The Princess Line Dress- One Unique Example

One of the most noteworthy features of Mid-Bustle Era (roughly 1876-1881), fashion was the advent of the princess line dress. Attributed to Charles Worth who supposedly created the style for Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress, the princess line style was characterized by the lack of the defined waist created by the conventional bodice/skirt combination as seen in these original photographs:

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Now, here’s one interesting take on the style:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

It’s difficult to make out the specific fabrics from the pictures but we assume that it’s silk. The color combination of pale green, chartreuse, brown and cobalt blue is interesting; not our first choice but it’s a bit different from what is normally seen from extant examples.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Side Profile

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Rear View

One of the most interesting features of this dress is the use of a capote; that’s not something we’ve seen utilized with a dress. With its upright mandarin collar and capote, it’s more suggestive of outerwear, along the lines of a redingote. Below are some more pictures:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Upper Front with capote.

As can be seen from this close-up of the capote, it’s been artfully cut in layers so that there is no interruption to the pattern of the fashion fabric.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Back view with capote.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-up of the front.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Dress unbuttoned to show interior detail.

The interior detail shown here is interesting in that it employs the same fashion fabric underneath that’s also the outside on the cuffs, train and back.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-Up of the front.

As can be seen here, what we think is “brown” fabric is actually close brown stripes.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

View of the train.

The train is characteristic of Mid-Bustle Era style, lot and fanning out. Not as extreme as some examples with the “mermaid tail” but the pleating does create a pleasing profile. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the dresse’s provenance or the construction details; all we can do is speculate from the available pictures. In terms of dating, it’s probably safe to say that it falls in the 1878 – 1881 period (although the picture that we obtained indicates 1878). We suspect that these pictures were part of some sort of auction listing although we were unable to find out anything specific. But, in spite of the lack of information, it’s still an interesting example of a style that had a fairly short lifespan. Hopefully, we’ll find out more in the future. 🙂


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.