Feb. 13th, 2017

I reecently shared this image of a test pinning session over my princess dress (well underdress- it’s going to be used under a few gowns.


This saree was a chance find in my nearest Save Mart store, I regularly scour them for saree and anything able to be transformed such as shoes, lengths of fabric, but mainly saree!)


But I haven’t shared the images that inspired them.


Over the years I have hoarded images from eBay sales as often the display does not do justice to the gown but do offer fantastic chances to understand contructions and physical properties.


Or sometimes there are amazing finds.

The two overgowns below are from such finds. They have a few things in common- polonaise style with a shorter bustle feature.


era: mid-late 1870s

material: fine silk tulle, embroidered with straw, pressed straw motiffes

found: ebay.com May 2011



This overdress is stunning. It is truly iconic of the era but in a very unique way. High contrast of materials, sheer outerlayer that allows colour shifting of any garment below, and delicate but trailing and repeat decoration.

The straw decoration is very effective from a distance and fascinating to look at in detail.


Back in the early days of access to the net here in New Zealand I found myself mainly looking for images of patterns and extant garments. And pretty much just that! I already had a lot of information from books, but always wanted more.

More fashion plates too.

As time goes by I realise many of the auctions were not saved, were not shared, and many  of them added vital understanding to the vibrancy, the texture, the construction, and even the overall aesthetic of the day.


era: mid-late 1870s

material: cotton, cotton tulle

found: ebay.com Feb 2003

This was the reality of early like of the web- small files!

But what may be possible to tell here is how very light even the solid fabric is is. This is not unusual, the aim was to have all the tension in the corset, so outer garments could be shaped over an already fitted and shaped body.

The bodice is a classic jacket type from the very end of the 1870s. Cuirasse bodices were also popular at this time.

era: late 1870s/early 1880s

material: silk damask and silk brocade

found: March 2000


Well this certainly ticks the most well know features of the era: ruffles? Tick, contrast of colour? Tick. The ruffles are wider than regularly seen but appear to be making best use of the brocade which seems to be woven as a border.

era: late 1870s

material: silk damask, yellow

found: ebay.com September 2002

These images are a little washed out, again an artifact of the age of the photos, and constraints we were all under at the time! I made my own files for my own site barely a KB for the same reason!

But this colour pops up a few times in auctions. There is at least one more that was clearly a Statement based on the particular fit and skant trimming.

This gown however feels a little more restrained while still probably being a colour the wearer was invested in wearing. This is likely a dinner dress.

era: late 1870s

material: plain cotton and cotton organdy

found: march 2003, ebay.com

The skirt is walking length so I can just imagine the owner outside and wearing this frock.

Note the bodice front ruched panel is almost certainly a plastron with a button fastening underneath.

While this dress is made as one piece, this shares similarities with removable sheer overdresses.

era: late 1870s

material: beige silk taffeta 

found: ebay.com 2003?

Beige and tan and mid-light tones of this family are very common. I suspect due to advice that it was better lasting- the inference really being that fashion of these years in fashion plates as a riot of colour. And different colours may have been “in season”. If you made your gown in the colour of one season it would be starkly out of fashion the next. But beige/tan, ah that skirts the whole trend/fashion thing entirely.

This dress does however show many features that were fashionable: fine pleatings, fine rushing, tone on tone texture interest, and even asymmetry.

And the colour is heading towards gold so may have been a little daring after all.


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