And Now For Something From the Mid-Bustle Era…

Today we feature another dress from the Fashion Museum Bath’s collection. This time, it’s a day dress from the late 1870s/early 1880s, aka the Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form Era:

Day Dress, c. 1878-1881; Fashion Museum Bath

With its emphasis a slender cylindrical silhouette, the dress is definitely of the Mid-Bustle Era. The dresse’s fashion fabric combines what appears to be a stripped light gray/ivory silk jacquard with a blue floral pattern that crosses both the gray and ivory stripes. The sleeves use the same fashion fabric on the sleeve caps and cuffs combined with what appears to be a plain gray silk moire that color matches the gray in the fashion fabric. For the skirt, the same fashion is cross-grain cut on the weft, creating rows of horizontal stripes and draped to create a series of swags. Also, as with so many dresses of the era, a line of bows run down the center of the skirt. Finally, along the bottom, we see a deep row of knife pleats on the same gray silk moire fabric as used on the sleeves.

From the above picture, one can make out the train with appears to be the same plain gray silk moire as the sleeves and hem. Below is a close-up of the neck and upper bodice. As can be seen, the fashion fabric has been artfully cut on grain, with outer bodice being all of gray while the inset is of ivory. The neckline is square, trimmed in ivory lace.

This detailed view of the upper bodice reveals several things about the dress. First, one can make out the opening which runs down the bodice front and ends at the waistline (which is a high waistline). Given the solidity of the skirt, it can be reasonably concluded that this dress was one-piece and while perhaps not “princess line” in the purest sense of the definition, it still leans that way because of the one-piece nature of the dress. Compared to more subtle designs from couturiers like Worth (who absolutely detested emphasizing the waistline in his designs), this one’s pretty obvious but doesn’t detract that much from the overall design. Ultimately, this is an interesting in that it clearly illustrates how many of these dresses were constructed, particularly how they opened up. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



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.



Some Evening Wear From The Late 1870s

To continue the late 1870s theme, we’ll now take a look at some late 1870s evening wear. 🙂 “Evening wear” is a somewhat generic catch-all term for dresses that were intended for wear at various formal events held in the evening, whether they be balls, dinners, or receptions. To start, we have this circa 1877 evening dress:

Evening Dress, c. 1877; Museo de Historia Mexicana

Unfortunately, not a lot is known about this dress, at least from what we could gather from the Museo de Historia Mexicana except to say that that was possibly made by Worth based on the style. In any event, it does have the distinct “Natural Form” silhouette from the late 1870s and has any characteristics of the princess line dress. Like many dresses of this era, this dress emphasizes vertical lines, aided by the use of a gold-striped ivory-colored silk taffeta. Framing the front skirt are two rows of ivory silk satin pleated trim that run somewhat asymmetrical.  Somewhat jarringly, at the top of the bodice front below the neckline is a strip of what appears to be a gold-striped white silk with thin horizontal strips of a darker shade of gold. Design-wise, it’s hard to understand its purpose. Finally, the neck is trimmed in white ruching.

Next is this circa 1877-1878 reception dress from Worth:

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

This is an interesting dress that we’ve posted previously, pointing out that this dress is an ensemble dress that had two bodices for daytime and evening wear. The overskirt is constructed of a dark blue silk satin while the underskirt is actually two layers consisting of a solid ivory-colored pleated inner layer constructed of silk satin and a fringed floral pattern outer later that’s swagged. Below is a closer view of the skirts:

Next, we have this circa 1877 dinner dress from Worth:

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

This is another brilliant illustration of the late 1870s silhouette. The bodice and overskirt are constructed of a gold-colored silk jacquard in a floral pattern combined with a pistachio-green front underskirt that appears to be made of silk taffeta. Below is a closer view of the silk jacquard:

Close-up of fashion fabric.

Below are views of the rear train. The train has an underlayer of the same green pistachio used in the front underskirt and it’s shown off through a series of folds. It’s an interesting design effect. Below are some more pictures that show off the train:

Rear View

Close-up of rear

The above pictures give a really dramatic view of the train, especially with the rear bow giving the illusion of being the only support for the gold jacquard train. The dresses shown above are only a small sampling of what was out there as illustrated in this fashion plate from the January 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine and for those wishing to recreate the era, there’s a wide variety of choices available. Enjoy!

From the January 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine.



Some Wedding Gowns From The Late 1870s

The Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era only lasted a short five years but it provided an interesting counterpoint to the heavily bustled/trained styles of the early 1870s and mid to late 1880s and especially as it applied to wedding dresses. As noted in a previous post, the typical wedding dress came in a variety of styles and could pretty  much be any better quality dress. However, at the same time, styles that were more specific to the occasion were coming into fashion and would later be associated with the “traditional white wedding.” Below are just a few examples of specific wedding dresses from the late 1870s, starting with this circa 1877 wedding dress:

Wedding Dress, c. 1877; Whitaker Auctions

This dress has a distinct princess line with no waistband and from the limited pictures, it appears that it opened down the front about half-way. The fashion fabric appears to be an ivory silk taffeta trimmed with gold silk satin along the edges of the train and large strips running along the front of the dress. Along with the silk satin strips along the front, there are rows of knife pleating. The area around the neckline is interesting in that there’s a yoke made up of built-up alternating strips of silk satin and taffeta topped off by a ruched neckline. Here’s a closer view of the upper part of the dress:

Below is a close-up of the yoke front and back:

And finally, a close-up of the sleeve with a double-row of knife pleating:

This dress is interesting but one can’t help but think that it’s incredibly ill-fitting. However, we believe that this is due to poor staging than to ay inherent flaw of the dress. No doubt it was supported by well-fitted petticoats and perhaps padding but unfortunately, there’s little information about the dress online. In any event, it’s an interesting wedding dress style.

Next is a wedding dress from circa 1878-1880 that combines what appears to be a gold silk jacquard floral patterned one-piece bodice and long trained overskirt with a separate gold silk satin underskirt:

Wedding Dress, c. 1878-1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art ( C.I.39.111.3)

This  dress is similar to the first in that it has no defined waist band. Although not a “pure” princess line dress, it achieves a similar effect by combining a unified bodice and long trained overskirt of a gold jacquard floral pattern with a gold silk satin underskirt trimmed with a knife-pleated hem. The bodice is front-opening with a square neckline trimmed with a ruched silk satin neckband. Further accentuating the neckline are three narrow bands of silk satin. The dress is relatively unadorned with no lace and has a simplicity to it.

Finally,  we have this circa 1878 wedding dress:

Wedding Dress, c. 1878; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.83.231.20a-b)

Compared to the first two examples, this one is more conventional, consisting of a  separate cuirass bodice and skirt, all made of a gold/ivory silk satin.  The bodice covers the hips and emphasizes vertical lines, aided by the use of style lines that place emphasis on the vertical plane. The skirt, on the other hand, emphasizes horizontal lines with circular ruching and pleating and ribbon bows. The hem consists of one row of deep knife pleating and with a line of  ruching running along the top edge. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other photos that give views from the side or back so we can only speculate but it no doubt has a long train, standard for wedding dresses of the period.

Finally, here’s an exquisite example of of a circa 1878-1879 wedding dress from the Met:

Wedding Dress, c. 1878 – 1879; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.339.2)

In terms of silhouette, this dress follows the late 1870s style and like the previous examples, it emphasizes vertical lines and minimizes the waist; in this case there’s no defined waist band. This press isn’t a “princess line” strictly speaking, the bodice and skirt were most likely attached to each other and masked by the swagging.  The fashion fabric on the bodice and main skirt appears to be an ivory silk taffeta, covered by asymmetric strips of gold silk satin with a floral pattern. Running on top of the gold silk satin strips are more narrow strips of a bengaline fabric with fringed ends. Finally, running along the entire hem are two rows of pleated ivory bengaline-like fabric. Below is a side profile:

The train skirt is square-cut at the end and continues the two rows of bengaline trim along with an added layer of fringed trim. Below is a close-up of the decorative trim:

This dress an interesting combination of vertical and horizontal lines with the bodice being relatively unadorned while the skirt is the complete opposite. The trim is asymmetrical, following a natural vertical spiral while at the same time filling the horizontal plane with detail.

The above four dresses are all from the same era but display different design elements. The silhouettes are similar but the individual details vary. However, the colors are pretty much the same- a gold/ivory (depending on the lighting in the photography and one’s particular computer monitor). What’s interesting about all three dresses is that even for their similarity, they still avoid the “white wedding” aesthetic that was to later dominate wedding dresses during the 20th Century.



And For A Little More Finnish Style

We found another interesting fashion from the Museovirasto in Finland, this time a circa 1880s evening dress that once belonged to a Ellen Mathilda Wilhelmina Tudeer (nee Wijkander) who was born in 1858):

Evening Dress, c. 1880s; Finnish Board of National Antiquities (KM 32035)

Based on the silhouette, this dress perhaps dates from about 1880-1882. The train is low and the bodice is long, extending over the hips. The dress appears to be constructed from a pink blush silk taffeta with two rows of knife pleating running along the skirt hem as well as more knife pleating running below the neck line and upper shoulders. The one interesting feature about this dress is the bertha running along the neckline that’s reminiscent of earlier 1860s styles; it’s not something you usually see on 1880s dresses.1During the 19th Century, a bertha was defined as being a collar made of lace or another thin fabric. It is generally flat and round, covering the low neckline of a dress, and accentuating a woman’s shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s not much more information on the dress itself but nevertheless, it’s a n interesting garment because of its blend of 1880s and 1860s fashion elements. Hopefully one day we’ll find out more about this dress.