Close-Up: Early 1880s Style

Today we leave fashion plates and illustrations behind and turn towards some extant examples of early 1880s styles from various collections with an emphasis on bodices- our newest fixation. 😉 First up is this circa 1881-83 day dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET Museum):

Day Dress, c. 1881-1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.43.44.4a, b)

This dress rather closely follows the early 1880s silhouette with a short bodice combined with an over/underskirt combination. The bodice is constructed of a burgundy-colored silk velvet.  The overskirt is also constructed of the same burgundy velvet that divides into two sections: one loosely covering the hips and extending down in point, down almost all the way to the hem and the other creating a long tail. Unless one looks closely, the bodice and overskirt appears as one, creating the illusion of a polonaise. The underskirt is constructed of a multi-colored vertically striped fabric with insets of the burgundy velvet- it’s hard to determine just what it is and the description on the MET Museum website offers no clues. The striped fabric is in several colors in various shades of brown along with ivory.

The bodice front is trimmed with jewel appliques on both sides of the front opening, suggesting that this dress was meant for visiting or formal daytime occasions.

Here’s a side profile view and unless one looks closely, it would appear that the bodice is a polonaise style.

The rear view is interesting in that the overskirt draws up shorter than the underskirt. Also, in the rear, the underskirt hem is the same burgundy velvet as the overskirt and bodice. Finally, note that the cuffs and the rear bows appear to be an olive-colored silk moire. Overall, it’s an interesting dress with some design features although the color combinations aren’t really optimal, in our opinion.

Next up is this circa 1882 day dress that, like the first dress, features a faux polonaise bodice style effect:

Day Dress, c. 1882; The Sigal Museum (164.v.1)

This dress appears to be constructed of a combination of gold/champagne color silk satin and a silk brocade with a purple-gold-silver pansy pattern. The brocade is a very busy pattern and from a distance appears more of a black and green (of course, it could also be the lighting and appearance on a computer monitor). The bodice is cut so that the solid champagne/gold satin is featured prominently, making up the main front and back panels with the back panels descending downwards mimicking a tail coat. The center fronts and the upper sleeves are made up of the brocade and provides a harmonious contrast. The neckline is trimmed in a combination of ivory lace, silver satin ribbons and dags of the brocade- it’s an interesting style effect.

Here’s a close up of the bodice and it’s obvious from the seaming that the bodice is actually joined to the rest of the dress- it’s subtle but easy to miss at a distance. The dress itself continues with this solid and brocade fabric theme with a ruched solid front combined with side panels and train in the brocade. The dress is layered but not in the usual over/underskirt manner but rather with vertical draped layers. Finally, the train the brocade is also used for the train.

Here’s some views of the side profile and one can see the vertical draping which emphasizes vertical lines, a characteristic of Mid Bustle style. Moreover, the pointed draping at the sides mimics the points usually associated with many polonaises; in the rear we can see some fullness leading down to the demi-train.

Ths dress is an interesting example of Mid-Bustle Era style, combining the Mid-Bustle aesthetic of vertical lines while at the same time drawing upon the use of two somewhat contrasting fashion fabrics- in this case, a solid paired with a brocade with a small, busy pattern. While there’s some contrast, the colors themselves harmonize well.

Finally, no examination of early 1880s fashion would be complete without this dress, immortalized by the artist Albert Bartholomé in a portrait of his wife (who soon after tragically died):

This dress is interesting in that it takes the polonaise bodice style to an extreme: in the front, we see a tightly sculpted profile that extends a third of the way down the body, ending in a “v” and drawn towards the rear with increasing fullness culminating in a large pouf of material topped with a large bow. One could argue that with this style, we see a hint of the return to the large bustle style that was to occur in the late 1880s. But, nevertheless, at this point, the train is only a minor distraction from the tight cylindrical profile of early 1880s fashion- it was all in flux and sometimes various elements of early and later styles were intermixed in varying degrees.

And the portrait in which the dress appears…today this is on display at the Musèe d’Orsay in Paris. It’s far more powerful viewing it in person- the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Albert Bartholomé (French, 1848–1928)
In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé), ca. 1881
Oil on canvas; 91 3/4 x 56 1/8 in. (233 x 142.5 cm)
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Gift of the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay, 1990

The above three dresses illustrate some interesting aspects of early 1880s fashion, especially with the use of draping and harmonizing materials to create faux bodice effects. If it’s one thing that we’ve learned examining fashion plates, illustrations, and pictures of extant garments, it’s that there were an infinite variety of styles out there and certainly a lot of food for thought for those seeking to recreate their own garments of the era. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



1880 Style- Some Details

The styles of the Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era were a definite contrast from what had come before and by 1880 we see this in full flower. The early 1870s fashion silhouette of the fully trained bustle dress had given way to a slender, tightly sculpted cylindrical silhouette that had minimal, if any, bustling or padding. The above fashion plate from the May 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine clearly shows this style while at the same time showing a variety of individual styles within the overall trend. Here’s a another fashion plates:

The first thing that immediately catches the eye in the above plates is that the bodices are long, covering the hips in varying degrees- with the train disappearing, bodices could extend downwards, unimpeded. The next element that’s striking is the use of various forms of draping and ruching on most of the skirts. Yes, a few are plain and smooth but overall, it would seem that the skirt front was now a palette for displaying various decorative schemes. One especially popular style the “Louis XV” style which incorporated many late 18th Century style elements:

Bodice style could also take up a polonaise style with the bodice back forming part of the train, or at least helping to place emphasis on it (in varying degrees):

Peterson’s Magazine, April 1880

Finally, just to distinguish between basque and polonaise, below are images of two patterns that were offered for sale in the January 1880 edition of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

Now let’s look at some extant dresses:

Amedée Françoise, Day Dress, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (43.72.2a–c)

Side Profile

Style-wise the above dress is similar to the plate in that the bodice is cut in a polonaise style, emulating a coat and underlying waistcoat/vest covering an narrow underskirt; the horizontal rows of pleating on the skirt further emphasize the skirt’s cylindrical silhouette. Note that the bodice back extends down to form part of the train. With its demi-train so it’s fair to say that this dress was meant for more formal public events.  Here’s another dress that captures a similar style:

Day Dress, c. 1875-1880; Wadsworth Atheneum (1968.213)

This one’s shows a little variation with the skirt combining both horizontal rows of overlapping contrast fabric along the bottom hem along with asymmetrical draping further up. The rows of contrast fabric are continued onto the demi-train. It could be argues that the bodice of more a basque style since it’s obvious that the the outer “jacket” is merged with the inner “waistcoat” are actually one piece and it doesn’t appear that any part of it extends further down to form a train. It’s a subtle difference but obvious if one looks closely. In future posts, we’ll be discussing early 1880s fashion more and exploring the various individual styles that were out there.



Fashion Evolution- The Late 1870s

In keeping with the theme of fashion evolution, here’s a post covering fashion evolution during the late 1870s. Enjoy! 🙂


The late 1870s were a time of transition as styles moved away from the full bustled trains characteristic of the First Bustle Era and evolved towards the cylindrical silhouette of the Middle Bustle Era or Natural Form Era. The transition to the Middle Bustle Era could be said to have begun as early as 1875-76 although it wouldn’t come into full flower until 1878-79. The June 1877 issue of Peterson’s Magazine notes that:

There are three popular styles now, the Princess polonaise, basque bodices, with upper and lower skirts, and Princess dresses. The prominent points in the best polonaises are the long seams in the back, the plainness of the tournure, and sufficient length to give a slender effect. Fringes and wide galloons are the trimmings universally used, and the galloon is very generally arranged in sloping lines, or a long V down the back from shoulders to waist; small fichus, or mantles or the same material, complete the costume. The aim appears to give the costume the effect of a Princess dress; and in most cases, the merest glimpse of the under-skirt is all that is visible; therefore it is made both narrow and clinging, and is usually trimmed all round alike. The drawing-string across the back breadths is always added, no matter how closely the skirt is cut to the figure.

In these new dresses the shoulder-seams are very short, the neck is cut very high at the back, and the tight sleeves have the upper half slightly gathered on the elbows, to fit the arm more perfectly.

From the above commentary, it would seem that there are three styles at work: the older conventional basque bodice and skirt combination dress; the princess line dress; and the princess polonaise which appears to be somewhat of a hybrid between the first two styles.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, 1877

So how do these styles appear? Well, to begin, here’s one princess dress design that was marketed as a pattern in the October 1877 issue of Peterson’s:

Here’s another princess dress style, this time from the April issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, that was also marketed as a pattern:

The above design is described as a:

A short, tight-fitting “Princess” dress, with the front opened at the left
side in “Breton” style, side-forms front and back extending to the shoulders, and side gores under the arms. A wide sash is draped across the front, and tied loosely in a knot at the left side, and the edge of the skirt is finished by a side plaiting. The back piece is full, being crossed by three clusters of shirred tucks, and is finished by a deep flounce that is, in its turn, ornamented with three side plaitings [pleats]. Two back pieces are given with the pattern,the full outer piece extending the entire length, and a shorter plain piece to which the shirred tucks are to be secured. The sleeves are trimmed to match the back. The collar may be of the same material as the dress, or be of lace, to suit the taste. The design can be suitably made up in a variety of dress goods, excepting perhaps the heaviest, and is especially desirable for thin fabrics, and a combination of colors or materials.

The above description pretty much hits all the high points as to what characterizes the princess dress design and there was a lot of variation in terms of fabrics and trim. Below are a few images of extant princess dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1870 – 1880; V&A Museum (CIRC.606-1962)

 

Day Dress, c. 1876 – 1878; Manchester City Galleries

Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Next, there’s this design for a house dress in the “Princess polonaise” style that was also marketed as a pattern:

In the description of the dress, it’s noted that “the polonaise is trimmed to correspond with the skirt and that it’s princess in form and slightly draped at the back where it’s caught up in a row of ribbon to match.” Essentially, this dress consists of a skirt and polonaise with the polonaise cut in single long pieces in the princess style, with no sewn waist.

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Here’s another take on the princess polonaise style that was offered for sale as a pattern in the February 1878 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The description for this style is given as:

A “Princess” polonaise, having drapery in folds across the front, and revers turned back from the sides and joined over a full platting added to the short back pieces somewhat in the manner of a train. The design is tight-fitting, has a seam down the middle of the back, and is cut with side-forms carried to the shoulders; darts are taken out under the arms, and the fronts are fitted with the usual number of
darts on each side and buttoned down their entire length. The design is adapted to all classes of dress goods, and may be trimmed in any manner that will correspond with the material chosen.

Just for reference, here’s another illustration of this style:

Image result for princess polonaise

Finally, the basque bodice and skirt combination style was predominant during the early to mid 1870s and it could take a number of different forms. Below are a few examples from 1876-77:

Day Day, c. 1875 – 1877

Worth, Ensemble-Reception Dress, c. 1877 – 1878; Cincinnati Art Museum (1986.1200a-c)

Dinner Dress, c. 1876; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1975.227.3)

Day Dress, 1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1969-147-1a,b)

The above examples of all three styles are just a fraction of the wide variety of styles that were out there but it does convey that there were a number of different styles in circulation during the mid to late 1870s. Ultimately, the basque bodice and skirt combination would be left behind and by 1880 we see an almost complete transition in styles. Of course, as with every style shift, there were hold-outs who clung to older styles but as a mass movement, it was clear that styles were evolving. In future posts, we’ll attempt to further document fashion changes that occurred during the late Nineteenth Century so stay tuned! 🙂



Early Princess Style…

It’s generally accepted that the princess dress style began to gain traction around 1876-1878. However,  as with most fashion trends, the princess dress didn’t just spontaneously appear but rather it was a product of an evolutionary process that we’ve managed to trace back to at least 1874.  One of the more logical places for the princess style to develop was with house dresses because of their simple, relatively loose construction. Below are two designs that were offered for sale as patterns in the October 1874 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The Griselda Polonaise is described as:

The recent styles, however furnish a concession to the rage for jackets, and by a clever addition of a “basque,” or “jacket ” back, give the effect of two separate parts to the costume. A stylish example of this is illustrated in the “Griselda” polonaise, one of the prettiest, and at the same time, one of the most practical designs of the season. It is long, straight around, with just enough fullness to make it graceful, and is fitted with a slashed basque, which comes far enough forward to furnish the jacket effect. The revers collar extends into square tabs at the back—tho ends of which are finished with woolen ball, or tasseled fringe to match the basque. Plaitings may be employed if the design is used in the making of an alpaca suit, but the whole amount of fringe required, will not be over a yard and a-half.

What is interesting about the “Griselda Polonaise” is that it’s not referred to at all as a princess dress but rather focuses on the faux jacket style that serves to create an illusion that there are two separate parts the dress. Of course, one look at the dress front illustration makes it clear that this is a one-piece garment.

The Camilla Gabrielle as:

A new style of the princess dress will be found in the “camilla” gabrielle, a very dressy design, easily arranged however, and adapted to a wide class of materials…it forms a ladylike indoor dress for either city or country, requires a comparatively small amount of material, and but little trimming to make a stylish dress.

Both of the above styles are very elegant versions of the indoor house dress while at the same time emphasizing that they don’t require a lot of expensive materials.  Here’s an extant example of a house dress from circa 1875:

House Dress, 1875; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

This dress has a princess silhouette and is constructed from a combination of lavender and dark purple/eggplant silk taffeta. This style is very similar to the above engravings from Demorest’s with a few  variations on decorative treatments. What’s striking about this dress is the use of contrasting dark and light panels, a feature that would become common into the late 1870s. Also, we can see that with this style, it wasn’t too far of a leap to migrate into a full-blown day dress suitable for wear outside the house as can be seen with this example:

Another interesting feature about the earlier princess style dresses is that we can also see an evolution from a long polonaise into a more proper dress and this is evident with the these two dress styles that appeared in the June 4, 1876 and August 2, 1876 issues of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

In the above two fashion plates, one can see very visible underskirts that are more than simple hems but rather suggest that the style started with a two-piece skirt and polonaise with the polonaise becoming longer to the point where an underskirt was either no longer needed or remained in a vestigial form with an elaborate hem and train.  Now, just to throw some other elements into the princess dress style, there’s this plate, also from an 1876 issue of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

Here we see the princess line combined with an outer redingote combined with the suggestion of an underskirt and waist/vest (we believe that much of this would have actually been of a one-piece construction.  The redingote, combined with the wide lapels and elaborate tails, definitely reads Directoire; whether this was solely a concept piece only depicted in a fashion plate or actually makes for interesting speculation. In the end, the only major takeaway from all of this is that fashion evolves while at the same time combining other style elements in a seemingly endless variety of combinations and it can be said that there’s definitely a lot to consider in designing a recreation of the princess style dress, whether it’s a house dress, tea gown, or full-blown day/afternoon dress.



Fashion In Transition- The Late 1870s…

Happy New year’s from Lily Absinthe! Here’s a little post that should help pass the time on New year’s Day. Enjoy!


The late 1870s were a time of transition as styles moved away from the full bustled trains characteristic of the First Bustle Era and evolved towards the cylindrical silhouette of the Middle Bustle Era or Natural Form Era. The transition to the Middle Bustle Era could be said to have begun as early as 1875-76 although it wouldn’t come into full flower until 1878-79. The June 1877 issue of Peterson’s Magazine notes that:

There are three popular styles now, the Princess polonaise, basque bodices, with upper and lower skirts, and Princess dresses. The prominent points in the best polonaises are the long seams in the back, the plainness of the tournure, and sufficient length to give a slender effect. Fringes and wide galloons are the trimmings universally used, and the galloon is very generally arranged in sloping lines, or a long V down the back from shoulders to waist; small fichus, or mantles or the same material, complete the costume. The aim appears to give the costume the effect of a Princess dress; and in most cases, the merest glimpse of the under-skirt is all that is visible; therefore it is made both narrow and clinging, and is usually trimmed all round alike. The drawing-string across the back breadths is always added, no matter how closely the skirt is cut to the figure.

In these new dresses the shoulder-seams are very short, the neck is cut very high at the back, and the tight sleeves have the upper half slightly gathered on the elbows, to fit the arm more perfectly.

From the above commentary, it would seem that there are three styles at work: the older conventional basque bodice and skirt combination dress; the princess line dress; and the princess polonaise which appears to be somewhat of a hybrid between the first two styles.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, 1877

So how do these styles appear? Well, to begin, here’s one princess dress design that was marketed as a pattern in the October 1877 issue of Peterson’s:

Here’s another princess dress style, this time from the April issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, that was also marketed as a pattern:

The above design is described as a:

A short, tight-fitting “Princess” dress, with the front opened at the left
side in “Breton” style, side-forms front and back extending to the shoulders, and side gores under the arms. A wide sash is draped across the front, and tied loosely in a knot at the left side, and the edge of the skirt is finished by a side plaiting. The back piece is full, being crossed by three clusters of shirred tucks, and is finished by a deep flounce that is, in its turn, ornamented with three side plaitings [pleats]. Two back pieces are given with the pattern,the full outer piece extending the entire length, and a shorter plain piece to which the shirred tucks are to be secured. The sleeves are trimmed to match the back. The collar may be of the same material as the dress, or be of lace, to suit the taste. The design can be suitably made up in a variety of dress goods, excepting perhaps the heaviest, and is especially desirable for thin fabrics, and a combination of colors or materials.

The above description pretty much hits all the high points as to what characterizes the princess dress design and there was a lot of variation in terms of fabrics and trim. Below are a few images of extant princess dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1870 – 1880; V&A Museum (CIRC.606-1962)

 

Day Dress, c. 1876 – 1878; Manchester City Galleries

Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Next, there’s this design for a house dress in the “Princess polonaise” style that was also marketed as a pattern:

In the description of the dress, it’s noted that “the polonaise is trimmed to correspond with the skirt and that it’s princess in form and slightly draped at the back where it’s caught up in a row of ribbon to match.” Essentially, this dress consists of a skirt and polonaise with the polonaise cut in single long pieces in the princess style, with no sewn waist.

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Here’s another take on the princess polonaise style that was offered for sale as a pattern in the February 1878 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The description for this style is given as:

A “Princess” polonaise, having drapery in folds across the front, and revers turned back from the sides and joined over a full platting added to the short back pieces somewhat in the manner of a train. The design is tight-fitting, has a seam down the middle of the back, and is cut with side-forms carried to the shoulders; darts are taken out under the arms, and the fronts are fitted with the usual number of
darts on each side and buttoned down their entire length. The design is adapted to all classes of dress goods, and may be trimmed in any manner that will correspond with the material chosen.

Just for reference, here’s another illustration of this style:

Image result for princess polonaise

Finally, the basque bodice and skirt combination style was predominant during the early to mid 1870s and it could take a number of different forms. Below are a few examples from 1876-77:

Day Day, c. 1875 – 1877

Worth, Ensemble-Reception Dress, c. 1877 – 1878; Cincinnati Art Museum (1986.1200a-c)

Dinner Dress, c. 1876; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1975.227.3)

Day Dress, 1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1969-147-1a,b)

The above examples of all three styles are just a fraction of the wide variety of styles that were out there but it does convey that there were a number of different styles in circulation during the mid to late 1870s. Ultimately, the basque bodice and skirt combination would be left behind and by 1880 we see an almost complete transition in styles. Of course, as with every style shift, there were hold-outs who clung to older styles but as a mass movement, it was clear that styles were evolving. In future posts, we’ll attempt to further document fashion changes that occurred during the late Nineteenth Century so stay tuned! 🙂