In this post, we move forward a few years to 1895 to take a look at some of the latest fashion trends that were now in full flower. One of the most noteworthy trends was the waist and skirt combination. As noted in the March 1895 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine,
The most important feature in woman’s dress now is the convenient separate skirt with its variety of plain or fancy waists, with which its owner can adapt it for almost any social function. A skirt of black moire, satin, or crépon, and one of white satin, with half a dozen corsages [bodices], high and low, are the most useful gowns a woman can have for a short visit to gay social centers during the season.
All the ingenuity which was formerly expended on the whole gown is now lavished on the corsage; and while the main features—greatly expanded sleeves and drooping blouse front—are similar in all, the skillful modistes yet contrive to make no two alike. They have the advantage of fabrics and trimmings which were never before approached in beauty. There are silk crêpes and crépons in every conceivable weave and in all evening shades, at prices that bring them within the reach of all; and they are much to be preferred to chiffon unless it is accordion-plaited.
The plaited chiffon waists are extremely chic, and must remain exclusive because of their cost; but the puffed ones do not approach
them in elegance, and are fragile in the extreme, even looking mussed in the shops, before they are worn. Some of the handsomest waists are of white or pale-tinted satin or silk, veiled with jetted or spangled black lace. Worn with black or colored skirts they are suitable for the theater or receptions.
As indicated above, the waist and skirt combination offered added flexibility in wardrobes that hadn’t previously existed while giving full scope to creativity in terms of fabric and trim choices as well as construction details. In short, the waist could be as plain or as elaborate as the wearer desired. To better visualize the possibilities, the same issue of Demorest’s provides us with some illustrations of waist patterns which Demorest’s offered for sale:
No. 4, The Theater Waist, is especially interesting in its construction:
…velvet, white or cream lace, and mousseline de soie of any light.becoming color. The back is entirely of velvet, and the lace is carried entirely around the arm holes.
The velvet back is not something one would normally associated with a waist and it could be argued that this was more of a transitional garment that offered the convenience of a waist while having more substance found in bodices. This may be an exception but it still introduces an interesting idea, especially when the waist/skirt combination was being touted as an alternative outfit suitable for wear at a variety of social occasions.
How elaborate could a waist get? Well, pretty elaborate as demonstrated by this pattern offered for sale in the April 1894 issue of the The Deliminator:
And the waist itself:
In the pattern description for the above waist, it’s noted that a variety of fabrics can be utilized to include “all varieties of fancy plaid and changeable silks, woolens of any description, and such fashionable cottons such as gingham, percale, chambray, and crépon.” To us, this garment is bordering on an unstructured bodice (the structure, no doubt, supplied by the corset) and while it may be a matter of semantics, there’s definitely been a blurring of clothing definitions.
It would appear that the characterization of the waist as being a simple blouse-like garment is not the case but instead, was much more refined garment that often mimicked the bodice and as such was considered a complete upper garment in its own right, acceptable wear for a variety of social occasions. Also, while more simple waists were worn in combination with a short jacket, it would also appear that many of the more elaborate waists were worn as outerwear in their own right (although a coat no doubt would have been worn in colder weather).
Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate any extant waists of the elaborate type so the search will have to continue but clearly these garments were work- it’s doubtful that the trouble and expense of creating and printing the necessary patterns would have been undertaken if this hadn’t been the case. In the end, the idea of the waist as a near-bodice is a thought-provoking one and bears more study.