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.

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.

And For A Little More Commentary…

During the 19th Century, fashion developed from into a major industry catering to a mass market and along with it, the fashion press. Thriving on a newly-emerging middle class’ desire to keep abreast of the latest fashion trends, the fashion press undertook the mission of instructing their readers on fashion etiquette. Where previously, ideas of fashion had been restricted to the wealthy upper classes, it was now becoming a mass market commodity widely available to a broad mass of people and this in turn stimulated a desire to know what the correct etiquette was for wearing cloths. The guiding philosophy behind the need for proper fashion etiquette is explained in the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Etiquette for Morning-Dress.- For a lady, dress is so important, that, even as a matter of etiquette, it must be given the first place. In other words, there is an etiquette of dress as well as of manners. Certain dresses should be worn, at certain times, and in certain ways: one is fit for the house in the morning, another for promenade, another for an evening party; and one who dresses differently, in cultivated society, is apt to be thought underbred.

We would premise that we do not encourage extravagance, when we say there should be this variety of dress; for if a lady uses one dress, she cannot be wearing out another; and one suitable dress for each occasion will not only last for one season, but for two or three, if the material Is good, and it is well made, and Is not cut, or trimmed, in too pronounced a style. For, be it remembered, a very showy dress Is one that will date itself; in other words persons will say, “She has lived In that dress for years; it was made at such and such a time.” With this preliminary observation, we proceed to speak, this month, of the etiquette for the dress a lady should wear at home, and for morning callers.

Some of the above advice even holds true for today in that a more restrained, perhaps “classic” style tends to age less than one that is based on the latest fad and as such, provides better value for the money in that it will not age as fast. One dramatic example of this phenomenon can be found with styles of the 1970s, most which have aged poorly and are generally avoided as style inspiration by designers (that’s an interesting discussion best saved for another day 🙂 ).

Turning to the passage itself, one is struck by how the “standard” is obviously one that is oriented towards the more wealthy who had the wherewithal to maintain several styles of dresses for each specific occasion and time of day. But even so, this upper class ideal still remained the standard to which the middle classes, or anyone with any pretensions of aspiring to a higher social status paid heed to. In practice, while many lacked the means to follow it to the letter, it was still something to aspire to and as such, people  made do with the means at hand.

The above passage also illustrates the downward theory of fashion, one of the basic theories of how fashions are transmitted. Essentially, the theory holds that fashion is transmitted from the upper classes, flowing downward to the lower classes. Throughout history, this process had been slow and gradual but with the industrial revolution and the advent of cheaper clothing, the process of fashion began to speed up. Of course, today this theory has been greatly modified in today’s modern world but elements of it still hold true. Next, we proceed to some more practical advice:

For the morning, at home, a dress ought to be longer than one for out-of-doors. The demi-train Is much more graceful than the short skirt; and with a ruffle, from a quarter to half a yard deep basted on the inside of the skirt, the train is kept clean; and the ruffle can be taken out, and washed, and replaced, as often as is necessary: this ruffle need only start from the side gores.

One of the prettiest fashions for morning dress is the Princess, straight down the front and almost close-fitting there, but quite so at the back, with a train that is untrimmed: the front is usually trimmed all the way from the shoulders down, and buttoned the full length. This dress can be mode of camel’s hair, cashmere, merino, or any of the hundreds of varieties of woolen goods that now come, varying in price from twenty cents up to two dollars a yard, and therefore can be brought within the means of all. Silk can be used, but it is not so soft and pretty.

For those whose occupations are no more arduous than making point laces, embroidering in crewels, or reading the last new book, light blues, or pinks, or delicate buffs, even whites, or soft grays, or fawn colors, trimmed with knots of pretty gay ribbons, are suitable. In such a case, frills of lace, zigzagged down the front, with bows or knots of ribbon, add very much to the effect. For those who are older, and require a more sober style of dress, darker shades of blue, violet, crimson, deeper grays and fawns are in keeping.

The above passage advocates both fashion and practicality at the same time in regard to trains and the use of a bayaleuse, or dust ruffle, that lined the inside of the skirt along the hem and acted to pick up the dirt and otherwise protect the skirt’s fashion fabric. These were often simply basted in and could be readily removed and laundered or replaced.

Also interesting is the advocacy of the princess line dress, a new style that was coming into vogue as this time characterized by the lack of a waist seam between the bodice and skirt. Below are some illustrations of the princess line dress:

Journal Des Demoiselles_1878_1


Day Dress, American, c. 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.528.4)


The second paragraph is also interesting in that it’s clearly aimed at someone who has servants to bulk of the household work, or at least the more arduous tasks- use lighter colors if one does not have to do any serious work since there is little chance of stains or soiling showing up against the light-colored fabric.

So, from the above, it appears that the princess line dress was definitely trending for 1878 as an ideal dress style for “morning dress,” constructed preferably of wool (although silk was acceptable. Morning dress was meant to be worn at home, preferably in the morning hours (hence the name). Below are some more style ideals:

The busy housewife should have the train of her morning dress made shorter than that of the woman of leisure. It should be without the lace, the many bows of ribbon, buttons alone being the only ornaments down the front, with ribbons at the throat and pockets only. Pretty flannels, in small plaids, or some simple-figured goods, will stand the wear of much use better than a plain material. Of course, for summer, the simplest chintz, or pique, or any white goods, may be worn, trimmed with braids, or ruffles: a belt or sash would add greatly to the summer morning dress. To protect the dress, while busy, a neat white apron should be worn; it may be full of pretty, suggestive pockets, if liked, or it may be inside of one of the towels, that ore now embroidered in rod at the ends (for which embroidery we have given patterns), and pinned on. In our next number we will give an engraving of a morning dross with one of these towel aprons.

The above provides some interesting information in regard to how the morning dress should be constructed and detailed in regard to the train. Also, it notes that a decorate apron should be used if the dress-wearer is going to be doing any sort of household chores.

And now we get to the some commentary on the appropriateness of wearing the morning dress and overall appearance:

When the breakfast cups have boon washed, the room dusted, and the flowers watered, the apron may be laid aside. Neatness, above all things, is necessary to the true lady. One woman will look perfectly thorough-bred in a shilling dress, while another may have on the most expensive toilet that Paris can produce- and yet look vulgar. No crimping pins, or curl papers are allowed after a lady learn her chamber: the hair should be simply, but becomingly adjusted; the collars and cuffs should be spotlessly fresh; the shoes and stockings neat; and above all no jewelry is to be worn in the morning; rattling bracelets and dangling chains are utterly out of place then. If the ears are pierced, only the simplest ear-rings should be worn, and the fingers should be divested of all rings, except the wedding or engagement ring, or a seal-ring. By following these hints, any lady can be prepared for either the privacy of her own home, or for early morning callers. But no matter what the material of the “breakfast dress” may be, nor how pretty made, is it allowable to be worn during the whole day; the half tight fitting dress that looks so comfortable and appropriate in the morning, looks slovenly when morning occupations are over.

In the above, projecting the proper image is critical and especially if one is going to receive morning visitors. The emphasis is definitely on dressing simply with a minimum of jewelry and at the same time making sure that everything is neat, clean, and in the right place. In short, the woman’s appearance here is also a reflection on her household, and by extension, her husband. Definitely the Victorian ideal personified. We hope you’ve enjoyed this small window into the Victorian mindset as it related to fashion and in the future we hope to be able present some more of this so stay tuned!

1870s Design

When designing an 1870s dress, one is often faced with an overwhelming number of choices. While the basic 1870s style was characterized by the all-encompassing bustle silhouette, all of the other details were far from uniform and there were a bewildering variety of choices available in selecting the fabrics and trims. Moreover, there were many available choices in bodice, skirt, sleeve, and train design to include the princess line that came into vogue in the late 1870s. Moreover, compared to earlier eras, there is also a variety of color choices, all made possible by the development of aniline dyes.

With all these choices, where does one begin? One of the most effective methods that we have successfully employed throughout the years is through the use of contrasting colors. Below are some examples of the possibilities:

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, June 1876

The color contrast could come in the form of a striped fashion fabric with one basic color and the stripes with the other color as shown on the above left figure. On the right, the contrast comes from the trim, in this case large bows and ribbons.


With the above plate, the contrast comes from the fabrics themselves. The dress on each figure consists of two sets of fashion fabric and in some instances, one of the fabrics could be patterned. Below is another example of this:

In the above plate, we see a base fashion fabric combined with a second fabric that’s been draped over the first. The large scale use of fringe enhances the contrast and in the case of the left figure, the second fabric looks like it’s ready for slide off. Of course this is fashion plate and a bit of artistic licence is to be expected. 🙂

Fashion Plate c. 1876

Wide stripes could also be used for a more dramatic effect as demonstrated with the above two figures. The cuirass bodice offered a wider “canvas” for these effects because of its larger continuous surface era. The princess line dress offered even greater scope for dramatic effect as seen below:

Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1876

In the above plate, the dress on the left uses contrast to its fullest extent by unifying the contrasting colors in a continuous flow of fabric and especially with the train. The dress on the right is a little different in that contract color is limited to stripes and edge trimming and with the embroidered back panel on the bodice enhancing the overall effect.

The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, July 1877

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

In the above plate, the contrast effect is achieved through the use of striped trims to “outline” the dress in key areas. Once again, the princess line allows for this technique to be used to its greatest effect, Now let’s look at some examples of extant garments:

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

A color contrast can be achieved through a variety of methods. One of the easiest, as shown above, is to utilize two solid colors with one color acting as the base fashion fabric that covers the largest expanse while the other plays a secondary role with the contrast color. Note that the backside of the fashion fabric that has been turned out as shown along the bottom of the skirt while on the bodice there are revers and a faux waist coat. Below is another example of the solid color method:

With the above example, the secondary contrast fabric has been used to create a series of stripes running in a up the skirt on a diagonal angle to create a spiral effect. On the front of the bodice is a large panel in the same color along with two large sleeve cuffs.

Another creative way to approach contrast colors are to use two different colors in two different fabrics as with the silk velvet combined with a silk faille in the dress below:

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a--c)

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a–c).

But why stop there? 🙂 Contrast can be also achieved by having one of the fabrics be a stripe or other type of pattern as with the dress below:

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

In the above example, the two contrast fabrics are nearly equal in volume with the striped fabric being employed as an overskirt on the bottom and as trim on the bodice. Plaids and checks were also employed as with this dress:

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Note how the striped fabric is dominant in the above dress, comprising most of the bodice, overskirt, and train. The solid color fabric shows up in the sleeves and underskirt and it’s the same color as the stripes in the patterned fabric with the ecru providing the contrast. This is just one possibility of many.

The princess line dress also offers many possibilities. While is maintains the bustle silhouette, the fact that there is no separate bodice and skirt creates a unified whole that runs smooth and uninterrupted as with this dress:

Czech Dress1

Day Dress, 1870s; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Czech Dress2

Czech Dress3

Czech Dress4

All right, so we went a bit overboard with the last dress but it’s an interesting color combination of light pink and steel grey (although it’s hard to detect with the lighting- it shows up best on the rear). In the front is a wide panel of light pink that’s offset by the steel grey on the remainder of the dress (with the exception of some detail on the rear). The above examples are just a small sampling of the color possibilities that are available. Combinations could simply be a matter of varying color shades such as dark and light blue or they could involve a combination of two different colors.

In choosing an effective color combination, keep in mind that while Victorians loved combining different colors, they also sought to have those colors harmonize at the same time, acting as complementary colors. Below is an illustration of a Victorian era color wheel developed in 1867 by Charles Blanc:

In the above illustration, the complementary colors are directly opposite of each other (e.g., yellow-purple, green-red, blue-orange). Naturally there are various shades in between and the complementary pairs will shift. The above is admittedly an over-simplification but it does give an idea of what designers were aiming for during the late 19th Century.

Just to complicate matters further is the idea of saturation. Saturation refers to the intensity/vividness of a color. Colors that are highly saturated are bold and rich, while those that are desaturated lack in vibrancy.


An effective color combination could employ the principle of using two colors that are the same except for the difference in saturation. This is somewhat related to juxtaposing fabrics of two fabrics of different color shades as mentioned above:

The above is by no means a comprehensive overview and admittedly a lot of this is subjective. The best suggestion we can give is to look and pictures of original fashion plates and extant garments, making allowances for fading and deterioration. Certain combinations are going to look “right”, others not so much (and some could be downright ghastly- no different than today).

We hope that this has provided some ideas to help you get started. 🙂