This silk evening dress draped in lace was designed by Jean-Philippe Worth in 1887-89 and was very fashionable for its time due to his design, color, and stylistic choices.
About the Look
his beautiful silk and lace evening dress was designed by Jean-Philippe Worth, for the House of Worth, between 1887-1889. The garment’s authentic label is still present with “J. Worth” in black and PARIS very faintly embroidered on either side (Fig. 1). The bodice includes a silk waistband to highlight the small waist and a lace-edged box-shaped neckline (Fig. 2). Underneath the outer layer, there is an under layer with lacing up the center front line, so one could put the garment on then lace up the bodice for a tight fit (Fig. 3). The outer layer of the garment includes boning to further define the structure of the body that is being shaped by the corset-like under layer (Fig. 3). The elbow length sleeves of the garment include manipulation of the fabric with folding and gathering along with a lace trim on the bottom (Figs. 4, 7).
While the bodice of the garment is very fitted, below the waist large amounts of fabric are showcased through the bustle (Fig. 5) and gathered into the center back under a bow detail on the waistline (Figs. 6, 7). The lace around the neckline continues from the front of the bodice to the back and the neckline creates a V-shape at the center back (Fig. 7). The fabric choices for this garment include beige silk with a light leaf-like design (Fig. 8), a lighter shade of beige silk around the waist band and on the shoulder details (Figs. 2, 7), and beige lace with small floral details and a scalloped edge (Fig. 9).
Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926). Evening Dress, 1887-89. Silk and lace. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 49.3.24a–e. Gift of Orme Wilson and R. Thornton Wilson, in memory of their mother, Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson, 1949. Source: The Met
About the context
ccording to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this garment was created between the years of 1887 and 1889. Based on research and analysis of the styles in these years, this dress appears to most likely be from either 1887 or 1888. This evening dress by Jean-Philippe Worth appears to be very fashionable for its time.
This pinkish beige garment is made of silk with large lace accents. At this time, these two fabrics were among the most common types of fabrications for women’s clothing. Silk was a leading fabric choice for this period and was seen in almost all dresses (Figs. 8, 12, 13, 14). Lace was popular not only because of its beautiful appearance, but also because the way its drapes complimented the styles of dresses in these years. A “New York Fashions” column in Harper’s Bazar (April 16, 1887) explains:
“Black, white, and suede or coffee-colored laces are largely imported for spring and summer, both in piece lace and in that with scalloped edges, wide enough for the length of the skirt, and in narrower widths for insertions and flounces.” (271)
Regarding color, Worth’s lace would be considered “suede colored”, which is one of the four most common colors listed above for 1887. This color combination of pale pink with beige or suede was also considered fashionable earlier in 1885 (Fig. 14). The lace fabrication discussed in Harper’s Bazar is featured on Worth’s garment: draped across the front into the side (Fig. 5) and around the neckline (Figs. 2, 7). The scalloped edge mentioned is featured on the bottom of the lace drape (Fig. 9), while narrower strips of lace fabric are seen in the sleeve (Fig. 4). The draping across the front of the garment is also a very popular look, as discussed in the “The Fashions” column of Godey’s Lady’s Book (July 1888):
“The bordered fabrics are made double width because the width has to be used lengthwise for draped tunics and skirts, so that fourty-four or forty-eight inches is none too wide.” (60)
While draping of lace was very in-style, draping across the lower front of dresses with other fabrics, such as silk, was also very common. Fashion plates from the Journal des demoiselles (Fig. 10) and La Mode Française (Fig. 11) both show asymmetrical drapes across the skirt front.
In the underlayer of Worth’s evening dress, there is lacing up the front that mimics a corset to create a slim waist shape (Fig. 3). Although this lacing is hidden here, lacing in the front of garments was a common style, sometimes featured on the bodice front (Fig. 12). The curvy body shape the corset provided by highlighting the small waist was also a prominent style.
In the back of the garment, there is an abundance of fabric that gathers into a bow at the center of the waistband (Fig. 7). These gathers then fall over the bustle creating thick layers of fabric and leaving a train in the back (Fig. 6), as seen in many other dresses of the time (Figs. 10, 13).
Because Charles-Frederick Worth was a leading fashion designer at this time, he was often discussed in fashion periodicals. Jean-Philippe Worth, his son and the designer of this evening dress, closely mirrored his father’s styles. A “New York Fashions” column in Harper’s Bazar (April 28, 1888) describes Worth’s styles:
“Worth chooses large designs for India silk dresses, and trims them with lace, making the skirts slightly wider, and using festooned flounces of lace or of the silk… Afternoon dresses for young ladies are of the large-flowered India silk on a cream white ground, made with a gathered belted waist… with tucks and insertion of guipure lace around it.” (271)
This description of Worth’s designs at this time very closely relate to the appearance of the garment, which supports the claim that this dress was from around 1888. There is a close relation with the mention of large flowered details on the India silk (Fig. 8) and also on the lace (Fig. 9), a belted waist (Fig. 2), and tucks in the back of the garment (Fig. 7), as they are all featured in the evening dress. Also, this column in Harper’s Bazar further supports this garment’s fashionability as Worth’s designs strongly dictated the fashion styles for these times.
The styles presented in Jean-Philippe Worth’s evening dress are very fashionable for 1887 and 1888. In 1889, however, there is the development of new styles that do not mimic the styles of the previous years. For example, sleeves begin to become more puffed, and there is a decrease in the size of the bustle. Because of these stylistic changes, it becomes apparent that this garment was created between 1887 and 1888 and was very on trend, but likely wouldn’t have been from later years because the styles had begun to change.
About the Designer
ean-Philippe Worth was the son of Charles Frederick Worth, who was also known as “the father of haute couture.” Charles Frederick Worth led the fashion industry in Paris during the mid-late 19th century and established The House of Worth, where Jean-Philippe worked for his father as a designer. The House of Worth was taken over by Jean-Philippe Worth and his brother following their father’s death in 1895. Jean-Philippe Worth is known for using dramatic fabrics and lavish trimmings, much like his father did. The House of Worth continued to thrive while Jean-Philippe and his brother were in charge; however, Jean Philippe passed away in 1926 leaving the fashion house to his nephew, Jean-Charles Worth, who retired from the family business in 1952, officially marking the end of The House of Worth (Krick).
his garment is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has been featured in two exhibits at the museum: “Seeds of Fashion,” which took place from February 15, 1951-August 31, 1951, and “Dance,” which took place from December 9, 1986-September 6, 1987.
- “House of Worth | Evening Dress | French | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Accessed March 31, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/105416.
- Krick, Author: Jessa. “Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895) and the House of Worth.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2004. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wrth/hd_wrth.htm.
- “New York Fashions.” Harper’s Bazar 20, no. 16 (April 16, 1887): 271. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth&cc=hearth&idno=4732809_1454_016&node=4732809_1454_016%3A3.5&frm=frameset&view=pdf&seq=3
- “New York Fashions.” Harper’s Bazar 21, no. 17 (April 28, 1888): 271. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth&cc=hearth&idno=4732809_1455_017&node=4732809_1455_017%3A3.6&frm=frameset&view=pdf&seq=3
- “The Fashions.” Godey’s Lady Book and Magazine 117, no. 697 (July 1888): 60. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433104870104;view=1up;seq=93