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London Fashions December 1887

Mrs. Johnstone writes about high fashion and in this article, articulates about fans and sachet, fur fashions, costumes for fancy balls, and evening dresses.

Fan and Sachet

If imitation is the sincerest flattery, we in the nineteenth century pay our homage to the past by reproductions of centuries ago. The fan which is figured below is a genuine antique from Flanders, more than one hundred years old. The ivory mounts are inlaid with silver and gold; the figures are delicately painted, possibly by Vanloo.

Fan and Sachet

Boucher, Lancret, Gravelot, and Goupy lent the luster of their art to the fans of their day, and it was Vien, the first painter of the household of Louis XV who designed that celebrated fan presented to Marie Antoinette by the city of Dieppe, on the birth of the ill-fated Dauphin, which Balzac qualified as "the most handsome and most celebrated in the world."

Such fans recall a thousand gay gatherings of fashion, in which as years rolled by, they have played their part. They are associated with beauty, art, and love. Leonore d'Este declared her passion by kissing her fan and throwing it to Tasso.

Titian immortalized one of the unusual shapes made in open-work parchment, decorated with priceless Venetian lace. In Louis XIV's time, the Eventaillistes had their rights secured by a charter of incorporation.

Mme. de Pompadour possessed a fan with a lace mount which cost £6,000 and took nine years to make each section, besides the embroidery being decorated with a medallion bearing a masterpiece of miniature painting.

The most popular fans now are revivals of antique models.

Beneath the fan in the sketch is a sachet which would serve for a night-gown, a glove, or a handkerchief case. It is of the book form, about half a yard square, opening out into four sections, each one lined with cardboard and covered with satin, the outside a billowy mass of gathered lace, a rose nestling in the center.

It is scented, and the most durable of all perfumes for the purpose is the peau d'Espagne which Mr. Givry supplies.

Fur Fashions

There is nothing so comfortable and warm this cold weather as fur. The long fur boas reaching to the feet are still much worn, but there are several novelties under the head of tippets and boas.

Some have been made in beaded silk and velvet, and quite a new kind in Iceland wool, to be had in grey, beige, pink, blue, and white; they are soft and pretty, and, being inexpensive, they are likely to be much worn.

They have only been recently brought out. Still, fur is to be preferred where warmth and durability are desired.

Boa and Muff—Mouflon Fur

Boa and Muff—Mouflon Fur

Our illustration above shows a new form introduced by Messrs. Hayward, of Oxford Street. The fur tippet is laid on a background of velvet of the same tone as the pelt and is most be coming to the wearer, as it is rounded in such a fashion that it shows off the lines of the wearer's figure to perfection.

It is caught together at the throat, widens at the bust, and again diminishes at the waist, ending in a muff which forms part and parcel of it. This muff is curiously shaped. The outside is round, with a circular bordering of fur, having a puff of velvet in the center; the back is also circular but is composed entirely of velvet.

The boa and muff combined are made in the new mouflon fur - in blue fox, grey fox, and in sable.

Long fur-lined cloaks are useful; they rarely go out of fashion. This season the Russian cloak has been introduced here. It opens down the front with no fastening, and the outside is of cloth or some thick brocaded woolen fabric. The fur lining is continued as a large roll collar and borders the edge of the front.

It is a masculine style of garment, but finds favor with women, especially when lined with Labrador fox fur. It is almost perfect for traveling and as a wrap but is too heavy and cumbersome for walking and everyday wear.

Sealskin Jacket trimmed with Beaver.

Sealskin Jacket trimmed with Beaver.

For this, short loose double fronted sealskin jackets are worn, and many varieties of the original dolman. A good example is seen in our illustration. It looks equally well in sealskin trimmed with beaver, or made of any of the fashionable brocaded cloths, in the new peau de soie, or in matelassé, trimmed with fur and handsome passementerie.

There are several new points about it. The basque at the back is cut straight and meets the elongated panel at the side. The turn-down collar, and the comfortable sleeve which covers the arm, allowing freedom of movement, not pinioning the limb to the side as in a vice, are features not attempted before in this style of jacket.

Fur hats and bonnets to match such cloaks are both more general this winter than they have been because the shapes have been allowed to follow the dominant modes more closely than was formerly considered possible with skins.

In the present instance, the shape is small and close, the fur is lined with stiffening and folded into a sugar-loaf crown, and an appearance of height is attained by a cluster of ribbon-bows introduced over the face; the ribbon is edged with interwoven gold thread, and the strings come from the back.

Ribbons used in millinery are wide and important-looking, watered and often shot as well as watered. They have substance, durability, and a good appearance — all desirable qualities — and their colorings are of exceptional beauty.

Costumes for Fancy Balls

The sketch of fancy dresses offers some suggestions for costumes to be worn at the many fancy balls which are now announced. Such entertainments have been much on the increase of late years, especially about Christmas-time.

Costumes for Fancy Balls

There is a great paucity of entirely new ideas for costumes, though all periods and many varied sources appear to be consulted by those who cater for the public concerning such dresses. The demand would seem to be not so much for entirely new characters as for novel adaptations of old favorites.

Hitherto a Puritan maiden has appeared arrayed in demure grey and black, but the Puritan in our picture wears brown of a soft make of woolen, and the slight variation in the making of the dress admits of some diminution of its usual severity, as a result of this perhaps sacrificing the exact letter of the law to the becoming.

Amid a galaxy of splendid robes, such simple ones frequently carry off the palm. When the Prince and Princess of Wales gave their famous ball years ago at Marlborough House, the success of the evening was declared to be the Puritan quadrille.

The ladies who took part in it wore gowns of silver-grey satin, bordered with rows of black velvet; the high bodices and sleeves were cut in Quaker fashion, but almost hidden by muslin tippets, matching the muslin aprons and caps. Large velvet silver-mounted bags, with the wearer's monogram, hung at the side, such as few other Puritans have ever worn.

The Postillion costume, suitable for a child or a young girl, is carried out in either green and red satin, pink and white, or any other combination most likely to be becoming.

The cap suits most young faces. The boots have to be carefully considered. White gloves are entirely permissible; they are often seen at fancy balls with characters to whom hand coverings of any kind were unknown.

The old English dress is one that was worn by some fair dame at the very end of the last, and at the beginning of this century. The soft pink tabbinet of which it is made is old and faded, but its tone is much the same as that now known as "Vieux rose."

Surah of a reasonable thickness would be a suitable material in which to reproduce the dress. It is not so scanty as skirts became afterward. It touches the ground and is gathered at the waist.

The only trimming is a double row of wadded rouleaux, covered with the tabbinet, earned down either side of the front breadth, in a series of toothlike zigzags resembling the ornamentation of an old Norman arch.

The bodice is low and folded, the sleeves short; the wide band at the waist is hidden by a sash, which is tied at the back. The hair at that period was dressed à la Grecque with bands of silver braid, a tuft of curls at the back of the head.

The shoes would be black, with pointed toes, and sandals. It is quite a simple dress, but a graceful figure would show her charms therein to the best advantage.

There is a fertile field for reproduction in the raiment worn less than a century ago, but it must be chosen with care; for some years woman's dress had reached the acme of ugliness, but this was succeeded by simplicity, fine fabrics, and much beauty in coloring.

We talk of the Georgian period of dress as though throughout the four reigns—one of them over fifty years' duration— the dress was always the same, whereas the changes were frequent, subtle, and decided, and they offer examples of almost every style.

The three pretty women (above) preparing for a ball wear evening dresses which embody some of the newest ideas concerning gowns suitable for such occasions.

Evening Dresses

Tulle is the material which is generally considered the special one for dancing-gowns, and the usual everyday kind is still much used. However, there are several new varieties. The barred tulle is made in all colors as well as white and has broad or narrow stripes interwoven in the fabric.

Another kind is covered with metal stars or discs, recalling the pantomime spangles of Columbine. Beaded tulles are worn with single beads scattered all over them, and also tassels of beads.

Evening Dresses

If expense is not an object, there are some great embroidered tulles; the pattern carried out in tinsel threads of the natural tone of the several flowers, slightly subdued as if with age, the foliage worked in a gold thread that does not tarnish.

Young girls are wearing the fronts of the skirt made of a kind of tulle which is worked all over with a Gothic scroll in silver, interspersed here and there with single pearls; or of tulle with narrow watered ribbon introduced in stripes and bordered with beads.

There is nothing more fashionable than white, but many beautiful colors are worn— Chartreuse, for example, which is a light, delicate, but at the same time vivid green. The bodices are all made low, either of peau de soie or poult de soie or watered silk, and, for black dresses, of velvet.

The figure on the right, seated while the maid gives the finishing touch to her hair, wears a white tulle gown, made with three flounces, each one edged with a Ruche having single rose-leaves threaded and intermingled in threes and fives with the tulle, forming a fluffy bordering.

Lilies of the valley would look equally well and are better suited, perhaps, to a young debutante. A wide sash of soft silk is tied around the waist and forms long ends at the back. The bodice is outlined at the neck and down the pointed stomacher with the rose petals strung closely together.

The flowers can be worn as a head-dress by those who care to have one. These floral trimmings for bodices are used a great deal, and are made of many kinds of flowers, or solely of leaves, and are generally intermixed with ribbons.

This is quite a ribbon season.

Ribbons are used most liberally on skirts and bodices, and the gown worn by the center figure is made of very little else. At first glance, the skirt appears to be kilt-pleated but is composed of single rows of ribbon of a delicate heliotrope tone sewn on a tulle foundation, which is entirely invisible.

Moiré ribbon is preferred before any other. A succession of loops of a ribbon is carried down one side, while the other is draped with some brocade and heliotrope gauze.

The bodice is trimmed with horizontal rows of ribbon tapering in at the waist and widening towards the neck; a cluster of bows at the point. Many dozens of yards would be needed for this ball-dress.

The third figure wears blue striped silk gauze, draped with large rosettes or with birds, which in Paris find special favor just now, no conference of womenkind having there vetoed the fashion of wearing them. It remains to be proved whether the decree will be enforced in England.

At the present moment, hardly a hat is to be seen that has not a couple of wings and a bird's head at the back or in front, with an osprey or aigrette towering above.

The skirts of dancing-dresses touch the ground always, and for married women, they are made longer—occasionally as a decided train. They widen perceptibly and are very bouffant at the back.

Some of the silk crepes in light tones are classically draped over lace or tulle, the tunic, which recalls a peplum, being continued to the shoulder, whence it falls in long points, encased in beaded tassel ends.

No other trimming on the bodice is needed, for to reach the shoulder the crape crosses both front and back, and drapes in easy folds, which are merely secured above the sleeve, and fall on to the skirt when the dress is taken off.

Some of the skirts have a panel formed entirely of roses, with the tulle peeping in between, or occasionally feathers are clustered almost as tightly together like the flowers. The embroideries on silk, wool, and tulle, intended to border the hems of evening gowns, are of most artistic designs, copied from Greek and Mediaeval models.

Some of the more matronly dresses have bands of such embroidery carried round edge and train, or they have front pieces of brocade to match that used for the bodice. This gives importance and stability, but it deprives the tulle of that gossamer lightness which is one of its considerable charms.

Although we are in the midst of winter, low dresses are worn on almost every occasion for an evening, whether it be for dinner, or the theatre or any other entertainment.

Square and heart-shaped bodices, opening in front, are going out of date, and the choice lies between a smart tea gown and full dress. Brilliant red is the color which has been of late employed for fashionable tea-gowns. Never has more attention been paid to the build of the alluring costumes known as " tea-gowns."

Grey plush, trimmed with chinchilla and steel passementerie, is a favorite combination among smart American women. Combinations of color are now seen, which were formerly considered impossible, and with the result of being extremely pleasing to the eye.

Johnstone, Violette, “December Fashions,” in The Woman’s World, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, Volume I, No. 2, December 1887, p.86-89.

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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