We have been attempting to provide a more microscopic view of fashions during the late 19th Century in an effort to dispel the notion of that women’s fashion during this era was a blur of bustle dresses. In reality, there were subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the various bustle eras as well as moving forward into the 1890s.
Today we look at the fashions in the January 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine.
Below is a description of the above dresses:
Fig. I- Dinner-Dress Of Peach-Colored Silk; the whole of the front skirt is laid in deep kilt plaits [pleats]; the bodice, which Is cut low in front, is coat shape, and continues down the back in a long square train, which Is edged with a ruffle of the silk, and caught to the under-skirt by loop and long ends of ribbon, of the color of the dress. A drapery of white gauze, embroidered in tea roses, posses across the front of the skirt, and mingles with the train at the sides; the drapery Is finished with a white and peach colored fringe. A shawl drapery of the same gauze forms the trimming about the neck, where it is fastened in front by a large rose. Half-wreath of roses on the head.
Fig. II- Dinner-Dress Of Green Silk, trimmed with bias scarves of silk of the same color, striped with satin of a darker shade; white cashmere dolman, with long square fronts, large oval sleeves, and a rather close-fitting back; the back and part of the front has a white braid put over it In a diamond form, and white bugle beads are sewn in each diamond; the sleeves and hinder part of the front is also trimmed with braid, and beads, and a deep fringe.
Fig III- Evening Dress Of Blue Silk For A Young Lady; the skirt is quite plain, except the train at the back, which has a couple of widths of silk gathered in a fan shape, rather low down, and is trimmed with a wide, plaited ruffle. Over the skirt is worn an embroidered Chine crêpe shawl, higher on the left side than on the right, and simply knotted low at the back; the waist is of the cuirass shape, and plain. Pink roses and blue ribbons in the hair.
Fig. IV- Evening-Dress Of White Tulle Over White Silk; the front of the dress has two aprons of the tulle edged with knife-pleatings of the same, and below the lower is a white lace flounce, which goes to the back, then passes up the sides, forming a cascade of lace, caught by great bunches of red and yellow roses; the bottom of the train Is finished by two deep plaitings of tulle; the cuirass waist is edged top and bottom with a plaiting of tulle; a wreath of red and yellow roses crosses the left shoulder, and joins the upper bouquet on the lace cascade; the second wreath, which passes across the front, is attached to the lower bouquet, and to one back, on the left side, higher up. Single large red and yellow roses on the right shoulder, and in the hair.
Fig. V.- Reception-Dress Of Black Silk; the front of the skirt la slightly gathered, but the sides and back are much fuller, and are trimmed with knife-plaitings of silk; deeper plaitings trim the bottom of the skirt; the cuirass waist is formed by a short coat basque, and a close-fitting vest in front, which reaches under the coat basque at the sides; the sleeves and basque are trimmed with flat silk buttons; they are also finished by cording, and bows of yellow satin ribbon. Bonnet of black velvet corded with yellow satin, and trimmed with black and yellow plumes.
Generally speaking, this plate perfectly illustrates the shift in dress silhouette away from the bustle towards a more cylindrical one. At the same time, we also see the development of the low train.
Turning to the figures, for Figure I, we see a cuirass bodice extending down the front and back of the dress and covering the hips. In the rear, it was typical for the bodice to extend out in a square or rectangle thus creating a small train. The skirt features full-length pleats and is otherwise fairly simple and unadorned.
The base fashion fabric is peach-colored silk for both the bodice and skirt as well as the train. Draped over the skirt front and rearward on both sides is a white gauze with embroidered tea roses and edged with peach and white fringe. Finally, the same gauze material is also arranged around the neck as a shawl. The draped front piece was commonly found on dresses from the 1878 – 1881 time frame and the above is a good example of this.
Now, while the embroidered white gauze over peach makes for an interesting effect, the use of the same fabric to create a shawl effect around the neck adds too much around the neck; in short, it is way too busy. It probably would have been better to have simply add some white tulle around the neckline and otherwise leave that area alone. But that is just our opinion. 🙂
Figure II is impossible to really make out due to the white cashmere dolman covering up most of the dress and the rest of it being blocked by Figure III. We are sure that green silk makes a good choice for the fashion fabric but there is little more that can be added.
Moving to Figure III, it is a relatively plain dress that was no doubt fitting for a young lady. The light blue silk fashion fabric makes a good choice for an evening dress and is perfectly suited for relatively low illumination that was common during the period. Covering the front of the dress and tied to the rear is a green-colored shawl made of Chine crêpe. The use of the shawl is clumsy and simply looks like a table cloth tied to the front of the dress- it’s not the most effective treatment.
Figure IV is another evening dress, only this time with the front of the skirt having two aprons of knife-pleated tulle covering a white silk skirt. The hem of the skirt is also finished with a third row of knife-pleated tulle. The bodice is in the cuirass style and it is edged in a knife-pleated white tulle matching the other tulle trim. Finally, the train is covered by a layer of lace that leads up the back of the skirt. Finally, the dress is trimmed by a wreath of red and yellow roses that spiral up the front of the dress. Overall, the lace, tulle knife-pleat trim, and rose wreaths create an interesting effect that is far more subtle than the dress in Figure III.
Figure V is a relatively unexceptional reception dress and the only feature that stands out is the long train that edged in a combination of flounces and knife-pleating. A cuirass effect is created by a combination of a vest and basque; unfortunately, we can not see this due to the figure being depicted from the rear. One of the hazards of fashion plates is that they do not always portray all the details of a particular style.
The above is only a small sample of what is out there but it helps to establish some of the key style elements that were present during this period which include:
- Use of a piece of contrasting fabric draped across the front skirt.
- Rows of knife-pleating and especially to edge the dress hem.
- A fan train- These could be very simple or employ extra layers of ruffles and edged in knife-pleating. Sometimes these could be covered with lace.
- Cuirass bodice- The bodice extends over the hips and sharply down the front and extending to the rear. The bodice could be rounded or in some instances, pointed.
In future posts, we hope to be able to present further examples to help illustrate the nuances of Bustle Era style so stay tuned! 🙂