Trending for March 1890

Today we begin to move towards spring and that means more dress styles…below are the selections from the March 1890 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_March 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, March 1890

Fig. I- WALKING DRESS, OF GRAY SERGE. The skirt is laid in wide plaits [pleats] and falls in straight lines; plain bodice, forming a vest under the brown cloth jacket-bodice, which fits well over the hips; the rolling collar and cuffs are finished with bands of braid. Hat of brown felt, trimmed with loops of red and pale yellow ribbon.

Fig. II- VISITING-DRESS, FOR LIGHT MOURNING. The skirt is of black cashmere, trimmed on either side with bands of passementerie; it opens in front, at the sides and back, over a plaited black silk skirt. The bodice has collars and revers of the passementerie opening over a plaited black silk vest. Hat of black felt, trimmed with black silk loops.

Fig. III- WALKING-DRESS, OF GREEN PLAID AND PLAIN WOOLEN MATERIAL. The skirt is of the plaid and is without looping. The over-skirt is of the plain woolen, quite short at the back, where it is looped under, also short at the right side, but long on the left side. The bodice is round, with a belt of the plain material, and opens over a bias vest of the plaid pointed tabs of the plaid meet the fullness of front of the bodice. Hat of black felt, trimmed with a wreath of green leaves; butterfly-bow under the brim.

Fig. IV- HOUSE-DRESS, OF SULPHUR-COLORED NUN’S VEILING. The demi-train is trimmed with a pinked ruching of black-silk. The front of the dress is figured in black, and at the sides are four rows of deep black fringe. The bodice is of the plain material, with a Spanish jacket of black silk, trimmed with passementerie. Sleeve reaching to the elbow, with black silk cuffs.

Fig. V- VISITING DRESS, OF LILAC HENRIETTA-CLOTH. The skirt is plain, the bodice round and worn with a waistband of black ribbon, with long loops and ends. The capes are composed of two shades of Henrietta-cloth, and the small hat is of the same material.

The walking dress in Figure I, is a solid, basic day dress style. Constructed of a gray wool serge, the skirt has wide pleats which fall in smooth lines. There may be a minimal bustle pad, judging from the lines of the dress, or it may simply be created by the corset (or by the artist seeking to set down the ideal silhouette). Whatever may the case may be, it is evident that a slender, cylindrical silhouette is favored.

The bodice is made from a brown “cloth” (presumably wool of some type) and is constructed with a low neckline which displays the under-bodice or vest to its full advantage. From the plate, it would appear that the under-bodice is also made of gray wool serge but with the coloring of the plate, it’s hard to tell (no doubt because of its age).

The visiting dress for light mourning dress in Figure II is somewhat more elaborate but it maintains a similar line to the dress in Figure I. The over-skirt is made from a black cashmere trimmed in front with bands of black passementerie and it opens in front to reveal an underskirt of pleated black silk.

The over-bodice, or jacket, is also constructed of black cashmere and it opens to reveal an under-bodice made from the same pleated black silk. The over-bodice is also trimmed with black passementerie. For a dress meant for light mourning, it is very stylish and meant to be seen in public.

The walking dress in Figure III provides a contrast to Figure II with its light green wool combined with a complementary green plaid. The dress silhouette is identical  to those in Figures I and II although this one features full over and under-skirts. The overskirt is made from a plain green wool and it is draped asymmetrically over a green plaid underskirt.

The over -bodice is of a matching plain green wool and as with Figures I and II, it opens up to reveal an under-bodice/vest made of the same plaid as the underskirt only it is cut on the bias with the plaid stripes running at 45 degree angles. Definitely an imaginative use of the plaid and it looks a lot better than if was cut the same as the under-skirt.

Figure IV shows a house dress that appears a bit on the more formal side. The skirt is made from a patterned sulphur-colored nun’s veiling (or cloth) trimmed with pinked ruching. The under-bodice is of the same sulphur-colored nun’s veiling and a black wool Spanish jacket, or bolero, is worn over it.

WIth Figure V, we see a lilac-colored visiting dress made from Henrietta cloth with a long sash tied at the waist, creating a girdle that is reminiscent of Medieval styles. The figure is depicted with a short cape, or capelet, also made of Henrietta cloth, in complementary shades of lilac and it is difficult to determine much about the details of the dress itself.

Named for Henrietta Maria, the French consort of Charles I of England, Henrietta cloth was a twill weave cloth with silk warp yarns and worsted wool weft yarns. It had a soft hand, similar to cashmere and  a moderate luster. Henrietta cloth was traditionally associated with mourning and as such was dyed black although it was also dyed in other colors for non-mourning use, such as the dress in Figure V. Today, Henrietta cloth is no longer made.

Henrietta Maria, Queen Consort to Charles I, 1609 – 1669

Mourning Dress, Ladies’ Home Journal, August, 1891

The layered capelet makes for an interesting piece of coordinating outerwear. Capes/caplets/mantles were popular during the 1890s and came in different lengths. A wide variety of materials were used ranging from wool to lac. Shorter versions were especially popular and we have included a few examples:

Capelet or Mantle, c. 1890

Augusta Auctions, April 17, 2013 - NYC, Lot 209: "Battenburg Lace Capelet", 1890s Tape lace capelet, high stand collar, gold bullion trim, silk lining (damaged) very good.:

Lace Capelet With Gold Bullion Trim and Silk Lining, c. 1890s


Cape, French, c. 1890s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1993.426)

From the dresses illustrated in the above plate and ones looked at in previous posts, it should be pretty obvious that the outer-bodice/under-bodice/vest combination was a fairly prominent style and that a wide variety of materials and trims were used. One could easily get lost in all the variations and colors so one needs to keep in mind the idea of context. By context, we mean what was the dresses function and when and where was the dress worn? Needless to say, fashion plates focus on an ideal figure with everything optimized so we should always take things with a grain of salt. However, by the 1890s, photography had developed to the point where it was possible to get images that were exceedingly detailed so this can also be used for a guide.

We will be documenting further developments in 1890s fashion so stay tuned! 🙂

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