Almost Ready For Costume College…

Isincerely apologize for things being quiet here but I have been in hibernation for the past few weeks furiously working on a series of presentations that I will be giving at Costume College. Why the last minute rush? Well, unfortunately life has a habit of getting in the way and with our relocation and all, time has been at a premium. Costume College is an annual three-day costuming arts convention sponsored by the Costumer’s Guild West and it covers all periods and genres.

Adam 1918

Last year, I gave a presentation on American military uniforms entitled “US Army Uniforms, 1915 – 1918” and I had such a fun time with it that I decided to give an expanded version this year and this is scheduled for Friday July 28. But wait, there’s more…


On Saturday July 29, I will also be giving presentations on Paul Poiret, entitled “The King of Fashion: The World of Paul Poiret” which will give an overview of his early career. Also, I will be presenting “Haute Couture: The Early Years” where I give an overview on the rise of haute couture during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (1870 through roughly 1905) both in terms of designers and the various styles.

Stay tuned for more!

1890s Designs- Doucet

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century (and 1890s in particular), it was by no means the only fashion house- there was also Doucet, Pingat, and Paquin, just to name a few, and each was in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look some of Worth’s competitors and illustrate their “take” on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Jacques Doucet was one of Worth’s leading competitors and like Worth, he utilized a number of marketing techniques that are now standard in the fashion industry to include dressing celebrities (and especially actresses). Doucet’s creations tended to have a softer silhouette, utilizing large quantities of lace, tulle, and chiffon as well as metallics and lame.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

The above ballgown, made sometime between 1898 and 1900, is made from what appears to be a silk chiffon backed by layers of lame. Unfortunately there are no close-up pictures available- it would be very interesting to have a close look at the fabric. With the exception of some tulle at the top of the bodice and leaf garlands on the shoulders, there is no trim and the dress relies on the richness of the materials themselves.

However, Doucet’s designs were not always so “simple”. Here we see one of Doucet’s more iconic work, a ballgown made sometime in the 1898 – 1902 time frame:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Side Profile

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Rear View

Here once again we see the fabric itself as the central focus of the dress style only this time there is an elaborate floral pattern created by leaves and foliage appliques on a gold lame background backed by what appears to be a silk chiffon underlayer. The upper bodice and sleeves are lace the overall effect is of shimmering gold.

So what about day wear? Here’s one example:

Day Dress Doucet c. 1890

Doucet, Day Dress, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC10445 2001-4AC)

The fashion fabric for this dress is a silk crêpe de chine with a stencil print pattern of bamboo stalks and the sparrow motif has been hand-painted separately. The fabric was most likely made in Japan for the export market and is an excellent example of the Japonisme theme that was often utilized by fashion designers during the 1880s and 90s. One again trim is minimal, limited to the hem, sleeves and collar finished off with a silk chiffon fichu.

However, designers could also works against type as with this ballgown that Doucet made sometime around 1890:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890sDoucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Close-Up of Bodice

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Rear View

The use of black and white stripes, artfully cut and blended together (especially on the bodice) reads “modern”, something we would expect to see from the 1950s. The black and white chevrons on the skirt front are especially bold and they immediately draw the eye. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this dress (at least from what I could tell from the museum website) and it raised some interesting questions in regard to provenance- it reads so differently than the majority of Doucet’s work that we almost wonder if this is a dress that’s been mislabeled- it certainly bears further study.

Although we can see two different approaches to design by Worth and Doucet (with a bit of overlap), it’s evident that there was an increased emphasis on making using the dress itself as a canvas for creating the design’s major effect. By this time, the use of trim is completely secondary and does little to distract the eye from the main attraction of the fabric design and this can be especially seen with Doucet’s two very different ballgown designs.

We hope you have enjoyed this post and stay tuned for yet more…. 🙂

Jacques Doucet, Part 4

Next to Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet was one of the most prolific designers and his influence was felt far and wide in the fashion world. Bolstered by a legion of wealthy clients both in Europe and America, Doucet set the standard for luxury, using the finest materials and craftsmanship in the construction of his designs. Doucet’s clients valued his designs for their dignity and luxury rather than novelty.


Some of Doucet’s art collection.

Viewing himself as more of an artist rather than a clothing designer, Doucet incorporated his artistic sensibilities into many of his designs, drawing on his extensive art collection and this was especially evident in the use of 18th Century style elements. Doucet often used flimsy translucent fabrics in his designs combined with pastel colors and trims to create looks that were ethereal and delicate. Also, throughout his designs, one can see his extensive use of gold and silver lamé and metallic trim. Finally, there is also no doubt that Doucet was influenced by the fact that he was born into a family operated a concern selling lingerie and linens.

Although Doucet tended to favor gold tones in many of his designs, he also worked in other colors as this example from 1911 demonstrates:


Jacques Doucet, Evening Dress, c. 1911; Unfortunately, not much is known about the provenance of this dress.





Front Close-Up

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doucetbluecoralgownupsd doucetbluecoralgownx doucetbluecoralgownzUnfortunately, there is not a lot out there in regard to the provenance of this dress. The basic style of the dress is empire, a style characteristic of the teens. The S-bend corset with its characteristic mono-breast had been left behind in favor of the smooth upright lines of the empire style; fashion had finally come full circle. The red and silver grey colors combined together stand in contrast with each other yet they do harmonize, helped along by the red trim and jeweling. The only part that seems somewhat discordant is the use of gold- it seems that Doucet just could not stay away from using this color. Finally, the use of the translucent sheer fabric over a base of silver grey silk creates gives the dress depth.

Below is another example from 1910 that illustrates Doucet’s design principles but at the same adds something different- fur:

Jacques Doucet, Evening Dress, c. 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1154)

Side Profile

Three- Quarter Rear View

Once again we see the empire line and from casual observation, it appears to be far less structured and more simple than Doucet’s previous designs from the early 1900s. The basic fabric is a white/silver silk satin covered in heavily embroidered lace and with the cuffs trimmed in fur; this look definitely makes this a winter dress., Towards the bottom, the embroidered lace gives way to a lighter lace netting that falls away from the front of the dress. Also, while the layers of embroidered lace and netting are a major feature of the dress, the underlying fabric is also given prominence in the front and back. It is clear that the era of the lingerie dress had passed.

Evening Dress by Doucet, Les Modes, June 1909.

Doucet was one of the most influential of the designers that worked out of Paris during the Fin-de-Siecle and while his name is less known than Worth, it could be argued that he was as equally influential, if not more. Later designers such as Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet got their start working for Doucet and while his designs became dated after the First World War, they are still used for inspiration by modern designers.

In the past installments I have attempted to show a range of Doucet’s work from the 1880s through the Teens and while the silhouettes and basic designs evolved with the times, the use of layered sheer materials, metallic trims, and pastel colors are a constant. However, there were exceptions and it is evident that Doucet was capable of designing in a wide range of fabrics and styles to include tailored coat and skirt sets and outerwear. This survey is by no means an exhaustive one but it should hopefully serve as a starting point for further study.

Jacques Doucet, Part 3

In this post, we look at some more facets of Doucet. One interesting area that Doucet excelled in was designing outfits for famous actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt and Gabrielle Réjane and especially in the early 1900s. Not only did his designs enhance these actresses but it also served as a form of advertising, a practice that continues to this day. The timing could not have better with the growing trend of the lingerie dress, a fashion inspired by the earlier chemise a la reine, a style that arose in the 1780s.

Doucet Rejane 1902

Dinner Dress for Rejane, c. 1902

Doucet_Rejane 1903

Rejane, c. 1903

Below are some examples of Doucet’s day dresses:

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_1jpg

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1900 – 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.579a, b)

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_2jpg

The above dress is made from silk chiffon that has a printed pastel-colored floral design finished with delicate ivory-colored lace trim. As a counterpoint to the ethereal effect of the silk chiffon is a bright aqua/teal-colored velvet sash that drapes down the back of the dress with matching velvet bands on each sleeve and the collar. The overall effect was one of Doucet’s signature looks and during the early 1900s, it became increasingly prominent in his day dress designs.

This dress neatly fits in with the lingerie dress trend developing in the early 1900s, a trend that took its inspiration from the late 18th Century chemise dress or chemise a la reine. Of course, the fact that Doucet was enamored of 18th Century designs no doubt influenced Doucet’s design is no surprise. At the same time, one could also argue that in Doucet’s case, his design was simply a continuation of pre-existing ideas. 🙂

In any event, Doucet’s design, and lingerie dresses in general, represents a break from earlier styles in it’s emphasis on the light and airy, in much the same way the chemise a la reine represented a break with previous styles. Below is one example of the earlier style:

Anna Maria and Thomas Jenkins, by Angelica Kauffman, 1790. National Portrait Gallery (London)

The fact that  and there is no doubt Doucet drew inspiration from the chemise a la reine (although it could also be argued that this was merely a continuation of Doucet’s pre-existing design tendencies). At the same time, however, Doucet’s design was somewhat more sophisticated in his use of colors and fabric.

Below is another example:

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1153a, b)

Three-Quarter Front View

Here we see the use of a layered tomato red-colored silk chiffon ribbon trim on the bodice. The sleeves and the collar are an ivory lace trim and a silk satin sash at the waist complete the outfit. Further trim details in the same red color run in rows around the skirt. In terms of silhouette, one sees the pigeon breast characteristic of early 1900s dresses.  This dress is somewhat more restrained than the first example and its effect stems from the laying of fabrics and the use of trim.

With its characteristic pigeon breast silhouette and the use of sheer materials, lace, and ribbons, the lingerie dress served to define women’s day wear for almost a decade. In the next installment, we will continue our look at Doucet moving into the Teens.

To Be Continued…

Gold Lamé

In the course of researching the designs of Jacques Doucet, I was struck by his use of lamé and other metallic fabrics and trims. Doucet was especially fascinated with gold lamé; whether in the form of basic woven fabric, brocade or netting infused with metallic threats, Doucet used these with a lavish hand in his evening dress and ball gown designs.

So just WHAT is lamé? Most of us, including this author, have visions of horrific 1980s fashions such as those worn by Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. Lamé reads “excess” and if used with a heavy hand, it tends to dominate a design to the exclusion of all else.

DYNASTY - "The Aftermath" - Airdate October 7, 1987. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JOAN COLLINS

DYNASTY – “The Aftermath” – Airdate October 7, 1987. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JOAN COLLINS


In reality, the word “lamé” derives from Old French and roughly translated means “thin metal plate” and such, it’s defined as “any fabric containing metal or metallic yarns as a conspicuous feature” or “any fabric woven with flat metallic yarns (similar to tinsel) that form either the ground or the pattern.” Lamé could also be used as part of a brocade.

Dating back to Classical Rome and the later Middle Ages, Lamé was was made by winding flattened metal wire around a thread core (commonly linen or silk but horsetail hair or wool were also used). This metallic thread was then woven into fabric. Also, even before this technique was developed, the metal itself was cut in thin strips from sheets of beaten or rolled gold or silver and these strips were then woven into the fabric. Finally, in some instances silver was mixed with the gold as a result, the lamé would often tarnish.

Early 15th Century gold brocade dress of Margareta (1353 – 1412), Queen of Denmark, Sweden, & Norway.

Later, in an effort to reduce costs various substitutions were sought out of which the most common was to use yarn made of aluminum laminated between layers of film. More recently in 1946 was the development of Lurex, a registered trademark for a type of yarn with a metallic appearance; Lurex is available in a wide variety of colors.


Lurex Fabric

Lurex in reeled yarn.

So needless to say, lamé was an expensive fabric that was used almost exclusively in the luxury trade (although lamé was also used to make clerical vestments).  🙂

While Doucet was noted for his use of gold lamé, it was used with relative restraint when compared to the following dress from circa 1879 – 1880 (at least according to the auction website):


Frontal View


Close-up of the upper bodice.


Three Quarter Front Profile


Front Three Quarter View


Rear View


Left Side Profile


Right Side Profile


Close-up of the hem treatment and fringe.


One more close-up. Note the fringe detail.


Close-Up Of The Base Fabric


Detail Of Cuff


Detail Of Button

The above dress is constructed from a combination of gold lamé brocade and burgundy velvet with violet and burgundy trim. Unfortunately, not much is known about the provenance of the dress. The style is a princess line and  although the dress is supposed to date from 1879 – 1880, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on with the train since there is no proper bustle on underneath; the fabric of the train simply falls to the floor in a jumble.

But bustle aside, the most striking thing about this dress is simply the volume of old lamé brocade that is used; it is almost everywhere with no relief. Yes, the scale is impressive but it’s also overwhelming and one could argue that it’s almost vulgar. Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing and this is amply demonstrated.

Like the excesses that characterized the 1980s, the “gilded age” of the 1870s and 1880s were also an era of excess and it only goes to show that not only do fashions re-circulate, but they often come full circle and never has this been so evident with the use of gold lamé.