Thursday, 5 November 2015

Victorian inspiration - or how I chose my project.

Since I decided to just jump in, and make a historical outfit, my biggest conondrum has been choosing what to make. I mean, with all the breathtakingly gorgeous day dresses, walking suits, evening gowns, ball gowns, petticoats, corsets, chemises, hats, gloves, capes etc. etc. from all different eras - HOW DO YOU CHOOSE???

Clichè, I know, but I decided to follow my heart. I took note of what made my mouth dry with admiration, the things that made me go "Oooo!" out loud, and spill my coffee. Mostly, I found, this happened to be stuff from the late Victorian era. I like big butts, apparenly, so the bigger the bustle, the more sweaty my hands.

Portrait of Baroness von Derwies, 1871.
Example of a first bustle era dress style.

Bustles first came into fashion in 1870. The wide hooped skirts of the 1860s started to change, as the fullness migrated towards the back. The skirts were gathered up with tabs and buttons to form a pouf, and the wire bustle was introduced to support the skirt.

An example of a 1870s wire bustle.
The Metropolitan museum of Art.

In this first bustle period, there were still quite a lot of fullness at the front as well as the back. In 1875, a more slender silhouette appeared. The wire bustle was put aside, and sleek lines with tight fitted bodices and narrower  trained skirts became fashion.

Slender, Natural form silhouette.

 Around 1880, the bustle was reintroduced in France, but it wasn't until 1883 that it took off as the new silhouette. This time, the bustle was even bigger, and formed almost a straight angle to the back. In the late 80s, the bustle again diminished as the skirts widened, and fullness migrated down the back. By the mid 1890s the bustle was mostly gone, and fashion evolved towards what would become the Edwardian silhouette.
This is of course a very simplified summary of the bustle period, as there were many details to womens clothing and fashion during this short space of time.

Right, now. Where was I? Oh yes, the outfit!
I tried to pinpoint what I would like to do in my outfit. Would I attend a ball? Or a park picnic? Would there be walking involved? Dancing, perhaps? Indoors/outdoors? Summer/winter?
Another consideration other costumers focus on, is what kind of person you portray. Working class women dressed very differently than an upper middle class lady. If I was doing reenactment, this could be a concern, but my focus is just to try recreate something that I love the look of, and that is within my budget material wise. And of course, there is the skill range.

See more photos, and read the story of this dress
 and it's wearer here.

I have now landed on something that isn't too dressy (if you could ever say that about victorian clothing) or complicated, but no less lovely! I want to do a walking suit/ travelling ensemble as my first make.
And it will be heavily inspired by this 1887 outfit, designed by Herman Rossberg.

I love the muted colors, that show off the design elements. I find it very elegant and mature, but not frumpy. I like that it can be dressed up with a set of more fancy sleeve cuffs, collar and front insert. And I really love the simple, yet intricate soutache trim. Here you can clearly see an example of a grand bustle of the mid 1880s. That butt is huge!!

The original design has two different bodices, and despite how much I love both styles, I think I'll be making just the short one, with the small back pleat detail.

I am probably in way over my head here, but I want to see if  it can be done! I am not in any hurry, so if you are expecting to see a finished outfit by the end of next month, don't hold your breath. There is lots of research to be done, petticoats and wire bustles to be made! If anyone has pattern suggestions, for any part of the ensemble, I would really appreciate it. For the bodice, I have set my sights on Truly Victorian #466 or #463. They both seem to fit the bill, with some alterations.

The skirt is giving me a headache, there seems to be concealed pleats at center front and sides, and some straight panels. And then there's that fabulously draped overskirt with the assymetric bustle.

So what do you think? (Other than how insane I clearly must be!)
I already got most of the fabric for it, but I fear I'll have to use two tones for the skirts. Calculating yardage for this thing is not my strong suit, and suggestions online range an aweful lot. I fear the skirt is a major fabric hog. The muslin will answer that question, no doubt! I have nearly 8 meters, but it's most likely not enough. I found a gorgeous wool gabardine on sale, and bought what was left. So we'll see :)

Fun times ahead!


  1. Excellent choice! This is one of my favorites too, and I love the two bodice options (I recall reading somewhere that this was a wedding suit, then the second bodice was worn for the traveling/next day dress).

    You'll do fine! You have dressmaking experience already, so you already know how to do this, it's just a longer journey than a vintage dress might be. You've already started in the best way - choosing an ensemble that makes your heart stop, and using really great base patterns from Truly Victorian.

    I look forward to your progress on this. Most importantly, have fun!

    1. Thank you, Lauren, I am glad you approve (and you're absolutely right, this was used as a wedding suit aboard a cruise ship).
      I only hope I will succeed with the tailoring of the bodice, but I think if one only takes one time, it is possible :)

  2. The inspiration gown you have chosen is also one of my favorites! There is just something about traveling gowns that calls to mind elegant trains and Sherlockian adventures. Your are inspiring me to want to pick up my Victorian costuming plans that I abandoned earlier this year, I have all my underthings and just need to decide on a gown! I definitely think Victorian costuming is one of the more expensive periods to recreate, there is just so much fabric involved in these ensembles! I wish you the best of luck!

    1. Oh, I really do hope you do pick up your project! I searched your blog earlier, and was a bit dissappointed to see it was put on the backburner, but I certainly understand. Big projects can be quite overwhelming, and yes, there are some major expences involved. The best bit, I find, is that there's no deadline. Just an ongoing process, that is dynamic and flexible. Best of luck to you, too!

  3. I'm really looking forward to follow your journey here. Take your time - as long as you take us with you in the process :)

  4. Beautiful choice! I love to see your work-in-progress of this dress.

    1. Thank you! And welcome over! I love your blog, only wish I could read Dutch ;)

  5. What a fun project! Some years ago, I did an 1880's gown for a corporation that was celebrating it's 100th anniversary. The gown needed to be authentic and include a bustle, but the trick was that it had to be light enough for the actor to dance in it, AND, it had to be instantly removable and reveal a tiny little dance costume underneath. It was a challenge, but a fun one. And you're right, the skirt will use lots of fabric. 8meters might be a bit short, I'm think 10, but you can always mix it with a patterned fabric as they loved doing that during that period.

    1. Oh Rhonda, that sounds so exciting! Do you have a photo of the gown anywhere? Would love to see it :)
      I was doing a bit of theathre in my youth and we made our own costumes. The combo of instant removal, and something to be trusted not to fall off during performing, was a true and ongoing challenge :D

  6. I loved reading all the history behind the bustles. When I scrolled down to the dress you are making I instantly thought "Oh how beautiful!" before I knew it was your inspiration. I think it's an excellent choice and I look forward to watching your journey :D

  7. Oh, how amazing! I have been fascinated by Victorian fashion ever, but due to lack of time I never tried to make a dress. This is so exciting - it's sewing, fashion and history even more than my mid-century attempts. I will be most pleased to see what you create!