Fashion,  ThreadTalk

#ThreadTalk Flashback to the 1880s

1 – Welcome to #threadtalk! It's our first #threadtalkflashback & we're going to the 80s–the 1880s, that is.

(I turned 40 yesterday & I like symmetry.)🎂

So, let's find out what obnoxiously rich women were wearing in the West 140 years ago, shall we? Below: 1882, American.

2 – I first became aware of the 1880s through my unabashed love of Westerns. In particular, the 90s Young Guns films & "Whisky Jane" Greathouse's character in YG II.

Turns out those outfits are online! Designed by Judy L. Ruskin. Certainly colorful interpretations!

3 – The 1880s were the last gasp of Victoria–but gone are the hoop skirts.

Now dresses are characterized by structure: narrow waists, bustles, rigid lines, lots of pleating, drapery, and textiles that looked at home both on furniture and dresses. Below, V&A 1880(ish).

4 – The House of Worth, as we covered last week, was at its peak, alongside the House of Paquin & many other design houses.

Chemical dyes were all the rage, so you see vivid blues, mauves, greens, and yellows that look brilliant even today. Below: Met Museum, 1881.

A blue walking gown in silk, with a row of white buttons, and lots of drapery (almost like a stage curtain). Lots of pleats at the bottom. High collar. Almost a suit-like silhouette.

5 – The Industrial Revolution has a massive impact on dressmaking, not just in steel boning, but in sewing machines, machine lace, and in production times. Worth begins pret-a-porter, and department stores rise up.

& magazines are BIG, big business. Catalogues, too (my faves).

Starting from the 1850s, fashion magazines became more affordable and acquired a wider readership. The invention of the sewing machine around 1850 made it easier for people to make their own clothes. Ready-made garments were now also on offer, with fashion plates providing vendor addresses, such as the Maison Gagelin in Paris.  From 1881, a page from a German magazine. Two women in outfits, of the time, drapery and all. From Riljkemuseum.

6 – Let's indulge Natania a moment. Because I love catalogues.

Everything from buttons to bloomers in this 1881 catalogue page from the Young Ladies Journal. I love these little intimate peeks into what someone might have rifled through!

A page from the Young Ladies Journal with dresses, hats, and bloomers (yes!) as well as buttons that a woman might buy for wardrobe. Black and white drawings.

7 – My favorite thing about the 1880s is womens wear adopting lines traditionally reserved for men and really going to town. This began subtly at first, owing from designers like Worth going back to the 17th century for inspiration, but increased.

Below, 1880. Augusta Auctions.

2-pc teal wool & brocaded silk day dress w/ CF button closure, marine blue corded trim to bustled skirt, B 32", W 24", Bodice L 19", Skirt L 40", (few moth holes, spot at left lap, spot stains CB left & to left inner arm, spot at right collar B, small tear to lace at left, missing 1 button on sleeve) good. From Augusta Auctions. 1881.

8 – The 1880s also saw a rise in "sporty" attire, as we've seen before in our stripes edition. This one has the same "suit" look, but with some chintz to keep it comfortable with cotton. (As comfy as you can be with all those layers. 🥵 From the Met, ca. 1885, French.)

A tan walking dress from France, with a chintz pattern (calico). Orange piping on the collar, down the lapel, and the cuffs. Creme shirt underneath. Draped skirts.

9 – Women wearing attire similar to their male counterparts, of course, caused somewhat of a stir. They even wore top hats, cravats, waistcoats, & sported trousers beneath their skirts. 🎩

So some sought a little extra embellishment. This blue lovely from the V&A is ca. 1885.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Description
Woman's riding jacket of navy blue flannel trimmed with mohair and lined with sateen. Fastened with hooks and eyes beneath the ornamental loop and button fastening. Braid.

10 – Most of what I've shared so far has been "princess line" shape dresses. But by 1884, the BUSTLE comes BACK. By 1886, we get the mind-blowing "tea-tray supporting" structure like this number below from @Fashion_Museum — truly defies belief!

From tweet: Friday Treat Time & a stunning side view of an 1880s bustle! Biscuit and rose-coloured silk day dress with lace trimmings, 1886 -

11 – Shawls were no longer an option when bustles got bigger, and mantles like this one had to be made to accommodate all that junk in the trunk. That pattern is something else, though. Peacock feathers yes please. 🦚🦚🦚 ca 1885, London.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Dolman mantle of cut and uncut velvet with a feather trim and braided pendants tassels for decoration. Peacock feathers were a popular design motif in the 1860s to 1880s. Marabou trimming, obtained from the downy underwing feathers of the marabou stork became particularly fashionable in the second half of the 19th century. These birds were native to most part of the southern two thirds of Africa. Their downy feathers could be dyed any colour required and fashioned into long ropes of luxurious trimming, almost fur-like in appearance, as illustrated on this garment.

12 – You could make bustles out of anything–sometimes they were quilted or stuffed; sometimes they were folded up bits of thick material.

High end ones could be made of steel and called things like PHANTOM. Here's an example from the 1880s.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London - A bustle with ties to be worn beneath a dress. The structure is wrapped with material and thicker ribbons to attach to the woman as part of her garment.

13 – The 1880s, of course, rocked gowns. But we also need to talk about hats.

Fun fact about me: I have a large cranium. I was not made for this mass-market world. My kingdom for a good hatter.

Hats like this make me swoon. 👀 AT HER. She's from Paris, Modes de Louvres, 1885

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London - Brown felt trimmed hat, high crowned, with a narrow brim with feather and painted wooden bead decorations. Mounted with a specimen of a painted bird. With silk chenille and silk ribbons.

14 – This second hat is a great illustration of that gender-norm shifting we're seeing in fashion. It's a straw top hat, but with just a sprig of "sweetness" and a jaunty angle.

Alas, we've lost hat culture somewhere along the way. More's our loss.

A brown straw tophat with a floral spray and brown bow, velvet ribbon on the brim, and a tilt to the side. Met museum, public domain.

15 – As many of you pointed out in the Worth thread, Tissot really was one of the fashion chroniclers of the age, at least in terms of paintings.

The detail on The Ball, from 1880, is absolutely exquisite. Every pleat, every bit of lace, every petal.

A woman in a yellow dress, princess line (no big bustle), with lots of folds, and an enormous fan. Her hair is up with ribbons, and her sleeves and neckline are long. There are men in the background and a woman as well, but she seems otherwise alone.

16 – Speaking of fans, here's a lovely lace one. It's Irish lace, naturally, and tortoiseshell. From the Fan Museum. Fans were massively popular in the 1880s, and you can still buy some online if you'd like to collect them. Truly!

Blond tortoiseshell folding fan with Youghal revival needle lace leaf with a contrepanache - Irish

17 – Black also starts to show up more and more in the 1880s, and that always brings me all sorts of joy. This particular gown is a personal favorite from the Met Museum collection, & it dates from the first half of the 1880s. Black satin? Yes please.

Black satin gown with asymmetrical draping, square neckline, black lace 3/4 length sleeves. Tassels and beadwork at the bottom. Satin buttons down the center.

18 – Thankfully, we also have photography in this era, & with fashion becoming more readily available, evidence of fashion beyond the white, rich monolith. This woman was photographed ca 1890 in Tallahassee, FL. So many wonderful details here, including her fan & watch.

Harper, Alvan S., 1847-1911. Woman with a fan made of feathers. 1890 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <>, accessed 15 June 2021.

19 – Another image from the same archive in Florida. Her name is Nellie Franklin. I think her dress is printed cotton, but I can't quite tell. Either way, dating from late 1880s as well, maybe 1890. I love the lapels. The gloves. The hat.

Harper, Alvan S., 1847-1911. Nellie Franklin, holding a parasol. 1890 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <>, accessed 15 June 2021.

20 – The 1880s was a world of Sherlock & Holmes, Toulouse-Lautrec, the wonder of electricity, & the fabric industry poised on the edge of its modern age. Women were slowly gaining rights & the restrictive fashion of the period slowly ebbed away in the 20th C. (ca 1881, French)

Dress - ca 1881, velvet "suit" bodice, striped and gored skirts. Embroidered lapels. High neck and lace cuffs. Met Museum.

21 – So a few more dresses, shall we?

If you're seeking contrast, this gown will do you well. From the tail end of the 1880s, made by Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Paris, it's figured silk overlaid with chiffon (hnnnng) & black machine lace. Likely half-mourning, but 100% gorgeous.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Formal day jacket bodice and skirt constructed from ivory coloured figured silk overlaid with chiffon encasing strips of black velvet ribbon, with bands of black machine lace, and with a panel of vertically striped black and ivory velvet at the centre back forming a bustle shape. Stitch marks suggest that there may have been an additional panel of lace or drapery applied over the back of the dress. Probably a half-mourning dress.

22 – We haven't had enough berry tones lately. I love the scalloped edge of the bodice, the gold detailing, the fringe, the gathered hips! Really, it's got everything you'd look for in this era! 1880, America. Belonged to Amelia Beard Hollenback (1844-1918).

From the Met description: This dress belonged to Amelia Beard Hollenback (1844-1918), wife of the prominent financier and philanthropist John Welles Hollenback (1835-1927). In 1874, the Hollenback family settled in the neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. In the 19th century, Brooklyn became a metropolitan center with numerous affluent neighborhoods and a thriving downtown shopping district to fulfill. This dress, like many of the garments in Hollenback gift, was most likely custom-made by a Brooklyn-based dressmaker. The elaborate button and tassel decorations, the overall cohesiveness of design and the high quality of this stylish dress are a testament to the craftsmanship and great attention to detail carried out by American dressmakers at this time.

23 – Want a little springtime joy? This early bustle baby reminds me of cherry sorbet and caramel. That gold damask contrast with the rippling taffeta is to die for. It's by Wechsler & Abraham, and dates from 1880, and is America.

24 – File under "I can't hate it." I just… I love it. I feel like we hate on colors we don't understand. But the ruching alone here deserves an Oscar for best supporting actress. Wool & silk! And look at those cuffs! 1881-83, British.

25 – Two words: POPPY MOTIF. I love orange and pink together & the draping on the front of this! All that brocade, too. Then you add the tiers? Lordy.

You're not supposed to lick dresses, I know this. But it seems like it would taste good. 1880s, via Augusta Auctions.

26 – And to finish things off, this deep blue, dreamy visiting dress from France in the latter bit of the 1880s. Because deep blue satin. And those alternating stripes. And the contrasting lace. And good heavens. Met Museum.

Pretty straightforward dress, but contrasting vertical stripes in taffeta and satin on the skirts, plain blue bodice, lace on the collar and cuffs. Simple and gorgeous!

27 – A VERY short list of sources tonight.

28 – Thanks for sticking with me through an admittedly light-hearted #threadtalk. I'll be back next week with some hard-hitting fashion history!

Until then, question beauty relentlessly. And find joy in between the stitches. I hope you enjoyed your tour of the 1880s! Adieu!

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on June 15, 2021.

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