Poiret and Tunic Dresses, 1914

Paul Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown. Illustrated by Georges Lepape, September 1913. Image from Irene Lewisohn Collection, Metropolitan Museum.

I saw Poiret’s famous “Sorbet” gown at the V & A years ago.  It’s sometimes referred to as “the lampshade dress,” because of the rigid bottom of the tunic.

I expected to laugh; instead, I haven’t found a picture that does it justice. It’s ridiculous. It’s impractical. And it’s couture: what doesn’t show in the photos I’ve found is that the stylized roses are made from thousands of subtly glittering beads. The silk has the soft gleam of quality. It is lovely.

Perhaps because this is clearly a “wear it once” dress (except for the version without a boned tunic,) it has survived in at least three public collections (V & A, Chicago History Museum,  & FIT. ) And, being couture — custom made for every client —  each rendition is slightly different. Sometimes only the skirt is different (one version has harem pants;) in one, the tunic falls softly instead of being rigid; in the collection at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the dark parts are not black, but mauve (or raspberry sorbet?)

Randy Bigham has written a fascinating essay comparing the three versions.

I called “Sorbet” a “wear it once” dress because it would make a grand entrance, be highly memorable, and also be highly impractical. How would the wearer sit at a dinner table, or travel to a party in a carriage or car? How would she dance in it, since the hoop would pop up in the back as soon as her partner embraced her? [Imagine it flipping around during a tango!]

Butterick pattern 6639 seems to be influenced by Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown, which has black fur at the rigid hem of the tunic in the V&A version. Delineator, January 1914.

The New Flaring Tunics, Delineator, March 1914. In 1914, a “tunic” was an overskirt.

But …. Poiret caught the spirit of the times, even if he didn’t create the tunic fad; by 1914 his dress was influencing Butterick patterns and being imitated elsewhere. I found it in advertisements, too — usually a sign that a style has penetrated the common culture.

Ad for McCallum Hosiery, Delineator, March 1914.

A suit with a flaring tunic and wide sash is seen in an ad for American Woolen, March 1914, Delineator.

This ad for Suesine silk fabric uses Butterick 6639, with the hoop-like tunic.

A flaring tunic dress goes dancing in this ad for Kleinert’s Dress Shields. April 1914; Delineator.

Tunic Dress Patterns from 1914

An outfit with the tunic look might be a dress, or a skirt and “waist” combination.  [A “waist” was a blouse or separate bodice.] The flared part of the tunic might be part of the blouse/waist) …

Waist 6639. Butterick pattern from January 1914. Delineator.

… Or it might be part of the skirt:

Butterick skirt pattern 6719, March 1914. Delineator.

Butterick waist 6718 with skirt 6719. The flared tunic is part of the skirt. Note the fur or velvet border at right, which makes the hem stand out more.

Wearing the tunic over an elaborately draped skirt increased bulk over the hips — and narrowing at the ankles exaggerated it.

Tunic dress; Butterick pattern 6779 from April 1914 has optional ruffles to help the tunic’s hem stand out a bit. Delineator.

Alternate and back views of Butterick tunic dress 6779; 1914.

These are many one-piece tunic dresses, rather than waist and skirt combinations:

Tunic dresses for women to size 44 bust; Delineator, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6820, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6832, April 1914. Seeing it without the tunic tells us more about how it was made.

A group of hip-widening fashions from April, 1914. Delineator. The one in color is a waist & skirt combination. [Fun hat!]

Butterick waist 6791 with skirt 6733. The tunic is part of the skirt; waist 6791 is not long at all.

Other views of Butterick waist 6791. From 1914.

However, tunic outfit 6797 is a dress:

Butterick dress 6797, April 1914. In the illustration at left, the diagonal closing is barely noticeable.

To my eyes, accustomed to slender, athletic bodies, the fashions of the World War I period are hard to understand, since they add the appearance of many pounds around the hips. [Poiret also took credit for the 1908 “hobble skirt,” still affecting fashion in 1914.]

“What Your Girl Will Want for Easter” 1914: Wide hips and narrow hems. These are styles for teens age 14 to 19. Did teen girls really want to look like they had big, low-slung bottoms? Well…”fashion.”

With dresses like those, you’d hardly need this corset….

Nubone corset ad, March 1914, Delineator.

The tunic styles were for recommended for women (including larger sizes) and for teens:

Butterick 6684 was for teens aged 14 to 19. February, 1914.

Butterick 6651 for teens 14 to 19 and small women. This one has fur trim.

That headdress deserves a closer look:

Lace, fur, chiffon, flowers, and a rather exotic jeweled headdress. January 1914.

For large women, this modified tunic with more vertical lines was recommended.

Left, Butterick 6809 “For Matronly Figures; New styles that are becoming to them.” Delineator, June 1914.

Buttrick 6809 was not a true tunic; this back view is much more slenderizing. “Matronly figures” went up to size 46 bust. Note the ( ) shaped silhouette.

The tunics and draped skirts that increased hip width were apparently popular, but women did have other choices:

Left, a tunic-style outfit made from waist 6627 and skirt 6613; right, distinctly un-fussy shirtwaist 6619 with slim, tailored skirt 6620. Both of these skirts were described as “peg-top.” January 1914.

(I’m still not clear on what “peg-top” actually meant — but now I know where to look….)

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with this long post!

The tunic look from Delineator, May 1914.

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8 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Hats, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, World War I

8 responses to “Poiret and Tunic Dresses, 1914

  1. Sophia

    Another well researched article, thank you! I believe the phrase pegged-top refers to the child’s spinning toy ‘pegtop’ which is narrower at the bottom than the top like the skirts.

  2. Fascinating! I always wonder how women walked in these outfits.

    • When I look at the bottom width or lower edge measurements, they are often a yard and 1/4 (like skirt 6719) or yard and 5/8. A circle with a 45″ circumference is not for big strides….

      • Sophia

        Claire B Shaeffer in her book ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ mentions that the skirts were so narrow (only 12 inches below the knee) that they were condemned by the Pope. Apparently to prevent the seams from splitting, women wore a ‘hobble garter’ which held the ankles together and forced the wearer to take tiny little steps or to hop!

      • That must be the 1908 “hobble skirt” Poiret took credit for — ridiculous. I wonder how women in them walked up stairs? Or got into a cab? The Hobble fashion was even crazier than wearing high, high heels, when it comes to running if you need to. As I replied to Lynn, the 1914 skirts measured over a yard at the hem — so they were not as extreme as hobble skirts. Speakoinf g of couture techniques, do you read “Fifty Dresses?” It’s a great blog about couture sewing for yourself.

  3. Sophia

    Yes, the hobble skirt was at the end of its life by 1914. I was reading that special street cars were made with no step to facilitate boarding. It was also responsible for deaths. Thank you very much for the link to the couture sewing blog, I’ll check that out.

  4. Duy Khang Nguyen

    Oh! Very Clever idea from paul poriet

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