It’s true, I think it’s fun to either:

A. Look at an outfit and take cues from the details and fabrics to figure out who would wear it for what type of event.

B. When making an outfit, to plan out the details around a real or imagined person or event.

But then, I’m a costume geek, so I guess that’s one of my quirks.

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But that means that a lot of thought and planning went into this outfit. There are limitless options when it comes to trimming a Victorian outfit, so it was hard to narrow it down to a few choices, let along decide on one.

For example, the collar and cuffs:

     Option 1– Yellow silk pleating banded along the outer two inches of the collar and cuffs. It would give a pop of color and reflect the pleating detail seen on the skirt. However, the pleats would need to be sized just right, or even angle pleated like those on the skirt. Plus the lapel is actually already yellow silk, so what would I even do there?- Additional yellow, but pleated? Pleat the entire collar? I made two rows of knife pleats for the cuffs but ended up feeling like they were too clunky for the cuffs.

     Option 2– Appliques. Drawing from my inspiration look, I considered doing some appliques on the collar and cuffs that would give the look of embroidery. I bought two types- one with some ribbon flowers in blues and yellows and one with actual embroidered flowers in pink on green curling vines. The blues match better but look kind of chunky. The pinks are pretty, delicate and might make a good accent color, but… there is no floral reference anywhere else on the dress- it’s all tabs, pleats, buttons and beading. Which brings me to…

    Option 3- Beading. As I cut into the vintage beaded top for my jacket, I harvested the beads and pearls from the scraps in case I needed to replace any missing bits. I had so many, I realized I could use them to create a beaded design on the collar and cuffs. (I swear, I didn’t choose this option just because it was the most time intensive! It just happened.)

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The beaded hem I insanely decided to make after everything else was done.

The beading on the turned down cuff.

Beaded turned-down cuff on Teslacon dress

* My best collar and cuff advice is to check and re-check your stitching lines before clipping and pressing your seams.

Again, I would like to commend Truly Victorian on their clear, thorough and easy to follow instructions included in all their patterns. I have seen patterns supplied only with a single, all caps, run-on paragraph trying to pass as “instructions” and it makes things harder than they need to be. Truly Victorian patterns give you the information you need and the flexibility to make changes to achieve a truly custom fit. They’re not paying me to say this, it’s just the third pattern I’ve used from them and it’s a delight. IMHO

The Waterfall Back

*Note- there’s actually a waterfall draping style for bustles- this is not that, it’s just a convenient term for the back train on my gown. A true waterfall drape looks like this:

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Waterfall Drape

There’s an additional decorative element that I added to my dress when I was forced to purchase twice as much silk as I needed (2 weeks after I was given a minimum purchase amount, I was told that, no, I actually needed to buy twice as much. Supreme Novelty Fabrics… avoid them- terrible dealing with them, but they had the same shade of silk as the vintage top, and I had a $200 gift card)

I decided to make a yellow silk pleated train coming down the back for the skirt, banded in by three V-shaped blue straps. I like to see an unexpected detail when someone turns around- a cutout back, a pop of color, etc. so I thought the waterfall style at the back would provide a Wow moment. Pleating the train was… interesting. I can’t say it turned out just how I imagined it, but one tip I can offer is to consider the benefits of tacking down your pleats to a certain point, to keep them where you want them.

Qualities of the 1880’s

I designed this dress with the late 1880’s in mind, and I was committed to the fabrics and the colors. Beyond that, the entire era was open to me. I like this time period for a few reasons:

1. The bustle was back! But it wasn’t a crazy big, rest-your-drink-on-it bustle above enormous hoops- I dislike how in some earlier decades some gowns resembled overwrought wedding cakes with doll torsos perched atop:

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Wedding Cakes

2. The waistline has returned to the the waist, and you even get to see some hip curve! It’s a somewhat body conscious look without the extreme limitation of movement incurred by the short-lived hobble dresses of 1879-1881. They were pretty, but I need to be able to walk, period:

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Sooo not happening.

3. Tailoring. The advent of tailoring slowly led to changes in fashion- The details of dress began to reflect the more tailored silhouette, the first of more to come in the jackets and graceful bell shapes of the Belle Epoch and the smooth simple lines of later Poirot. I enjoy using buttons, pleats, worked trims and tabs in my designs, so it seemed a natural match. Plus, I like that in the 1880’s sleeves were generally slim and plain, not the concoctions of frills from the 1870’s, nor the internally supported leg-of-mutton look from the 1890’s:

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Very nice

4. Aniline dyes. I am not a delicate flower. I do not want rose, or violet, or baby blue. I like a strong color palette. In 1856 Aniline dye was patented, and was on exhibition by 1862… this synthetic dye allowed the attainment of rich, vibrant colors, and the Victorians went mad for them. Monochromatic gowns done in entirely one shade of purple (one of the earliest colors available), blue, indigo, fuchsia, pink or yellow were de rigueur. Some –unusual- color/pattern combinations cropped up and the impact of vibrant colors on taste level was sometimes questioned:

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Eek

I wanted a somewhat French inspired look without falling into the aniline trap of an in-your-face blue and yellow outfit, so I chose a deep royal blue that’s quite somber, though not navy. Paired with it is a very delicate pale yellow silk. It’s a good thing too, because as complementary colors, they still look more vibrant next to each other than others would. Plus, the blue fabric is completely matte, so the only shimmer is the soft characteristic sheen of the silk and the occasional sparkle from the beaded accents.

Society and Culture

This dress in particular: The style of this dress when paired with the color and fabric speaks of a very particular event and wearer:

The colors indicate a woman who is confident and stylish but not a slave to (aniline) trends. The hand-worked details on her dress, in conjunction with machine stitched tailoring, indicate an expensive purchase. The very nature of the trims hint at a practical nature, as they are primarily menswear-inspired buttons, tabs and pleats rather than the expected flowers, gathers and ruffles. And yet the beading and pearl trim keeps it classically feminine.

The simple lines and the sturdy fabric could indicate it is a day dress, but the neckline is very low for a walking dress and the beaded details and waterfall train are less than practical for something like a travelling suit.

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Little silk purse, a re-covered resale find.

My choice of accessories is deliberate as well. A hat indicates an outing, whereas a ribbon or floral decoration in the hair would be more appropriate indoors, and I carry a purse instead of a parasol- a practical and “active” accessory indicating either possession of my own money or at least the authority to spend it independently.

Therefore, the lady who wears this is attending a fancy daytime event, undoubtedly with a chaperone but still wishing to stand out. It could be a shopping expedition in a progressive city like London, an art salon exhibiting the controversial art of Toulouse Lautrec or Dante Gabriel Rosetti, or perhaps a daytime activity at a high-profile event like the Congress of Vienna. Or even a House of Mirth style seasonal gathering at the estate of a gracious host, where the day dress may have to serve for several events before one could change for dinner.

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Just Gorgeous

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The back of the Teslacon Dress- More pictures will be added after Teslacon!

Wherever the lady is going, the dress is done and I’ll be moving on to other creations in my posts- I hope you’ve enjoyed this little saga!

Next Post: The 1-Day 1860’s Corset!

*Sources include: Victoriana.com, Metmuseum.org, and around 13 years of general historical costuming research.

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