What’s On…

“Gracious, they could be sisters!”

Mine is on the left, the stunner on the right I finished and listed in the Etsy store. Same silks and vintage trim as mine, but the pattern matching, reproduction print and old soft velvet is completely different! This is ready to wear, no waiting…perfect for Old West adventures, just add bustle. Now you can look like the person in the old tintype! 😃

For more about this exciting new dress, please click HERE or at our Etsy store.


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Some Gilded Age Inspiration

HBO’s new series The Gilded Age has been on our minds lately, especially since it’s returning for a second season,  and this circa 1880-1882 dinner dress captures that feeling for us:

Dinner Dress, c. 1880-1882; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.2)

In terms of general style, this is almost identical to our gold brocade & blush pink dress shown above and it only shows that the dividing line between “evening dress” and “dinner dress” or “reception dress” is pretty thin. Of course, the dress could have simply been mislabeled (it happens more than one would think) but still…in the end, it can be pretty subjective and we by no means profess to have the answers, it is though-provoking.


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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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Defining Late 1880s Style – The Silhouette

With the recent release of the series “The Gilded Age,” there has been an increased interest in 1880s fashion and all it entails. As with all Victorian Era fashions, they were largely defined by structure and this is especially true when looking at the late 1880s. While late 1880s style sits outside of the time frame depicted in the series, it carries on many of the earlier trends and especially when it comes to fabric and trim selections. In this post, we attempt to give a general overview of late 1880s style and we hope that you find it useful.


When it comes to mid to late 1880s style, it’s easy for one to conjure up visions of dresses with severely sculpted lines that were largely defined by an extremely angular “shelf bustle.” Naturally, as with all fashions, they manifested themselves in both extreme and moderate versions but it was the more extreme versions that caught the attention of the press and assorted satirists. One of the most oft-repeated quips was “one could set a tea service on top of the bustle.” Here’s just one example from an 1883 German humor magazine in which the women is likened to a Centaur:

bustle-satire-fliegende-bltter-magazine-1880s

From Fliegende Blätter; Band LXXVIII (1883), p. 147.

Interestingly enough, the above cartoon was made in 1883 when the bustle was re-emerging- perhaps they were ahead of the fashion curve? 😁 All joking aside, to a great degree, 1880s style was defined by the “shelf bustle” as shown in the picture below:

Evening Dress c. 1884 -1886

Evening Dress, American or European, c. 1884 – 1886, silk; The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

So how was this style achieved? Structure; structure was everything in Victorian fashion and below are some examples on how the distinctive 1880s silhouette was created:

Bustle_c._1885

Bustle, c. 1885; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.399)

Bustle 1884

Bustle, Steel Frame, c. 1884; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.131C-1919).

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Within the parameters created by the basic silhouette, there was a wide variety of possible styles. As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice. Below are just some examples:

Godeys_Jan 1887

Godey’s Ladysbook, January 1887

In the above plate, on the left one can see a combination jacket/waistcoat styled bodice combined with with a solid colored overskirt covering a patterned underskirt. Interestingly enough, the waistcoat fabric matches the pattern on the underskirt. On the right, one can see a solid bodice trimmed with an embroidered panel that matches the pattern of the underskirt. At the same time, the pattern on the overskirt matches the basic fabric of the bodice. While there may be contrasts in fabric patterns, the do harmonize in the way that they’re both used on the skirts and the bodices. At the same time, the colors also harmonize even when they’re contrast colors.

As a rule, 1880s day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice.

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_2

In the above plate, we see the use of different shades of the same color that are used to harmonize. The dress on the left simply combines a lighter brown with dark brown trim on the bodice lapels and are continued down the dress front (the dress appears to be a princess line but it’s hard to tell from the plate). The dress on the right is a bit more sophisticated in that not only do we see a dark and light shades of green combined, but we also see the use of a striped overskirt combined with a striped and patterned bodice. Interestingly enough, in both dresses, the dark color is only used on the trim and patterns, the light color makes up the majority of both dresses.

Below is another example of how colors and patterns could be combined:

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_3

Magazine des Demoiselles, 1887

On the left, we see the use of contrasting colors, in this case rose-colored vertical stripes combined with a light gray. The stripes are distributed around the skirt and on the sleeves and front of the bodice. There appears to be only one skirt. On the right, we see a solid dark gray/blue overskirt and bodice combined with a black floral pattern with a rose background for the underskirt, cuffs, collar, and bodice front. It also appears that the bodice cuts away to reveal a waistcoat of the same patterned fabric- to us, the patterned fabric conjures up visions of cut velvet.

The following fashion plates from 1886 and 1887 further illustrate some other possible combinations:

Peterson's_Nov 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1886

Petersons_Feb 1887

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1887

Petersons_June 1888

Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

Fashion plates are great but let’s take a look at some actual dresses:

Day Dress c. 1885

Day Dress, French, c. 1885; Silk plain weave (taffeta) and silk plain weave with warp-float patterning and supplementary weft, and silk knotted tassel; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.34a-b)

1887 - 1891 Day Dress1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

Close-Up Of Bodice

Detail Of Shoulder

Pingat 1 1888

Pingat, Promenade Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.7758a, b)

Day Dress 1887 - 1889 1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.68.2a–c)

Side Profile

Close-Up Of Bodice

Day Dress 1888 1

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

1888 Day Dress

Madame Arnaud, Paris, Morning Dress, c. 1888; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (2008.46.1)

For many, the typical 1880s silhouette is off-putting and in our experience, we have found that for most people looking to recreate the styles of the 1880s, they tend to gravitate towards either towards the beginning of the decade with the Mid-Bustle Era styles or towards the end of the decade where the bustle was diminishing and we start to see a more cylindrical, upright profile that was to carry on into the 1890s.

However, we would argue that while there is no denying that the late 1880s fashion silhouette was defined by an often extreme, angular bustle, this was not always the case and there are many instances where women toned it down- just looking at the variety of bustle appliances and pads that were available for sale is testament to that. As with all fashion, there were those who went to extremes and others who tended to be more conservative and especially for those of more modest means.

Just as important, if not more so, the 1880s offers a variety of styles to suit every aesthetic and a lot of room for developing a unique “signature” style that’s unique to the individual. So, why not give it a try? 🙂


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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. For 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.” 🙂


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