This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Researching an Idea: 1870s Princess-style Dresses (1876-79)

Last year this 1875 dress caught my eye, and I immediately wanted to make it, as all us Squirrels tend to do. At first it looked like it was all one piece, with the Princess seam lines down the front. I loved the inset piece of contrasting fabric down the center front. I could see a lot of ideas that would work with it, with different fabrics and trims.
I started by cropping a smaller view of the bodice area, and then noticed something. It wasn’t all one piece, it was a long bodice over a skirt but well designed to draw the eye down. I could see at the bottom of the row of buttons that it was cut off there. That was an awfully long bodice. 

I began to gather my fabrics I could use for making it. I’d love to do the brown floral silk here but haven’t found a good solid color for it yet. I had a lot of the teal silk taffeta, so I found a matching Chinese brocade on etsy for it. That was supposed to be made last year but I got backed up making something else. And so on. 

But then I came across another seemingly all-one-piece dress, and this time it really was. In looking close-up, I wasn’t seeing a separation of bodice and skirt. So, voila we have a Princess-line dress. I noticed the same look in some wrappers but there was a difference. A Princess-line dress is entirely long panels of fabric that are seamed all the way down to the bottom of the hem. The wrappers only had darts that fitted it closely to the waist so it looked similar. 

So now I wanted to find out more about these dresses because I found THIS fashion print and now have the fabric  and black lace to make it. 

And just what is a Princess-line, or Princess dress? They are associated with Charles Frederick Worth, who introduced them in the early 1870s in honor of Princess Alexandra of Wales. And if it looks like the Natural Form dresses, you’re right. Because those were all the rage up to 1880. They were very popular for the young girls too. I had actually saved a photo of Princess Alexandra to my folder showing one of these dresses, not even thinking of Worth or it being attributed to her. But she had the body for it.

There was even a “house dress Polonaise cut in a Princess shape” (1878). I guess everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. But this one kind of goes back to my original pursuit of the long Basque bodice over a skirt-look.
So getting back to what I thought was my idea for a Princess dress (oh my, that sounds lovely), it turned out most of the ones I liked LOOKED like Princess lines but weren’t really. It was an optical illusion.


I didn’t like the Natural Form look on me the one time I made it. The long droopy apron in the front was just not flattering on me. But I’m liking the busy-ness of all that stuff in the middle, and you can add ruffles and bows and all kinds of stuff.
But there’s no patterns out there right now for this look. So I need to cobble something together.  I think I can use the back of the Truly Victorian tea gown #432 for the Watteau train I want, but to get the front will require a little more work. 

I need to first decide will I make it all one length, aka Princess line, or go with the Basque bodice over the skirt version? I figured I could lengthen Truly Victorian’s Bodice #225, but I would want to cut out a square neckline on it. Then I could use their skirt #225 with just a train. And yes, trains in the 70s was a thing.
                                                                 TV 423                                                          
TV 225
These are going into my “Make Me”, aka “The Squirrel’s Play Box”, planning file for when I can manage to slip them in between other dresses I still want to make. It’s not a priority at the moment but I have the fabric, and the idea, so all I need is to add a pinch of time.

                                             Decisions, decisions. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1888-1889 The Revival of the Directoire Style & The End of the Bustle

A few years ago, I bought a book that the photos of dresses on the cover really caught my eye. It was during the late bustle period starting in 1888 and the bustles were disappearing by then. They looked more tailored and not fluffy like the earlier dresses. What was catching my eye was the open-robe type bodice and overskirt, kind of like wearing an open coat over your dress. Although at that time, I didn’t make the connection with the earlier open-robes of the 1790s. The book was “Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889”. In the ensuing years, I’ve never heard that term used. But recently a few fashion photos caught my eye again, and I decided to take a closer look at this short-lived style. 
I started searching on the internet for Directoire revival, with no luck. My friend, Cindy, told me she’d read something somewhere about the style being taken from the opera, La Tosca by Sardou. She suggested I use the terms differently, so I then started searching for revival 1880s Directoire fashion, and came up with this Google Books document from The Dictionary of Costume Fashion by Valerie Cummings, C.W. Cunnington, & P.E. Cunnington.  The document broke the style down into Directoire hats, coats, skirt, jacket, AND the swallow-tail coat. THAT’S what was catching my eye, and now I had a name for it.
Directoire styles, late 1880s-1910: The revival of Directoire styles was inspired by Sardou’s drama, La Tosca, as played by the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt in 1887. The sleek, narrow lines and higher waistlines recalled the fashions worn in France in the last years of the 18th century, though the corsetry and silhouette was unmistakeably of the later time.
1888 Directoire coat: The bodice of the day dress in the form of a double- or single-breasted coat cut across horizontally above the waist line in front, falling vertically at the sides and from a gathering at the back of the waist, to the ankles. Tight sleeves with cuffs. Worn with a wide folded sash round the waist. If double-breasted, worn with a habit shirt; if single breasted, worn open with a shirt blouse.
1888 Directoire jacket: A similar bodice of a day dress but without the skirt portion of the Directoire coat.
1895(?) Directoire skirt: A day skirt made with 7-gores, the four at the back being fluted. It was lined and stiffened with horsehair, and measured 14 to 18 feet around the hem.
1888 Directoire swallow-tail coat: The back of the directoire coat, cut into tails with a deep central vent between; An afternoon dress style.
1888 Directoire hat: similar to the directoire bonnet description but larger-A square, moderately high- crowned bonnet, the brim fitting over the ears, spreading out above the forehead.

So, it was a swallow-tail coat. It also reminded me of the polonaise of the 1870s.Then I went on a rabid hunt for more fashion prints with the dates 1887-1890, because they would come out earlier to affect the following years. I saw a couple that went into the 1890s before the sleeve puffs started at the shoulders. Most of them were just mixed in with other styles of the same time period, so it wasn’t widely shown.
This article mentions the Directoire style on the bottom right photo.
This first fashion plate from 1887 is from the Costume Institute. Even though it still has some bustle in back, definitely has the open-coat look starting.
These were a couple favorites I saved from 1888 Peterson’s Magazine, Journal des Demoiselles, and La Mode Francaise. 

This is from one of the fashion magazines that you can see the back of the coat.
These 1889 fashion prints are from La Petit Echo de la Mode, and Revue de la Mode magazines.

Being curious of what was going under the dresses then, I found a walking skirt and a couple of the bustled skirt being worn in Delineator Magazine. It’s not totally flat yet, which I like, because I’m not ready to give up my bustle at this point either. The second and third photo of the bustle looks like the skirt itself is bustled and the coat would go over that.

I couldn’t find a dated bustle for the two years but this looks close to what would be needed under them.

So, inquiring minds want to know: how do I make this? While reading the descriptions from the Costume History, my mind would jump to patterns I had that each part of the dress and hat would remind me. Since I’m able to easily use Truly Victorian patterns, and have a good many of them already, that was a piece of cake. Starting with the bodice, there’s a couple options to work with. First is the TV #462 Tail bodice pattern, which I would extend the skirt portion farther forward so I have the pleating in the center back, and smooth sides. Another idea is to add the tail to TV#466, which has the lapels needed, and a center section.

An alternative top would be to use VPLL (Vintage Pattern Lending Library/ available on etsy) #672, and just add sleeves and the tails. 
This skirt may or may not need too much altering using TV #261, unless you were picky and wanted all 7-gores rather than the 4 it has. 
And finally, I immediately thought of this TV #551 hat pattern from the description. I’ve seen it made up and it’s adorable.
Here are more of the pretties. You can see my collection of 1888-1889 fashion prints on my Pinterest page , and you’ll see variations of the style on other dresses there.