had a nautical style reminiscent of naval uniforms of the period, a theme that was to continue on into the early 1900s.

However, even back in the 1890s, there could be dramatic exceptions to the norm when it came to fashion and that was especially evident with this “startling bathing costume” pictured in the August 22, 1897 edition of the San Francisco Call:

fashion1_sfcall_aug22_1897

The above outfit is certainly a departure from the typical dark-colored nautical-theme in that the base color is white, constructed of horizontal layers of white wool serge. The model is wearing only the knickers and a one-piece bodice/shirt. She appears to be perhaps holding a skirt or cape of sorts. What is interesting is that the front and back of the top match the horizontal layers of the knickers and it appears to almost be a one-piece outfit. This is definitely fashion-forward beach wear of the time. 🙂

Finally, we leave you with this picture below of some frolicking beach-goers, all dressed in variations of the standard 1890s bathing costume style:

Santa Monica 1898

“Out for a Time,” Long Beach, c. 1898; California State Library

We hope you have enjoyed this little summer excursion to the beach. 🙂



At The Beach…

As noted in yesterday’s post, interest in sports and outdoor life by both men and women led to the development of specialized clothing to include bathing costume. The attractions of going to the beach as a relief to the hot summer weather was attractive to the point where the 1880s and 1890s, there was a rapid growth of seaside resorts such as Atlantic City and Coney Island. California also had its seaside resorts such as Coronado and Santa Monica. Below is a poem with illustrations from the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call:

bathingsuits_sfcall_jun21_1896

From the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call.

And here’s the poem from the above illustration:

Dance, old sea, for your charmer neareth!
There! She is wrapped in your lace of foam!
Never your summery smile she feareth!
Ha! She is down near the sea pears home!

Rare as the pearl her pink foot presses-
Rare as the pink of the pearls, her charms!
Wave that enfolds her, what fortune blesses-
What bliss- as she sways in the wild wave’s arms.

Happy sea, by our west shore golden;
Seas of the east- do they chafe and reel,
There where naught can the maids embolden
More than their sandal shoons to wet?

Perhaps the verse is not the best but it’s certainly enthusiastic and celebrates the superiority of the California coast. 🙂 In the end, whether it’s fashion, music, or popular culture in general, nothing is really ever “new.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion back to 1896.

Hotel Del Coronado, c. 1890