Close-Up: Early 1880s Style

Today we leave fashion plates and illustrations behind and turn towards some extant examples of early 1880s styles from various collections with an emphasis on bodices- our newest fixation. 😉 First up is this circa 1881-83 day dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET Museum):

Day Dress, c. 1881-1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.43.44.4a, b)

This dress rather closely follows the early 1880s silhouette with a short bodice combined with an over/underskirt combination. The bodice is constructed of a burgundy-colored silk velvet.  The overskirt is also constructed of the same burgundy velvet that divides into two sections: one loosely covering the hips and extending down in point, down almost all the way to the hem and the other creating a long tail. Unless one looks closely, the bodice and overskirt appears as one, creating the illusion of a polonaise. The underskirt is constructed of a multi-colored vertically striped fabric with insets of the burgundy velvet- it’s hard to determine just what it is and the description on the MET Museum website offers no clues. The striped fabric is in several colors in various shades of brown along with ivory.

The bodice front is trimmed with jewel appliques on both sides of the front opening, suggesting that this dress was meant for visiting or formal daytime occasions.

Here’s a side profile view and unless one looks closely, it would appear that the bodice is a polonaise style.

The rear view is interesting in that the overskirt draws up shorter than the underskirt. Also, in the rear, the underskirt hem is the same burgundy velvet as the overskirt and bodice. Finally, note that the cuffs and the rear bows appear to be an olive-colored silk moire. Overall, it’s an interesting dress with some design features although the color combinations aren’t really optimal, in our opinion.

Next up is this circa 1882 day dress that, like the first dress, features a faux polonaise bodice style effect:

Day Dress, c. 1882; The Sigal Museum (164.v.1)

This dress appears to be constructed of a combination of gold/champagne color silk satin and a silk brocade with a purple-gold-silver pansy pattern. The brocade is a very busy pattern and from a distance appears more of a black and green (of course, it could also be the lighting and appearance on a computer monitor). The bodice is cut so that the solid champagne/gold satin is featured prominently, making up the main front and back panels with the back panels descending downwards mimicking a tail coat. The center fronts and the upper sleeves are made up of the brocade and provides a harmonious contrast. The neckline is trimmed in a combination of ivory lace, silver satin ribbons and dags of the brocade- it’s an interesting style effect.

Here’s a close up of the bodice and it’s obvious from the seaming that the bodice is actually joined to the rest of the dress- it’s subtle but easy to miss at a distance. The dress itself continues with this solid and brocade fabric theme with a ruched solid front combined with side panels and train in the brocade. The dress is layered but not in the usual over/underskirt manner but rather with vertical draped layers. Finally, the train the brocade is also used for the train.

Here’s some views of the side profile and one can see the vertical draping which emphasizes vertical lines, a characteristic of Mid Bustle style. Moreover, the pointed draping at the sides mimics the points usually associated with many polonaises; in the rear we can see some fullness leading down to the demi-train.

Ths dress is an interesting example of Mid-Bustle Era style, combining the Mid-Bustle aesthetic of vertical lines while at the same time drawing upon the use of two somewhat contrasting fashion fabrics- in this case, a solid paired with a brocade with a small, busy pattern. While there’s some contrast, the colors themselves harmonize well.

Finally, no examination of early 1880s fashion would be complete without this dress, immortalized by the artist Albert Bartholomé in a portrait of his wife (who soon after tragically died):

This dress is interesting in that it takes the polonaise bodice style to an extreme: in the front, we see a tightly sculpted profile that extends a third of the way down the body, ending in a “v” and drawn towards the rear with increasing fullness culminating in a large pouf of material topped with a large bow. One could argue that with this style, we see a hint of the return to the large bustle style that was to occur in the late 1880s. But, nevertheless, at this point, the train is only a minor distraction from the tight cylindrical profile of early 1880s fashion- it was all in flux and sometimes various elements of early and later styles were intermixed in varying degrees.

And the portrait in which the dress appears…today this is on display at the Musèe d’Orsay in Paris. It’s far more powerful viewing it in person- the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Albert Bartholomé (French, 1848–1928)
In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé), ca. 1881
Oil on canvas; 91 3/4 x 56 1/8 in. (233 x 142.5 cm)
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Gift of the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay, 1990

The above three dresses illustrate some interesting aspects of early 1880s fashion, especially with the use of draping and harmonizing materials to create faux bodice effects. If it’s one thing that we’ve learned examining fashion plates, illustrations, and pictures of extant garments, it’s that there were an infinite variety of styles out there and certainly a lot of food for thought for those seeking to recreate their own garments of the era. Stay tuned for more! 🙂



And For Some Fair Weather Fashion…

Auction websites and provide some of the most interesting examples of period garments but they can be aggravatingly lacking in specific details as to provenance and construction. Here’s an interesting day dress from the mid to late 1880s that’s meant for warmer weather that we found in the Augusta Auctions website:

Day Dress, c. 1880s; Augusta Auctions

This dress is constructed from a salmon-colored cotton chambray material for both the under and over-skirts as well as the bodice. White/ivory rick-rack lace in a floral pattern covers the outer sleeves, shoulders, and overskirt, as well as forming two rows of trim on the underskirt. The bodice is a fairly conventional front-buttoning style and has a plain, unadorned collar. Note how the rick rack lace forms a capelet around the shoulders.

In terms of silhouette, this dress definitely belongs sometime in the mid to later 1880s although the lack of defining undergarments hinders a more definite conclusion. However, the gathered train at the waistline would tend to rule out an earlier Mid-Bustle Era style.

Here are a couple of close views of the fashion fabric. The weave pattern is interesting and suggestive of a cotton fabric.

The dress’ color has faded but underneath the button line one can see a darker shade of color- salmon or pink, it can be interpreted either way. Here one can also get a close view of the lace and make out the floral design. Now, a closer view of the fashion  fabric itself:

We had doubts about this fabric being a chambray but this close-up view of the fabric and especially the hole would suggest that the weft fabric has white fibers- the fashion fabric with the hole is part of the overskirt and it appears that this was photographed on the bias. Ultimately, the most striking thing about this dress is that although it’s relatively plain in materials, construction and color; however, it then compensates (or perhaps over-compensates) with a large quantity of lace. Nevertheless, this dress fills a mid-range style position that was more towards the low end of middle class.



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:

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! 🙂



More Fashion for Fall and Winter 1886

Previously, we’ve seen what was trending for Fall/Winter in the November 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine so let’s now take a further look at the December 1886 issue:

Peterson's_Dec 1886

Below is a description of each figure, from left to right:

Fig. I – Walking Dress, Of Dark Green Cashmere. The long wrap is made of striped woolen, plain in front and over the arms, and cut to figure to the waist at the back. It falls in full plaits over the tournure, and is trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with fur. The hat is of black velvet, trimmed with large full bows of yellow ribbon and two stiff feathers.

Fig. II – Visiting Dress, Of Red Camel’s Hair. The petticoat is of velveteen of a darker shade than the dress. The skirt is put on full around the bodice, and is draped in front diagonally. At the back, it falls in straight folds. The long bodice is made full in front. The skirt and cuffs are trimmed with fur, and a fur boa is worn around the neck. Hat of red velvet, trimmed with velvet and a stiff bird’s-wing.

Fig. III – Evening Dress, Of Yellow Silk. The skirt is short and laid in long box-plaits. At the back, it is quite full over the tournure. The front is trimmed with a wide panel of the silk, embroidered in light-brown. The very plain bodice has the same embroidery down the front, and is edged with large pearl beads.

Fig. IV – Evening Dress, Of Light Blue Surah. The skirt is laid in plaits at the sides and back. In front, it is plain, with a fall of deep white lace over it. The tunic is put on full to the bodice, is looped away from the lace with a bunch of white roses on the left side. At the right side, it is drawn further back, and falls in a puff behind. The bodice is plain, pointed back and front, and is trimmed with folds of the silk and knots of satin ribbon.

Fig V – Walking Dress, Of Black Figured Cloth. The bodice is cut long at the back over the tournure, then falls in straight full folds. In front, it is quite plain, but opens at the side over a velvet panel. The bodice in front is very long, plain, and pointed; The whole dress is trimmed with rosary-beads. large velvet bow.

Of particular interest from the above description is the use of Surah for evening dresses stands out. Surah is an even-sided fabric woven in a twill pattern from fine silk filaments or wool (today, polyester is also used). Often patterns are printed on it by the direct print/rolle method.1 This fabric has a smooth, fine hand and a bright, shiny luster. Below are two examples:

And just for interest, here’s an example of a dress from the period made of silk surah:

Day Dress, c. 1884-1886; Les Arts Decortifs (UF 50-6-1 AB) ©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

©Photo Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance, tous droits réservés

Another fabric of interest is camel’s hair:

Camel’s Hair

Camel’s hair is typically woven in a twill pattern and can be 100% camel hair or more often, a blend of wool and camel’s hair. Camel’s hair has a soft, silky hand and was widely used in day dresses during the late 19th Century.2

So what was trending from Paris in December 1886? According to Peterson’s:

Walking-suits are now shown in soft-finished cloth and in vigogne [vicuña], the favorite colors being silver-gray, dark brown, and prune-color. A costume in silver-gray cloth has a long full tunic, draped at the back over a plain underskirt bordered with a wide band of Astrakhan-fur. The short tight-fitting jacket is sleeveless, and is bordered with a band of gray Astrakhan, the whole front of the wrap being composed of Astrakhan. This jacket is worn over a blouse-waist in white crape [crepe], finished at the wrists and throat with bands of gray and silver passementerie. Sometimes, the blouse-waist is composed of scarlet crape with similar trimming. The tunic is sloped forward in front, and terminates there at the waist in two long scarf ends, turned over each other, and each finished with a large gray-and-silver tassel.

Another very graceful and artistic walking-dress is in seal-brown vigogne and golden brown Sicilienne. The vigogne overskirt reaches the edge of the hem in front, and is sloped upward at the sides, and looped at the back over a perfectly plain Sicilienne under skirt. The dress is cut Princess, and has a vest and sleeves of the Sicilienne, ornamented with gold passementerie. Over this is worn a dolman-shaped wrap, finished in front with long ends that turn over each other, and at the waist at the back with a wide band of gold-and-brown passementerie, simulating a belt, and seeming to confine the dolman to the figure.

For visiting or reception wear, Worth is making costumes in satin and velvet. The skirt of one that I saw has a very short satin overskirt in front, the back being formed of long wide. flat plaits, and the velvet underskirt being laid in plaits in front, and gathered at the sides half-way down its length. The corsage is in satin. A novelty in the make of this dress was that the drapery was all lined with black brocaded satin.

The above notes are interesting in that it mentions the use of vigogne. or vicuña, and Sicilienne as dress fabrics. So what are these?

Well, first we will start with the vicuña whose wool is one of the rarest natural fibers in the world.  Vicuña wool comes from the Vicuña, a camelid found in the high alpine areas of the Andes Mountains in South America. The Vicuña is related to the llama but has not been domesticated. The wool is extremely fine and has excellent heat retention in relation to its weight. The wool is expensive because Vicuña can only be shorn once every three years and they live in the wild and thus, were usually killed and then shorn to the point where they nearly extinct in the 1960s (today, they have been revived and are not killed).3

Vicunacrop.jpg

Today, Vicuña wool is still very expensive, averaging roughly $21,000 for just an off-the-rack suit coat.

Given the wool’s relative rarity, I would suspect that a good portion of the wool being marketed as Vicuña in the late 19th Century was probably a wool blend with cheaper fibers making up the bulk of the fabric. 🙂

As for Sicilienne, it was a variety of poplin fabric composed of silk and wool fibers. The fabric was a unbalanced plain weave with silk filament as the warp fiber and wool as the weft fiber. The individual wool fibers are thicker and heavier than the silk filaments thus creating a pronounced ribbed appearance. According to some references, the wool was cashmere. We hope you have enjoyed this little trip into 1886 and hope you all have drawn some inspiration. There were a variety of fabrics and colors available to Victorians and many of the same fabrics are obtainable today (although you may have to pay a premium as in the case of the Vicuña 🙂  ).

Stay inspired!


1. [Tortora, Phyllis J. and Ingrid Johnson, Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition.]

2. [Ibid.]

3. [Ibid.]



Trending For February 1887…

And now trending for February 1887 in Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_Feb 1887

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1887

The above plate is described as follows:

FIG. I. – VISITING-DRESS, OF YELLOWISH GREEN CASHMERE. The back of the skirt (which falls in straight folds) is made of plain cashmere. The front drapery is of India silk of the same color, figured with red palms. A wide ribbon sash, of the color of the cashmere, and striped crosswise with emerald-green velvet, is tied in long loops, and forms panels at the sides. The full bodice is of the figured silk. The extremely stylish jacket is of emerald green velvet, faced with silk the color of the back of the skirt, and is ornamented with large buttons. Hat of yellowish – green felt, trimmed with ribbon of the same color and a red bird, and faced with emerald-green velvet.

FIG. II. – WALKING-DRESS, OF DAHLIA-COVERED SPOTTED CLOTH. The underskirt is of velveteen. The upper skirt laid to fall in wide plaits, and is shorter in front than at the back. The drapery at the back is short at the top, but falls in jabot-plaits almost to the bottom of the skirt. The close-fitting jacket is braided, and trimmed with gray fox-fur The muff is of the material of the dress, decorated with a bow of ribbon. Hat of purple velvet, trimmed with a yellow bird.

FIG. III. – WALKING-DRESS. The long cloak is made of fawn-colored striped cloth. The sleeves are very long at the back, wide, and trimmed with velvet. A band of velvet passes over the shoulders, and narrows at the waist. High collar of the velvet. Bonnet of red plush, with white plumes.

FIG. IV. – VISITING -DRESS, OF OLIVER-GREEN-COLORED SILK AND STRIPED VELVET. The under part of the skirt and side panels is made of the striped silk and velvet. The full front and back drapery is of plain olive-green silk. The bodice is also of the plain silk, laced, and the little close-fitting jacket is of green velvet, with elbow-sleeves, and trimmed with green jet-bead passementerie. Hat of olive-green velvet, trimmed with green feathers and a white bird.

FIG. V. – HOUSE-DRESS, OF POPPY-COLORED SILK. The underskirt is made of cream -colored silk, striped with red velvet. The overskirt opens on the right ride, and is faced with cream-colored silk, brocaded in red velvet. The plain red silk is arranged diagonally, in full plaits, oil the skirt, It is draped far back on the left side, and in loose folds at the back. The bodice opens over a cream-colored diagonal-plaited vest, and is trimmed on the right side with a velvet revers. Velvet collar.

In terms of style, one still sees the late 1880s bustled silhouette but it looks somewhat more restrained in this particular fashion plate. Of course, this being a fashion plate, some license is to be expected so perhaps one should not read too much into it; one must also consider other evidence such as original photographs and extant original garments. Nevertheless, it is still interesting and gives a hint of what is coming in the 1890s.

However, the following comment from the February 1887 “Our Paris Letter,” a monthly column in Peterson’s Magazine describing the fashion trends in Paris, notes:

The diminution of the tournure, the falsely- so-called “dress-improver,” appears to be definitely decided upon. Worth is using all his powerful influence in that direction, as he dislikes very much the ungraceful stiffness imparted to the upper portion of the toilette by its undue dimensions. The newest articles of this description are composed of ruffles of hair-cloth- the genuine “crinoline”- and the sides are simply laced together underneath, neither steel springs nor whalebone being used in the rubric. The most stylish toilettes have simply a silk cushion, stuffed with horse-hair, set just in the back of the skirt-band, and three rows of steel springs are set in the lower part of the skirt to hold it out. This is merely a return to the combination which was in vogue before the present- or, rather, the recent- exaggeration of his detail in feminine dress.

The above statement is interesting in that the sharp, angular “shelf bustle” was on its way out, at least in Paris, and was slowly being replaced by bustle pads with steel springs. Fashion was definitely on the move here. 🙂

For styles, we see a conventional one-piece bodice as with Figure IV while Figures I and V feature the jacket and waist combinations. Also, with Figure I we see a Directoire style jacket and both jacket and waist appear to be separate articles; in Figure V it appears more uncertain. Often with this style, the bodice was actually of a one-piece construction with a faux vest that only gave an appearance of a separate vest and jacket.

Turning to fabrics, one sees the velvet and velveteen being used and combined with silk and cashmere for winter daywear. This is to be expected, considering the time of year. The only exception to this is the house dress in Figure V.

Finally, based on the above descriptions, computer color-matching, and some subjective guess-work, below are some of the more dominant colors:

While the above is by no means an exhaustive overview of fashion in 1886- 1887, it is helpful as a means of determining what sort of fabrics, color, and silhouette should be employed in designing a late 1880s day dress that is suitable for fall or winter. The key points to keep in mind are that the fabrics used were of heavier weights (although nowhere near upholstery or curtain weight) and colors tend towards the darker tones. We hope that you have enjoyed this little window into what was trending in early 1887 and while fashions moved slowly during the 1880s, they were still moving. 🙂