An 1880s evening gown – inspiration & ideas

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog, as I haven’t had many new projects to share. However, I did start my next big project, so I figured I’d do a bit of an introduction to that!

This autumn I hope to have a bustle-event, and although I do already have a number of gowns from that period, I figured it’s also be the perfect opportunity to make something new.

The dress below has been a favourite of mine for years. I initially mostly fell for the bodice neckline.

Evening dress, Wechsler & Abraham, silk, American
MET museum, Evening dress ca 1880

And then I saw pictures of the back, and fell for the train

Evening dress, Wechsler & Abraham, silk, American
MET museum, Evening dress ca 1880

At some point, I found some beautiful gold brocade fabric that instantly reminded me of this dress. It’s a little cooler in tone and the pattern is different, but it works perfectly for the style and the era, and it’s really lovely. I bought this a couple of years ago, with this design in mind for ‘sometime’.

When looking at the original dress more, I realized I really only liked the golden parts of this dress. The lilac underskirt just isn’t my favourite. I’m not a big fan of the color when combined with the gold, I’m generally not a fan of asymmetry, and I don’t like the very large pleats on the skirt.

So I figured I wanted to recreate this one day, but with a different underskirt. I initially was thinking about green.

When this event came up I decided it’d be the perfect time to start this dress! Only I didn’t really have a green silk that would work, and finding affordable taffeta here is quite a challenge. I dug around a bit in my stash, and realized that although I didn’t have green, I did have black. So I played around in photoshop, thought on it for a bit, and decided I liked the idea. So black it will be!

One of my main inspirations for the trim on the underskirt is this dress:

Day Dress NGV, ca 1880

I’ll try to do a combination of stacked pleats and gathers, a bit smaller and finer than in the MET dress. I still need to figure out the exact lay-out. I’ve already made the base of the underskirt, out of black cotton. The silk pleating will cover it, but only for the visible areas. It’s not necessary to go all the way to the top for instance, as that part won’t show.

I’ve also started work on both the train and the bodice. For the train I’m using the Truly Victorian Butterfly train pattern, which is very close to what the original looks like. It’s a little different, but it has all of the important things, namely a bustled up back and train bottom. I’ve played around with it, and it also works bustled up further, so I could do that for dancing.

I was a bit scared to run out of fabric, but so far it seems I’ll be fine. That’s good, as I also want to make a ballgown bodice! The original gown is for evening activities, but not really for dancing, given the long sleeves and high neck. I also want to wear this for dancing, with the train tied up, so I plan to make a second bodice.

My initial idea was something like this, with the black silk in the middle of the bodice. This was planned with the idea of saving on the gold fabric.

I might have enough for a full bodice from the silk though, and given the gold overskirt I might like that more, so I have to think about that a bit more. I might also see if I can use some black lace for the bodice, and I have some organza ribbons in gold and black which I’d like to use, perhaps for flowers?

These are the main ideas and inspirations! I’ve gotten most of the evening bodice done, the base of the train and the base of the overskirt, as well as the cotton underlayer of the underskirt. I’ll try to do some more posts on each of those when they’re fully finished.