By: Emily BachWhile searching through Pratt House looking for new treasures, we decided to pull more boxes containing garments dating to the 20 th century. One box I spotted was labeled “1910s Evening Gowns” and when I looked inside, I was in awe of the brilliant colors and silks. Laying on top of the other gowns was a vivid yellow-green silk and gold brocade gown dating to 1913. The asymmetry and geometric influence of the gown creates a visually entertaining piece, which immediately caught my eyes. The piped seam of the waistline runs diagonally across the dress bodice rather than straight across and divots down into a point on the dress's proper right side in the front. Along with this interesting seam, the bodice scoops down at the neckline, leaving a section covered by gold metallic netting backed by silk-chiffon to cover the wearer's bust. The gold metallic brocade is also intriguing because it reflects a traditional floral brocade, yet the flowers are geometric and abstract. These different variations of asymmetry on the dress embody this era's overall fashion trend utilizing asymmetry to create complex and intriguing lines and designs on a garment. Within this blog are a few fashion plates from the same time period as the museum's evening gown that feature this asymmetrical style.
Mrs. Laura Patterson Swan Robeson, whose great-great aunt was Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, donated this stunning gown to the Maryland Historical Society in 1948. The dress's petersham band reads "6 Rue de la Paix, Paris," indicating the dress was designed and constructed in this famous street known for fashion. Its label reads "Cauët," which refers to Cauët Soeuro, a French designer. The bodice's petersham band also reads "Robes • Manteaux," which translates to "Dresses • Coats." This ball gown is a fascinating piece not only because of its beauty and its complex construction, but also due to the history it reveals about the changing silhouettes of women and the efforts of women's liberation through clothing.
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Fashion significantly altered in 1908 as women sought more physical freedom via clothing that signified not only physical movement, but movement towards equality for women. Before 1908, the S-silhouette dominated women's fashion. Women sought to alter their body shape with the assistance of corsets and tight-lacing to create the illusion of a protruding bust and accentuated hips, a silhouette which resembled an "S". After 1908, a woman's natural curves became the foundation for the emerging new style of dress and women began wearing "peg-top clothing." Pegging, or creating width in the hips and closeness at the hems, became the term for describing fashion's new silhouette between 1908 and 1914. Dresses featured drapery and billows at the hips that tapered down to the ankles, highlighting a woman's curves, and tailors carefully constructed garments to achieve this ballooned out appearance at the hips, which can be observed on the 1913 evening gown. We could not place the dress on a mannequin form to envision how the gown would lay on a human body due to the shattering silk in the lining, but one can still very easily see the new silhouette popular in fashion during this time. Below the waistline, the fabric balloons out around the hips and then tapers down to tighten around the legs and ankles with the assistance of ruching. Although women successfully moved away from the predominant S-curve from the early 1900s and the natural body shape influenced fashion, pegging still restrained women physically.
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Due to the skirt's tightness around the wearer's legs, women were forced to take little steps or else risk tripping or ripping her fashionable gown. One tailor in 1912 commented that if a woman wearing peg-top clothing found herself in an emergency, she would have to "hop like a kangaroo" to escape. This peg skirt resembled the hobble skirt from the early 1900s, a fashion item that reached its peak popularity in 1910. Fascination in the Eastern world inspired this skirt as its tight, ankle-length structure forced a woman to take tiny steps when walking, steps the western world believed women in the East would take to walk. These popular hobble skirts also derived from the practice of hobbling horses by tying their front legs together in order to prevent them from running away. Women even wore their own rendition of hobbles by donning hobble garters underneath their skirts. These hobble garters were bands wrapped around each leg just below the knee, which connected the legs and prevented the wearer from taking too large a step and hurting herself or her dress. Due to this constriction, women sought more freedom through clothing as the decade progressed, resulting in the infamous 1920s flapper girls.
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Posts related to women gaining liberation through clothing:
Riding Habits and Women's Rights: http://www.mdhs.org/costumeblog/?p=575
The New Woman - Changes in Fashion and Aspiration in the 1920s: http://www.mdhs.org/costumeblog/?p=559
"Clothing, 1900–18." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear Through the Ages. Ed. Sara Pendergast, et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 4: Modern World Part I: 1900 to 1945. Detroit: UXL, 2013. 651-682. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 July 2016.
Barbier, George. Parisian Costume Plates in Full Color (1912-1914): 60 Plates. New York: Dover Publications, 1982. Print.
Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. London U.a.: DK, 2012. Print.