Thursday, March 19, 2020

1895 Outfit: A Real 1890s Underskirt With Multiple Stiffening Aids

Well, I'll be. By accident I came upon an 1890s underskirt that employs many of the stiffening methods I've talked about over these last months. Let's visit it, shall we?

We can do, during what is truly an extraordinarily scary and tragic period, with a little escape.

First, if you need to orient yourself, here is what has been published so far in this series:
Here is the underskirt in all its glory.

The skirt is for sale by The Gatherings Antique Vintage on Etsy. It is described as a bustle underskirt, but the skirt silhouette and construction point to sometime in the 1890s. Some skirts did feature underskirts -- there was a mode for it, for instance, around 1893. Alternatively, could this have served as an outer petticoat under a grand silk skirt?

I'll let The Gatherings describe the skirt:

A late 19th century Victorian brown underskirt petticoat. This underpinning is made of brown polished cotton or what I call dress lining fabric. The underskirt is a structured garment with stiffening at the back of skirt, from the waist to hem, for supporting a bustle. A cream band of silk shantung fabric, 9" wide, forms the border of the skirt. This was probably the same fabric the outer skirt / dress was made from. This border, too, is lined in stiffening fabric. At the hem a narrow band of velvet fabric edges the hem. The weight of the velvet would also have given structure to the hem, to keep its flare The fabric at the waist band is flat in front with wide box pleats at the back. Hook and eye closure at the waist band.

Other than the bit about the bustle, the description is helpful. Yes, a small pad in the back could help the shape of the skirt in back, but that's not an 1870s or 1880s bustle.

As we see below, the skirt exterior is largely made of that brown polished cotton that had been so common for decades.

At the bottom of the skirt, on the outside, is an outer layer of silk shantung. The stitches at the top show that the very top of this section wouldn't be seen. The velvet, which serves as brush braid, is visible at the skirt edge: those looking at the skirt would have seen that but not regarded it as a visual issue, as it was so common.

Here's a closeup. Those top stitches are large and made with thick thread, and the shantung is very slubby. The velvet serving as brush braid has been sewn to the exterior with right sides together, turned over to hide the seam, and then folded over the bottom of the skirt fabric to the interior of the skirt.

Let's move to the back of the skirt. There are the common very large pleats. Back in the day they most likely would have been rounded godet plaits, not flattened pleats. There appear to be three of them to each side of the back opening. Note the bit of gathering to the side back. Note too the narrowness of the waistband and that it is topstitched on. Also that the interior seams are not finished.

Moving to the inside of the top of the skirt, we see that the stiffening -- that barred white coarse fabric -- goes from the bottom of the skirt all the way to the waistband, and the plaits are encased in it. The side back panels are not lined. Can you imagine the weight if they had been? The skirt is already heavy enough as it is!

Just as we have seen in illustrations in the last post, there is a band sewn from side back to side back. It doesn't appear to be elasticated, although I cannot tell for sure -- it seems to be made of, or at least covered with, the polished cotton. It's sewn to each pleat with big fat cross stitches in thick thread, for durability. The band would have held the skirt godets plaits in their glorious tube shapes and kept the skirt fullness towards the back.

Remember that this band will be near that skirt back opening, which make me think that the skirt would have been easier to put on over the head. Stepping above the band and through the placket and waist opening would have been a tricky maneuver.

Moving down the to the bottom of the interior, we see that the stiffening climbs at least shin high right the way round the skirt. Of course, as just mentioned, it goes from waist to bottom at the back. The velvet edging is quite wide on the inside. This would have been an extra layer helping with the skirt shape, of course, but I wonder if the fabric would have been easier to handle this way -- less likely to fray and lose fibers, easier to manipulate. Not having tried it myself, I can only guess.

The last picture is a closeup of the interior bottom. You can see that the stiffening is truly coarse, and I'd pretty much count on it being sized heavily. The velvet -- or velveteen, is it? -- has been cut on the bias, and hemmed on the inside by hand.

How delighted I was to find this garment online! Sure hope someone who won't wear it, but will care for it, will purchase it, because it's very nice piece of fashion history. Sure wish I could...

In Other News

On February 27 I wrote about kicking the exercise habit into higher gear, so that I could fit once more into favorite costumes. I wrote "Maybe something will go very wrong: it has in the past."

It seems the unconscious had been busy with worries. I work in public health. Because of some pretty trying chronic health conditions and the immunocompromised status, I only work part-time now, in health communications, not as an epidemiologist or biostatistician or something of that nature. Still, I was already involved with small-scale, task-based communications research on coronavirus.

For several weeks now I've been self-quarantined, and recently the entire family retired into our home, like a hermit crab into its shell, only there are several hermit crabs sharing the same shell. The infrequent trip to the grocery is followed by careful wiping of all the enters the house, and all surfaces in contact with hands or objects that had been out there.

Exercise continues, for all of us, although its nature has changed. Workout videos, crazy bouncing around on the part of the twins, walks in our suburban intown neighborhood. Any neighbors met mutually keeping 10 feet away.

Our town is reeling, and we're doing our best to support the many small businesses that to date have graced our lives. It's not a wealthy town to begin with, but I am grateful to see businesses that can and those with deep pockets help those citizens who are in bad straits. So far we're okay, but being careful...fear of massive medical expenses lurk in the back of my mind.

As for the virus? Like a lot of people, the pit of the stomach churns for the elder members of our family, and for all of us really, as the most recent case data show hospitalizations affecting a wide swath of ages. For myself, I have been through several near-catastrophic health events over the years, and have long had a mindset more akin to people in third-world countries today, or people of past centuries: grateful for each day and ever-mindful of mortality. It does wonders for faith, my friends, although it is also fodder for malencholy.

I hope to heaven that folks get the message to keep distance but keep the love flowing, that we will support those who work in healthcare, emergency response, police, pharmacy, essential retail, food production, essential manufacturing, childcare for these groups... Theirs is a road needing fortitude, but if we see a chance to help, no matter how small, let us take it, shall we?