|Ladies Home Journal cover. Wikimedia|
A note. When I started this ensemble in June, at the beach, it was supposed to be a simple thing, something run up rapidly for fun and silliness befitting a summertime dream. In fact, I remember wanting to wear it while paddling a canoe. Really. There wasn't supposed to be much research involved. Now it's September, and while a trip in a canoe is a possibility still, in the dress or more likely in something that won't raise eyebrows, and the shirtwaist and skirt themselves are fairly complete, the project has turned into what my projects nearly always have become, a deep-ish dive into an era. It's great fun, and the decade is fascinating. Women were trying their wings, and progressives were trying theirs on Gilded Age "excesses". Look past the giant sleeves and eye-popping color combinations...there's a lot to love. Click one of the magazine links, and slip in -- you just might like what you find.
An 1890s Thing: Interchangeable Garment TrimsThe fashion pages of each of the magazines I have been reading have all commented, sometimes frequently, on the advantages of interchangeable trims and accessories that would turn a single bodice or shirtwaist and skirt into multiple outfits for different occasions and moods. Advice literature will often recommend a course of action to promote a particular type of behavior or lifestyle or as part of their business model.
In Demorest's Family Magazine fashion section, titled "Mirror of Fashion", articles often included a section such as "Smart Corsage Garnitures" (October 1894, p. 53) or "Smart Collars" (Jan 1895, p. 184). The "Garnitures" article bodice as a recommends, for instance "[a]n arrangement of white lace and ribbon which can be added to any plain corsage"; the article then gives instructions for making it. By the way, "garniture" was a synonym for trim, and the word is the same in German.
|Gown with removable trim: Demorest's Family Magazine|
Mirror of Fashions, October 1894, p. 53.
The January issue heads a section with "Some Smart Corsages" (what other word but "smart" would do?) and applauds women who make interchangeable trims:
"[T]he ingenuity of women, which has such free play now in all matters of dress, finds nowhere a more fascinating field for its exercise than in varying the drawings and accessories of the corsage, by means of which so many pleasing changes are rung upon a single gown. several charming devices, easily adjusted, are shown in our illustrations. No. 1 -- A bretelle arrangement of velvet ribbon which can be temporarily adjusted over any corsage."
Because Demorest's sold paper patterns, advice on how to make interchangeable trims or accessories would fit well with their pattern-selling model.
Ladies Home Journal offers similar advice, but, in line with the content in the magazine as a whole, engages to teach thrift and taste, and to help women and families on middling or limited incomes create things fashionable, economical, and sensible. In March 1895, the journal included this:
"A simply made white gown can be entirely without permanent trimming, using different collars attached to lace yokes or bibs and belts to afford a variety of changes."
|Ladies Home Journal, March 1895, p. 24|
Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung follows a similar line in promoting interchangeable accessories, but the very high quality illustrations and the ornate garments they offer appear to appeal to women and families of substantial means.
Interchangeable trims (the line with accessories blurs) were nothing new, of course: 18th century suits of lace, mid-19th-century removable collars and undersleeves and cuffs, 1870s fancy lace collars and chemisettes spicing up a gown were all common. I have a number of late Victorian and Edwardian accessories, such as a lace bodice front and cuffs set and a net guimpe (dickey) that were clearly designed to be worn with several dresses.
Some Examples of Interchangeable CollarsSwapping trims and accessories is what I am all about these days, as I get more and more concerned about using less and re-using more.
I thought to start with a small accessory that could have a big visual impact -- a crush collar.
The term has an ominous tone to my modern ears, but it was ubiquitous in the mid-1890s. A crush collar was made with a base covered by a layer of purposefully wrinkled and folded fabric to create a textured effect so beloved in that decade of crepon and crepe and moire silk.
Here is how a velvet crush collar is described in Ladies Home Journal, January 1895, p. 22, just after instructions for a large leg-of mutton sleeve:
"Do not be sparing of the velvet in making a crush collar: let it lie in easy folds lightly tacked here and there."
I could have chosen twenty different collars, crush or otherwise, designs for them are so common.
Check these three from January 1895 in Demorest's Mirror of Fashion. First, here's something ticklish for the neck, a stock collar with ostrich feather tails.
|Dressy stock collar. Demorest's Family Magazine, January 1895, p. 184|
The collar described: "A dressy stock-collar of chiffon with gold buckles and clusters of ostrich feathers on the sides."
|Velvet stock collar. Demorest's Family Magazine, January 1895, p. 184|
Here is the description: "A stock-collar made of bias bluet velvet laid in soft folds; rabbit's-ear tabs and loops are fastened each side of the chin with chased silver buckles." "Bluet" is a French diminutive for "blue", and appears frequently; it might well have been a particularly popular shade, but I haven't looked up the reference.
|Theater collar. Demorest's Family Magazine, January 1895, p. 184|
The description: "A theater-collar of black velvet trimmed with chinchilla fur, lined with rose-colored satin, and fastened by a bow of black satin". This one must have been rather dramatic in an almost 1940s way.
Here's another one from the July 15, 1894 issue of Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung (p.159) that closes with hooks and eyes. In this magazine, instructions on how to make it are exactly described; I will lay them out for you.
First, here is the collar, as worn with what is likely a shirtwaist. Notice the shirring? Told you the era had a thing for crinkly textures; they're everywhere!
|Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, 1894, Heft 14 p. 157, illustration 3.|
Here is the collar, in detail. You can just see that yes, it is made of tulle.
|Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, 1894, Heft 14 p. 159. Collar detail|
The original instructions.
|Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, 1894, Heft 14 p. 159. Text.|
My first translation of the text wasn't very good at all, but sweet Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 kindly helped me out, so now we have understandable text. Thank you so much, Sabine!
"The fashion recommends plenty of varieties for collars, which task itis, to build a light & airy and becoming frame for the head. A very characteristic shape with wide stretched ends is shown in picture No.8. The foundation of this is a white satin ribbon exactly cut in the collar size, which is 6 cm high and has a small folded and stitched edge and is closed with hooks and eyes in the back. In the front this ribbon is mounted by a folded (into double) and finely pleated 21 cm long piece of silk tulle, and is attached with neat almost invisible tiny stitches. This pleated garment is finished with wing ends, for which 11 cm long and 82 cm tulle (folded into double) is finely pleated. Small pleated tulle pieces of 6cm length, which are put into frill in the middle, each hide the seam and the back closing."
|Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, 1894, Heft 14 p. 159|
I rather like the rabbit-eared collar; it's nifty and the idea of wearing velvet "rabbit ears" is amusing, even if they are upside down. I have my heart set, however, on a crush collar that features a bow. Yes, it's more common, but there you go. The rabbit ears must wait.
If you'd like to read more about interchangeable trims, head over to Historical Sewing and read1890s Plastrons – Is that a Victorian Bib? It has really useful examples and how-tos.
Given what we know from the above, I could make my own with ease, but I did find some directions for a collar with the requisite bow. It's always nice to make an item following the same instructions as women of the period had. We might not have exactly the same materials, but it is nice to feel what it's like to follow in their shoes. So, onward...next time, we will read the instructions and attempt the collar!