Friday, October 31, 2014

One Shot - 1872

    Those of you who have been reading my posts a while know how much I love the transitional stages that Attire goes through.  This dinner dress by Charles Frederick Worth is just such an article.
By the 1870s the huge volume of the crinoline had collapsed like a parachute hitting the ground, but the amount of materials in use simply shifted position.  At first, they simply shifted back behind the body.   That process continued though, and in fairly short order, the material began to bunch up and climb towards the waistline, forming the first iteration of the bustle shape.
    Part of the underlying reason that the amount of material stayed constant was that lavish fabric usage was one way to distinguish oneself as of a better class of folk.  When we add to it the use of intensely colored, aniline dyed silks and passementerie, and the dressmaking skills of the couture, we are bound to get a result that is going to proclaim without hesitation that this person is someone of note.
    So, lets look around at this thing, shall we?
    The low squarish bodice opening marks this as a dinner dress.  The decolletage would be broader and possibly a trifle lower for a full evening, or ball dress.  The same with the half length sleeves.  Sleeves would be shorter, or merely vestigial for evening wear.
    Purple shades were very popular, as aniline dyes were widely available in purple tones, and the new dyes worked wonderfully well on a broad range of textiles, but especially, as in this case, on silk.
    One of the other things that marks this as a transitional piece, is the skirt front.  Both the draped apron and the skirt front still have a good deal of volume, which will evaporate in just a few years as the intensely trim cuirass shape comes to dominate the 1880s.
    And then there are the trimmings.  The yards and yards of long silk chenille and bead fringe would have been very expensive trim, and most likely made up for Mr Worth to his specifications at a passementerie atelier.
    Some final curiosities of this look is the placement of the waist, and the shape of the lower portion of the bodice.  The waistline is still at the slightly high point it held during the 1860s.  That too, is about to change with the cuirass shape upcoming. the waistline will drop to just below the natural point.  Also, the lower part of the bodice has a slight arc, mimicking a bit of tummy.  That final thing will disappear, not to return till the mid- 1950s, for a momentary guest appearance.  From this point on, the shape will become ever more erect and straight fronted.  And the cuirass shape, due in a few years, will create women as a rigid post, wildly festooned with surface decorations, like a rococo column.
    This image is shown with the optional mancherons, or half sleeves, and dickey, that would allow this to be an afternoon dress as well.
    So, thanks to Mr Worth, for making this. I'm sure he had no notion it would become the subject of a historical discussion. And thanks, as always, to the inestimable Metropolitan Museum of New York for having this extraordinary thing in their collection.


  1. Perfect example of the period. (Though, personally, I can't get get past the color; just too straightforward a purple for my taste.) I wonder what the story is with the first B&W image; it's definitely the same dress, but that's a modern photograph - obvious by the lighting, and hair and makeup - with the setting all got up to look vintage. Hmm....

    1. There are certain items in the Met's vast collection that they actually staged this way. I haven't yet discovered if it was for a particular exhibition, or if it really was meant to be archival.