Recreating the 1890's Aesthetic Dress

I make myself historical dresses, and I love getting to wear them. I make my sister historical dresses, and she adores them. My mom would love to have a historical dress, I just haven't made her one. It's time to change that. She needs an 1890's dress for the church Christmas play. Now. she could have just worn my 1890's dress, but I decided to use this play as an excuse to make her her own dress. Thus, we sat down to browse Pinterest one evening. We needed to find an 1890's dress that my mom loved, that was suitable for her character in the play, and that I could recreate in a somewhat limited time frame. After quite a bit of consideration, we settled on this one.

c. 1895 Liberty & co. dress. V&A Museum
This blue silk dress was made in the mid 1890's for Liberty & Co, a London fashion house that still produces some excellent fabrics today. You may notice that it looks a little different than your standard tailored, puffed sleeved, 1890's dress. That's because it's part of the aesthetic dress movement.

In the last quarter of the 19th century a trend of less structured dresses began. There were two dress movements that did this, the reform dress movement and the aesthetic dress movement. The loose dresses of the reform dress movement were thought to be healthier for women to wear than the standard corset supported designs. The aesthetic dress movement focused on flowing, feminine designs reminiscent of  country life, the Renaissance era, and ancient Greek clothing. These things, a simpler life and time, were considered ideal to many city living people of the 1890's. Sound familiar to the way many people look at things today?

Starting in 1884, Liberty sought to produce something different from the parisian fashion houses by designing aesthetic dresses that showcased their gorgeous fabrics, smocking, and embroidery. This blue silk dress does just that.


That said, my mom fell in love with this dress. I assured her I could re-create it. Now, the only question was how? Where did I start? How did the construction of a dress like this differ from the construction of a standard dress from this era? Thankfully the Victoria and Albert Museum website provided some answers.

"Dress of blue pongee silk trimmed with smocking and machine-made lace. Full length with train, medium height round neck, double-puff elbow length sleeves, trimmed with smocking and frilled edge. Fastens at the back with brass hooks and silk eyes. The bodice is lined with silk twill and well boned. Corded silk waist-band fastening with a double pronged buckle. Skirt is lined with cotton. The dress is cut to fall in soft folds from the neck to the hem and is held at the waist with a diamond-shaped band of smocking. Hem is trimmed with three rows of pale blue silk embroidery and has a frilled border. At the waist there are small silk covered and embroidered buttons with worked silk loops." ~ V&A site

Ok, so I needed to start by making a fitted, boned, bodice lining. I could see that this dress has raglan sleeves so I used a pattern from my stash, out of print Simplicity 9025, as my bodice lining starting point.


A few minor adjustments to the pattern and the bodice lining was perfectly fitted to my mom. Next step, building the rest of the dress on top of it. We just needed to pick out some fabric first.

The original dress was silk. My mom's character in the play is an american country woman. Not someone who would regularly wear silk dresses, or be able to buy an actual Liberty dress. It is plausible however that this woman could have seen the dress in a fashion magazine, fallen in love with it, and decided to recreate it at home in a different fabric, just like my mom and I are doing. With this backstory in place, my mom and I just needed to find a fabric with the right drape. A trip to JoAnn's yielded a red linen/rayon blend to be transformed into the dress.


I draped my pattern making material over the lining on the dress form, and cut it to the right shapes for the dress front, dress back, and sleeves. I then cut apart my new pattern vertically and pinned it onto my fabric all spread out to add extra volume for the smocking. Then I cut out the dress pieces.


Now I'm ready for the fun part, sewing the actual dress! My mom is really looking forward to seeing the final result! 


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