Evening Dress Styles From Maison Worth

For Maison Worth, 1900-1903 was an interesting period for evening dresses- while their silhouettes were pretty much the same, their was a great variety in fabrics and decorative elements. Design motifs varied but were drawn from the natural world and the multi-gored skirts gave great scope to this. We first start with this example from circa 1901:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1901; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

This example is fascinating both because of the color of the fashion fabric and the design as well as the design motif itself. First, the mint-green decoration set against a pale gray-green is a combination of analogous colors that harmonizes well. Second, the design itself is floral with a ribbon running through it and is suggestive of a vine. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other pictures so it’s hard to get a complete idea of the how the decorative design was created although we’d venture that it’s some sort of velvet applique. Also, we’re unable to view the dress from either the side or rear to get an idea of its reach but nevertheless, it’s an imaginative design that draws focus to the wearer.

Next, there’s this example from circa 1902:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1902; Museum of Fine Arts Boston (2003.289.1-2)

The side and rear profiles show the floral design very nicely and there’s complete symmetry between left and right sides.

With this design, there’s a lace-covered underskirt combined with a silk satin overskirt and bodice. What’s interesting here is that the overskirt is shorter than the underskirt and it decorated with embroidered floral appliques that provide pops of color to a peach-ivory background. The whole effect is suggestive of layers of vegetation, especially with the bottom flower appliques overhanging the hem of the overskirt.

Flowers were a key part in many of Maison Worth’s dress styles and here we see the flower them taken to more of an extreme with another circa 1902 evening dress:

Worth, Evening Dress, 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2009a, b)

As with the prior example, this dress consists of a lace-covered underskirt combined with a silk satin overskirt. However, unlike the prior example, the front of the overskirt opens up revealing the lace underskirt with the edges of the overskirt cut in the shape of two rows of flowers, one on each side, curling upwards. The floral design on the overskirt appears to have been painted on. The overall effect in the front is three-dimensional and the eye is drawn upwards towards the wearer’s face. The bodice is similarly cut, enhancing the whole effect. Here’s a close-up of the bodice:

The train below provides a large canvas for the floral design and almost looks as if the train was actually completely made of flowers… 🙂

This is just a small sample of Maison Worth’s output and what’s interesting to note is that in each example, the decorative floral design was either painted or applique. We hope to unearth some more stunning examples in future posts. 🙂



Further Defining 1880s Style

In a previous post, we discussed the influence of the bustle, or more properly the tournure or “dress improver,” in defining 1880s style. Specifically, in contrast to bustles of the early 1870s, those of the 1880s were designed to create a very sharply defined train. Often times, the bustle/train became the center of focus for the dress, dominating the visual effect. One example of this effect can be seen with this circa 1885-1888 dress ensemble:

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Afternoon Dress, c. 1885 – 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2033a–e)

In the above picture, we see an asymmetrical skirt in a solid royal blue silk. The skirt has been drawn up sideways so as to create a flat surface on the right and draping on the left. On the right side there are panels of a floral pattern which matches the fabric used for the lapels and cuffs on the bodice. The bodice has been arranged so as to create a jacket/waistcoat effect with the “waistcoat” fabric being ruched and pleated. In the above picture, we also a see a wide belt also made from the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels that is very suggestive of an obi  (the wide belt typically found on a kimono). While the fabric pattern is decidedly Western, the style is definitely influenced by Japonisme and it definitely catches the eye, possibly minimizing the massive train.

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Side Profile

In the above picture, we see the same dress only the wide belt has been replaced by a thin belt of royal blue silk that matches the rest of the dress. With this substitution, the focus is brought back onto the train.

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With optional shawl.

In the above picture, the dress is now worn with a shawl made of the same patterned fabric as the skirt trim panels, cuffs, and lapels. The shawl definitely provides contrast to the solid royal blue of the dress and serves to balance the train somewhat.

However there is one caveat: the staging of the dress for the museum display can make a difference and skew our perceptions- often times one will see a dress in a museum display in which is displayed without the proper bustle and underpinnings thus creating a flat look. On the other hand, it can also be overdone so we have to be careful. In the case of the above dress, in the pictures below, we see that the train and bustle have been toned down; it’s probable that a different bustle was used in these pictures:

To get a more balanced perspective of the 1880s silhouette, here’s some period pictures:

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Mr. Garrigan and lady, Montreal, 1888; McCord Museum (II-87490.1)

Above, we see the characteristic “shelf bustle” in full flower and, for this woman, the style works. The train, skirt, and bodice appear to be in relative proportion.

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Mrs Hughes, in cuirass bodice suit with shelf bustle and flower pot hat, c. 1887; State Library of New South Wales collection.

Here is a less effective rendition of this style. The bustle and train appear to be an appendage that’s been tacked on and it lacks unity and the proportions are somewhat off. The woman’s severe look also doesn’t help the look.

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Archduke Josef Karl of Austria and spouse, Archduchess Clotilde, neé Princess of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, c. 1884

Here we see a definite mismatch in proportions between the train, skirt, and bodice. The bodice bottom is too short in relation to the bustle and skirt- it looks oddly truncated.

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Mrs. G. S. Davidson, Montreal, 1884; McCord Museum (II-73351.1)

In this picture, the bustle is more restrained, perhaps because it was taken in 1884 before the second bustle trend has completely taken hold.

Fashion is a constant process of extremes followed by reaction and it was no different with  the tournure as we see from the following comments from the February issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

The diminution of tho 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 fabric.

The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just at 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 this detail of feminine dress.

Even Worth had enough of the “shelf bustle” and was pushing back- the results were to become strikingly evident as the 1880s gave way to the 1890s. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of the “shelf bustle” and stay tuned for more.



1880s Style- A Color And Texture Perspective

Color and texture were two major elements in the daytime styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

“Contrast” could also be a bit more subtle- note how the jeweled texture of the under bodice/underskirt also goes a long way in visually setting the two fabrics apart:

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Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Contrasting colors were also employed:

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Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

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

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:

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Edouard Alexandre Sain, The Red Parasol, Private Collection

With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

Close-Up Bodice Front

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:

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Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)

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Side Profile

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Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:

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Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria circa 1885:

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Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)

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Full View With Train

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Rear View

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Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂 In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into 1880s fashion effects and it’s clear that there were an almost unlimited range of design by possibilities and we hope that this will serve as an inspiration in recreating styles of the 1880s.



Wedding Dresses of the 1890s

For wedding dresses, the late 19th Century was a time of change in terms of what was considered proper for a wedding. In the 1870s, weddings tended to be small affairs held at home with little or none of the trappings that we today associate with weddings. But at the same time, marriages among the wealthy elite began to grow into large scale affairs that were meant to be more of a public spectacle/social “happening” than an intimate affair centering around getting married.

John Henry Frederick Bacon, The Wedding Morning, 1892

Also, with the rise of the mass market consumer culture, companies offered a wide variety of wedding goods to include wedding rings, wedding dresses, specific wedding gifts, et al. In order to stimulate demand, efforts were made to generate business by creating traditions and then marketing them, spurred along by the increasingly elaborate weddings staged by the wealthy. In many cases, marketing centered on the idea that an elaborate wedding was essential towards maintaining social status. Of course, this was the ideal and not always followed; it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the bridal industry truly began to take shape and develop into what we know today.

Charles Dana Gibson, The Night Before Her Wedding


The 1890s saw a continuation of wedding dress trends that developed during the 1870s and 1880s. Wedding dresses still came in both colors and white but the trend towards the white wedding was we understand it today continued, spurred along by the development of a mass consumer economy.

Wedding Party, c. early 1890s

Below is an interesting example of a non-white wedding dress in a gray-green. This dress was made by a Mary Molloy, a local dress maker in Saint Paul, Minnesota for Martha L. Berry (nee English) for her wedding day on July 6, 1891:

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Side Profile

The above wedding dress is fairly restrained and it’s obvious that it was meant for use long beyond the wedding date. The construction appears to be mostly likely silk with silver beading; the lapels are wide so as to permit an elaborate silver beading pattern. Also, there is further beading along the bottom of the bodice. Finally, one can see a small, vestigial bustle.

Turning towards more specific wedding dresses, here is an example from 1892 that was made by the Fox Dressmaking Company of New York (a concern that was actually run by four sisters, catering to an exclusive clientele):

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Wedding Dress, Fox Dressmaking Company, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.115.1ab_F)

Side View

Rear View & Train

Close-Up Of Bodice

Close-Up Of Left Upper Sleeve

Close-Up Of Trim Design

Close-Up Of Neckline

Close-Up Of Fashion Fabric; If one looks very closely they can see that the stripes are straight and that embroidery has been added to create a swirling effect.

Maker’s Label

The base fashion fabric for this dress consists alternating stripes of silk satin and faille in an ivory/gold. The difference in the weaves of the satin and faille makes for a difference in lusters and this in turn gives the dress an interesting visual effect: while the satin gives a right, lustrous appearance, the faille provides a duller luster, each one complementing the other. Considering that most weddings during this time were held in the morning (and especially society weddings), a dress completely made of satin would probably been too bright thus the faille tones it down a bit. Of course, this is just conjecture on our part. 🙂

In contrast to the sleeves and skirt, and train, the bodice is covered in lace and pearls combined with silk ribbon ruching along the neckline and ribbon trim along the hem of the bodice. The pearls and lace definitely take center focus, drawing the eye of the viewer. Combined with the fashion fabric, this dress reads opulent and it’s certainly the rival of Worth and Doucet.

Wedding dresses could also be restrained such as this one made in 1896 by the House of Worth:

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Close-up of the bodice.

Close-up of the upper left sleeve and shoulder.

Close-up of the lower sleeve.

Here we see the height of wedding fashion for 1896 with the characteristic leg of mutton sleeves. The dress is constructed from an ivory silk brocade with a minimum of lace at the cuffs and pearl trim on the neckline. The look is relatively restrained with clean lines. The dress gets its impact from the symmetrical floral leaf pattern running down the front of the dress and skirt, a look facilitated by the one-piece princess line design. The sleeve design is reminiscent of late Medieval styles.

The above has only been a small sampling of what is out there but we think that it provides some interesting wedding ideas. At the same time, it also demonstrates that wedding traditions are never set in stone, as much as the marketers would like us to believe, but rather they are constantly evolving.



A Quick Look At A Worth Ballgown…

In the course of doing photo dress research, it’s sometimes easy to miss interesting details because of the way that the garment is staged as in the case of this circa 1899 ballgown made by Maison Worth for Margaret Georgina Curzon, the sister of George Curzon, Viceroy of India:

Dress, 1899; John Bright Collection

Dress, 1899; John Bright Collection

The skirt is constructed of an ivory silk satin decorated with a wheat motif with turquoise velvet ribbon and jeweling. And below is the bodice. According to the John Bright Collection website, the bodice is too fragile to be placed on a mannequin for display, hence why it’s flat in the pictures.

It’s easy to overlook this ballgown since the bodice is displayed flat but one can make out the turquoise silk velvet trim and jeweling against an ivory silk satin fashion fabric combined with white lace and dark turquoise netting. Here’s a view of the bodice interior:

This ballgown is very similar to this one that was made by Maison Worth in 1900:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1250a, b)

Close-Up Of Skirt Design