Today we travel to January 1890 as the extreme bustle fashions of the late 1880s were fading out and transitioning to something different. So how did the new decade open up for fashion? Below is a fashion plate and accompanying description from the January issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
Fig. I – DINNER DRESS OF STRIPED RED AND BLACK SILK. The front of the skirt and surplice-vest are of gauze of a lighter shade, over a plain silk of the color of the gown. The overdress is a princess polonaise, which a short train and elbow sleeves. The revers, which begin at the back of the neck and are run down the entire length of the skirt, are covered with either a passementerie of silk cord or else heavy Spanish lace, in black. A black velvet ribbon, three inches wide, forms the girdle. Long black Suede gloves.
Fig. II – EVENING DRESS OF PLAIN EMBROIDERED BLACK GAUZE LACE. The underskirt is of the plain material and laid in accordion plaits [pleats]. The overdress and bodice are of embroidered gauze or lace and simply gathered to form the sides and back. The bodice is pointed front and back, and has Grecian brebelles (?) across the bust. The shoulder-straps are simply sprays of flowers corresponding with the design and color of the embroidery on the overdress; the same trim the front and sides of the dress, arranged in festoons tied with knots of pale-green ribbon. Likewise, a similar ribbon forms the girdle and adorns the shoulder straps. Long Suede gloves, High coiffure.
Fig. III – EVENING-DRESS, OF PRIMROSE SATIN AND BROWN VELVET. The skirt of this gown is much wrinkled in front, and has a moderate train. The sides are of the golden brown velvet and also are slightly wrinkled over the hips. The pointed bodice is composed of satin and velvet, with a, simple puff for a sleeve. Long white Suede gloves. High coiffure.
Fig. IV – POMPADOUR EVENING-DRESS, OF FIGURED BLUE CHINA SILK combined with a striped Pompadour brocade, The skirt is short and the edge trimmed with two rows of fringe. The full bodice has a short jacket of the brocade which is worn over the full bodice. The edge of the full bodice, the sleeves, and the ends of the sash are also fringed. Hair dress low.
Fig. V – VISITING OR HOUSE DRESS, OF PALE ROSE SURAH OR NUN’S VEILING. The edge of the short, round skirt is finished by a wide ruching of pinked-out silk. The bodice is cut in one with the skirt on the right side, and it laps surplice-fashion over a vest of pale-green surah or China silk; the same forms the long sash and the deep ends for the full sleeves. A large black velvet or lace hat entirely covered on the brim with ostrich-tips. In front, a high standing loop of velvet ribbon.
In Figure I, we see an underlayer of a skirt and surplice/vest made of a light gauze in a light red or rose color (we assume that the skirt of a base layer to anchor the gauze). Covering this it an polonaise utilizing a princess line with a small train and designed to be open in front so as to show the gauze underlayers. The overdress fabric is striped with dark and light red, the light red being the same shade as the skirt and surplice-vest and makes for a dramatic effect, especially when combined with the revers which are decorated in a passementerie. Finally, black velvet ribbon is ties around the waist and draped down the front to create a girdle effect that is reminiscent of Medieval fashion and for this dress gives the impression of the overdress being a robe. The overall effect is dramatic and perfectly fitting for a dinner dress. Below are some extant examples of dresses with similar style effects:
Figure II is an evening dress that is somewhat understated, utilizing an light green plain underskirt with accordion pleats. The overdress and bodice are constructed of a black gauze. The black overdress is somewhat offset by the use of flowers for the shoulder straps and for decoration on the dress. Finally, as with the dress in Figure I, there is a sash of light green that is also arranged to create a Medieval style girdle.
Figure III is an interesting combination of primrose satin and brown velvet. The skirt has a moderate train and is in primrose satin and the bodice is of brown velvet with the primrose satin trimming the front and shoulder straps. The bodice is pointed and has stripes of skirt-length brown velvet running on each side. The primrose and brown make for a complementary color combination and was often used during the late 19th Century. Primrose is not a term often used these days so here’s what the color looks like (don’t let the “rose” in “primrose” fool you). Below is the color itself:
And in dress form…although it could be argued that this is more of a gold color…
Style-wise, here’s something very similar to Figure III:
The dress in Figure IV is a bit of a mystery in that the description reads that the dress is made of “figured blue China silk” yet the fashion plate portrays a white fabric with what appears to be some sort of design in black. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics combined with looking at a fashion plate that is over 110 years old with attendant fading and the like. In any event, it doesn’t bear much of a resemblance.
Getting past the fabric description, the skirt has two layers with each layer trimmed in fringe. The bodice is covered in short bolero made from a brocade and also trimmed in fringe. Style-wise, this dress is a mishmash of styles that are not harmonious and overall, this style just does not work. Well, every era has its fashion fails…
In contrast to the dresses in Figures I, II, and III, the dress in Figure V is more restrained as befitting of a house or visiting dress. The skirt is made of a pale rose colored surah or nun’s veiling that is round with no train and is plain except for rouching of pinked silk running along the skirt hem. Underneath is a vest of pale green surah or China silk that is covered in a bodice that matches the skirt. Finally, a matching light green sash in surah or China silk tied with long tails creating the Medieval girdle effect completes the dress. Overall, the dress style resembles a draped robe.
In this collection, we see that each of these dresses attempts to create a draped effect, mostly through the use of a loose over bodice combined with a long sash that has been tied to create a girdle similar to Medieval style. With the exception of the dress in Figure IV, each of these dresses gives the effect of a robe that has been bound by the sash. Depending on one’s perspective, one can see Japanese and Classical Greek influences at work and it could be argued that this style hints at what was to later develop during the Teens.
The above was just the beginning of the 1890s and as we will see in future posts, fashion underwent some dramatic changes during this period. Stay tuned for more! 🙂
Gigot, or leg-of-mutton, sleeves was one the key defining elements in Mid-1890s style. Often taken to extravagant lengths, it’s a style element that dominated any dress whether for good or ill. When used judiciously and balanced against other style elements in a dress, the effect could be amazing. However, done wrong, the result could be atrocious to the point where the wearer of the dress’ face disappears in a sea of poufy fabric. Below is an example when it’s done right as with this 1895 house dress/tea gown Laboudt & Robina1One could argue that this dress is either a tea gown or a house dress and either would fit, in our opinion.:
This garment is constructed from a dark blue silk velvet combined with a lighter blue patterned silk taffeta or bengaline for the sleeves and the edges of a front inset panel. The inset panel appears to be an silk embroidered decorative motif consisting of bunches of flowers set against an ivory silk satin. The patterned fabric on the sleeves and garment front consist of large swirls of black and yellow and draw attention to the sleeves in an aesthetically pleasing manner. In terms of silhouette, the garment features a fitted waist and is clearly intended for wear with a corset and is designed to mimic a robe. While it could be argued as to whether this is a fancy house dress or a formal tea gown, either way it was intended as more of an at-home dress. Below is a close-up of the decorative front trim:
While it may seem to be a bit of a reach, the blue patterned silk reminds us of the night sky in this painting The Starry Night by Van Gogh:
In terms of overall style, this house dress/tea gown stands out as one of the best examples of this style but for us, the most striking thing about it are the sleeves which act as a major style element but not to the exclusion of all else. With this garment, the gigot sleeve style has been taken to a new height of sheer aesthetic beauty.
And now trending for February 1887 in Peterson’s Magazine:
The above plate is described as follows:
FIG. I. – VISITING-DRESS, OF YELLOWISH GREEN CASHMERE. The back of the skirt (which falls in straight folds) is made of plain cashmere. The front drapery is of India silk of the same color, figured with red palms. A wide ribbon sash, of the color of the cashmere, and striped crosswise with emerald-green velvet, is tied in long loops, and forms panels at the sides. The full bodice is of the figured silk. The extremely stylish jacket is of emerald green velvet, faced with silk the color of the back of the skirt, and is ornamented with large buttons. Hat of yellowish – green felt, trimmed with ribbon of the same color and a red bird, and faced with emerald-green velvet.
FIG. II. – WALKING-DRESS, OF DAHLIA-COVERED SPOTTED CLOTH. The underskirt is of velveteen. The upper skirt laid to fall in wide plaits, and is shorter in front than at the back. The drapery at the back is short at the top, but falls in jabot-plaits almost to the bottom of the skirt. The close-fitting jacket is braided, and trimmed with gray fox-fur The muff is of the material of the dress, decorated with a bow of ribbon. Hat of purple velvet, trimmed with a yellow bird.
FIG. III. – WALKING-DRESS. The long cloak is made of fawn-colored striped cloth. The sleeves are very long at the back, wide, and trimmed with velvet. A band of velvet passes over the shoulders, and narrows at the waist. High collar of the velvet. Bonnet of red plush, with white plumes.
FIG. IV. – VISITING -DRESS, OF OLIVER-GREEN-COLORED SILK AND STRIPED VELVET. The under part of the skirt and side panels is made of the striped silk and velvet. The full front and back drapery is of plain olive-green silk. The bodice is also of the plain silk, laced, and the little close-fitting jacket is of green velvet, with elbow-sleeves, and trimmed with green jet-bead passementerie. Hat of olive-green velvet, trimmed with green feathers and a white bird.
FIG. V. – HOUSE-DRESS, OF POPPY-COLORED SILK. The underskirt is made of cream -colored silk, striped with red velvet. The overskirt opens on the right ride, and is faced with cream-colored silk, brocaded in red velvet. The plain red silk is arranged diagonally, in full plaits, oil the skirt, It is draped far back on the left side, and in loose folds at the back. The bodice opens over a cream-colored diagonal-plaited vest, and is trimmed on the right side with a velvet revers. Velvet collar.
In terms of style, one still sees the late 1880s bustled silhouette but it looks somewhat more restrained in this particular fashion plate. Of course, this being a fashion plate, some license is to be expected so perhaps one should not read too much into it; one must also consider other evidence such as original photographs and extant original garments. Nevertheless, it is still interesting and gives a hint of what is coming in the 1890s.
However, the following comment from the February 1887 “Our Paris Letter,” a monthly column in Peterson’s Magazine describing the fashion trends in Paris, notes:
The diminution of the tournure, the falsely- so-called “dress-improver,” appears to be definitely decided upon. Worth is using all his powerful influence in that direction, as he dislikes very much the ungraceful stiffness imparted to the upper portion of the toilette by its undue dimensions. The newest articles of this description are composed of ruffles of hair-cloth- the genuine “crinoline”- and the sides are simply laced together underneath, neither steel springs nor whalebone being used in the rubric. The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just in the back of the skirt-band, and three rows of steel springs are set in the lower part of the skirt to hold it out. This is merely a return to the combination which was in vogue before the present- or, rather, the recent- exaggeration of his detail in feminine dress.
The above statement is interesting in that the sharp, angular “shelf bustle” was on its way out, at least in Paris, and was slowly being replaced by bustle pads with steel springs. Fashion was definitely on the move here. 🙂
For styles, we see a conventional one-piece bodice as with Figure IV while Figures I and V feature the jacket and waist combinations. Also, with Figure I we see a Directoire style jacket and both jacket and waist appear to be separate articles; in Figure V it appears more uncertain. Often with this style, the bodice was actually of a one-piece construction with a faux vest that only gave an appearance of a separate vest and jacket.
Turning to fabrics, one sees the velvet and velveteen being used and combined with silk and cashmere for winter daywear. This is to be expected, considering the time of year. The only exception to this is the house dress in Figure V.
Finally, based on the above descriptions, computer color-matching, and some subjective guess-work, below are some of the more dominant colors:
While the above is by no means an exhaustive overview of fashion in 1886- 1887, it is helpful as a means of determining what sort of fabrics, color, and silhouette should be employed in designing a late 1880s day dress that is suitable for fall or winter. The key points to keep in mind are that the fabrics used were of heavier weights (although nowhere near upholstery or curtain weight) and colors tend towards the darker tones. We hope that you have enjoyed this little window into what was trending in early 1887 and while fashions moved slowly during the 1880s, they were still moving. 🙂
For today’s fashion feature, we switch gears just a bit and present a very unique circa 1879 house dress1We do admit that you could also possibly consider this to be a tea gown but to us it read more like a house dress. Purely subjective on our part to be sure.. Even more interesting is that this dress has an accompanying picture of the dress’s original owner, something that one rarely sees:
The dress is a princess line style and the silhouette is somewhat loose, a style that was characteristic of house dresses of the late 1870s and 1880s and in the dress has a closed front. The dress is constructed from a red wool with a gold embroidery floral design that runs down the dress front and continues along the hem. Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t that large so it’s hard to make out details, Here’s some close-up views:
Here’s a nice view of the floral design motif at the bottom front and the corner provides a perfect opportunity to expand on the design and make it stand out. The leaves are ferns that are reminiscent of neo-classical floral motifs found in France during the Napoleonic era. Here’s another view of the lower dress front:
The sleeves are pretty simple and unadorned except on the cuffs:
Below is a good close-up view of the cuff treatment; a large gold embroidered flower and white lace at the bottom:
And here’s a close of the embroidered flower from the cuff:
And the pocket:
The back is also very interesting with it’s seam treatment running down the entire length of the back, flaring into pleats towards the bottom:
To make this dress complete here’s a picture of it being worn back around circa 1879:
This dress is definitely a finer, more upscale version of the utilitarian house dress and was clearly meant for wear when visitors came calling. This is also reinforced by that fact that the dress’ owner felt it was respectable enough to have their photograph taken while wearing it. It’s amazing, to say the least and it would be interesting to know more about the lady in the above pictures but unfortunately, the auction website that we got this from was a bit sparse on details. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past.