The Power of the Pleat!

Behold the power of a pleat! It’s not the fold itself, it’s…the understitching. When a pleated ruche is placed in directions that defy gravity, understitching is required. Invisible handwork like this requires me to use a darning needle for (long and thin) so I can sit on the floor with the hem closer to my eye level. For me, using this technique allows me to tack each pleated corner so it stays in place. Why so particular? These diagonal ones in the front will take the brunt of walking, but the piped longer ones on the skirt back and train will flutter, because their hem is free.

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More Mid-Bustle Style

Joseph Scheurenberg, Confidences, 1878

Today we take take our examination of Mid-Bustle Era/Natural style further with this circa 1879-1881 day dress:

Day Dress, c. 1879-1881; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.105.17)

This dress is constructed of old gold/champagne-colored silk taffeta for the skirt and and bodice body combined with black silk taffeta on the sleeves and parts of the bodice. The old gold/champagne color combined with neutral black make a harmonizing combination and especially on the bodice. The straight lines of the natural form/Mid-Bustle silhouette are given further emphasis with the vertical stripes of the bodice. The use of the same black silk taffeta to trim the skirt and hem finish the dress in a pleasing manner.

From the above picture, we can see that while there is some bustling, it’s pretty restrained and really only services to support the train at the bottom. Also, in the above picture, it’s interesting to see the use of a polonaise-style bodice that is long in front, tapering to waist level in the back and ending with a large bow.

As can be seen from the above two pictures, the train is more restrained than the dress featured yesterday. Looking at the rear, the use of black taffeta for the bodice back draw the viewer’s eye towards the waist with its bow and draping that lead the eye further down towards the train. This is contrast to the front where the viewer’s eye is drawn in the opposite direction towards the bodice top and neckline.

Although this dress consists of separate skirt and bodice, their lines emphasize the upright, cylindrical shape characteristic of this period.  About the only flaw we can find is with the rear train and box- it all appears very untidy BUT this may have more to do with the staging of the dress on the mannequin rather than any inherent flaw in the dress itself.  Stay tuned as we unearth more styles from this brief but interesting period.

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An Early 1890s Design From Maison Felix

When it comes to late 19th Century couture, Maison Felix is often overlooked but it was a force the equal of Worth, Doucet, and Pingat. Here’s an afternoon dress from circa 1890-1891:

Felix, Afternoon Dress, c. 1890-1891; Albany Institute of History and Art (1946.56.2ab)

This afternoon dress is an interesting style, drawing on 18th Century elements, especially in the use of a garnet-colored silk with a gray floral pattern styled to read as a robe and combined with a large lace inset on the front and sleeves. The flowing robe-like lines also hint at a tea gown but the silhouette is far too sharply defined: it’s clear that this garment was meant for wear with a corset and accompanying underpinnings. However, there’s nothing to say that this dress couldn’t have served as an at-home dress… 😄

Below are side profile and rear views. Although it’s hard to tell with the museum staging, we do believe that this is definite a very late 1880s/early 1890s dress. There is definitely a train although it’s not that prominent while at the same time, the sleeve heads have some ease- a harbinger of styles to come. 😉

Below is a fashion plate from the August 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine that further illustrates this style, especially with the figure second from the left:

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little view of late 1880s/early 1890s style.

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Patterns From Maison Worth

One fascinating aspect about Charles Worth was that although he positioned himself as an exclusive couturier, he also licensed printed paper patterns of some of his designs. Worth himself didn’t publicize this to any great extent and you have look hard for the evidence but it’s true. One example of this is this Redingote style was offered for sale for as a printed pattern in the 1882 edition of The Ladies Treasury:

And here’s the accompanying commentary:

Redingcotes are most popular in Paris. M. Worth makes them for summer dresses instead of polonaises. They are made in grenadines, over contrasting colours, for evening dresses. A mauve grenadine, on which are moons of black satin, two inches in diameter is made plain, over a lining of maize yellow satin. The grenadine is turned off in the front, to the sides, and is outlined in jet embroidery, black. A full frill of thread lace goes round the neck, and continues down the centre of the bodice. The petticoat of black satin has a pleated flounce of satin, and a front breadth of yellow satin, which is nearly hidden in jet embroidery, and bows of moire ribbons.

This style is M. Worth’s protest against the bunched-up paniers at the back, which it is said he detests.

Worth’s licensing of patterns is an interesting aspect of his business and is an area that’s not well documented. Of course, it would be interesting to locate the actual pattern but so far, our efforts to do so haven’t been successful. What’s also interesting is that even though Maison Worth was doing very well financially, it’s interesting that he would even bother with such pattern licensing- the revenue from pattern licensing could not have been much when compared to sales of his haute couture. Unfortunately, details about business side of Maison Worth are thin and we may never know the precise answer but it’s interesting to speculate on. As we find out more, we’ll be posting it here. Enjoy!

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