London Fashions August 1888
By Mrs. Johnstone
A wit was once asked, " if he ever remembered such a summer?" "Yes, last winter," was his reply, and the phase of dark, wet, cold days which have characterized this summer of 1888 must have been closely allied to the season of which he spoke. It has had a very visible influence on the dress, and, coupled with the general mourning, has cast an unwanted gloom over England's capital.
London has been full to overflowing, nevertheless, and though the flood of gaiety in Court circles virtually ended with Ascot, there were plenty of entertainments in other strata of society. Now, everything is over, and it is possible to pronounce with certainty what existing fashions are, and will remain until once more our ideas are unsettled by the advent of autumn.
Tempora mutantur, and with time, come changes in that most fickle of all goddesses, Fashion.
It was in the midst of the wearing of the brightest greens, old pinks, delicate yellow and peach, with greys which merged into blue, and blues which merged into grey, that a world-felt loss threw us all into general mourning.
It was only by slow degrees that as July came in, we gave up our hastily arranged black, and those who bought new gowns for the occasion remained faithful to them during the early portion of last month.
The Royal Family being in mourning gave a precedent to the world in general. Perhaps it is as well for the susceptible youth of Great Britain that this should be so, for the fashions of the year were almost too becoming.
The mothers and grandmothers of the present generation have much to complain of, that when they were young fortune did not favor them thus.
The beautiful dress from Messrs. Jay, Regent Street, in our first illustration, demonstrates two or three notable points to be borne in mind in ordering new gowns.
Our leaders of fashion in England are wearing trained gowns for dinners and receptions, though on many occasions the skirts simply rest on the ground.
The backs of such skirts generally fall in an unbroken line with merely a couple of jelly-bag points at the back of the waist, or the fullness is secured to the points with organ-pleats.
But the fronts, in nine cases out of ten, carry out the idea of one dress laid over another, the upper skirt opening to display an under one.
The Gothic-patterned silver-grey brocade of our model is bordered with handsome embroidery, and the edge of the skirt between the panels is still more richly ornamented.
Long waists are in vogue, and in this picture, the apparent length is enhanced by a gathering which adds several inches to the bodice.
The elbow-sleeves are still high on the shoulders, an idea borrowed from the Medici period, as is the straight collar which encircles the throat, and which is only suitable for a tall woman with a slender neck.
The make of the bodice is calculated to show off the figure to the best advantage; the fullness of the front ends on the bust, with scroll-work above and again at the waist, and rests on a lisse fichu which crosses beneath the bodice.
Dinner-Gown of Silver-Grey Brocade, with Medeci Collar and Sleeves.
Medici fashions find favor and are chiefly followed in the high collars, epaulettes, and stomacher trimmings, which are called "Medici." A student of history may study their original beauty in the portraits of Marie and Catherine de Medici, and other ladies of the time.
These stomachers were embroidered and sewn with jewels. Now they are worn not only with square-cut dresses but with the short Incroyable jackets and Directoire coats.
They replace the wide sashes which properly belong to that period and confine the folding crêpe de Chine or muslin which constitutes the waistcoats.
Fashions nowadays are hybrid. We borrow what pleases us, but the one style that would seem to be revived in its entirety is the Empire, which, however, was originally a borrowed one.
The Empress Josephine, as Miss Mabel Robinson reminds us in the present number of The Woman's World, illustrated in her own person the adaptability displayed by her sex in any position to which fortune may call them.
The widow of the Marquis of Beauharnais, a creole of the De la Pagerie family, she wore the imperial purple with a grace particularly her own. The rivalry between her and the Emperor's sisters, in matters appertaining to dress, gave additional impetus to her desires and brought all her talents to the front.
Both parties were constantly appearing in something new; the dress was never more costly. Josephine possessed pearls and precious stones worth half a million of money and rarely allowed them to lie idle in their cases.
The stuff interthread with gold and silver were then just coming into fashion; she adopted them as her own. The cut of the narrow skirts was of Eastern origin, and so were the white or colored muslin turbans which we have not as yet revived.
They matched the beautiful gowns of clear muslin, covered with embroidery. They were worn the year that the first Napoleon was crowned, and even in the daytime the arms, shoulders, and bust were left uncovered.
For the great event, in which she was participatory, the uncrowned Empress surrounded herself with the best Paris milliners, and anyone possessed of something unique to sell hastened to the palace. She took counsel of all but made her own decisions.
In addition to the dress then worn, she decided to adopt a long-embroidered mantle-train attached to the shoulders by a ruff of blonde, which came up high behind the head, forming a background; the hair, being drawn upwards and showing in the front in curls, had up rearing bows at the back.
Her husband needed all his diplomacy and authority to induce his sisters to be bearers of his wife's train, and they only consented when they found that their trains were to be borne by someone else, but they showed their ill-feeling by making it a difficult matter for the wife to walk abreast of her husband.
She wore a white satin dress and mantle embroidered both in silver and gold, and bestrewn with jewels. It is this make of gown that will; there is little doubt, generally succeed to the Directoire coats, which have been so much worn as to be wearisome.
Many of those to whom we are accustomed to look for guidance in the different decisions of dross have in London this season worn handsomely embroidered scanty skirts, with the waist almost below the bust, and watered silk trains coming from the right shoulder.
This differs completely from the Incroyable and Directoire styles, though in the descriptions of modern dress they are often confused.
A Directoire coat has a skirt falling to the hem of the dress, wide lapel pockets, and very wide revers which reach to the shoulders. Sometimes such coats fasten with three buttons at the waist, sometimes they fly open, showing a lining, and have three buttons on either side of the waist, with a wide soft sash, which appears again at the back between the opening of the coat-skirt.
How much the milliner influences women's fates! The universal "wearing of the green" can hardly be said to be becoming, pretty as prevailing styles in dress certainly are.
The lightest Chartreuse tones suit only very young, fair skins; and yet, nothing daunted, blondes and brunettes, women of all ages, all forms, and all complexions, have accepted it, with the confidence of utter ignorance as to the disastrous results.
It harmonizes only with cream and black; but a pink rose nestling in a hat or bonnet goes exceptionally well with apple-green, the pink being of the tone of apple-blossom.
Palmerston defined dirt as "a thing in the wrong place," and many colors good in themselves and beautiful in nature are altogether ill-placed and ugly in a dress.
Steel trimmings have come to the fore, either in or out of mourning.
Sleeveless jackets, composed entirely of fine steel beads on an invisible ground, have had loops of larger beads to fall over the shoulders, and these have been worn over green and black dresses, with panels of the same fine work on the skirt, and cuffs and collars on the bodices.
Many of the coats have been ornamented with large steel buttons, and the pockets elaborately worked to match.
Yellow is the color which seems best to accord with late summer and early autumn, but the yellow worn this season with white gowns is of a deeper tone than the light corn-color, which suits a dark skin so well, and accords with sunshine.
Yellow roses of all colors crown the Leghorn hats, whose broad brims are now twisted into fantastic forms very unlike the old hats of this kind worn by the Miss Kenwigs (whom Dickens immortalized), flapping down well in the front and at the back, the long plaits of hair tied at the end with ribbon visible beneath.
A wag described the latest fashion in headgear as a "Home Rule" bonnet, because it had no crown. Some of the newest models, literally, have no crown at all, only an aperture bordered with a wreath of roses, the back hair showing well through. It requires education to tell a hat from a bonnet now, or certainly a bonnet from a toque.
Most of the newest bonnets have no strings. The toques may be a little closer, and, without standing up in a point over the face, show the fringe of hair, which makes them becoming.
They are often composed of plain unplaited straw, of rose-twigs, and other unusual materials, the string being quite the newest. The kind used is of a very light shade; the bonnet is made of it in a fancy plait, and the aigrette of loops to match.
The dress to wear with such a bonnet could be trimmed with coarse, well-made string, edging the velvet cuffs and collars, and this forms a pleasant contrast.
Feathers have yielded the palm to ribbons and artificial flowers, which are used in such profusion that they hide the entire crowns of hats and bonnets.
This is a step in the right direction. A superabundance of feathers has been worn of late, recalling the story of a certain Lady Cork, who, a century ago, wore so large a plume in her turban that the critic of her day said she resembled "a shuttlecock, all cork, and feathers."
Muslin gowns are the livery of August, the month we hope most surely to depend on for fine weather. The two accompanying figures, from Messrs. Hayward, Oxford Street, show the latest idea in make and trimming.
In one the sides are caught up with careless folds over a front, across which a ribbon sash is looped. The other has a pointed tunic in front, and diagonal bands of lace carried across, panel fashion, at the side, each row ending in a bow of ribbon.
The bodices are made with invisible fastenings, contrasted pieces being inserted in the immediate front. The backs are always most simply draped. Some have the colored embroidery, others white.
They look best with a bunch of colored ribbons at the side of the waist, falling on the skirt, with, perhaps, some natural roses heading the ribbon, or tucked into the band.
The touch of color given by a bunch of red roses on a white dress is the best of harmonies, especially if the same blooms appear in the hat.
The short Directoire jackets so nearly approach to the Eton jacket, that many are made after the fashion of this popular public school of England rather than the Republic of France.
Many of the tennis skirts and loose bodices have pink or blue silk jackets of this kind to slip over when required. Almost any fashion seems to have some followers.
There is a Spanish proverb that "If the fool did not go to market the damaged goods would never get sold." Possibly if all women were wise, and endowed with the rarest of all gifts, common sense, some of the most absurd of the vagaries of fashion would find no followers.
The Figaro jackets have not been banished by any means, but they have rather changed their intention and form. Now they simply serve as a trimming or ornament to a bodice.
A very handsome gown worn in the Royal enclosure at Ascot was of black silk, the bodice worked to simulate a Figaro jacket, with heavy gold bullion embroidery, a large gold ball at every intersection of the pattern.
The metal shone out vividly in the sunshine of Tuesday, and the bonnet worn with it was also embroidered in gold.
Indian gold embroidery is almost unrivaled of its kind, and a great deal has found its way to England and is to be seen worn with black, beige, and other tones.
The work is so close; no foundation is visible. A depot has been opened in England where the material which is to be treated can be sent, and within a reasonable time returned covered with embroidery, having in the meanwhile journeyed to the Far East.
Now is about the time. If dispatched at once the work will be ready for winter gowns.
Summer Morning Dress
Morning dresses are often edged with a thick ruche, as in our last picture. This model, which is from a design by Messrs. Jay, is composed sometimes of one color, sometimes of many, but the fuller the more effective.
It is pinked into long points, "chicoree," as the French call it, which makes it fuller to the eye. The skirt which drapes over it is made of shaded ribbon and lace. These appear again on the bodice. At the side there is a trimming of lace and ribbon.
The lightness of the fabric permits more draping at the back than is genet, ally seen now. There are the inevitable revers on the bodice, and a very high collar. The sleeve is unique. The puffing on the shoulder forms the epaulette, and the fullness in the sleeve proper disappears in the cuff.
The bonnet is stringless and has a point over the face, which can only be worn with a fringe. This absence of strings necessitates some addition to the front of the bodices.
Perhaps the most elegant addition is a jabot made of either white lace or simply hemmed muslin, gathered together and allowed to fall free.
The wide soft muslin being the newest and best Fans for garden parties are mostly made in paper, and printed with Watteau scenes, have wooden sticks, and are often tied with ribbons to match the gown.
In full-dress fans, there are, however, many decided novelties. For the higher-priced kinds, feathers still seem to be liked better than anything else and cost enormous sums.
The feathers have to be chosen with great care, all matching, and all of the requisite lengths. Long aigrettes of osprey and sometimes marabout appear on the outside when the fan is closed. However, there is a newer idea—the Court plume fan, which is patented.
The outer ribs both open the same way towards the center, so that when the fan closes it still presents the form of a half-open screen. The feathers of which it is composed are all curled at the tips, and turn downwards, and by this arrangement, they are not damaged in the closing.
The frames are of bone, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshell, the center rib often wide, V-shaped, and prettily engraved, because when open it is entirely seen. The plumes can be dyed any color to match the toilette, but white and the natural color, which has dashes of brown here and there, are prettiest.
Johnstone, Violette, “August Fashions,” in The Woman’s World, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, Volume I, No. 10, August 1888, p. 473-476.
Note: We have edited this text to correct grammatical errors and improve word choice to clarify the article for today’s readers. Changes made are typically minor, and we often left passive text “as is.” Those who need to quote the article directly should verify any changes by reviewing the original material.
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