Bridesmaid Fashion- 1883

Bridesmaid dresses have always played a role in just about any 19th Century wedding and especially during the 1880s and 90s. Today, we take a look at this circa 1883 example worn by a one Isabella Cameron Murray who was a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding on March 21, 1883 in Sydney, Australia. This dress is also somewhat rare in that its provenance has been firmly established and can be firmly dated to 1883.1For a full account of Isabella Murray and the significance of the wedding, the full story can be found HERE.

Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1883; Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, NSW, Australia (A7538)

The bodice and skirt are constructed from a creme-colored merino wool fabric and trimmed with lace on the neck, cuffs, and skirt. The skirt is trimmed with four rows of ruching and the bottom hem has long box pleats. The skirt bottom has a hem guard that appears to be of a dark blue sateen and, according to the museum website, is also lined with the same dark blue sateen. Finally, the rear of skirt has a built-up train topped off by a large blue silk satin bow. Below are close-ups of the bodice:

The bodice is closed with pearl glass buttons and they’re fully functional.

And more of an extreme close-up. Note the twill weave pattern of the fashion fabric.

Another close-up of the fashion fabric:

And now for some side profile views:

The dress silhouette could be characterized as “transitional” in that while it still retains much of the cylindrical shape of the earlier Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era, there’s also a much more developed train that was no doubt support by some sort of bustle support. It’s not quite as extreme as the later “shelf bustle” styles of Late Bustle Era of the mid to late 1880s but it’s heading in that direction.

Below is a close-up of the ruching on the skirt front:

And finally, some of the lace trim:

This is definitely could be considered a more modest, practical dress based on the use of wool merino as the fashion fabric and the minimal trim and it would have seen a lot of use as a “best dress” after the wedding. Perhaps the fabric choice was more a function of not wanting to upstage the bride or simple economics but either way, it’s an interesting example of a dress worn for a formal occasion that’s not made of a silk satin and that alone makes it compelling to us. We hoped that you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of 1880s bridal fashion, especially as it applies to the often maligned “bridesmaid dress.” 🙂


Something Cool From The Late ’80s

When the weather warms up, fabric choices shift towards lighter fabrics such as cotton and linen. Here’s just one example of a late 1880s summer dress:

Day Dress, c. 1885-1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.X.54.4.1a, b)

This is a interesting dress both for the simplicity of the silhouette as well as fabric selection. While the Met Museum website indicates that this dress is from the late 1880s, it could have just as easily have been been made earlier in the decade- the basque style bodice completely covers the hips, something not usually seen with late 1880s dresses because of the extensive trains and bustling. At the same time, the skirt is not cut as narrow as earlier Mid-Bustle/Natural Forms.  However, we also believe that the staging might be affecting our judgement- note that the skirt hem isn’t even and that it dips towards the rear. It’s conceivable that some sort of bustle or padding was employed that would have lifted the rear skirt a bit. Of course, this is a bit of conjecture on our part… 🙂

The pictures seen above and below give some good views of the hem and silhouette and give credence to the idea that there some sort of padding out of the rear would have been employed but given the bodice, it would would have been fairly minimal, at least compared to the extended “shelf” bustles normally associated with late 1880s styles. However, one other interesting clue can be seen with the sleeves in that the upper sleeves have some ease and one can see some fullness in the sleeve heads. Perhaps, this belongs towards the 1889-1890 time frame when full bustles were disappearing and the upper sleeve was becoming fuller. It’s an interesting question and in the end we’re going to lean towards 1889-1890 thereabouts.

Turning from the silhouette, the fashion fabrics are a natural white or ivory colored cotton composing most of the skirt and a cotton eyelet featured on the bodice body and lower sleeves. The bodice is interesting in that the cotton eyelet sets the bodice off nicely, especially when combined with the plain natural white/ivory cotton on the upper sleeves. With the open front, the bodice gives the impression of a lace bed jacket or similar (although it’s obvious that there’s an underlayer in the front).

The skirt front has three rows of the cotton eyelet, the row at the bottom serving as a hem and all of these are wide. The rear is plain and unadorned except for the hem. Here’s some close-ups of the cotton eyelet fabric:

The eyelet pattern is amazing when viewed up close and it’s very busy; when viewed from a distance, it almost reads as appliques.

This dress has been a fascinating exercise in dating and while we do not profess to be the “final word,” we believe that date wise, that can be attributed to the 1889-1890 time frame. But just compelling is the extensive use of cotton eyelet, something more characteristic of Edwardian Era lingerie dresses, and as such this dress definitely reads “summer.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into late 19th Century summer dresses and we’ll definitely be looking for more examples.



The 1880s Walking Dress- One Example

One of the more interesting late Bustle Era fashion styles was the walking dress and especially when it incorporated the jacket-bodice style. Below is just one interesting example of this style from the late 1880s (the museum lists it as being circa 1885-1890):

Walking Dress, c. 1885-1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.126.5

Silhouette-wise, this dress is definitely late 1880s with a somewhat moderate bustle (at least with the museum staging employed) and consists of a jacket-bodice and two skirts. The jacket-bodice is constructed of a black silk velvet which opens to reveal a faux waist that appears to be a light brown silk organza or similar. The front edges, collar, and hem of the outer jacket are trimmed with appliques made from gold bullion and brown and gold embroidery arranged in a floral pattern.  The outer “skirt” consists of panels of black velvet decorated in larger versions of the appliques found on the bodice and the inner skirt an embroidered silk brocade. Below is a close-up of the bodice:

The side profile picture below gives a good view of the velvet panels that have been decorated with the large floral appliques:

The picture below gives a good view of the train:

The jacket-bodice walking dress was an extremely versatile style that could be worked in a variety of fabrics , trims, and cuts and was available in paper patterns for the home sewer with these styles that were available through Demorest’s Family Magazine:

 

The walking dress is an interesting late 1880s style in that it provided a foundation for the more practical walking suit that later developed during the 1890s. In future posts, we’ll be looking at this style more so stay tuned! 🙂



The State Of Fashion- Spring 1889

The 1880s were drawing to a close and with it the Late Bustle Era. While the fashion press hinted at new trends for the 1890s, older styles still prevailed as revealed by this commentary in the April 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine when it discussed Parisian fashions:

The fashions of the present spring show but little positive change, so far, from the styles, of the past winter. This was to be expected, after the thorough revolution in the make of dresses which has taken place during the past six months. The .adoption of flat-plaited skirts, of short demi-trains, and of modified leg-of-mutton sleeves, together with the revival of dresses with corsage and skirt or over-skirt cut in one piece, such as the redingote, and the polonaise, and the princess dress, are sufficient to mark the* inauguration of a new era in feminine toilette. Hooped skirts are abolished, to the great misery of the dressmakers who have discovered, after years of disuse, that it is much harder to make a gracefully cut skirt falling in straight plain folds, than one that admitted of being looped up here and bunched up there whenever any irregularity presented itself.

It’s interesting that the writer notes that dressmakers used loops and folds characteristic of 1880s dresses to conceal their mistakes. What’s also interesting is that reference of made to the leg-of-mutton sleeve although its manifestation was no doubt a lot more muted that what was to come in the Mid-1890s. 🙂 The writer further notes that:

The polonaise and princess-cut dresses are very advantageous for spring wear, as they can be worn for promenading without a wrap as soon as the mild weather definitely makes its appearance. A very elegant form of the latter style of costume is to have the dress in cashmere, with underskirt, plaited vest, and corsage-revers in satin. The satin underskirt is made in flat square plaits in front, the perfectly plain princess-cut dress in cashmere falling over it in straight loose folds…

The redingote is universally adopted for the more elegant form of demi-toilette, such as is in vogue for small dinners, soirees musicales, and such like informal entertainments. It is made in brocade, usually in a solid color, and opens from the throat downward over an underdress that may be in lace, or in satin, or embroidered gauze, or in crepe de Chine, being about a quarter of a yard shorter than the round underskirt. Very often the sleeves are made with high puffed epaulettes. When the underdress is in crape or gauze, a wide belt in some soft silken material is often added with good effect. The whole dress should be in one color, every portion of it matching in shade..

So what this might have looked like? Well, to begin, here’s one fashion plate from the same issue of Peterson’s:

Peterson’s Magazine, April 1889

The redingote style is further illustrated in this plate:

The left dress above is interesting in that the redingote takes on the appearance of a elongated tail coat and the overall effect is distinctly neo-directoire.

The above plates illustrate a number of variations on the redingote with an princess line underneath and what’s interesting is that the line between outerwear and garments worn inside is blurred. And just to be complete, here’s a couple of extant dresses that captures many of the elements described above. First, this dress from 1888 embodies the whole idea of the redingote combined with a princess line dress:

Mme. Uoll Gross, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.618a, b)

From all appearances, both the outer redingote and the inner princess line dress both appear to be continuous and in fact, appear to be of one piece. Of course, these are only photos so without the benefit of examining closer, they may be in two pieces but we seriously doubt it. Style-wise, we see a large vertical sweep that draws the eye up towards the center bodice.  The patterned “interior” fabric really stands out when combined with a solid dark outer fabric. Finally, it’s interesting that the rear silhouette has been softened, lacking the sharply defined bustle silhouette characteristic of earlier 1880s dresses. Next, there’s this day dress that was made in 1889:

Mme. Uoll Gross, Day Dress; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.619)

Although hidden by the netting, the bodice features a faux vest underneath:

While it appears that the bodice and skirt are two separate pieces, the overall effect is still vertical with an emphasis on the large vertical paisley design motif in skirt.  While we acknowledge that some of our conclusions may be stretching a bit, it’s interesting to note the various micro style trends that were going on towards the end of the bustle era. Here you can see the beginnings of the transition to 1890s style and to us, the transition is fascinating to watch.



The Bustle Dress – A Brief Overview, Part 6

Emile Claus, Mrs. Claus, 1886

In our last post, we covered the mid-1880s which saw the transition to the Second or Late Bustle Era. In today’s post, we cover the rest of the decade and maybe bled over a little into the early 1890s since fashion often doesn’t precisely follow the calendar.  😉 Just to give a little perspective, below are a series of fashion plates from Peterson’s Magazine spanning the years from 1885 through 1889.

Peterson’s Magazine, August 1884

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1885

Peterson’s Magazine, August 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, June 1887

Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

In the above plates, although specific bodice and skirt styles may vary, along with fabric and color choices, the emphasis is always on the train. And just to give a little more detail, here’s some views from 1887 issues of Der Bazar (aka Harper’s Bazar):

Fashion plates are great but as we all know, these tend to portray the ideal and not necessarily what people wore. So to add some perspective, here’s some period photographs that depict the Late Bustle Era silhouette:

Archduke Josef Karl of Austria and spouse, Archduchess Clotilde, neé Princess of Saxe Coburg and Gotha.

Miss Ethel Bond, 1886; Musee McCord (II-81334)

And finally, let’s take a look at some extant garments starting with this 1888 afternoon dress from Worth:

Worth, Afternoon Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.664a, b)

The silhouette is distinctly later 1880s and nicely illustrates one of the major styles that utilizes contrasting under and overskirts. The overskirt is made from a dark brown silk jacquard with a cream-colored silk taffeta underskirt. Below is a close up of the outerskirt fashion fabric:

The bodice also utilizes the same fabric as the under and overskirts with the opening so to reveal the lighter colored fabric as a faux vest. Trimming the collar, inner bodice and underskirt is what appears to be brown-colored corded lace.  Below is a close-up:

Below is a three-quarter rear view of the dress:

With this afternoon dress, Worth masterfully employs the design elements and it definitely embodies the late 1880s look.  Next, Worth also employs the same design aesthetic in this circa 1888 combination day/evening dress (pictured here with the evening bodice):

Worth Combination Day/Evening Dress, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1093a–e)

This dress has the same silhouette as the afternoon dress and employs a similar scheme of contrasting under and overskirts as well as a differently contrasting bodice. The front underskirt is a good/ivory silk taffeta or satin with gold floral appliques. On both sides, one can also make out jeweled inset panels that are set in the underskirt’s folds. Below is a close-up of the front underskirt:

Turning to the bodice, the evening bodice is constructed of a solid dark gold/yellow-colored silk taffeta that’s decorated with jeweling on the front and along the neck and shoulders. Below is a closer look at the bodice:

The side profile pictured below gives a good view of both skirts and the jeweled inset panels, a suitable feature that only further enhances the design effect.

In contrast to the front underskirt, the overskirt is relatively plain, a solid dark gold/yellow-colored silk taffeta that matches with the bodice fashion fabric. The train is a double layer and has no adornment. This is an interesting dress in that it places its most dramatic effects to the dress front and bodice. The plainness of the overskirt can especially be seen below:

The above two examples illustrate both the daytime and evening late 1880s silhouette quite nicely. Of course, we could easily pull out a dozen more examples but the point’s been made. 🙂 In terms of style, one could say that the 1880s and the Late Bustle Era ended on a high note and as with all fashion, it would begin to experience another period of change where the rear was de-emphasized and greater focus was on a more upright figure that was in many respects similar to the Mid-Bustle Era. But in the years to come, the focus was to shift to the shoulders with gigot sleeves and the waist and hips with the wasp-waist or hourglass figure- but that was a few years off. We hope you’ve enjoyed this multi-part survey of the Bustle Era and in the future, we hope to expand on more.