Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Extant Garment: 1850's Dress

This is Part Two in the 4-part series about a trip to the Idaho Historical Museum, in which I saw several different extant garments. See Part 1 here.

This next dress was simply written down as just 1850's; read to the end of the post to hear my thoughts on the actual dating of the dress.

This dress was absolutely breathtaking, but was ripped apart to some degree for theater. I did a pretty good job of not even bothering to take pictures of the modifications. Some of those things are: ripping off whatever lovely gauging was originally there and putting in a drawstring waist, shortening the skirt between the two tiers (although this was actually pretty discreet and might have been original), and putting in a large 3'' panel between the two front edges of the bodice because whoever wore it wasn't even close to small enough. That panel though....ack! If the dress is too small, then why bother?
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The skirt panels were maybe the most beautiful fabric I've ever seen. They did a good job of matching the pattern across each tier, so it was close to seamless. The bottom ruffle measured 20'' from hem until the bottom edge of the next tier, then the next tier measured 18.5''. There was a section above that that didn't get measured, but the overall length was a little more than both of these combined. There was no hem along the bottom, because the print runs along the selvage, which was very small and neat. The skirt was lined with brown glazed cotton that stopped where the bottom tier was mounted on. The bottom edge had a narrow tape wrapped around it.

(Yes, that is a seam line right there)
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The bodice is a solid gold silk, lined with the same brown glazed cotton as the skirt. The sleeves were so beautiful! They were open pagoda sleeves, lined with white silk halfway up. The inside of the sleeve was trimmed with box pleated white ribbon. The outside portion of the sleeve was trimmed with a matching brocade ribbon, 1 1/4'' wide and pleated, with tassels hanging from the points on the sleeves.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
The back pleats were positively divine and laid so well, and thankfully hadn't been messed with. The original stitching on these was a little sloppy, but I think this dress must have fit it's original owner very well. A 5'' bone was stitched inside a casing up the center back; the total length of the pleating out the back measured 16.5'' from the natural waist to it's longest point.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

This picture is of the underside of the basque, showing the sloppy stitching used to sew on the lower portion of the basque to the main bodice. 

Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The darts are boned with whalebone, with the bone being encased in a dart. The dart take-up was left inside the dress, but clipped. The waist of the bodice was 26.5''. The neck edge, armscye and bottom edge were all piped.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
This dress might have been worn over a hoop petticoat or crinoline, which were invented in 1856. However, the 1858 Ladies Home Magazine advises that ladies choose the older style of horsehair or corded petticoat over the hoop skirt. Listen to this:

"....but, of course, a horse-hair skirt of modest dimensions, or a corded one is indispensable, unless a resort is had to hoops, and they take all the life, grace, and taste out of a skirt, by inflating it equally all round, instead of gracefully casting off the skirt more fully behind, and thus giving it an oval shape instead of a round hooped one." 1

A few key things I'm looking for to date this dress:

- A double-basque in the back, but doesn't extend around to the front
-Double tier skirt
-The pagoda sleeves (really large, open sleeves to be worn over puffy under sleeves)
-While I did use the color of the last gown, a semi-neutral color isn't helpful. But...I will look for - TASSELS!!

When looking at different 1850's fashion plates, a lot of skirts that look like a triple tier are actually a double skirt, with a basque that acts like a a third tier. Like this:
1858 Ladies' Home Magazine

The above plate is actually almost exactly what I'm looking for. The overall design is exactly the same, and hits 3/4 of the things I'm looking for. The only difference is that the basque extends all the way around, while the original golden dress is only in the back.


1855 Peterson's

Basques are generally seen starting in 1855, but the overall dress design and silhouette is a little different than what I'm looking for. 

1855 Peterson's

In the 1858 Ladies Home Magazine, they state:

"As to basques, being confined to walking and home dresses, and not allowable for full dress, they are rather tolerated than commended and will last only another season. This affords a good opportunity for those ladies to whom they are unbecoming, and this includes all but the very tall, to discontinue them." 2

Towards the end of the same year, same magazine, they describe almost the exact same dress, but say that the ladies in Paris and New York think that the basque part of the dress is rather old-fashioned, having been in for 5 or 6 years. 

In 1859, they are still used but are not so common.
In 1860, the references to basques are found mainly to describe coats, and counting the skirt part of the coat as a basque, but generally basques are completely disappeared.

After searching through literally 100 plates....I did not see a single dress with a basque only being attached in the back. I have a theory, but no way to prove it, so take it with a grain of salt.

When something new comes into fashion, it makes sense that, because it is new, you go ahead and make one in the most current style. But after something has been in style for, say, a year or two, and the overall style hasn't might branch out, and make one in a more unique and creative style. It doesn't make any sense that you would make a unique basque the exact year they have come into fashion, but it does make sense if you are looking to change it up a bit because you've seen the same thing for a year or two. So if we put basques between the years makes sense that we might be seeing more creativity between 1857-59. I won't use this in the final decision on the dating of this garment, but it is food for thought.

Double skirt:

In 1855, skirts are usually either plain or many flounces. I saw one French plate with a double skirt, on a ball dress.

In 1856, about half and half between double skirts, and more tiers than that.
1856 Peterson's

In 1857, quite a few different number of tiers are being used, but they recommend a double skirt. "....for the plain skirt over a crinoline or hooped petticoat, is rather too balloony in appearance; and numerous flounces do not enliven a skirt which is so distended as to deprive it of drapery; thus the double skirt, here presented, is the accommodation entered into by and between hoops and petticoats." 3
1857 Ladies Home Magazine

In 1858, the Ladies Home Magazine says, 

"The skirt question is the most important one just now, and it seems to be regarded as of too great consequence to render a full decision upon yet, for flounces, double skirts, and quilles (lais de cotes) are equally fashionable."4

1858 Godey's Magazine

In December of 1858 in Godeys magazine, it says, 

"Double skirts are more worn than ever before; nearly all the imported robes, even in the richest cashmeres, mousselines, and all the silk and wool fabrics have them. Where the stripe or ornament occurs alternately, at the distance of a breadth apart, they are called robes a lez." 5

1859 Walking Dress, from Godeys Magazine. 

1859 Godeys Magazine


Interestingly enough, I could not find very many, if any, fashion plates with tassels. Fringe galore, but tassels are only in reference to coats and the like. But after flipping through other extants, there are plenty of examples, they just won't help prove a point.
c. 1858-60 Day dress, via the MET

ca. 1858 Day dress, via the V and A

c. 1858 Day dress, via the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

I don't use extants to date other extants, however looking through a list of originals is surprising. Browns, golds, and tans were very popular. If you just scroll through my 1850's Pinterest board, that color scheme is very common. Border prints (meaning large motifs worked across one edge of the fabric, instead of all over) were very popular, because of how well they could be shown off in a tier. Just for fun: the original dresses' twin!
c. 1859 American dress, from the MET

Now, in regards to the sleeves, it's a bit trickier because open sleeves worn with under sleeves was a popular style for a really long time. Take a look at my last research project, where I studied in-depth when that style first came into fashion, which was around 1848. For this particular dress, looking at the exact context and shape is important, because not all open sleeves look alike. 

First, you have sort of a tiny, funnel-shaped sleeve which is very long, coming at least to mid-forearm, but often longer than that:

1849 Godey's Fashion Plate

Then the sleeves graduate to a very long open sleeve, which is often slashed up very high in front. The actual shape of the sleeve is very triangular, and because of the slashing it tends to be very droopy. When I describe triangular, I'm not talking about the points on the sleeve, like this dress has; I'm referring to the way the top of the sleeve comes down from the armhole, with very straight seams. Some curve, especially on the inside of the arm, may be necessary, but especially the back of the arm will be very straight. The under sleeves that are worn with this particular style have to be longer than earlier and later styles, because of how much arm is exposed without them. This style is considered a pagoda sleeve.

1858 Ladies Home Magazine

And then later in the 1860's, the coat sleeve (a shaped, curved style that is fitted to the wrist without any gathers) is meshed with the pagoda to create what is considered an open coat sleeve. It's a little more tailored in appearance, without any droop, but can be anywhere from a modest-sized opening, to gigantic. There is a decided curve in the arm part without any major slashing, coming down to about mid-forearm, or slit a little up to the elbow, but not above. One key fact with open coat sleeves, is that it is generally curved enough to fit around the under sleeve that the inside part of the open sleeve doesn't show. With this golden dress, they took the time to trim the inside of the sleeve...because it was meant to be shown. The fancy lining and box-pleated trim would have looked amazing, drooping down over an under sleeve. So this dress has pagoda sleeves. Both the pagoda and open coat were worn up until 1862, but generally the droopy triangle shape is not so much worn. 
1862 Petersons' Magazine

This particular dress has pagoda sleeves, based on the fact that there isn't any crazy shaping. There is a small slash, but it doesn't come up very far. It's a bit generic, and style could have been worn anywhere between 1855-1860.

Overall conclusion: 1856-59, but really leaning more towards 1857-58.

I can't attach every single 1850's gown from my research board, but if you feel like looking through it, it's really easy to see a lot of similarities. Double tier, basque, open sleeves.....tell me if you find any with tassels used in this way!

5 Godey's Magazine, Volume 57, Page 570

Link to a Pinterest board with original 1850's dresses:
Link to Pinterest board with 1850's fashion plates: