Fashions from the 1890s

Slippers. 1892. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yes, this fashion thing is a thing we’re doing now. Today’s post will focus on the last decade of the 19th century, the 1890s, which saw another remarkable change in the female silhouette. The most remarkable feature of the 1880s dress (which the next post will focus on, yes, this is going to get methodical) was the bustle which could grow to enormous proportions. In the 1890s the weight of the dress shifted to its sleeves while the skirts grew flat again. Hats remained a reasonable size. Bicycles became a fixture of upper class life which necessitated special cycling costumes designed to allow the wearer to move her legs while remaining reasonably covered. Corsets allowed for a normal body posture, unlike the S-corsets that soon would make their debut, focusing mostly on creating small waists.

1898 advert for corsets. The main functions of the corset is to support the breasts and clinch in the waist but it doesn't alter the female figure or silhouette drastically.

Without further ado, here are some examples.

Mourning Dress. 1894-1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wedding Dress. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dinner Dress. Worth, 1892. The Kyoto Costume Institute. This is perhaps one of my favourite dresses of all time.

All of these gowns have two things in common: the sizeable sleeves and a natural waistline. In Danish these massive sleeves are lovingly referred to as “ham-sleeves.” However, it was becoming increasingly normal and popular for upper-class women to engage in different forms of exercise.

Ball Gown. Worth, 1894. The Kyoto Costume Institute.

Bathing Suit. 1895-1900. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Can you imagine wearing a bonnet to go swimming?

Gym suit. Ca. 1893-1898. The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Walking) Suit. Jacques Doucet, 1895. The Victoria & Albert Museum

Riding Ensemble. 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cycling ensemble. ca. 1895. The Kyoto Costume Institute

Another difference between the end of the century fashions and fashions from the rest of the Victorian periods is the headwear. Bonnets grew consistently smaller towards the end of the century until they caved in altogether and became hats. The 1890s was the first century where women exclusively wore hats instead of also bonnets.

Hat. Ca. 1892-1895. The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hat. 1890s. the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shoes. 1895. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As for shoes, their basic shape stayed much the same throughout the century.

Capelet ca. 1895 via The Victoria & Albert Museum.

You can see how the capelet lifts upwards towards the shoulders to make room for the large sleeves of the gown worn underneath.
Next up: The 1880s. Yes, it’s going backwards. It’s my blog I do what I want etc etc.

I am so sorry that the format in this post is so jacked up. I’ve tried to fix it ten times now, it still refers back to the way it is now.

Fashions from the Turn of the Century

Shoes. 1900. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Let’s start up with clearing up a few things.

1) I am keeping this blog running HOWEVER since I’m currently in the home stretch (spoiler: I’ve never ever seen a game of baseball in my life) of my final year as a University student updates may be a bit sparse until I’m done with exams etc.

2) I’ll be posting a couple of posts related to the “anniversary” of Titanic’s demise. I hate using that word to describe such a sad event, but it seems it’s the best word English can offer.

3) This blog has a new layout! And whenever I find the time to make one, a new header too!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you may have noticed that Titanic’s Centennary is coming up right soon. You may also have watched Downton Abbey (which I thought was called Downtown Abbey for the longest time). I’ve watched most of Downton Abbey, mostly for the costumes because the drama in season 2 turned me off most of the characters, to be honest.

I’ve long since been fascinated with historical fashion. My mother recently reminded me that I could often be found looking through books on historical fashion I had brought home from the library, studying them quite intently.

So since the centennary of Titanic is coming up, I though I might take a look at what the ladies of Titanic and Downton might be wearing. Think what you want about the 1997 Titanic movie, Kate Winslet’s costumes were porn for fashion nerds.

Beginning with the basics, the silhouette of the Edwardian lady changed quite a bit with the advent of the S-shaped corset. The difference is illustrated below. Putting it into the words the new style of corset would push the torso forward, by putting pressure on the stomach and spine.

The difference between a "regular" and an S-shaped corset illustrated.

The S-line corset is so named because it makes the lady's figure vaguely resemble an S

Dress. 1908. The Kyoto Costume Institute

Ball Gown. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1900. The Kyoto Costume Institute

Dress ca. 1908 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ball Gown. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1900-1905. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The gowns above show us what wearing the corset would make a gown look like in action. You can tell how the bust tips forward, and the stomach slopes inward. The dress shown from the back is interesting also, because it shows that wearing an S-corset almost creates a mini-bustle effect, harking about 30-40 years back in time.

Evening Dress. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1900-1905. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Necklines were often high (if you can even call the above example a neckline). Ball gowns were more liberal with the amount of cleavage shown, but walking gowns, evening dresses and basically anything not used at balls would close at the neck or envelop the neck itself in fabric. This can also be referred to as “My Biggest Nightmare” in a gown. I can’t abide turtlenecks, and however much I adore the dress-type above I could never dress like that day in and out.

Dress. Jeanne Paquin, 1906-1908. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening Dress. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1906-1908. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the Turn of the Century Goth!

Dress. Jean-Philippe Worth, 1900. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The pink dress almost reminds me of 1790 post French Revolution gowns. I think it’s the bodice.

Evening Dress, 1911. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ball gown ca. 1900-1903 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Evening Dress. 1907.The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Of course, it takes more than just a gown to complete an outfit.

Cape. 1905-1910. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is an example of Turn of the Century outerwear.

Turn of the Century hats grew to astounding sizes and were elaborately decorated. I love how over the top they are.

Hat. Mme. Pauline, ca. 1911. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hat ca. 1908-1910 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hat. 1905. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hat. Madame Alphonsine, ca. 1910.

And also these swim costumes, because they are amazing and I want to wear them everywhere, except, perhaps, the beach.

Bathing Suits. 1900s. The Kyoto Costume Institute

So that’s an insight into what Turn of the Century, Edwardian, Gilded Age, Nouvelle Vague, whichever term you prefer,  ladies might wear out and about. Now, should I work my way backwards through fashion history or not? Decisions, decisions.