The late 1880s saw the penultimate development of the bustle silhouette along with a variety of dress styles that incorporated this silhouette. The 1880s are especially well documented with the rise of the fashion press and while the styles portrayed often depicted idealized forms, they were rooted in reality. Moreover, the fashion press is useful for tracking shifts in trends and even while the late 1880s bustle style was in full flower, there were signs that this was not to remain the case for long as illustrated by 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.
From the above, it would appear that the the sharp, angular “shelf bustle” was on its way out, at least in Paris, and bustle pads with steel springs were going to be the new thing. As for other trends, let’s take a look at this fashion plate from the February 1887 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
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.
The Directoire style jacket with its wide lapels definitely sets this out apart from more conventional day dresses.
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.
This one interesting in that it takes the jacket style to an outdoor style with the fur trimming. It’s unknown if there was a waist or under-bodice for wear indoors.
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.
This one appears to be a cloak with extremely wide sleeves.
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.
This seems to be a fairly standard style but it’s really hard to tell from the fashion plate what exactly is going on. The description is very interesting and the fashion plate doesn’t do it justice which is very unfortunate.
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.
While this is termed a “house dress,” this is a pretty loose definition and would easily work as a afternoon/visiting dress suitable for wear at social occasions. The bodice is executed in the a jacket-bodice style with wide lapels/revers running down the length of the bodice. Overall, 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.
Turning to fabrics, one sees the velvet and velveteen being used and combined with silk and cashmere for winter day wear. 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 the styles of early 1887 and while fashions moved slowly during the 1880s (as compared to today), they were still moving, let by fashion leaders such as Worth.