Friday, November 6, 2015

One Shot-Visiting/Carriage Ensemble

    In 1894 Charles Frederick Worth designed this magisterial ensemble for some wealthy lady of influence.  To say this makes an impression is undercutting its potency considerably.  If you saw someone getting out of a carriage in this there would be no question in your mind that this was someone of importance.  part of what heightens its impact is that it was quite unusual for there to be a dress and matching coat.  Typically they were made of different materials, since most ladies, even wealthy ones had only a few coats and wraps.  So this was for someone whose wealth was extreme, and it is supposed the owner was an American.
    It was quite fashionable to ride in one's carriage as a method of socializing, that was an addition to the regular visiting expected of ladies and gentlemen of means.  A carriage ride was a social event, and it also permitted style and wealth to be displayed, which was always on the minds of the Victorian upper classes.
    This ensemble of matching dress, cloak, and muff, is made up predominantly of a complex silk velvet that is a ribbon stripe. The stripe alternates between bands of solid deep plum color, and highly decorative bands of voided velvet showing the lighter ground material.
    The cloak is made up entirely in the voided, striped velvet.  The front has two long triangular points ended with masses of jet (lignite) beading. The cape sleeves, which part in the back to allow the trained skirt freedom to move, are edged full around with jet fringe, and the center front of the cloak is decked out in more jet beadwork and fringes than I have ever seen lumped together.  And if that wasn't quite enough, the neck opening is trimmed with red fox tails.  The presence of the fur trimming marks this, even above the type of textile, as a garment meant for the fall and winter months.

     The dress adds three other fabrics into the mix. One is a solid velvet in a slightly darker plum tone. Another is a second voided velvet is a shade that tends more to purple. The third is a solid silk that matches the more purple color that is only seen at the yoke of the dress.  Like the cloak, the dress is dripping with jet beadwork and fringes, and there is a pert black silk bow on the back of the ribbon collar.  The sleeves are double layered. The outer sleeve is a reverse cap of the same fabric as the cloak, the inner sleeve is a leg of mutton style made up with the secondary voided velvet.
    Imposing is an appropriate term for this lavish and class conscious outfit.
    Finding this within the Met's extensive collection I came across this notation:  "This extraordinary costume would have been worn while riding in one's carriage, which at the time was a social event. It is likely the muff and mantle were bought from the House of Worth but due to the difference in stitching and trimming on the dress, the likelihood is that the client bought extra textile lengths and had the dress made in the United States after returning home."


  1. Oy vey. That's a lot of somethin', ain't it? Perhaps not the most graceful of Worth's creations...? : )

  2. Well, based on the note from the Met, it seems that some overzealous social climber might have messed with the original intentions.