hile studying old fashion plates may not seem as exciting as looking at pictures of extant original dresses, they still yield a wealth of information, especially if one carefully reads the descriptions that accompanied them. It’s easy to be put off by the fading and often poor state of preservation that many of these plates are in but if we can see past that, we believe that the reward is worth it.
ctober 1886 was an interesting time for fashion. The bustle was definitely back in force, refining the earlier bustle styles of the early 1870s and creating a more tidy and sharply defined silhouette than what was found in 1870s styles. In this post, we step back to October 1886 with this plate from the October issue of Peterson’s Magazine. Of special interest is the wedding dress in Figure I on the far left.
Peterson’s Magazine, October 1886
Below is a description of the above plate:
Fig. I.- WEDDING DRESS, OF BROCADED SILK AND WHITE ILLUSION. The skirt is made of three deep plaited [pleated] ruffles of illusion over white silk, the two upper ruffles falling in deep curves in front. The bodice, short tunic in front, and train are of the brocaded silk. The tunic is caught up with clusters of orange-blossoms. The bodice has a plaited vest of the illusion, with lace revers at the sides. The sleeves are open, on the outside of the arm, over an illusion sleeve, which is full at the elbow, and trimmed with sprays of orange-blossoms. Orange-blossoms at the throat and in the hair, from which a long veil of illusion falls.
Fig. II.- WALKING-DRESS, OF VERY DARK GRAY CASHMERE. It is made in plaits all around the skirt, with side-panels of plaid velvet. The close-fitting bodice is made with two revers of the velvet, both placed on the right side, and coming to a sharp point in front of the waist. Collar and cuffs also of the velvet. Gray felt hat, with ribbon and wings of the colors in the plaid velvet.
Fig. III.- EVENING-DRESS, OF LIGHT CANARY-COLORED SURAH. The skirt is trimmed with many narrow flounces, with a pointed apron-front of white lace, nearly to the bottom of the ruffled skirt. The train is plain, and trimmed with white lace. The bodice is cut with a sharp point, both front and back, and is ornamented with folds of the surah and white lace on the left side. Puffs of canary-colored ostrich-tips and ribbon trimming. Yellow bird in the hair.
Fig. lV- EVENING DRESS, OF POPPY-RED SILK. The skirt has a narrow knife-plaiting at the bottom. The back fails in large plaits, with a short full tunic over them. The front is trimmed with drooping rows or black lace, natural habitat of the cyclamen is in the woods, and this with long loops of poppy-colored ribbon. Panniers of black lace at the sides. The high bodice has a jabot of black lace down the front. Bow of red ribbon on the left side of the neck. Red poppies in the hair.
Fig. V.- WALKING DRESS, OF DARK-BLUE WOOLEN MATERIAL. The skirt falls in straight plaits at the back, with a short tunic over it. The front of the skirt at the bottom is trimmed with a broad band of striped blue-and-red bouclé material, and it is plaited at the waist. The bodice is made with a sharp point, with a reddish-blue velvet waistband, revers, and collar of the same material. The vest is of the striped bouclé. Dark-blue felt hat, trimmed with a red bird and wings.
Starting with the wedding dress in Figure I, it is styled with the skirt arranged in the front with three rows of vertical ruffles with the top two rows swaged to the rear. The base fashion fabric is a white silk covered by a layer of white illusion. Illusion is a lightweight netting fabric with diamond-shaped holes and constructed from silk (today, it is more likely to be made of nylon and it primarily used for bridal veils). It is a form of tulle fabric, characterized by its soft hand and excellent drapability.
Illusion- Note the Diamond-Shaped Holes
White Silk Brocade – There was an endless variation in brocade patterns.
The bodice and overskirt/train is a silk brocade with the sleeves constructed from same illusion as the skirt. Covering the upper sleeves is lace that has been formed as revers. Also, interestingly enough, the front of the bodice is pleated in a fan pattern, giving the appearance of a vest. Finally, the dress is trimmed in orange blossoms in the front and in the headpiece. Overall, it’s a fairly “traditional” look that embodies the white wedding trend that was beginning to take hold during the late 19th Century.
Figure II is a fairly conventional day dress combined with plaid velvet to create a “highland” effect of sorts. The skirt and bodice are of a gray cashmere (although it appears to be more of a blue) combined with plaid velvet side-plates on the skirt. The plaid velvet is also used for the cuffs as well as on the front of the bodice (although the illustration distorts this somewhat, making it look more like a sash). Below are some modern-day examples of cashmere that easily could be used to make this dress:
Dark Blue-Gray Cashmere-Wool Blend
Dark Blue Cashmere
Figure III is an evening dress made of canary (sort of a light yellow) surah combined with white lace. The front of the skirt is trimmed in rows of narrow flounces and is covered in the front with a lace apron. Style-wise, this is a conventional med-1880s look with an emphasis on pleating running all the way up the front of the skirt. For color, the plate is a bit faded so here’s a bit more on the color canary which is essentially a yellow. It can vary in intensity from bright, as on the left, to a more subdued as on the right:
As indicated in a previous post, surah is a twilled silk fabric and would have looked something like this (unfortunately, it’s not an easy fabric to find, especially in any shade of yellow):
For Figure IV, we see another variation on the pleating/flounce theme only this time it is limited to the front apron which is done in black lace. To complement the black lace apron is a jabot of matching back lace running down the front of the bodice. The bodice and skirt are constructed from a poppy-red silk and the skirt hem has a row of knife pleating. Overall, this a relatively simple style for an evening dress and if we did not have the description from Peterson’s to go on, it would be easy to mistake for a day dress. Here is a sample of the color:
Unfortunately, the color depicted in the late is more of a wine color but as we know, colors can change dramatically in 100 plus year-old documents and especially those involving color printing processes so take this all with a grain of salt. 🙂
Finally, Figure V depicts is a fairly conventional day dress with the basic skirt and bodice constructed of a dark blue wool. However, the front of the skirt and skirt hem are trimmed in a blue-red bouclé, a fabric woven from loosely spun yarns giving a looped pile effect. In more recent times, bouclé has become the signature fabric found in many Chanel designs. Although not stated, it is assumed that this was composed of wool fibers. Below is an example (unfortunately, we were unable to find a red-blue color):
All of the above dresses are fairly conventional in terms of style but they do exhibit some interesting uses of fabrics and trims and especially with the velvet trim in Figure III and the bouclé in Figure V. While perhaps not spectacular when compared to the creations being produced by Worth, Doucet, and Pingat (to name a few), it does demonstrate that the limits of particular styles were constantly being pushed in both big and small ways.