Trending For September 1880…

Today we take a step back into the year 1880 at the height of the Mid-Bustle Era (approximately 1877 to 1883) when the somewhat clumsy, bustle silhouette gave way to a more cylindrical, slender profile with minimal bustling. Somewhat inaccurately termed the “Natural Form Era”, the trend in style during these years was in direct reaction to the excesses the early to mid-1870s characterized by layers of fabric drawn back into a massive train, supported by a bustle.


The history of fashion is a history of styles developing to the point of excess thus resulting in a reaction that moves in the opposite direction. Some reactions are sharper than others but they are still interesting to observe this constant tension.

Below is the featured fashion plate from the September 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Petersons_Sept 1880

And below is the commentary about the plate (Peterson’s Magazine, September 1880, p. 238):

Fig. I.- HOUSE-DRESS OF BLUE AND BLACK STRIPPED FOULARD. The short skirt, trimmed with three plaited [pleated] ruffles. The tunic is aproned-shape in front. The deep, round, basque-bodice opens in front over a white cashmere vest, is trimmed with plaitings of silk, and edged with white Breton lace.

Fig. II.- VISITING DRESS OF BLACK CAMEL’S HAIR. The under-skirt is edged with a narrow box-plaited ruffle, faced with poppy-colored silk. The over-dress crosses shawl-wise in front, and is looped at the back, and trimmed with poppy-red bows. The basque is laid in deep plaits on either side of the front, and has a poppy-colored silk vest. The sleeves are also trimmed with poppy-colored silk. Black straw hat, trimmed with a black wing and plume, and lined with gathered poppy-colored silk.

Fig. III.- EVENING DRESS OF IVORY-WHITE SILK. The long train is trimmed with a knife-plaiting of the silk, headed by a band of gold lace. The front of the skirt is slightly full and drawn far back. The close-fitting basque-waist has small panniers at the sides, and Lambrequin drapery at the back; and the whole is trimmed with bands of embroidery, gold lace, and pink and green satin ribbons.

Fig. IV.- RECEPTION OR EVENING-DRESS OF MULBERRY-COLORED SILK. The bottom of the dress and train is trimmed with narrow knife-plaited ruffles, white lace and Oriental brocaded satin. The coat-basque is also made of the brocaded satin. The front of the basque is open, and trimmed with narrow white lace; and the front of the skirt is also trimmed with white lace, of the same width as that on the bottom of the dress.

Fig. V.- WALKING-DRESS OF DARK STONE-COLORED SILK, striped with a darker shade of satin. The front is formed of three plain skirts. The back is draped of plain silk of the same color, which also forms a side trimming. The coat-basque is of figured material, of the color of the skirt, composed of silk and cashmere. White straw bonnet, lined and trimmed with dark red ribbon.

From the above fashion plate, we see the Basque style bodice in several permutations. Also, with the reduction/elimination of the train, the area around the upper skirt was now clear so the bodice became extended to now cover the hip. In terms of bodices, we see both open and closed versions(Figures I, II, and IV for open and Figures III and V for closed).

Turning to Figure I, we see a fairly standard day dress that was intended for wear more at home than for going out (although it would also work for going out). In terms of style, we see an open bodice over a white vest combined with two skirts in the characteristic over- and underskirt style. The two skirts and the bodice are all made from the same material with a minimum of decoration. The overskirt is shaped like an apron while the underskirt has three rows of rows of pleated ruffles making for an understated effect.

The base fabric is a blue and black striped foulard edged in a matching fringe combined with a vest of white cashmere trimmed with pleated silk and edged in Breton lace. Foulard is essentially a lightweight silk fabric that was printed in colors on black or white background. It could be be either a plain or twill weave and it has a soft hand and a high luster.

Breton lace is a net lace woven on an open net, often in colors, and said to have originated in Brittany, France.

Breton Lace

Figure II takes the basque bodice is open and constructed with three vertical rows of pleating on each side. The overskirt crosses over the underskirt in the front in an overlapping manner and the underskirt is edged with a row of box pleats although that is not apparent from the illustration. Finally, under the open bodice is a vest.

In terms of fabric and color, the skirts and bodice are constructed of a black camel hair (although more likely it was a wool and camel hair blend) with the vest made of a poppy red silk and the bodice sleeves were also trimmed in the same poppy red silk. Overall, the effect is dramatic with the contrast between the black and a large pop of the bright poppy red. The open bodice and vest combination is one that appears often in 1880s styles, either with the bodice and vest being two separate pieces or with a one-piece bodice constructed with a faux bodice.

Just to demonstrate the dramatic effect of poppy red, below is a sample:

Poppy Red

Reminiscent of a wedding dress, Figure III is constructed from ivory-colored silk with a long, low train. However, this was style that was common for a more formal reception or evening dress. The skirt is cut close to the body and there is no apparent bustle although material has been gathered into a short train and drawn to the rear. The train is low, extending from just above the hem and edged in knife-pleating, creating a fan-like effect. The bodice extends over the hips and there are small panniers on each side that create the effect of the bodice being pulled up to reveal a little of the skirt underneath. The pannier effect appears to be lost in the overall draped fabric effect on this dress but later on in the 1880s, this was to become a very prominent design effect.

The trim effects are not portrayed very well in the figure but are said to consist of bands of embroidery, gold lace, and pink and green satin ribbons which are all standard trims of the late 19th Century and were often combined to dramatic effect. Finally, it is noted that Lambrequin drapery is used at the back of the bodice but this is also hard to discern. Unfortunately, all these details are lost here but we are certain that whatever dress this figure was originally based off of much have been nice to look at.

In Figure IV, the combination of narrow dress silhouette and long train is once again employed in this particular evening dress. This dress combines a solid color skirt with a bodice made from a brocade fabric. Also, once again, we see a low train which was fairly characteristic of evening dresses. The bottom of the train and the skirt are trimmed with rows of narrow knife-pleated ruffles and there is white lace trim on the back of the train. Finally, since the front is not illustrated, we will assume that the bodice is closed.

The most interesting feature is the use of an “Oriental brocaded satin”. Given the interest in the Orient that developed in the late 19th Century in the forms of Chinoiserie and Japonismethis comes as no surprise. Here is a sample of what it might have looked like up close:

And the color mulberry (as reconstructed by computer):


Unfortunately, looking at the illustration above, the color appears to be more of a grape but we are talking about 100 year plus illustrations! 😉

Finally, Figure V is a fairly plain, practical “walking dress” or day dress styled with a closed, fairly plain basque bodice with a skirt composed of three circular layers. Each layer appears to be knife-pleated and both bodice and skirt are made from the same fabric, a silk and cashmere blend an a dark “stone” or dark gray color. The back of the dress has an over-drape of plain silk in the same color.

Overall, the styles depicted in the above fashion plate are fairly typical of day and evening/formal styles characteristic of the Mid-Bustle period and serve as a good starting point for designing a reproduction. Stay tuned for more from the 1880s in the future. 🙂

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