Wednesday, November 13, 2019

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 2A, Petticoats with Crinoline, Haircloth, Ties, Bones, Wires!

The back of an 1895-1900 silk and lace
petticoat, with back gathering and
back fluff helper tie!
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Edited October 22, 2021
This is the second in a series of posts about how fullness was added to 1890s skirts. Warning, it's crazy long and packed with references. 

Here is the entirety of the post series:
The Victorian era is rife with petticoats. We know that each stylistic era had its specialized petticoats which supported the prevailing silhouette, from 1830s corded petticoats, to mid-century hoopskirts, to late Victorian bustles integrated into petticoats. The mid-1890s was no different, although awareness of the types of petticoats I am going to write about doesn't seem to be general in in the costuming community -- the information sure was new to me.

Reliance on Advice Literature

Advice literature had plenty to suggest about petticoats. However, I have not spotted 1890s extant petticoats constructed with the more unusual additions of hair cloth and wires that the advice literature suggested, and only one with back ties, although I did find an outer skirt with wire. Does the warning that historians have given for decades apply here, that prescriptive literature is likely to reflect less what was done than what segments of society said should be done?

Or if the petticoats haven't survived in numbers, may it partly be due to the materials they were made of? Cotton petticoats seem turn up regularly, and silk ones turn up and are heavily represented in museum collections. Haircloth, a stiff, coarse, woven material made with horsehair or other hairs, and crinoline aren't that comfortable, and a haircloth petticoat? As a utility garment, I suspect that not many people might select to keep such a thing for sentimental reasons or for reuse. As for wires, they are easily removed and the yardage-eating wide skirts remade into narrower ones.

The Cut and Arrangement of Petticoats Holds Skirts Out -- and So Do Ties 

So, let's begin. Wearing petticoats with similar lines to the skirt they support is going to help hold out the skirt.  Isobel Mallon, one of the two main fashion and sewing columnists for The Ladies Home Journal, wrote:

"Except for a greater fullness the petticoats are cut almost exactly like the dress skirt. Lawn or cambric is used for them, although when thin white dresses are worn petticoats of dotted muslin are chosen, and being light tend to make the whole costume very cool and pleasant. The skirt of lawn with three ruffles, having upon them a group of tucks on each side of the lace insertion, and then below that a lace edge, is one that can endure much soap and water, and, not being over-trimmed, is good form. The fancy for setting lace in the skirt itself no longer obtains, and if anything, the trimming, which is all put on by hand, is simpler than ever before. A ribbon belt is usually drawn through a casing at the top, so that one may have one's skirt belt as loose or as tight as may be agreeable, and then, too, the doing away with the old close belt, to which the skirt was gathered, makes it much easier to iron the petticoat itself.
 Silk skirts have pinked ruffles, with lace ones alternating. These are not made as wide as the white skirts..." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", by Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894, p. 23.)
Pay attention to "except for a greater fullness, the petticoats are cut almost exactly like the dress skirt". The petticoat is cut fuller than the outer skirt...interesting! Surely that would help a great deal.

The drawstring idea wasn't new. One year earlier, in 1893, Ms. Mallon's article "Dainty Lingerie of Today" (p. 20), had suggested the same thing, but she had added a significant detail: "no belt is put on these petticoats, but a drawstring is run in and the fullness kept well to the back." So here we have an easy way to add some fullness to the back of the skirt, if one is slender: put the petticoat on a drawstring and push the fullness to the back! Done with more than one petticoat, more fullness will be added.

One can take holding the petticoat's fullness to the back side even further. That's where the photo of the (probably) creped silk petticoat from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, comes in. It is provided with the drawstring, plus ties so that the fullness in back can be gathered up and held in place according to taste. Let's look at that photo again. Brilliant! It may even be that the waistband drawstrings cover only the back portion of the waistband, so that the front and sides would remain smooth.

The back of an 1895-1900 silk and lace
petticoat, with back gathering and
back fluff helper tie!
Metropolitan Museum of Art,

This next series of screen captures come from a slightly naughty 1896 film titled "Victorian Lady in Her Boudoir" on YouTube. It was actually filmed outside on a set. You can see how similar the trim is to the petticoat above, what circumference it has when moved, and best of all, the tied section in the back which gives a little poof to the outer silk skirt she was wearing. It appears to be tied from the outside if you look carefully and see the long ribbons. Below that are screen captures showing the modest effect of the petticoat on the skirt while she is still and in motion.  You can see several versions of the video on YouTube. Here is one:

Oh, and by the way, that outer skirt is closed with ties, tucked in! Was this for the sake of the film or was it a thing? Further, the handsome tied belt around her waist is a ribbon that she untied. In the last screen capture, she is removing a fluffy cape.

About That Frou-Frou Sound...

Yes, "frou-frou" was a term coined in the era to refer to the rustle of silk petticoats under the gown. However, was making a lovely rustling as one passed by in good taste? In the 1893 article we've just talked about, Ms. Mallon could hardly be more clear about refraining from fou-frouing, alas:

Very few women wear white petticoats with anything except those gowns that necessitate them. And when they are required I advise that they should be either of cambric or dotted muslin, and the only suggestion of starch about them around the hem. The petticoat that rattles is excessively vulgar.
The next year, she carries the warning to wearing silk petticoats: "Silk skirts have pinked ruffles, with lace ones alternating. These are not made as wide as the white skirts......for if they were they would rustle so that they would be counted in very bad taste." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894)

So there you are.

I am inclined to rebel.

So were others. In the same magazine's write-in advice column "Hints on Home Dressmaking", March 1893, Emma M. Hooper, the columnist responded to a letter writer

MRS. JOSEPHINE S. --- Black silk petticoats are made of surah or taffeta, the latter being the "rustling silk" that you speak of, being preferred for that reason, as wearers of silk petticoats are not at all averse to the fact thus being known.

Writers in another publication were inclined to prefer silk petticoats for street wear over cotton ones. What an interesting thought. From "The Latest", in Home and Country (August 1895, p. 22):

Silk petticoats are a real necessity for summer wear. White muslin or cambric underskirts are excellent for the evening, but for street wear they are entirely unsuitable, becoming soiled in an hour or two, and the process of laundering them is both expensibe and difficult. A silk petticoat, on the contrary, does not retain dust or mud, and may be trimmed with yards upon yards of lace and ribbon, or simply ornamented by ruffles of its own material. If the underskirt matches the dress lining in color, the effect, when the dress is lifted, is highly pleasing.


The Number of Petticoats

Note that I am saying "petticoats", not just "petticoat". It was normal to wear more than one petticoat, although, as we shall see, there were exceptions to the advice.

The British sewing manual The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, by Miss J. E. Davis (1894) suggested multiple petticoats, treated in specific ways. In the chapter on drafting and constructing skirts, and in the section about lining skirts, Miss Davis promotes stiffened petticoats as a satisfactory way to maintain the fullness of a skirt, in preference to the use of stiffeners in the bottom edges of skirts  (p. 139):

Indeed, the use of stiffening in the [outside] skirt edge is a rather clumsy resource at any time, the wide effect being easier to secure if the upper petticoat below it is stiffened either with starched flounces, or with pleats and frills of horsehair. Upper skirts [meaning the topmost petticoat] trimmed with a couple of narrow flounces round the bottom edge set out the dress skirt well enough to give a moderately full effect, which will generally satisfy average wearers, especially if a narrow strip of horsehair is doubled and enclosed in the hem of each flounce, both being cut on the cross.
Miss Davis talks about an "upper petticoat" and "upper skirts": she is talking about the topmost of multiple petticoats. How many, she doesn't specify. As a note, Emma Hooper, the other fashion-centric columnist in Ladies Home Journal, didn't specify, either, when counseling a reader in her advice column, "Hints on Home Dressmaking". Instead, she counseled the reader to use her own usual number -- indicating the number varied from woman to woman:
Number of petticoats used. "Hints on Home Dressmaking",
by Emma M. Hooper, Ladies Home Journal,
June, 1894, p. 30.

I could trot out many more quotations in support of multiple petticoats, but that might multiplicate the boredom of reading this research article, which is, besides, a set of blog posts and not a piece I am submitting to an academic journal. Thus, no more quotes on this subject :}

An Interjection: Getting a Smooth Fit at the Waist With a Yoked Petticoat 

As we're talking petticoats, let's cover this, too. You can imagine how petticoats on drawstrings just recommended, might ruck up around the waist, or otherwise lose its position, especially if the wearer was not especially slender.

The Delineator provided a solution in a petticoat with a yoke, and fixed gathering in the back for the necessary fullness -- yes, this design should remind costumers of petticoats in the Natural Form era. Sketches of the petticoat, along with the original directions for making it, appear below. Even without the actual pattern, I am betting that many of us could replicate the garment from what is here.

A yoked petticoat with directions. The Delineator, February 18, 1895, pages 197-8.

I love yokes, especially if they are two layers sewn together. I have a yoked denim miniskirt: the wide yoke distributes the pressure on the lower abdomen, flattening it to some degree, while the absence of a narrow waistband prevents the waistband drawing in tightly while the abdomen below it protrudes. I am fairly sure that is why The Delineator recommended yokes.

Here is another one, from the same issue:

A yoked petticoat with directions. The Delineator, February 18, 1895, pages 240.

Do note: the writer says that a white petticoat will not be worn under a gown for the street in winter. Memo to file when you make a winter 1890s skirt!

Similar advice is dispensed by Isobel Mallon in the previously mentioned "Dainty Lingerie of Today." She says:

If one is inclined to be stout a yoke is advised in preference to a belt, and this yoke should be at least three inches in depth. This buttons, and then it is necessary to have a drawing-string far down in the skirt to keep the fullness from sagging to the front."
I am not sure, but that "drawing-string" might tie the fullness towards the back...and of course we've already read about that, and know its advantages.

Petticoats Stiffened With Starch, But Better, With Crinoline

If you were paying attention, and I am sure my prose is so lucid and exciting that you're reading this with trembling hands, you will have heard Miss Davis above suggest that a portion of the petticoats -- the flounces -- be starched, and Ms. Mallon say that the hem was the only place starch should be found. We all know starching practices used during previous fashion eras really help hold a skirt into the fashionable shape.

I suspect that Miss Davis really does just mean the flounces are stiff-starched, rather than the entire petticoat being dipped and starched, although it's possible that British taste in petticoats varied from American taste. Ladies Home Journal believed that women had experience with heavily starched garments being uncomfortable, especially in summertime:

Over-starched frocks are uncomfortable. Ladies Home Journal, July, 1895,
p. 21.

In fact, Isobel Mallon, a year earlier, wrote that muslin petticoats were out of style, and that petticoats were no longer stiffly starched:

"It has not been so very long ago since muslin was generally used for underwear. That it was thick, warm and by no means easy to arrange in a pretty way was not thought of, and if one suggested that in its place linen or lawn should be used someone else was already ready to announce that both of these materials were more expensive and more difficult to launder. Nowadays we know that lawn or percale, for the latter is frequently noted, is quite as cheap as muslin, because of the greater width, and that, as underwear is no longer made stiff with starch,  its laundering is quite easy." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August 1894, p. 23.)
A side note: by this date, many petticoats were made of lightweight fabrics, as were undergarments in general.

As I have said before, the favorite material for underwear, of course not counting the flannel for petticoats, is either lawn or percale. When the latter is chosen it usually has a fine stripe or tiny dot of some color on it. What are known as the cross-barred muslins, which are, by-the-by, very thin and inexpensive, are occasionally used for nightdresses to be worn during the summer, but this material is not noted in any other garment. Occasionally a light-weight cambric is selected for petticoats, but lawn is given the preference. Silk underwear has not the same vogue it had some time ago, but it cannot be denied that if one can afford to wear it, it is the most agreeable material imaginable." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", by Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894, p. 23)
Starching the flounces of a lawn petticoat is going to have a different, more papery effect than starching a heavier weight fabric, such as a longcloth (which is thickish, soft, and dense), or a muslin. I do not know how well such would hold out a heavy silk or wool skirt, although it would work well for a summer muslin.

Not all advice is going to agree. The same year, a syndicated article in The McCook Tribune reported (January 12, 1894) "Evening skirts are now made with heavy flounces stiffly starched in the old fashion, and more than one skirt is worn. Some of the new white starched skirts have three overlapping flounces reaching from the belt to the hem in the back, and one full flounce extending all the way around the skirt to the knees. All these flounces are stiffened, but not to the point of rattling, and help to hold out the light skirts of the evening gown". As 1894 turned into 1895, starched pettis were not going to cut it in the skirt support department, and other ideas took over.

A Haircloth Petticoat, or Petticoat with Haircloth Additions

Haircloth is one of those utility fabrics which is still being manufactured, and still contains the horsehair or other hairs that it contained generations ago. It's still used in tailoring and other manufactures. Even Pellon, which manufactures interfacings, offers it.

A selection of haircloth images on Google Images.

Haircloth petticoats, or petticoats with added haircloth, appear repeatedly in dressmaking content in the mid-1890s. Of course, the idea of using haircloth to make petticoats was nothing new. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has one from the 1840s in their collection, and they appear as part of petticoats in other stylistic portions of the Victorian era.

Haircloth petticoat, 1840s.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

In "Comfortable Dressing in Summer" in the July, 1895 Ladies Home Journal, page 21, women are recommended to wear a petticoat made of haircloth to help the skirt achieve the proper set. Isobel Mallon, the regular fashion columnist for that magazine, wrote, "I have before this described the haircloth petticoat, the wearing of which makes it possible either to omit lining the cotton skirt, or the having a very soft, thin one." Underneath, she recommends wearing a "skirt of flannelette, reaching the knees...for while it gives the required warmth to the body, it is not heavy, nor does it seem to become imbued with the outside heat." Here is the idea of the insulating power of clothes against heat. However, she does say a bit further on that "(m)any women complain of the weight of the haircloth petticoat in summer."

Alas, I do not have a photograph anywhere, of what an 1890s haircloth petticoat actually looks like. However, illustrations do exist. Here's one, from The Salt Lake Herald, along with its article. The marketing aspect of this article is interesting.

What I did find were references to haircloth petticoats in other publications. Here is one in the February 1895 Delineator (p. 222):

If it is not desired to stiffen a skirt with an interlining, a petticoat of hair-cloth, made with the approved godets, may be worn. This will cause the skirt to flare as correctly as though it were held out by the usual means.

Another, appended to a summertime article, "The Latest" offering other options for skirt linings/interlinings in hot weather xx, 1895, p. 22):

Stiff skirt linings are practically abolished. This is probably due to the fact that they are utterly unsuited to transparent fabrics, in addition to the insupportable weight which they would give to hot-weather gowns. Foundation muslin is much used in place of stiffer fabrics for an interlining. There is also a tendency to making a foundation lining of light silk, to which the outer skirt is attached only at the band. The two materials thus fall in their natural folds. Another fashion is to do away with all linings, and merely to wear beneath the white petticoat an underskirt of the very lightest weight hair-cloth. [emphasis mine]
Yet another, with a few more details, in "Fashion, Fact, and Fancy", by Countess Annie de Montagu, in Godey's Magazine, (September 1895, p. 326):

The hair-cloth skirts are delightful for summer wear. No other petticoat, save a short under one, need be worn, provided the skirt is faced up with silk to about the depth of a quarter or half a yard. These skirts stand out beautifully and are exceedingly cool. The obviate the necessity of putting hair-cloth in the back of skirts. A new development is the wearing of hair-cloth in colors, which does away the necessity of facing with silk.

A writer named Judic Chollet recommended that "during the warm season it is far more comfortable to have the skirt made without a lining, relying on a well cut petticoat made of stiff goods for the proper flare." Persumably they were talking of haircloth. Their description of summery misery in a godet skirt is memorable: "Godet and other skirts, with an interlining of crinoline, have caused an immense increase in 'that tired feeling in women who lift the skirt in walking. It is impossible to gather the triple folds in one hand, and to use two is inconvenient as well as less graceful.  The godets are heavy and clumsy, and they weary the fingers and steth the gloves." ("Summer Fashions." Mower County Transcript, July 10, 1895). Well!

In the July Ladies Home Journal issue referred to above, Mrs. Mallon describes a silk petticoat with haircloth box-plaitings, to be worn under those skirts that are too light to carry a stiff lining. Just to reiterate, the petticoat itself is of silk: only the box-pleats are made of haircloth. She writes:

The newest skirt, however, is the one shown at Illustration No. 2. It is made of white moreen, and is to be worn under cotton, silk, or any light-weight material that will not stand a stiff lining. It is cut by the godet pattern [in other words, with back godet plaits, which I will cover in another post] and has as decoration three box-plaitings of the white haircloth, the top one having as a finish a thick silk cord. This seems a rather expensive skirt, but it will be found very useful, especially to the woman who likes pretty cotton toilettes. 
Here is the illustration belonging to the description:

Petticoat with haircloth box pleatings. Ladies Home Journal, July 1895, p.25.

I find this petticoat idea very interesting. If I were to make one, each of the box-pleated flounces would be composed of silk covering the haircloth. That way the exterior would be smoother, prettier, and less likely to catch or rub on the skirt lining.

The reader who remembers many paragraphs back in this long article get extra points for recalling part of what Miss. Davis wrote in The Elements of Modern Dressmaking, above:

Upper skirts [meaning the topmost petticoat] trimmed with a couple of narrow flounces round the bottom edge set out the dress skirt well enough to give a moderately full effect, which will generally satisfy average wearers, especially if a narrow strip of horsehair is doubled and enclosed in the hem of each flounce, both being cut on the cross. [my emphasis]

Her advice would only apply to fabric petticoat flounces, rather than the lace flounces that were so popular. If we make a petticoat today, and have the wherewithal to use lace for the outermost flounce, we can still do as she suggests with the ruffle or ruffles on the lowest part of the petticoat under the flounce.

Home Dressmaking Made Easy, written by Emma M. Hooper, one of Isobel Mallon's fellow Ladies Home Journal columnists, offers a design (p. 38) with a wide flounce made of haircloth:

"Some ladies wear a petticoat of haircloth made with a yoke and upper part of sateen, for the sake of its lightness; then a Spanish flounce (18 inches deep) of haircloth box-plaited on the front and side and godet flutes used at the back. This flounce is turned up at the lower edge, faced with sateen and finished with a bias velveteen binding or braid, making a skirt for all gowns, though personally I prefer a silk petticoat and interlined dress skirt. Haircloth has a niche of its own, and is one of those fortunate or unfortunate articles used in dressmaking that cannot have a satisfactory substitute."

Bones and Wires In the Petticoat: A Hoopskirt For the 1890s?

In 1893 there were rumors that the crinoline would return. Hoopskirts and crinolines never did make a comeback, but boning, wire and other hard structural aids did. Who knew? Not many of us, I think.

Here is Isobel in the summer of 1895 ("The Summer Petticoat". Ladies Home Journal, July 1895, p.21):
Many women complain of the weight of the haircloth petticoat in the summer. When this is felt I would advise a skirt of mohair, cut exactly as if it were a dress skirt, and stiffened with five rows, quite close to each other, of the narrow whalebones that come for this purpose. They are mounted in the center of a braid that, extending beyond the bone on each side, makes it easy to sew the bands in position. This bone is pliable, as the best quality of whalebone is  used, and it certainly will hold the skirt exactly as fashion dictates. A cheap arrangement of whalebone which is covered, but which has no extension of braid like that described, is seen, but I cannot recommend it, as in sewing it on, the needle would be apt to go through the whalebone, and once it is split no wear can be expected from it. The one of which I approve I have seen tried, and that is why I commend it for stiffening petticoats or gowns for the woman who find the haircloth at once heating and heavy.
There were braids fitted with whalebones sold especially for the purpose of creating something related to a hoopskirt out of a petticoat! Because the braid is sewn on to a petticoat shaped exactly like a dress skirt, the lines of the dress skirt would be retained. 

Emma M. Hooper describes a similar product to a subscriber, Addie, in her write-in column, Home Dressmaking, in the April 1895 issue of Ladies Home Journal (p. 34). In this case, the reason for the steeled hem is to keep the feet free, but it of course holds the skirt out, also. 
There is a flat pliable steel covered with a kind of webbing that is excellent for using in a petticoat. It should be run in a casing an inch above the bottom edge and keeps the petticoat from flapping against the ankles. (2) A black alpaca petticoat is excellent for traveling.
In The Salt Lake Herald piece earlier in this post, the writer calls the wire product "wire braids". 

Here's another description of "tiny steel tape through the hem", this one from Vogue magazine, 1894, p. 217. Once again, the wire is advised as a way to avoid the weight and over-warmness of heavy underskirts. Vogue is not a fan of moreen:

Hem stiffener in the form of "tiny steel tape".
Vogue, Volume 3, 1894, p. 217.

A syndicated article in The McCook Tribune (January 12, 1894) reported "[a] swell dressmaker confessed recently that the reason why some of the flaring skirts hung out around the bottom with such a graceful flare was because of a flexible steel a quarter of an inch in width which runs through the hem. Some of the latest silk petticoats have two of these wires run through the folds, one at the hem and another a few inches above."

The nature of these wires is becoming a bit clearer...Vogue says they're "tiny" and "tapes", and the McCook Tribune defines the wire as 1/4" wide, which is quite small. Put these two ideas together and I believe we get thin, flat spring steel. To me, this sounds an awful lot like a flat spring wire, such as is used in old watch springs, wee steel measuring tapes, and the like. It would be pliable, yet spring back into shape. 

It sounds, however, as if there were multiple types of wires. The Louisiana Democrat "Woman's World" column claimed that the French designer Montalle "puts nothing in his dress skirts, but provides a petticoat with very fine aluminum wires run in it." The same article claims that the French aversion to heavy stiffenings is what had and would continue to prevent the old crinoline skirt from making a comeback. (February 13, 1895).

Wires In the Hems of Outer Skirts: An Aside

By the way, the wires could be run into the hems of the outer skirts, as well petticoats. After looking for many months, I've only found a single example in which the description included a note about an internal wire, a light-colored mid-decade striped silk day dress featured on the blog All the Pretty Dresses. The blog pulled the dress pictures and descriptive information from a sale site. The description included the following: "The skirt closes by hooks and loops at the back and is poor/fair condition. Its silk lining has a added wide net lace dust ruffle at hem. Inside of skirt has ties to adjust fullness bustle effect. The hem has a wire inserted around perimeter added for fullness at base."

Light-colored 1890's day dress, in All the Pretty
Dresses blog.

As you can tell, the wire would have to be very light weight indeed to fall easily into those gorgeous rounded folds in the Vogue's "tiny steel tape". 

Here's another mention of wire in outer skirts, this from the Evening Star, May 05, 1894 in reference to a costly day dress: "the skirt being made very flaring, with godet plaits wired and held by stays" just as in the dress photographed above. I wonder if it was just the back of the skirt with the large flutes that was wired.

The pliability of these wires, probably for both skirts and petticoats, is made clear in the following article:

The Salt Lake Herald, December 30, 1894.

Finally! We can say pretty confidently that the wires that held these skirts out were indeed springy: the godet plates -- the big fluted folds -- "open and shut with a movement like a fan". I cannot tell you how excited I was to read these words, because it's now clear that the steel wires were flat narrow spring steel.

I bet the same product was used in the petticoats! Oh frabjous day...I've been trying to figure out what these wires were like for almost a year.

To celebrate, a bit of humor. The writer of the "Feminine Affairs" column in To-day, a magazine which described itself as a "Weekly Magazine-Journal" commented on wired skirts in the December 8, 1894 issue, p. 140. She and her husband were at a Church Parade:

"Jim was with me, and he trod on a lady's gown, much to her annoyance and to his own intense disgust, for you know how he prides himself on his freedom from clumsiness in such matters. But it led to a discovery. The skirt was wired all round the edge. Now, could there be a subtler trap for masculine feet than this?"

The lady in question had worn her skirt to touch the ground to help her appear taller, which the writer understood but still felt wasn't "quite excusable", because "all the smart people wear their skirts well off the ground". Well, so much for humor. Ack: the snobbery in fashion...

I have not been able to inspect a real live example of a dress or petticoat with wire. Until research turns something up or the pandemic lessens enough that I can visit either the Cincinnati Museum or Kent State collection, we don't know exactly what this wiring was like and if it was a highly flexible flat spring wire as I suspect, or if there were more than one type of wiring available.

Just to whet your appetite, there were many other wire- or bone-like skirt distenders available. You'll meet them in a post further on in this series.

Next time? Skirt interlinings, and all about those big funnelly, fluted back-of-the-skirt folds -- godets.

Friday, November 01, 2019

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 1, Fullness and Flare

Edited with new content September 19, 2020

I have been on the hunt for the most effective period ways to add fullness in my mid-1890s skirt so that it looks more like illustrations and fashion plates. Women and modistes/seamstresses of the period had the same concerns and questions. Therefore, I am plumbing the prescriptive literature -- the fashion magazines, newspaper columns, sewing guides, and the like -- that gave instruction and commented more or less approvingly, and with more or less humor, on the what, where, when and how of wearing a skirt a la mode.

There is so very much to write about, that I have had to split the information into many posts. As new information comes to light, I have been editing some of the posts. Here is the entirety of what has been published so far:
Are you ready for a long research article? Here we go!

Oh, and for those of you wondering where part 2 of the belt/plastron/rosettes tutorial went, it's still in process. My hands needed a break from needle and thread. Not that typing is much better for them...

What Is the Silhouette We're After?

At this particular point, the mid-point of the decade and the apogee of amplitude for both sleeves and skirt circumference, the overall silhouette could be an extreme hour glass: wide sleeves, wee waist, skirts wide at the hem, although usually the front of the skirt was expected to be rather narrowly cut. Pick a fashion plate in 1895, just about any fashion plate, and you're apt to see something like this, below, or some of the examples further down in this article:

1895 fashion plate from the Netherlands: "De Nouveaute; Mode-Journal, Amsterdam;
from Genealogy Lady blog, July 12, 2015.

Our model is young, sweet, and very pretty in her muted blue street gown, which by the way, I really like. Had I seen it before making my ensemble, I'd have made it instead. 

As you might suspect, the generic silhouette varied a great deal when it came to making up the skirts, depending a lot on where the skirt was to be worn, the season, and the age, occupation, financial condition, personal preference, and any number of factors related to the person wearing it. A widely flaring skirt was probably not going to cut it when worn by a lower-level secretary in an office or a shop-woman behind the counter. Nor would most young women out for a ramble in the countryside be likely to select a skirt of many yards and copious folds. Struggling with a heavy skirt of 7 or 8 yards' circumference among brambles and fallen logs would be perfect fodder for jokes and cautionary tales.

Miss Rosley and Mr. Grant meet in a wood to the side of a cornfield
encumbered with stone and rail fences. "Are you not tired?" I whispered. "Oh, you can speak
out now," she said. "I am tired, though, for it was so rough." You see, Miss Rosley has snuck
away from her garden and prying eyes... This is part of scene from "As One Woman to
Another", by Frank R. Stockton. His works are great fun to read.
Ladies Home Journal, January, 1895, p. 3.

On the other hand, a matron wanting to impress others descending the stairs of a theater or entering an afternoon reception might have worn -- or wanted to wear -- a gown with as dramatically large a flare as socially and financially possible.

Afternoon fashions with lots of fullness in the back of skirts. Demorest's Family Magazine, February 1895, p. 207. Mildred Duncan, the heroine of "Our Working Sisters", a serialized, moralizing thriller novel, attends an afternoon function. Mildred, born to wealth in New York, has plans to assist working women, but is being threatened and bullied by an adventurer with designs on her fortune and her future.

Keep in mind these variations when reading the below.

What Books and Magazines Said About Fullness and Flare in Mid-decade Skirts

Skirts had been amplifying since very early in the decade. Allow The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, written by Jeanette Davis and Cora Holahan in 1894, to set the mid-decade scene:
It has been stated that the bottom edge of a well-cut skirt should flow outward (sufficiently so, in fact, to quite shadow the feet when the wearer is in a standing position -- and a skirt which does not fulfil this condition is never quite satisfactory). To maintain this effect, frills, flounces, ruches, linings of crinoline and horsehair, balayeuses (or inside frills), wadded hems and rolls, etc., are all used in turn, and anything in the choice of lining or in the finishing of the bottom edge of the skirt that allows it to fall soft, or that draws it in in the slightest degree, is at once rejected as not meeting the requirements of the work. Methods of finishing which leave the edges thin are, therefore, less favoured than those which leave them firm and full, and all hems, stiffening, etc., are cut amply wide, and bindings, etc., well eased on, to guard against the danger of drawing in.

When in 1894 skirts began to become truly large, the Ladies Home Journal made suggestions for reworking existing skirts. Here, from their January 1894 issue, page 21:

Ladies Home Journal, January 1894: godet plaits.

In 1893, the magazine intimates, skirts had been about 3 yards in circumference. Now, fashion was moving to more fabric -- more fullness -- and the magazine was telling readers how they could achieve the appearance of more circumference by reworking their existing skirts. Wondering about those "godet plaits"? Don't worry; I'll be covering them later.

A year later, in January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine wrote about their new pattern, the "Ripple" skirt on p. 182, saying it was over five yards in circumference:

A modish skirt, measuring something more than five yards around the bottom. This is the maximum width of comfort for a short skirt of anything but diaphanous fabrics. The pattern is commended for handsome gowns of silk, moire, or crepon. It is in five breadths, with exceedingly wide side gores, and two back breadths usually cut to meet on the bias....The skirt fits the waist trimly across the front and over the hips, and the fullness of the back breadths is laid in two box plaits.

January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine, p. 182. Two outfits using the Demorest's Ripple skirt pattern.
January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine, p. 182. The Demorest's Ripple skirt pattern sketch.

Demorest's patterns were usually available for quite a while, and the magazine might refer to a pattern published many months ago in a later issue.

In April 1895 (p. 299), the same magazine described how a tailor-made suit (a conservative, rather masculine style) should appear:
[Tailor-made] Skirts differ in no respect from those in vogue during the winter. Though there is considerable variety in cut, the effect achieved is the same in all: a close, trim appearance in front and on the sides, fitting perfectly around the hips, flaring at the bottom, with the fullness in the back held in two or three plaits, very narrow at the waist line and broadening out below.

In the same issue, the Demorest's writers had strong words about skirt circumference, good sense and, -- whoo! --extremism (p. 301):
A Flaring Skirt
For street wear there is a general and marked preference for skirts of moderate fullness, flaring well at the bottom and fitted trimly around the waist. The very full skirts are so unmanageable and so great a burden to carry, that sensible women -- and among these are numbered many very smart ones in matters of dress -- will have none of them for walking. None but extremists, who adopt every latest conceit, will wear at any time the enormously full skirt which surrounds the figure with folds and ripples; for no matter how elegant the fabric or how graceful the woman she loses all dignity and ease of motion with such a load of folds flopping around her knees. For evening gowns, skirts of eight and nine yards in circumference can not only be tolerated but even admired when the fullness is confined to the sides and back; and some women wear them with extreme chic.

If you think that the magazine is condemning and celebrating a large skirt circumference in almost the same breadth, that's true, but it's all in the cut. Remember that while many evening gowns were of heavy materials, keeping the bulk in the back makes it easier to walk: it's a bit easier to drag a weight than be slowed by it in front of the knees. 

As intimated above, where the dress would be worn, and therefore what it was best made of, made a difference. Mrs. Emma M. Hooper, writing in her LHJ column, "Hints on Home Dressmaking," to a subscriber who had evidently asked about the issue, wrote about everyday, washable dresses, often of cotton:
Ladies Home Journal, June 1895, p. 31

Don't you rather feel that G.E.M, whoever she was, was a little let down hearing that "The skirts of wash dresses do not flare"? It's rather bald, isn't it? Can't you just hear her deflate on reading that it wasn't fashionably acceptable for her everyday cotton dress to set out from her feet at a 60 degree angle, like the lady filmed on a visit to the Plaza San Marco in Venice in her gorgeous taffeta suit?

screen capture

It's rather like comparing this everyday dress, circa 1895 sold by Augusta Auctions,

Cotton day dress circa 1895, Augusta Auctions. Lot 100 May 18, 2018

Cotton day dress circa 1895, Augusta Auctions. Lot 100 May 18, 2018.

with this glorious marigold gown circa the same year, also from Augusta Auctions, but found on the retro Rack blog. Same era, but a dress for a different occasion.

Circa 1895-96 gown, Augusta Auctions,

But then, the Ladies Home Journal was rather conservative, and its covers tend to show modest skirt flare. Here's July 1895's handsome cover, or rather, the version of the cover just inside the magazine, with the poem that accompanies it. Our young woman may have just stepped away from an afternoon gathering with lemonade at a house just at the edge of town.

Ladies Home Journal, July 1895, p. 3

Here's the cover from April. Two young women are promenading, in bodices and skirts that do not match. Their skirts have flare, but it's not as extreme as that of the fashion plate at the beginning of this post. Wearing a bodice that did not match the skirt was a popular fashion, and the options ranged from the secretary's cotton shirtwaist and wool skirt, or "percale shirtwaist with a blue and white duck skirt", to a "fancy silk waist and one of your skirts described".

Ladies Home Journal cover, April 1895

For interest I am including Mrs. Hooper's complete advice regarding appropriate dress for a "middle-aged matron" for the house versus for the street, and what to wear on a trip.

Ladies Home Journal July 1895, p. 32

Ladies Home Journal July 1895, p. 32

Although, let's look at another extant example, a happy, cotton with a yoke frill look and handsome flounce. The yoke reminds people of my age of 1980s nightgowns, but this decidedly chic yoke was popular during the 1890s. The skirt cut in the front is such that it would hang in unfashionable folds unless it flared a good deal at the foot. It is entirely unlined, so the bodice is a shirtwaist. Here is what would qualify as a wash dress to be worn inside the home or perhaps on the front porch or lawn with dear friends, but it's certainly not following Mrs. Hooper's rules.

Circa 1895 summer cotton dress, unlined, with black velvet
ribbon run through the entredeux trim. 

Circa 1895 summer cotton dress, unlined, with black velvet
ribbon run through the entredeux trim. 

I could go on with countless examples during 1895, but I think that it's clear now that skirt circumference could vary for a lot of reasons, but that flare was definitely the thing.

Now that we have established the flare and fullness of the mid-1890s skirt, let's visit one of the most common ways of adding fullness: petticoats. But not just any petticoats...