This day dress by Emile Pingat combines the revival of an 1830s sleeve silhouette with the exquisite couture beading of a Parisian couturier. This amalgamation of historical reference, classic black, a touch of menswear, and savoir-faire showcases luxury and peak style for the consumers that could afford it.
About the Look
This day dress (Fig. 1) was designed by French couturier Emile Pingat in the early 1890s. Pingat was a master at trimming dresses and was best known for his beautiful outerwear, but his gowns display the same careful technique.
This one is composed of black satin-striped silk and intricate black beading. It features exquisite stripe matching on the front of a pleated vest-style bodice with a high stand collar, a hook-and-eye closure down the center, and luxurious beading of mixed motifs on the collar and ‘vest’ panels (Fig. 2). The jet beading occurs on both front and back and continues down the contours of the body, resolving at the natural waist. There are also beaded epaulettes with hanging fringe on top of the sleeves. The sleeves are in the early 1890s gigot, or leg-of-mutton, style, which reached its zenith in 1896. The fitted area of the sleeves, forearm to wrist, is also decorated with jet beading in new motifs, including edging at the wrists (Fig. 3).
The skirt is made in the same black satin-striped silk as the bodice and is constructed in the gored fashion with two panels at the front and three in the back. As opposed to a straight-paneled skirt which is gathered at the waist, gored skirts are identified by their smooth fit at the waist and hips and the gentle flare towards the hem. The skirt is plainer than the bodice but has complex black trim and ruching at the hem for support and visual interest that finish the couture ensemble (Fig. 4). The skirt is gathered at the back and slightly trained for a gentle, sophisticated silhouette (Fig. 5).
About the context
Emile Pingat, a significant French couturier included in the vernacular of nineteenth-century fashion along with the likes of Charles Frederick Worth and Jacques Doucet, was renowned for creating ensembles that pulled from many different points of reference (Fig. 6). Metropolitan Museum of Art curators note that:
“Pingat was adroit at manipulating multiple textiles and trimmings into a cohesive and elevated garment. He was inspired by design elements of other cultures and often reinterpreted them into his own work, making them unique and intriguing.”
In particular, this black gown showcases silhouette details – such as its gigot sleeve, identified by its large puffed volume at the shoulders that tapers down into a fitted forearm – that epitomized fashion from the first half of the 1830s. An example of this earlier gigot sleeve silhouette can be seen in figure 7, though it would likely originally have been worn with internal sleeve supports (Fig. 8). However, this does not mean that Pingat’s dress was out of touch with the swift pulse of 1890s fashion. In The History of Modern Fashion From 1850 (2015), Daniel Cole and Nancy Deihl reaffirm:
“The sleeve fullness continued to increase and by 1893 the leg-of-mutton (or gigot) sleeve, a feature of 1830s fashion, was back in vogue.” (61)
The revival of the 1830s silhouette and the increasing volume of the gigot sleeve was in full force by 1893. Sleeves continued expanding for another three years, just as they had in the 1830s. The affinity for the gigot style is evidenced in a fashion plate from The Season published in September 1891 (Fig. 9); the style depicted shares many similarilites to what Pingat used in 1893. The gigot sleeves, high collar, use of black vertically-striped silk, addition of rosettes of silk and other embellishments (in this case lace), and the use of black as a fashion color all support the thesis that this gown was extremely fashionable.
Black was not merely a color for mourning. Black gowns reigned supreme in 1893, especially in highly fashionable areas of the world like New York City and Paris. In Harper’s Bazar in December 1893, the writers discuss black as a fashionable color for the season: “The favorite dresses of the season are black, whether for walking or for carriage wear” (1051). The context of such black dresses as being for walking or carriage wear is important; ladies wore reception dresses and were expected to visit their friends a few times a month. These dresses were not only fashionable in color, but in silhouette as well. In Harper’s Bazar (September 1891), the writers discuss the emergence of a fashionable style for newly-married women:
“Should the bride desire a black silk dress in her wardrobe, it may be a combination of faille or Muscovite reps with velvet. The skirt has three faille breadths in front and sides slightly gored and piped with velvet. The front has a pleated vest and leg-of-mutton sleeves of faille with jet edging at the wrists.” (727)
The emerging popularity of this style of dress, especially in black, is also upheld by two day dresses from the 1890s that have numerous similarities to the Emile Pingat dress. In figure 10, the dress has gigot sleeves combined with a pleated vest and gored skirt and features the same intricate level of beading as the Emile Pingat dress. Moving a couple of years into the future, the dress in figure 11 has even larger gigot sleeves and a generally similar silhouette and construction, but it is less luxuriously decorated with embellishment.
The false ‘vest’ style of the bodice was in fashion for most of the 1890s and continued into the beginning of the 1900s. It was generally seen in day dresses like the one in figure 12. Of this detail, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum says that “Masculine dress is referenced by the false lapels of the bodice, which mimic the look of a man’s waistcoat and shirt.” Menswear was a common inspiration for women’s dress in the 1890s, stemming from early feminist and reform design (Mitchell 11).
The same style can be seen, modified for intimate afternoon dress to include a shorter sleeve, in Portrait of a Lady in Black by William Merritt Chase (Fig. 13). This painting shows how the style would continue to evolve later in the 19th century. This must have been Pingat’s intention: to create a fashionably timeless ensemble, as he knew well how to promote his brand’s longevity given his decades-long career.
Designer Sarah Burton reinterpreted gigot sleeves in modern fashion for the Alexander McQueen Fall 2019 collection. These neon pink sculpted-rose sleeves serve as a revival of 1830s and 1890s sleeves and are fashioned in silk. The silhouette of the sleeve has the same puffed shoulder and fitted forearm as the Emile Pingat dress from the 1890s. The outfit, shown in figure 14, also embodies the idea of black as a fashion color.
- Cole, Daniel James, and Nancy Deihl. The History of Modern Fashion from 1850. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/935213653
- “Day ensemble, 1894-95.” The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum & Galleries Blog. 14 April 2010. Accessed 7 July 2020. https://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2010/04/day-ensemble-18941895.html
- “Evening Cape.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/156122
- Mitchell, Rebecca N. Fashioning the Victorians: A Critical Sourcebook. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1083135413
- “NEW YORK FASHIONS: AUTUMN WEDDING DRESSES.” Harper’s Bazar, Sep 26, 1891, 727, https://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2818/docview/1832483430?accountid=27253
- “NEW YORK FASHIONS: FASHIONABLE BLACK DRESSES.” Harper’s Bazar, Dec 23, 1893, 1051, https://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2818/docview/1891032061?accountid=27253