Probably one of the the most iconic looks in fashion has got to be the 1890s with its leg-of-mutton sleeves and the wasp waist and in today’s post (and probably a few more), we will be taking a closer look at this era. 🙂 One of the basic rules of fashion is that fashion will emphasize a particular body part until it reaches a point of excess and a reaction sets in and the emphasis will then shift to another body part. In the case of 1890s style, we see it developing in reaction to the excesses of the bustle era and in particular, its last flowering in the mid to late 1880s with the “shelf” bustle.
Le Moniteur de la Mode, September 1895; from this angle, it appears that the bodice and sleeves are all one unit.
Invariably, a reaction set in and the bustle silhouette with its emphasis on the derriere (ok, buttocks, let’s just get it out there 🙂 ) now shifted towards a more slender, upright silhouette with emphasis on the shoulders and waist in the form of the leg-of-mutton sleeves combined with an extremely narrow waist (i.e., the “wasp waist”).
Naturally, these changes do not occur overnight (at least back then) and during the early 1890s, we a see a gradual fashion shift towards the new look (which we discussed previously). By 1895, more extreme versions of the new silhouette were developing with the sleeves and waist. Below are a few examples of this “new look” in fashion plates, at least how the French interpreted it:
In the above examples, we see the classic hourglass figure which is created by an A-line skirt combined with a seemingly unstructured bodice (well, unstructured compared to the 1880s, anyway 🙂 ) that balloons out at the shoulders. The bodice front seemingly gives an impression of a billowy blouse/shirt-waist (which is another style that also took hold during this period).
Compared to 1880s and some early 1890s styles, the lines dresses depicted have much softer lines and everything appears to be very free-floating. However, it must be noted that this silhouette is in reality a structured design that relies on a corset to achieve that ideal hourglass figure.
Now that you have seen the basic silhouette as depicted in fashion plates, let’s take it a bit further with some extant originals:
The above are only a small sample of what was out there- while the silhouette for each of the above dresses is the same, each differs in the materials, trim, and design elements thus creating unique dresses that are still part of a specific style. What is also interesting is that bodices could be open or closed and the open ones continue trends of the 1880s and early 1890s in creating a jacket/vest/waist combination.
The above dress is interesting in that it takes the combination idea further with the use of a vest-like over-bodice combined with a under-bodice consisting of a faux shirt-waist (the bodice is actually one piece). The entire dress is made of a silk taffeta with a floral taffeta under-bodice. Finally, this floral print taffeta is also used to trim the accompanying hat.
Finally, we this style utilized with this practical walking suit designed by Jacques Doucet in 1895:
Constructed of linen, this suit incorporates the hourglass figure but in a muted form with an A-line skirt and a tailored coat with the characteristic leg-of-mutton sleeves.
In conclusion, it is clear that there was no lack of variety in dress styles during the mid-1890s. With daywear, the hourglass silhouette was kept somewhat within limits but as we will see in future posts, this was not always the case with evening wear and the finer forms of daywear and we will see examples of this in future posts. 🙂