It’s funny how one can be so focused on examining an image for a specific detail that you completely overlook something that’s glaringly obvious with another detail. In a post we published yesterday, we cite various examples about how color can also be expressed through a pattern on a fabric as well as with a solid colored piece of fabric. One example that we used was this one:
On the surface, this dress appears to have the standard silhouette appropriate for the 1878-1881 time frame with it’s princess line. But, it was pointed out to us by one of readers that the dress has a high train and underlying bustle that firmly puts in the late 1880s. Since we were so intent on the fabric itself, we didn’t stop to look very closely at the pictures, especially with the rear views:
Looking at the rear views, we noticed that the train was definitely NOT late 1870s/early 1880s. Rather, it appears that the extreme train characteristic of the late 1880s was created by the use of what appears to be a simple overdrape of fabric combined with swagging the front skirt and combining it with a underskirt. It’s a complicated and awkward arrangement. Here it is broken down:
When we first looked at the pictures, we originally thought that perhaps the dress wasn’t staged well by the museum staff- it does happen. But on closer examination, we realized that no, this was dress was designed to accommodate a later 1880s style bustle.
So what’s the story? We wished we knew but we can offer some theories. First, we believe that given it’s tightly sculpted cylindrical silhouette and princess lines, this dress started life sometime in the 1878-1881 time frame and was later modified (clumsily) to fit the late 1880s style. But…the fact that the fabric completely matches would suggest that maybe this was made in late 1880s. The princess line wasn’t unknown during late 1880s but it doesn’t show up a lot except with tea gowns and “house” dresses. Also, for a conversion there is a lot of extra work that was put in that really wasn’t necessary with the double layer front skirts. In the end, it’s hard to tell but we tend to lean towards the dress having been made in the late 1880s. It’s probably not the what we’d readily call “haute couture” but then again, garments during this era had quite a lot of variation in the construction quality (like every era…). It’s certainly an interesting riddle and we thank our reader for pointing this out to us. 🙂
After some further consideration, we have to conclude that this dress is truly a product of the Mid-Bustle (aka Natural Form) Era and that it was staged incorrectly for museum display. To us, the biggest giveaways are the functional vertical row of buttons running down the back and the tightly square-off shelf in the rear. First, the button row is consistent with the princess line silhouette- after all, there has to be a way to put on and remove the dress- and this would completely interfere with a proper late 1880s train and bustle. Finally, note that the button row extends out flat on the shelf- this is something that looks awkward and unnatural (and not found on any originals garments or patterns that we’ve examined. The upper rear of a later 1880s dress was more like this:
Also, the earlier dress style emphasized a cylindrical silhouette that was decorated with a second skirt that swagged in both front and rear. With this example, it appears that all of this was undone and stretched out to accommodate the late 1880s bustle. Below are some examples:
This has been a fascinating exercise in figuring out the style and time frame based on dress style and how that can be misleading when an extant original isn’t displayed correctly. Of course, we could also be dead wrong but I seriously doubt it. 🙂