Although the details in fashion plates of the period may be exaggerated, with careful study, the silhouette and construction details, such as, seam placement can be defined. This is of particular importance if you are in the habit of drafting your own patterns as I am. I never rely on the colourations of these plates for my fabric choices, I would much rather rely on extant garments. If you are lucky enough to have access to the garment itself, take your colour from the inside or seam allowances. This will give you the truest read. Remember that to our eyes today, some of these colour combinations seem garish, but under the influence of gas or candle light they would have read somewhat differently. You may have to make a judgement call here, depending on your desire for authenticity. Electric light which was beginning to make itself seen in the best drawing rooms of the 1880's was considered at the time to be hard and unflattering. Certain colours were cautioned against by the fashion commentators of the day. From the fashion plate, the contrast of light and shadow and the desired drape of fabrics can also be discerned.
Artists, such as Tissot paid attention to the dress and manners of fashionable society at this time and his work makes another great resource for colours and details. Don't ignore furnishing fabrics or wallpapers either. Generally, what was happening in home decor was reflected in fashion.
In the two dresses here, you will be able to see later, how I have begun to develop my reasoning for the materials and colour palette that I chose. As the 1870's were coming to a close, for a short period of time the bustle was reduced to a small pad, wire frame or just extra ruffles on the back of the petticoat for support. Blue, which had been such a dominant shade in the early part of the decade, softened to an ice or teal as we begin to move into the 1880's. Stronger and earthier colours will develop throughout the '80's.
The long cuirass bodice which had made itself known as early as 1874-76 was lengthening into a polonaise shape which, along with the new princess line, was creating a slimmer more form revealing silhouette than had been seen earlier. Borrowing from history and men's wear, vests and cut away's similar to the 18th century could be seen as well.
My Version of an 1878 Visiting Dress
|Harper's Bazaar, 1878|
I chose to create in velvet, the colour of "mouse" and taupe silk. The vest, also of silk, is in a damask of robin's egg blue and taupe. Unfortunately the photographs do not represent the true colour of the silks. The fish tail train is trimmed with a knife pleated edge under two layers of ruched flounces. A balyeuse of antique valenciences lace lines the train.
The front view reveals the jacket bodice and vest. While it appears to be two seperate pieces, it is in fact, one. Chinese knotted cord buttons, 20 in all, close the long vest and a brown frog the velvet jacket. On the cuffs antique buttons of the period on antique lace cuffs I found in a flea market. The hem of the skirt front is finished in tabs which reveals a taupe silk kick pleat. Above, embroidered floral sprays. The pattern for this style of bodice came from a very useful publication, "Fashion of the Gilded Age" by Frances Grimble. I would consider this the definitive resource for patterns of the 1877-1882 period.
Ambitions: I saw a production of the Misanthrope at the Stratford Festival yesterday. Beautiful costumes of the Rococo period in France. I am itching now to create a French Sack back gown, but first, I must finish my Edwardian Tea Gown.