Trending For 1890…Leg of Mutton Sleeves!

Sleeves are a major style element on every garment and was given special emphasis during the 1890s with its signature leg of mutton sleeves which grew to fantastical proportions by mid-decade. But as with all fashion trends that go to extremes, their origins are more modest and that was the case when it came to sleeve style. Here’s an illustration that from the January 1890 edition of Peterson’s Magazine:

This illustration was part of a sleeve pattern that was included in the January issue but unfortunately it’s not available as part of the electronic file (perhaps one day we’ll be able to locate an original issue of the magazine itself and scan an electronic version). What’s interesting here is that it’s got a gathered sleeve cap but definitely nothing extreme as seen later by 1894-1895. Just to provide some context, here’s a few fashion plates:

Godey’s Fashions, September 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1890

While not directly related to the matter of sleeve styles, it’s interesting to note the  Neo-Directoire style for the two dresses on the right. Also, with the dress second from the left, we see the pseudo-robe/classical Greece-inspired  style.

Fashion Plate, Winter 1890

Now fashion plates can be a bit deceptive in that they portray the ideal concept but they’re a good starting point. Now let’s take a look at some examples taken from the June 1890 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, a magazine that directly marketed patterns intended primarily for the home sewer. The first is a pattern for the “Lameda Basque:”

The sleeve caps in this pattern are fairly pronounced and if we didn’t know that this was from a publication put out in June 1890, it would be easy to mistake this for something more in the 1894-ish time frame. Also found in the June 1890 issue of Demorest’s is this specific sleeve pattern, the “Berenthia:”

There are further examples throughout the fashion literature of the era and even the term “Leg of Mutton” and “Leg o’ Mutton” are freely used as terms for sleeves. Perhaps we’re splitting hairs here but we just want to demonstrate that in fashion, there’s almost no absolutes when it comes to fashion change. 🙂 Now, let’s now look at some extant dresses…

Day Dress, c. 1888 – 1890; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (60.897a-b)

The sleeves in the above day dress are towards the fuller side and there’s a gradual tapering towards the wrists. Here’s another example:

Reception Dress, c. 1890; Goldstein Museum of Design (2013.004.012)

The small sampling shown above only gives a hint of the shift in styles that was happening during these years and it only goes to show that fashion change and evolution are not always as absolute as we’d want them to be- certainly people didn’t just discard their clothes because it was a new decade. 🙂 In future posts, we’ll be looking for more subtle fashion nuances as fashions transitioned from the 1880s to 90s. 🙂

 



Trending For January 1890

Today we travel to January 1890 as the extreme bustle fashions of the late 1880s were fading out and transitioning to something different. So how did the new decade open up for fashion? Below is a fashion plate and accompanying description from the January issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_Jan 1890_1

Fig. I – DINNER DRESS OF STRIPED RED AND BLACK SILK. The front of the skirt and surplice-vest are of gauze of a lighter shade, over a plain silk of the color of the gown. The overdress is a princess polonaise, which a short train and elbow sleeves. The revers, which begin at the back of the neck and are run down the entire length of the skirt, are covered with either a passementerie of silk cord or else heavy Spanish lace, in black. A black velvet ribbon, three inches wide, forms the girdle. Long black Suede gloves.

Fig. II – EVENING DRESS OF PLAIN EMBROIDERED BLACK GAUZE LACE. The underskirt is of the plain material and laid in accordion plaits [pleats]. The overdress and bodice are of embroidered gauze or lace and simply gathered to form the sides and back. The bodice is pointed front and back, and has Grecian brebelles (?) across the bust. The shoulder-straps are simply sprays of flowers corresponding with the design and color of the embroidery on the overdress; the same trim the front and sides of the dress, arranged in festoons tied with knots of pale-green ribbon. Likewise, a similar ribbon forms the girdle and adorns the shoulder straps. Long Suede gloves, High coiffure.

Fig. III – EVENING-DRESS, OF PRIMROSE SATIN AND BROWN VELVET. The skirt of this gown is much wrinkled in front, and has a moderate train. The sides are of the golden brown velvet and also are slightly wrinkled over the hips. The pointed bodice is composed of satin and velvet, with a, simple puff for a sleeve. Long white Suede gloves. High coiffure.

Fig. IV – POMPADOUR EVENING-DRESS, OF FIGURED BLUE CHINA SILK combined with a striped Pompadour brocade, The skirt is short and the edge trimmed with two rows of fringe. The full bodice has a short jacket of the brocade which is worn over the full bodice. The edge of the full bodice, the sleeves, and the ends of the sash are also fringed. Hair dress low.

Fig. V – VISITING OR HOUSE DRESS, OF PALE ROSE SURAH OR NUN’S VEILING. The edge of the short, round skirt is finished by a wide ruching of pinked-out silk. The bodice is cut in one with the skirt on the right side, and it laps surplice-fashion over a vest of pale-green surah or China silk; the same forms the long sash and the deep ends for the full sleeves. A large black velvet or lace hat entirely covered on the brim with ostrich-tips. In front, a high standing loop of velvet ribbon.

In Figure I, we see an underlayer of a skirt and surplice/vest made of a light gauze in a light red or rose color (we assume that the skirt of a base layer to anchor the gauze). Covering this it an polonaise utilizing a princess line with a small train and designed to be open in front so as to show the gauze underlayers. The overdress fabric is striped with dark and light red, the light red being the same shade as the skirt and surplice-vest and makes for a dramatic effect, especially when combined with the revers which are decorated in a passementerie. Finally, black velvet ribbon is ties around the waist and draped down the front to create a girdle effect that is reminiscent of Medieval fashion and for this dress gives the impression of the overdress being a robe. The overall effect is dramatic and perfectly fitting for a dinner dress. Below are some extant examples of dresses with similar style effects:

Rear View

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)

Figure II is an evening dress that is somewhat understated, utilizing an light green plain underskirt with accordion pleats. The overdress and bodice are constructed of a black gauze. The black overdress is somewhat offset by the use of flowers for the shoulder straps and  for decoration on the dress.  Finally, as with the dress in Figure I, there is a sash of light green that is also arranged to create a Medieval style girdle.

Figure III is an interesting combination of primrose satin and brown velvet. The skirt has a moderate train and is in primrose satin and the bodice is of brown velvet with the primrose satin trimming the front and shoulder straps. The bodice is pointed and has stripes of skirt-length brown velvet running on each side. The primrose and brown make for a complementary color combination and was often used during the late 19th Century. Primrose is not a term often used these days so here’s what the color looks like (don’t let the “rose” in “primrose” fool you). Below is the color itself:

Primrose

And in dress form…although it could be argued that this is more of a gold color…

Worth c. 1892

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1892; Museum at FIT (P87.20.24)

Style-wise, here’s something very similar to Figure III:

 

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1880-1890; Preservation Society of Newport County

The dress in Figure IV is a bit of a mystery in that the description reads that the dress is made of “figured blue China silk” yet the fashion plate portrays a white fabric with what appears to be some sort of design in black. Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics combined with looking at a fashion plate that is over 110 years old with attendant fading and the like. In any event, it doesn’t bear much of a resemblance.

Getting past the fabric description, the skirt has two layers with each layer trimmed in fringe. The bodice is covered in short bolero made from a brocade and also trimmed in fringe. Style-wise, this dress is a mishmash of styles that are not harmonious and overall, this style just does not work. Well, every era has its fashion fails…

In contrast to the dresses in Figures I, II, and III, the dress in Figure V is more restrained as befitting of a house or visiting dress. The skirt is made of a pale rose colored surah or nun’s veiling that is round with no train and is plain except for rouching of pinked silk running along the skirt hem. Underneath is a vest of pale green surah or China silk that is covered in a bodice that matches the skirt. Finally, a matching light green sash in surah or China silk tied with long tails creating the Medieval girdle effect completes the dress. Overall, the dress style resembles a draped robe.

Nun’s Veiling

In this collection, we see that each of these dresses attempts to create a draped effect, mostly through the use of a loose over bodice combined with a long sash that has been tied to create a girdle similar to Medieval style. With the exception of the dress in Figure IV, each of these dresses gives the effect of a robe that has been bound by the sash. Depending on one’s perspective, one can see Japanese and Classical Greek influences at work and it could be argued that this style hints at what was to later develop during the Teens.

Tea Gown, c. 1890; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above was just the beginning of the 1890s and as we will see in future posts, fashion underwent some dramatic changes during this period. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



Defining the Late 1880s Look…

When it comes to mid to late 1880s style, it’s easy for one to conjure up visions of dresses with severely sculpted lines that were largely defined by an extremely angular “shelf bustle.” Naturally, as with all fashions, they manifested themselves in both extreme and moderate versions but it was the more extreme versions that caught the attention of the press and assorted satirists. One of the most oft-repeated quips was “one could set a tea service on top of the bustle.” Another example is from an 1883 German humor magazine in which the women is likened to a Centaur:

bustle-satire-fliegende-bltter-magazine-1880s

From Fliegende Blätter; Band LXXVIII (1883), p. 147.

Interestingly enough, the above cartoon was made in 1883 when the bustle was re-emerging- perhaps they were ahead of the fashion curve? 😉

All joking aside, to a great degree, late 1880s style was defined by an angular, prominent bustle or tournure (sometimes pejoratively referred to as the “shelf bustle”). Below is a good example of a dress with the characteristic late 1880s bustle, circa 1884-1886:

Evening Dress c. 1884 -1886

Evening Dress, American or European, c. 1884 – 1886, silk; The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

Sharply defined structure was key in Victorian fashion and below are some examples on how the distinctive 1880s silhouette was created:

Bustle_c._1885

Bustle, c. 1885; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.399)

Bustle 1884

Bustle, Steel Frame, c. 1884; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.131C-1919).

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Within the parameters created by the basic silhouette, there was a wide variety of possible styles. As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice. Below are just some examples:

Godeys_Jan 1887

Godey’s Ladysbook, January 1887

In the above plate, on the left one can see a combination jacket/waistcoat styled bodice combined with with a solid colored overskirt covering a patterned underskirt. Interestingly enough, the waistcoat fabric matches the pattern on the underskirt. On the right, one can see a solid bodice trimmed with an embroidered panel that matches the pattern of the underskirt. At the same time, the pattern on the overskirt matches the basic fabric of the bodice. While there may be contrasts in fabric patterns, the do harmonize in the way that they’re both used on the skirts and the bodices. At the same time, the colors also harmonize even when they’re contrast colors.

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_2

In the above plate, we see the use of different shades of the same color that are used to harmonize. The dress on the left simply combines a lighter brown with dark brown trim on the bodice lapels and are continued down the dress front (the dress appears to be a princess line but it’s hard to tell from the plate). The dress on the right is a bit more sophisticated in that not only do we see a dark and light shades of green combined, but we also see the use of a striped overskirt combined with a striped and patterned bodice. Interestingly enough, in both dresses, the dark color is only used on the trim and patterns, the light color makes up the majority of both dresses.

Below is another example of how colors and patterns could be combined:

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_3

Magazine des Demoiselles, 1887

On the left, we see the use of contrasting colors, in this case rose-colored vertical stripes combined with a light gray. The stripes are distributed around the skirt and on the sleeves and front of the bodice. There appears to be only one skirt. On the right, we see a solid dark gray/blue overskirt and bodice combined with a black floral pattern with a rose background for the underskirt, cuffs, collar, and bodice front. It also appears that the bodice cuts away to reveal a waistcoat of the same patterned fabric- to us, the patterned fabric conjures up visions of cut velvet.

The following fashion plates from 1886 and 1887 further illustrate some other possible combinations:

Peterson's_Nov 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1886

Petersons_Feb 1887

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1887

Petersons_June 1888

Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

Fashion plates are are well and good but what about actual dresses? Well, in answer, here are some extant examples::-)

Day Dress c. 1885

Day Dress, French, c. 1885; Silk plain weave (taffeta) and silk plain weave with warp-float patterning and supplementary weft, and silk knotted tassel; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.34a-b)

1887 - 1891 Day Dress1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

Pingat 1 1888

Pingat, Promenade Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.7758a, b)

Day Dress 1887 - 1889 1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.68.2a–c)

Day Dress 1888 1

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

1888 Day Dress

Madame Arnaud, Paris, Morning Dress, c. 1888; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (2008.46.1)

For many, the typical 1880s silhouette is off-putting and in our experience, we have found that for most people looking to recreate the styles of the 1880s, they tend to gravitate towards either towards the beginning of the decade with the Natural Form or Mid-Bustle Era styles or towards the end of the decade where the bustle was diminishing and we start to see a more cylindrical, upright profile that was to carry on into the 1890s.

However, while there’s no denying that the late 1880s fashion silhouette was defined by an often extreme, angular bustle, this was not always the case and there are many instances where women toned it down- just looking at the variety of bustle appliances and pads that were available for sale is testament to that. As with all fashion, there were those who went to extremes and others who tended to be more conservative and especially for those of more modest means. But, just as important, if not more so, the 1880s offers a variety of styles to suit every aesthetic and a lot of room for developing a unique “signature” style that’s unique to the individual. So, why not give it a try? 🙂



And For Some 1880s Fall Color…

Plum has always been one of our favorite colors and even more so as we move into Fall. Recently, we came across this wonderful circa 1883-1889 day dress in the collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design and we just couldn’t resist sharing it with the rest of you: 🙂

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Day Dress, c. 1883 – 1889; Goldstein Museum of Design (1963.007.002a-b)

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter frontal view.

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Rear View

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter rear view.

Style-wise, this is a classic 1880s day dress with three-quarter sleeves and distinct over/underskirts. There doesn’t appear to be much of  a bustle effect (but this is probably due to the museum’s staging). What’s striking about this dress is its use of a solid dark plum color underskirt combined with a silk brocade overskirt and bodice. Also, the trim on the bodice is fairly minimal while we see extensive ruching and layers of pleating for the underskirt. Here’s a close-up of the silk brocade fashion fabric on the bodice back; the pattern is suggestive of chinoiserie:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of bodice back.

And here’s part of the underskirt with its extensive ruching:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of overskirt.

Here’s a close-up of the bodice front which utilizes a jacketed/under-vest effect with facing lapels. It’s interesting but attempt but it strikes us as a bit disorganized- it’s attempting to meld typical design elements of the period but in a clumsy manner. Also, the fringe appears to be an afterthought and does little to add to the overall design effect. C’est la vie….

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of front bodice.

On the other hand, the middle back is neatly done and the train appears tidy in comparison with the bodice front:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of rear.

Plum and its shades and tints have always been favorites with us and are always a source of inspiration for many of our designs. When combined with utilizing fabrics with varying degrees of luster, patterns, and textures, the results are phenomenal and offer a high degree of individuality. Let it inspire you as it’s inspired us. 🙂



Correct Dress- The View From The 1870s & 80s…

This post did not set out to delve into social commentary but in the course of researching fashions of the late 1870s and early 1880s, we came across some interesting statements made in the fashion press of the time in regard to the proper etiquette for wearing specific dresses. While this in itself is no surprise, what did strike us is the degree to which the concept of dress and fashion were intertwined with wealth and class and especially here in America.

While in many ways America was free of the rigid social structures of nobility vs middle class vs the lower classes, in reality it had its own social structures that acted in much the same manner only with money substituting for birth being the determining factor. Along with this was the idea of social mobility and opportunity- anyone could rise to a higher social standing by making money and America had plenty of opportunities to do so.

In terms of fashion, in order to properly maintain one’s social station, it was essential to have the appropriate dress and especially when it came to women. The ideal portrayed in the popular fashion press of multiple outfits for each of the day’s activities was only attainable to those who had the means. However, at the same time, with industrialization and mass production, clothes were becoming increasingly less expensive and this in turn made this ideal achievable for more women. So, in the end, it could be argued that the popular fashion press took the idea of exclusivity and opened to the masses (at least the masses of a rising middle class).

That said, we now turn to the question of why there’s so many badly dressed women in spite of an abundance of moderately-priced good clothing…


“Why are there so many badly dressed women?”

The eternal question that has been asked as long as fashion has existed and asked countless times throughout history. The 19th Century was no exception and today, we take a look at one attempted to answer this question from the January 1879 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine (page 43):

The question is often asked, why there are so many badly dressed women when the choice is so great in the selection of materials, and greater skill in the industrial arts constantly makes fabrics more beautiful. The answer to this question is to be found in the enormous choice, and this very variety which confuses inexperienced persons much more than it assists them in making a selection.

Taste, also, has improved with the development of true art in design, and the woman is now tested by far more rigid rules, so far as clothing is concerned than formerly. There was a time when ordinary dress was so simple, and so little diversified, that no more thought was required in regard to it, than to decide on the suitable material and color for the purpose for which it was required. But now colors have been multiplied and these again broken up into an infinite number of ones and shades; instead of the few standard fabrics, we count them by the hundreds, half at least being only an imitation of the original by whose name it is called.

Instead of the straight skirt, and plain tight body, we have complete designs in never-ending supply clearly outlining the form, and depending on little details of style and finish, and minute differences of cut for the wide distinction between elegance and crudity, if not vulgarity.

A knowledge of all this minutia presupposes time, and means sufficient to make oneself acquainted with the changes as they occur in every department of dress and fashion, and this, to the majority is not possible. The actual work of life absorbs all the strength, and most of the hours not spent in sleep, with the larger number, and their clothing becomes not a matter of selection, or the gratification of cultivated taste, but a concession to the law of necessity which compels the substitution of something new for the old, when the latter is worn out. What it shall be depends upon what is thrust upon the attention at the moment the new clothing is needed, modified by the length of the purse, and the concessions which have to be made to the existing state of the wardrobe.

The most of the clothing of women is bought piecemeal, and this is why it so often happens that one part of it seems to bear no relation to the other. It is for this reason, also, that it is of great importance to ladies of restricted incomes that they should adopt a few principles or permanent ideas, in regard to the material of their dresses at least, and stick to them. The dark colors, which have become fashionable of late years, and the long complete designs are a great small amount of material for which it can be advantage to all who do not wish to bestow much thought upon their dress. Given these two central ideas for a starting point, and the dress must be unobtrusive, and almost as certainly neat, and ladylike looking. Moreover, the difference of a few inches in the length of a skirt makes a difference between a plain walking, and more stylish indoor dress. Black, or wine-colored cashmere is not superlative fashion, but the wearer cannot help looking like a lady particularly if it is plainly cut, and allowed to fall with natural, and therefore artistic grace.

The peculiarity about the fashions of to-day is, that they may be made either very costly, or very economically. The fine soft woolen fabrics are no less desirable than the richest silk and satin. In fact, they are much more in demand by those who wish to realize pure art conceptions; the best dressing is not that which costs the most, but that which is most effective, and best suited to for the age, means and requirements of the wearer.

The above basically attributes poor dressing to several reasons:

    • Too much variety in styles, materials and trims.
    • Women do not have the time and resources in order to learn all the necessary details, especially with all the demands of everyday life.
    • Because of lack of knowledge, fashion choices are due to on-the-spot snap decisions dictated by immediate need rather than any sort of planning.

These are all valid points and are still valid today- not a day passes that one doesn’t see this sort of commentary in popular fashions blogs and magazines. At root, the problem is one of too many choices and not enough knowledge to determine what the right choices should be. The solution? Demorest’s suggests that women should “adopt a few principles or permanent ideas, in regard to the material of their dresses at least, and stick to them.” Sound advice, to be sure, and especially when grounded in the idea that “dress must be unobtrusive, and almost as certainly neat, and ladylike looking.” As with Peterson’s fashion etiquette, the ideal was that one should select their dresses consistently on the basis of creating a modest, tidy appearance.

Demorest’s then goes on to state that:

The difference, in fact, between good and bad dressing is less a difference of individual taste than of fitness. The poor parade their one flimsy, showy best on all occasions. The rich can afford to dress suitably, and reserve their displayed toilets for occasions when they are demanded, and may be properly worn. All that ingenuity can invent money now can buy, and we are no longer restricted to one fashionable style, color, or fabric. It is difficult to make inexperienced persons believe that the deep Spanish lace collars, for example, have not superseded the plated [pleated] ruffle, and the narrow rim of linen at the throat. It takes some time to learn that all neat, unobtrusive styles are retained for street wear, while whatever can lend a charm, or add to the picturesque effect, is pressed into the service of those who can afford to make themselves beautiful at home.

The above reflects the zeitgeist or spirit of the time in that dress is intertwined with class and wealth. In order to be properly dressed for society, one needs to be equipped with several dresses that will properly match the occasion for which they are being worn. More fancy dresses be reserved for proper occasions than indiscriminately worn all the time. As part of this, it is noted that the rich can afford a variety of dresses/outfits for various occasions and thus, they can maintain a more modest appearance for everyday purposes yet have the ability to dress fancy as the occasion demands.

Perhaps, we are reading way too much into this but when considered along with what was previously noted in the past two posts (Here and Here) in regard to Peterson’s notes of dress etiquette, one definitely can see that being properly dressed reflected one’s social position and wealth and as such, wealth provided the foundation for social position. While this may seem to be a concept that is more in keeping European class attitudes, it really is not because in America, the only measure of class status was wealth rather than a varying combination of noble birth and wealth.

OK, we have strayed a bit afield here and we completely admit it. 🙂 To get back on track, let us consider the issue of the over-abundance of fashion choices- it’s a situation that confronted Victorians and it’s one that confronts us today. 🙂  In both instances, the solution is relatively the same- plan your outfits around a few basic principles and use that to shape your purchases. Rich or poor, this is a plan that was, and still is, easy to follow. What’s interesting is that the problem then and now is pretty much the same although it could be argued that perhaps the scale is a bit less with today’s emphasis on more casual fashions. We hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion through Victorian fashion philosophy and we hope to unearth more information in the future. 🙂