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...

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