Of ballgowns and trains

The early 1870’s fashion absolutely loved its trained gowns. I followed that when designing the train for my own ball gown, I knew I really wanted to have one.

foto van Atelier Nostalgia.

My train

 

Although practical and train-less dresses do exist they are a lot more difficult to find than their trained counterparts. Small trains were even worn for morning wear, and there’s plenty examples of walking dressed (obviously meant to wear out of the house), still with a small train. And you can be sure those wouldn’t always only be worn on perfectly clean pavements!

Just to avoid those images which might have the label ‘walking dress’ stuck to them without provenance, an example with the text next to the fashion plate. A walking dress for winter, you can be sure that train didn’t keep clean!

Winter walking dress and bag c. 1874:

 

You can imagine that if an informal morning dress has a train, that an evening dress or ball gown would practically always be trained. For a formal event, or attending the opera that’d be fine, but for a ball one needs to be able to dance. In a waltz, that includes being able to step backwards without tripping over your dress.

This train is stunning, but there’s no way I’d be able to waltz in this as it is.

Met Museum

 

So two questions arise: how do you keep your train clean, and how do you avoid stepping on it? Both questions are now rather relevant for me, as I’m wearing my 1870s ballgown to a ball this May, and I definitely want to dance!

The first answer to keeping your train clean, is to add a balayeuse. Or, in English, a dust ruffler. A balayeuse is basically a separate piece of fabric, attached to the underside of the train. It makes sure the train fabric itself doesn’t touch the floor, and it gets dirty instead. The idea is that it’s detachable, either by buttons or just unpicking some stitches, so you can wash the balayeuse without having to wash your train.

This image is from the late 1870’s, but it shows the general idea. A separate panel attaches to the underside of the train. This one seems to have a lace layer ‘on top’ between the balayeuse and the floor.

Tygodnik Mód 1877.: Trains' detachable balayeuse.:

 

Not all balayeuses were totally practical, especially for evening dresses they could be made of layers of lace, peeking out underneath the hem. After all, your ballgown is generally only worn inside, so it wouldn’t get quite as dirty as outside.

So that takes care of the dirt, but what about the dancing?

First thing to keep in mind is that not all evening occasions would be balls, so it wasn’t always necessary for an evening gown to be fit for dancing. However, if it needed to be, the practical solution was to simply bustle up the train!

Now, annoyingly, I couldn’t actually find period images of the same dress (either fashion plate or existant) with either a long train or a bustled up one. I’m pretty sure they did this though, so if anyone has a source I’d love to know!

I rather suspect this dress though, but alas, only one photo I know of exists…

Gown, 1874, Charles Frederick Worth, Medium: purple silk faille and is trimmed with silk lace, silk fringe, and velvet bows:

Worth dress, Kyoto fashion institute

 

Aside from bustling up the whole train, one could also use a ‘loop’ to hold it up while dancing. I found this wonderful image showing the process.

SAGE GREEN BUSTLE EVENING DRESS, 1880s 2-piece silk faille, red velvet panels, ecru embroidered lace trim:

Sold by Augusta Auctions

 

So, back to my own gown! In the end, I decided to make both a balayeuse and a method to bustle up my train. The way I ended up bustling it it still drags just a little bit, so the balayeuse protects the edge on the ground.

The balayeuse I made is rather simple, I just traced the part which was on the ground in white cotton, and then made ruffled strips of pinked fabric to stitch onto it in half circles. Credit for the method goes to Prior Attire, who has a tutorial here.

foto van Atelier Nostalgia.

 

It attaches to the train with buttons. The button holes are on the balayeuse, the buttons on the underside on the train. (Obviously, as otherwise there’d be holes in my train).

To bustle up the train I played around with the fabric a bit. In the end, I attached two small strips with button holes to the sides of the train. These attach to a button at the sides of my overskirt. Since my train is attached to the overskirt in the first place, this is a good way to pull up the sides. For the center I sewed a strip of cotton tape to the middle with button holes. I then sewed buttons to the train, spaced wider than the holes in the strip. This way the train bustles up evenly in the center.

The proper look:

foto van Atelier Nostalgia.

 

And because I love inside-out views, one of the train. Left two are bustled up, right is let down. That weird ‘swag’ on the side is hidden by the overskirt when worn right.

foto van Atelier Nostalgia.

 

 

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