Paris Fashions February 1888
" La Tosca," now being played in Paris, has, without doubt, brought in the fashions worn during the first Empire. The great success of Sarah Bernhardt, her indisputable elegance, enhanced by the coquettish costumes of Josephine de Beauharnais and Queen Hortense (charmingly carried out for her by Mmes. Morin Blossier), prove that even slight women can wear short dresses and narrow skirts, and lose nothing of the charm of their appearance.
The Issue with Corsets
Nevertheless, it is well-nigh impossible that a revival of these bygone fashions can ever become general, for even for women whose ampler proportions the Empire modes would especially suit there is seemingly an insurmountable obstacle to their adoption, namely, the corset.
This corset, to which successive generations have become accustomed, has by slow degrees deformed the figure. The body, through whalebones and tight-lacing, has been compressed and has lost its harmonious elasticity, ceasing to develop according to the laws of nature.
The "wasp-waist" has forced the shoulders up till they project sharply, and the blouse is lengthened disproportionately. We inherit liver complaints, we give ourselves heart disease, and we squeeze our bodies as we squeeze our feet.
This raises the question (the figure having altered from wearing stays for three-quarters of a century), What, in the new arrangement, will support the skirts?
Yet, on the other hand, although a woman's blouse in the reign of Louis XV, and even in that of Louis XVI, was as long as it is at the present time, the fact did not prevent anyone from adopting the new fashion when Josephine (who was a Creole, and consequently beautifully formed) discarded the popular French modes of the day for what is now recognized as the Empire style.
Besides, corsets were not worn at that period. Women had adopted a kind of corselet of either coarse linen or coutil, which formed braces crossing in front. Sarah Bernhardt avoids the difficulty and replaces this corselet by a close-fitting vest of fine and pliable kid-skin.
Some illustrations of the costumes worn by her in La Tosca were given in the last number of The Woman's World.
The Empire dresses could now only be worn for in-door evening costumes, and it is probable that many women will reluctantly resign themselves to this sudden change in their style of dress.
But other élégantes will remain faithful to the traditions of Marie Antoinette, and will keep to their satin puffings, their coquettish furbelows d la Trianon, their light draperies, and their rich plumes.
Take as example the beautiful Duchesse d'Ossuna, whose magnificent Court robe (recently forwarded from the Rue de la Paix) is arranged thus: — There is a petticoat of Parma violet satin, with glittering interlacements, fastened at the side with tufts of feathers tied with moire ribbon.
The train is of figured Parma violet silk embroidered in silver. On the bodice there is a fichu bretelle of violet crepe, kept in place with a slanting ladder of violet ribbon loops descending to the point in front, and finished off with bows at the waist. On the right shoulder there is an aigrette of feathers.
Another costume is in delicate green tulle, with a train of bengaline to match, and a long sash with ends of a yellowish-green silk. The low bengaline bodice is trimmed in front with a plastron à la Duchesse de Berry, which forms a fan of pleated tulle.
Round the throat is worn a moire ribbon tied at the left side in a large bow, and on the right shoulder there is a bunch of maiden hair fern.
Leaves of a very pale shade of green without floral blooms are most fashionable, such as fern-fronds, sprays of maiden-hair, and wreaths of ivy with berries in gold. Noirat uses them for the hair with almost every costume.
They look as well with pale blue as with pink or lilac crêpe, with embroidered silk or white moire.
Again, for the Duchesse d'Ossuna, Worth has dispatched a costume in the Louis XVI. style, which is intended to be worn when paying afternoon calls. It is of dove-colored moire shot with violet. The skirt turns back at the side, after the style of the period, and is fastened with silk cords enriched with pearls and amethysts.
The bodice, opening in front over a waistcoat of white crepe, is trimmed with similar jeweled cords. A theatre-dress for the same Duchesse consists of a long coat in sky-blue moire, trimmed on the shoulders with a long-pointed collar.
A half-sleeve of mousseline de soie forms a point on the arm. The skirt is draped with mousseline de soie and gathered into the waist with a broad white moire ribbon.
But more beautiful still is a splendid ball-dress that the Duchesse wore at some of the New Year fetes. It is in white Indian gauze spangled with silver. The draped petticoat opens in front over a broad straight tablier of silver embroidery.
The train, to match the low bodice, is in white figured silk and silver, gathered in very much at the back with large bows of white satin.
The bodice opens encore, both in front and at the back, over a pleated chemisette of spangled crepe crossed with bands of silver embroidery. The silvered bretelles that pass over the shoulders are continued down the front of the bodice.
The sleeve, in spangled crepe, is transparent, and reaches to the elbow.
Dancing is much the fashion this season in Paris, and short dresses are worn by women under thirty. Small and early dances are now given, and we wait until Easter for the large and ceremonious balls.
The minuet, the pavane, the mazurka, the redowa, the cotillon, and, generally speaking, all figure-dances, are in vogue; the galop, and even the graceful waltz, are out of favor.
Young ladies now emulate ballet-girls, and dancing masters from the opera are called in to teach the most intricate and difficult steps. It is as though Louis XIV and his Court were with us again.
There are Bals-roses and Bals-blancs; the former for young unmarried women, the latter for girls who have but recently left the schoolroom. At both varieties of entertainments dancing is carried on, no longer in tame spiritless fashion, but in truly energetic style.
Even in the salons of such leaders of society in the Faubourg St. Germain as the Duchesse de Maillé and the Marquise d'Hervey de St. Denis, not only are the stately minuet and the pavane danced, but the fandango and other international dances of a realistic kind are patronized.
The dresses worn on such occasions are short: the utmost care is taken to secure well-fitting shoes and stockings; sleeves are all but ignored, to leave the arms uncovered, and the hair is arranged in La Valliere style.
The dresses are either white, old rose, or yellow tulle, and sometimes a white moire bodice trimmed with gold lace will be worn with a yellow tulle skirt. Large flowers are affected for trimming, such as poppies, thistles, roses with thorny stems, and clusters of fancy grass intermixed.
The shoes are of satin to match the dress, and the silk stockings correspond in color; a paste buckle or a lace bow with pearls ornaments the shoes.
A small tulle pouf, or a graceful aigrette with a flower, or a pompon of marabout feathers, usually forms the head-dress—though jeweled and gold hairpins are by no means out of favor.
The long gloves are of either white, cream, or light tan undressed kid.
Gauze petticoats and floating draperies of tulle are most fashionable. The Maison Morin-Blossier has designed some pretty models.
One example has a skirt of pink tulle covered with rose-petals. Over this is worn a long Merveilleuse coat in pink faille. In the bodice is inserted a large fichu of puffed tulle fastened with roses. The sash is of pink velvet kept in place with diamonds.
Another is in white silk flowered with large golden campanulas. The tunic, with straight panels, opens in front over a gold-colored tulle petticoat, covered with a network of small pearls. The bodice, a la Sapho, and the sash, in white velvet, are braided in gold and draped à la Barras round the hips.
Still a third model in white lampas brocaded in gold. The front, in gold tulle striped with pearls, is fastened with bows of gold braid and white moire. The low, pointed bodice, with fichu bretelles, is in gold tulle; and a Directoire corselet in white moire and gold braid forms the waistband.
A green satin dress of the shade known as "lumiere" has a skirt of cream gauze embroidered in Renaissance style, with flowers, in chenille and gold. On the bodice is a plastron à la Vierge and chemisette of the same gauze.
The tunic is straight and of plain satin; the scarf-sash and the bows are of white velvet. So much for ball-dresses. In costumes there is a pretty example in vieux rouge cloth, intended for the Duchesse d'Albe, and made by Mme. Deshayes.
It has a Princess tunic at the back. The front is draped en blouse under the double panel of a redingote of black moire, which falls to the edge of the skirt. The blouse is gathered in with a sash tied at the waist.
Another costume is in white jersey embroidered in silver. This, when worn under a sealskin pelisse, is very elegant. The light skirt is barely visible beneath the dark fur, except when the wearer moves, and it has a charming effect.
A third example is in mouse-grey cloth. The draped tunic is bordered with narrow silver passementerie and slashed over a puffed velvet petticoat that matches in color.
The bodice, cut in front as a sailor-jacket, is likewise trimmed with silver, and opens over a velvet plastron, draped d’Vantique, and simulating a waistband.
A most graceful in-door costume consists of a redingote of pink lampas with velvet flowers, opening over a gauze blouse embroidered in cream-color. The sleeve is puffed into the armhole and pleated below. It has a Byzantine necklace and sash, the latter falling to the edge of the skirt.
The bracelets, of Byzantine silk, are embroidered in gold. This is a French tea-gown par excellence and is the style of dress worn at five o'clock to receive those friends who gather for a gossip round the daintily-laid table, upon which sandwiches, cakes, sweetmeats, and richly colored Bohemian glass are conspicuous.
Another tea-gown made by Worth is also a redingote of vieux rose lampas, with a Princess back, and straight panels in the front of the skirt. The armholes are edged with lace, forming epaulettes.
An under-dress of gauze, cut at the throat a Venfant, is mounted in gathers and falls to the feet over the petticoat, which is of pink satin.
A third model from the same house which is worth describing is an elegant robe-de-visites a V Agnes Sorel. It consists of a closely-fitting over-dress, laced at the back in brick-red cashmere, studded with silk spots of the same shade.
The sleeves, with epaulettes reaching to the straight collar, are in vieux rouge velvet, embroidered and laced with silk and gold. The skirt is caught up with a gold sash, showing the petticoat of vieux rouge velvet.
With this dress is worn a Valois hat in brick red felt, lined with vieux rouge velvet. The high crown is covered in velvet; and flame-colored cock's feathers, fastened with gold pins, ornament the front.
Yet another model is of blue-black velvet. The polonaise is cut en coeur and crossed as a shawl. The narrow under-dress, over which it opens, is in slate-grey cloth, ornamented in zigzag pattern with black and silver galon.
The polonaise also opens at the side to show the skirt, which is trimmed with silver lace and tassels. The sleeves are grey and have bands of velvet and silver lace to match the bodice.
Worth has also designed a dress in the fashion of the Empire. It is simply made in green, blue, or red faille, and is a Princess robe, fitting the figure loosely, although extremely narrow.
A cross-cut revers in velvet, to match the rest of the costume, is embroidered with gold, and follows the line of the figure to the throat. The dress is extremely tasteful and becoming to a well-proportioned woman.
Beyond the dress, which is the principal item in the costume, there are the thousand trifles which complete it, such as the fan, which for demi-costume is now made in faille of the same shade as the dress.
Bordering the leaf of the fan is a garland of such flowers as poppies, irises, large pansies, carnations, etc.
Visitors to Paris— especially English and American women—are sometimes at a loss what to wear at our operas and theatres. At the Grand Opera there is a diversity of costumes.
The occupants of the first and second tiers of boxes wear full evening costumes—low bodices and jewels; in the amphitheater, some ladies may be seen wearing hats specially designed for theatre wear, and daintily trimmed with feathers, while other women (equally elegant) appear with their heads uncovered, but the hair carefully and fashionably arranged.
At the Opera Comique and Theatre Franeais, a difference is made on ordinary and subscription nights. On the latter occasions, the best-dressed Parisiennes adopt square or heart-shaped bodices and few jewels, but their large cloaks are as a rule magnificent.
The materials used are either figured silk lampas, or velvet, with flowers of natural colors on satin grounds. The linings are either of chinchilla fur, or white Chinese crinkled lambskin.
Shaded silk plush is also used for evening wraps.
The pet dog being now the inseparable companion of every woman who has any pretension to elegance, I conclude by describing some novelties prepared by Mme. Ledouble.
First, the souris collar, in red, blue, or grey velvet, with little silver mice running along the velvet.
Secondly, the Limousin paletot, in striped plush, which can be tightened, if necessary, by three ribbons in casings, tied at the center of the back.
Thirdly, the Carme paletot, in white woolen, with a pointed hood, the whole embroidered in red silk.
Fourthly, the Tosca paletot, in waterproof silk, made with three capes, forming a Carrick.
Johnstone, Violette, “February Fashions: Paris,” in The Woman’s World, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, Volume I, No. 4, February 1888, p. 188-192.
Editor's Note: Some terminology used in the description of women's clothing during the 1800s and early 1900s has been changed to reflect more modern terms. For example, a women's "Toilette" -- a form of costume or outfit has an entirely different common meaning in the 21st century. Typical terms applied to "toilette" include outfit, ensemble, or costume, depending on context.
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.