Sunday, July 21, 2013

Early 1870s Day Dress

Here's another post to catch you up on the things I've been sewing lately! Last month I made an early 1870s day dress to attend an event put on by the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild: a Tissot Bustle Picnic. Inspired by the paintings of James Tissot, the picnic was held at the lovely Ardenwood Farm in Fremont, CA. There were chickens and peacocks and doves and a blacksmith shop and a beautiful late-19th century farmhouse — in other words, a perfect backdrop for frolicking about in fluffy dresses.

My dress:
This is the best shot that I managed to get on my phone camera. Please disregard the errant ostrich feather — it was blown askew by the day's lovely breeze. I fixed it later!

The picnicking in progress

Outside Patterson House

My Dress Inspiration:

The time frame for the event was based on Tissot's career and was therefore quite broad: 1868-1888. I have been itching to make an early 1870s dress for some time, so I decided that this would be the occasion. As I started to plan my dress, I hunted for inspiration in Tissot's paintings. The dress that caught my eye is a eye-popping striped frock that appears in several of his paintings:

The Return from the Boating Trip, 1873

Boarding the Yacht, 1873

Still on Top, 1874

As I continued looking for inspiration, I came across a photograph from the period that gave me a new brilliant idea: 

Dagmar, Alexandra, and Thyra, daughters of Christian IX of Denmark

Here were three Danish princesses, all wearing frilly, ruffly dresses in exactly the style of early-1870s dress I wanted to make. My Tissot bustle dress could also be my entry for HSF Challenge #12 — Pretty, Pretty, Princesses!

Here's a brief explanation of who these lovely young girls were and why they were important:

These princesses were the daughters of Louise of Hesse-Kassel, a minor German princess, and Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a minor Danish prince. Christian unexpectedly succeeded to the Danish throne in 1863 after the previous king died without an heir. 

As a result of their father's good fortune, these girls rather abruptly became some of Europe's most eligible bachelorettes. Princess Alexandra married Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir and eventually became the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and British Dominions and Empress Consort of India. Princess Dagmar married the heir to the Russian Empire and became Empress of Russia under the name Maria Feodorovna. Princess Thyra married the exiled heir to the Kingdom of Hanover, technically becoming the Queen of Hanover (she and her husband lived in exile in Austria, but he never renounced his claim to the throne). In addition, one of their brothers succeeded their father as King of Denmark, and another brother became George I of Greece. 

What a family! For those of you who are keeping track, Princess Alexandra is Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandmother, and Princess Dagmar was the mother of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia.

Here are some more pictures of the princesses, all of which capture perfectly the feeling I was aiming for with my dress:

Check out all those ruffles! And those giant braided hairdos!

Here are the princesses with their mother and father. I just love the tiny hats!

My dress: 

I knew I wanted my dress to have stripes, and I thought cotton would be the best fabric for an afternoon picnic. I ended up finding a nice shirting-weight cotton in a grey and white stripe that worked perfectly. It's stripey without being quite as dizzying as the black and white striped dress from the Tissot paintings. 

Dresses in this period were covered in scads of ruffles and trim. I think I spent more time on trimming this dress than on actual construction! The base skirt, overskirt, and sleeves are edged with gathered flounces of the striped cotton cut on the bias. I then trimmed the flounces with a delicious lavender velvet ribbon, accented with bows made from a matching silk satin ribbon. I used a matching lavender silk taffeta for the covered buttons and the box-pleated frill around the neckline. I also trimmed the neckline with some cotton lace, which I used to edge the cotton organdy undersleeves as well. The same cotton organdy made a faux chemisette to fill in the open neckline. Lastly, I made a separate belt out of the lavender silk taffeta, with a satin bow to hide the hook-and-eye closure. 

The best photos I have of the dress were taken by the lovely Kim Yasuda. The next few shots are from her photoset, which you can view here.

My favorite shot of the front of the dress:

On the front steps as we began a tour of Patterson House. 

Here's a shot that shows the neckline trim and my braided hairdo:

My feathers were behaving better by this point!

I think the dress looked best from the back:

Checking in at the gate

Walking to the picnic site

I wore the dress with a simple lobster tail bustle, one plain petticoat, and one with deep ruffles. My hat was a tiny black straw hat from the Berkeley Hat Company, heavily modified and trimmed with cream and pink paper flowers, lavender silk satin ribbon, a vintage black silk taffeta ribbon, and two small grey ostrich drabs. 

Jane the cat finds hat-trimming rather boring

I carried a cheapo nylon-covered costume parasol purchased here, and wore my American Duchess Tavistock button boots. My necklace is a lovely (antique?) porcelain pendant with painted flowers that I picked up at the Alameda Antiques Fair last month. Here's a closeup to show you how pretty it is:

I think I paid $5 for it. 

Here are the details for my Danish Princess 1870s day dress:

The Challenge: #12 — Pretty, Pretty Princesses

Fabric: Grey and white striped cotton shirting, lined with white pima cotton broadcloth and trimmed at the neck and sleeves with a bit of white cotton organdy. Also, some lavender silk taffeta for some of the trim. 

Pattern: The bodice is TV400 -- 1871 Day Bodice. I modified the back slightly, combining the side back and side pieces into a single piece. That extra seam isn't very common in the earlier bustle period. I also added deep flounces to the sleeves. The skirt pattern is from Period Costumes for Stage and Screen. The overskirt is from the striped dress on pg 28-29 of Patterns of Fashion 2

Year: 1870-71

Notions: hooks and eyes, lavender velvet ribbon, lavender silk satin ribbon, white cotton lace, covered buttons (the Dritz ones — I was being lazy)

How historically accurate is it? Pretty good. My materials were all plausible, though the velvet ribbon is rayon instead of silk. Techniques were all period-correct and my patterns were all very accurate as well. 

Hours to complete: no idea — many

First worn: Tissot Bustle Picnic on June 23, 2013

Total cost: around $175


  1. Love it! Just beautiful. Really like the bodice pattern! Do you know if Lobster Tail bustles were period for the early 1870s?

    1. I'm not exactly sure about that. I'm fairly new to bustles and I'm still learning. My impression is that they started the decade with a variety of bustle-y things either built into crinolines or worn on top of crinolines. Starting somewhere around 1873-ish, the crinolines are discarded and the bustles worn on their own. Some examples I've seen in period publications look a lot like the classic lobster-tail. This page has some good examples, as well as relevant quotation Peterson's in 1873:

      I would say that the earliest plausible date for a lobster tail worn by itself without a crinoline is about 1873 or so, this being my un-expert opinion as someone who is new to the period in general.

      For my costume, I was content to approximate the look with something that was fast and easy to make, and that I could use for other things as well.

    2. Great information page, thank you! Your lobster tail gives a great early bustle shape, in my opinion. I was thinking about doing an early bustle dress, but couldn't figure out what kind of bustle to make. I'm a bit small, so I think the little soft bustles shown in the article might be a good bet! Great blog, info, and work, Miss Frocks! One more question: how did you do you hair like that? It looks perfectly period, just the the coifs of the princesses.

    3. Thank you, and glad to help! As for my hairstyle, the secret is lots of fake hair. My own hair is almost to my waist, but once I braid it, it doesn't have much volume. For this 'do, I braided it in two braids, wrapped them over the top of my head, then slapped a giant braided bun of false hair on the back of my head-- super fast and easy to style, and really the only way to get the right look for this period (unless your hair is down to your knees). The original cast used fake hair in abundance! I'll be wearing this outfit again at Costume College, and I'll try to get some better pictures of the hair for you to see how simple it is.

  2. Oh, I love it!! The picnic looks like it was awesome too! I am so jealous that you have a place to wear your lovely creations!! Your work is stellar :-)

  3. You are so inspiring! I adore you dress, the stripes, the cut, the accessories, the trim, everything about it!

  4. Its beautiful. Your dress is as inspiring as the Tissot paintings.

  5. I love it, it's beautiful. I have always enjoyed the way Tissot depicted ruffles and your dress fits right into one of his paintings.

  6. Beautiful! I think I'm in love with stripes and I have to use them more often. You look gorgeous :)

  7. Oh fantastic! What a gorgeous outfit, and a great interpretation of the challenge. The photos are just beautiful - it looked like a really fun event, and you've perfectly captured both Tissot, and the three princesses. I was hoping someone would use Alexandra, Dagmar & Thyra as inspiration!

  8. Somehow I missed this at the time, and have just come across it in The Dreamstress's review of the last five challenges.

    What a beautiful dress, and perfect stripe matching on the bodice as well! Most of all I love how you've captured the spirit of the painter. If I had just seen the first photograph with no other information, I would have thought straight away, "Tissot".

  9. Oh my but your dress is stunning! I love the color and the princessy fluffiness of it! The Denmark sisters were so lovely...their stories are so very interesting aren't they? You have done a marvelous job on your Pretty Pretty Princess dress!!

  10. What sort of corset are you wearing with your dress? I am considering making a dress similar to yours, but the corset intimidates me. We're you able to reuse a corset you already had, or did you make one specific to this decade?