Tag Archives: jabot

A Memorable Bustle Dress

A bustle dress (bodice and skirt) from the 1880s. Private collection.

A bustle dress (bodice and skirt) circa 1880s. Private collection.

I am not a vintage collector, but sometimes a vintage garment I’ve encountered lingers in my mind.  I photographed this bustle dress,  probably from the 1880s, purely for the purpose of inventorying a large collection, but it’s one of those outfits I continue to puzzle over. The big question for me is:  why does it still exist in such “barely-worn” condition?

After 140 years, it had no shattered silk, not even in the folds of the bustle. It did not show signs of alteration, or fading, or cannibalization — and there was a lot of good fabric in its skirt. It would have been easy to update this bodice with 1890s sleeves and a shorter waistline.  Or to make a child’s dress from the fabric. So . . .

Why Didn’t Its Original Owner Wear It Out?

Front of bodice, 1880s bustle dress.

Front of bodice, 1880s bustle dress.

There were slight perspiration stains in the armpits, so we know she wore it at least once.  One logical explanation for its fine state of preservation could be that it went out of fashion soon after she had it made. It’s possible; I didn’t have a proper bustle support, so I had to stuff the back of the skirt with as much crumpled paper and batting as I could get my hands on. I’m pretty sure the jut of the bustle should be more nearly horizontal, like this 1885 dress by Worth, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Side view of a similar gown in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Worth, 1885.

Side view of a similar gown in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Designed by Worth, 1885.

“My” dress isn’t nearly as elaborate. This Worth design is encrusted with applied trim and has an even longer front bodice, almost to the pelvic bone:

Front view of Worth dress, 1885, in Metropolitan Museum.

Front view of Worth dress, 1885, in Metropolitan Museum.

This evening costume by Worth has a buttoned basque rather like “my” dress, but it dates from 1880; its bustle is not yet extreme, at least not at the waist.

1880 gown by Worth, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

1880 gown by Worth, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

And for an example of a really outrageous profile, the Metropolitan Museum has this side view of an unlabeled evening gown from 1885:

1885 extreme bustle dress, Metropolitan Museum Collection.

1885 extreme bustle dress, Metropolitan Museum Collection. Lovely as it is, it reminds me of a pantomime horse costume, with the actor playing the rear of the hose bent over and hugging the waist of the actor in front!

It’s easy to understand how that dress, which is so “of its moment,” would not get many wearings before it fell out of favor; for one thing, it’s too memorable to appear repeatedly at the level of society that wears such expensive clothes.

A Middle Class Woman’s Bustle Dress

But this outfit which I wonder about is middle class; of good quality, but not so memorable that a woman would abandon it because all her friends had seen it. Incidentally, it is possible to get into it without the aid of a maid.

A dress meant to be worn more than once.

A dress meant to be worn more than once.

Of its many beautiful metal buttons, only one is missing, the one at the top of the throat. When being worn, this area would have been covered by a lace jabot, often secured by a large brooch, so it’s even possible that the owner removed that button on purpose to allow a frill on her blouse to fall through. You can see a mark left by a brooch pin on the velvet collar, too.

Collar and missing button. A mark left by a brooch pin is visible in the velvet.

Collar and missing button. A mark left by a brooch pin is visible in the velvet collar, at right.

The velvet is not worn; it just photographs a different color depending on the direction of the pile.

Here is a slightly better view (sorry about the hasty photos) of the beautiful buttons, which have paste gems in their centers . . .

Buttons on center front of bodice.

Buttons on center front of bodice. There is a  glittering stone in the center of each.

. . . and which also trimmed the flaps at the back of the bodice:

Back peplum and button trim.

Back peplum and button trim.

Even if the dress went out of fashion, why did no one harvest these 27 buttons for re-use?

The back view, on a very lopsided mannequin.

The back view, on a very lopsided mannequin.

Overall, there is a slightly military flavor to the metal buttons, the back peplum detail,  and the suggestion of a man’s lapels created by the velvet front trim. I can picture Ibsen’s character Hedda Gabler  (spoiler alert if you click!) being attracted to such military details.

The wine-brown silk and burgundy velvet fabrics would have been ready for re-use, too.  This dress was not petite; it had a center back-to-waist measurement of 16″,  a 34″ bust, and a 26″ (made for a corseted) waist.

There was plenty of excellent silk taffeta in the skirt:

Skirt bustle, back view.

Skirt bustle, back view. Note the deliberate asymmetry.

Side view. The bustle seems to be too low, and there is extra fabric near the hem, too.

Side view. The bustle seems to be too low, and it hangs a little longer than the rest of the skirt hem. I think it needs a period cage bustle support under it.

Look at the lovely workmanship on the seam finishes, etc.

The edge binding in red stitches is a little surprise.

Inside the bodice. The edge binding in reddish stitches matching the  burgundy velvet is a nice surprise. They secure tiny rolled hems. The boning channels are feather-stitched, which was usual.

This looks like professional construction to me; I think a dressmaker, not the wearer, made this dress. The lining is brown cotton sateen. The front of the skirt has a panel of velvet emerging from under the draped “apron,” and a pleated ruffle inside the hem to protect it from wear. V027 hem detail pleats

And I mustn’t forget this pretty velvet watch pocket on the right side of the basque: V027 watch pocket

Which brings me back to the reason this outfit lingers in my mind. Why didn’t the woman who owned this dress go on wearing it until it began to look soiled or worn out? And why was it stored so perfectly for over a century, instead of being plundered for buttons, fabric and trims to make newer clothing in the 1890s?

One happy possibility is that the owner became pregnant and couldn’t wear it for a while; perhaps, by the time her figure returned to normal, the fashion was outmoded. Perhaps there was a death in the immediate family, and, again, by the time she was out of mourning clothes a year later, the fashion for bustles had passed. But there is something about the careful preservation of this garment that makes me wonder if it was the wearer who died, so that her grieving family packed it and saved it, as my father once saved my mother’s clothes.

“The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death,

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon Earth.

The Sweeping up the Heart,

The putting Love away

We shall not want to use again

Until Eternity–”  –Emily Dickinson

Of course, Dickinson was not punning upon the word “Bustle” as she was upon “Morning, ”  but that word may be a subconscious reason why this outfit made me think of this poem.

P.S. I have written as if this outfit was from the 1880s; if you have more expertise and can date it to the 1870s, please comment.

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Spring Styles for Older (and Larger) Women, February, 1931

On Tuesday night I was going through photos I had taken of Delineator fashions from February, 1931. Someone had removed the February 1931 cover from the bound volume at the library – a shame, because the covers in the 1930s were especially lovely. This is the cover from March, by Dynevor Rhys: (Click image to enlarge)

Delineator Cover for March, 1931, by Dynevor Rhys

Delineator Cover for March, 1931, by Dynevor Rhys

I had found a page of spring fashions for older women, so I was thinking about one of my favorite blogs, American Age Fashion: What American Women Wore, 1900 to Now.  Serendipity:  In the next day’s mail, I received a gift from Lynn at americanagefashion.com: a copy on fabric of the missing February 1931 cover of Delineator! (I haven’t photographed it yet.) In return, here are . . .

Four February Fashions “Charmingly Suited to the Dignity of White Hair”

Butterick patterns "Charmingly Suited to the Dignity of White Hair" from Delineator, February 1931

Butterick patterns “Charmingly Suited to the Dignity of White Hair” from Delineator, February 1931

Back Views

Back Views

This text is typed below — the print here is a bit small!

1931 feb p 106 suited to white hair pattern info

Butterick 3363 & 3697

Butterick 3363 & 3697

3663 FLATTER YOURSELF With a deep ivory lace yoke and a lace jabot on your new black frock, and the result will turn other heads than your own.  A bit more lace is added at the cuffs. The angular line of the skirt yoke is flattering also. Notice the hem; it is at exactly the right place for the smart matron. The frock is designed for sizes 34 to 46. [bust measurement]

3697 IF YOU ARE SLENDER Choose raspberry for this frock – it is a new color with dark coats, and a charming one with white hair. If not slender, choose black with white or flesh chiffon vestee. The belt is slightly below the normal line, and both the long collar and the curved insert with a flare have a one-sided trend. Designed for 34 to 48. [bust measurement]

1931 feb p 106 3681 3675f white hair large top

3681 THE SLIMMEST LINE All the important lines in this frock are diagonals – that’s the clever part of it, for they flatter the mature figure. The straight skirt is shirred  on the diagonal. The bodice has a diagonal closing. A long white collar helps to make one appear thin, and soft flares finish the three-quarter sleeves. The frock is designed for 34 to 52. [inches bust measure]

3675 ONE TYPE OF TUNIC  The flared tunic is broken at the center front and back, so that it will not cut any length from the figure, and both skirt and tunic are joined to the long bodice in scalloped outline, Wear the belt where it suits you best. The flared three-quarter sleeves and lace vestee are flattering. The frock is designed for 34 to 48 [inch bust measurement.] “Wear the belt where it suits you best” — in other words, if you are not ready to give up the low waistline of the 1920s.

Lane Bryant Adds a Touch of Reality

Pattern number 3681 is illustrated as if the model were a little larger than the 1930s ideal. However, the three other models appear to be size 34, not size 48 or 52.  This advertisement for the Lane Bryant catalog (Style Book) for Stout Women is also from February 1931 — and a bit more realistic.  The model appears to be wearing a very good corset, with bust support and hip control. There is still a twenties influence in the low waist (or lack thereof.)

Lane Bryant Ad from Delineator, February 1931

Lane Bryant Ad from Delineator, February 1931

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Filed under 1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes