France was prosperous by 1881, and it was shown in the well-dressed people strolling the boulevards and by the fact women no longer worn the somber colors that had prevailed for so long. Besides the change in color, there were other changes. Hoods had been replaced by deep collars that were pointed at the back, and sleeves were fuller at the top with puffs or slashes down their sides. Collars were also deeper and broader. Dress skirts were different too: they were plainer at front, fuller at back, and worn over small crinolines.
As for accessories, gloves were still be worn with grand toilettes and when worn for evening wear, “gloves [were]…buttoned at the side—not with ordinary pearl buttons, but with small pearls, gold studs, ruby buttons—in fact, all kinds of gems…[were] used to button gloves.” Hats were trimmed with feathers and white or black lace. Hats also remained large whereas bonnets were small and “trimmed richly with flowers of the brightest hue, fastened under the chin by ribbon or lace, or sometimes by a small garland of flowers.” Coils, frisettes, and plaits were fashionable for the hair, and the hair was ornamented with semicircular steel combs or steel stars, as “steel by candle-light look[ed] very brilliant.”
The first fashions for May 1881 are shown in the illustration to the left. The Cambridge Toilette is created from brocade and plain cashmere. The jacket is ornamented in front by a bouilllonné gilet of plain cashmere and in back is trimmed with pleats, ribbon, and bows. The upper skirt has a tablier in front, and, in back, it is elegantly looped up and crossed by a pleated scarf of plain cashmere. The underskirt consists of a long plissé that is crossed by two brocade bands.
At center is a Chiswick Breakfast Robe of pink spotted cashmere, trimmed with white lace and satin ribbon.
The Oxford Costume is created from dark blue Irish poplin and brocade, of a slightly lighter color. It has pleats of blue silk brocade and is crossed by bands fastened with gold buckles. The back forms a well draped polonaise. The sleeves are ornate and trimmed with bouillonnés at the top, elbow, and cuffs and then ornamented by reverse, cord, and gold tags. The front of skirt is plissé, crossed by bands, and fastened with buckles.
The illustration shown to the right, demonstrates several elegant costumes for April of 1881. The first is a Ball or Grand Dinner Toilette created from silk, satin, lace, passementerié, and fringe. It is made with ruby-colored silk and trimmed with blue satin draperies and cream-colored bows of lace and passementerié.
The Matineé is created from light blue cashmere and trimmed with plissés edged with lace. There is also a jabot created from a coquillé of lace and claret-colored satin ribbon. The skirt is trimmed with wide satin ribbon.
The illustration to the left shows three different costumes. The first is a Mignon Costume created from two shades of mauve. The polonaise overskirt is made from foulard, trimmed with satin, and fastens at the side under a revers of satin, each fold is fastened by a buckle, and the folds are caught up at the side seam. The left side is ornamented with a satin sash and finished with two tassels. The underskirt has a long plissé petticoat.
The Carriage Costume in the center is created from a peacock green. It is trimmed with brocade and the cuirasse corsage is trimmed by a collar, a gilet of brocade, and three pipes of satin. There is also the same trimming around the cuff and the simulated polonaise. A sash of brocade is across the front, and fastens under the back, which ends in a train. The front of the skirt is trimmed with a long plissé and small ruching.
Created from brown cashmere, the Mérode Promenade Costume has a cuirasee corsage that is trimmed with a collar, cuffs, and band of checked material. The back seams of the skirt are left open at the bottom and filled in by two plissés. The overskirt is draped at the sides and gathered in the center with a bow. The back is looped up and the ends flow over a wide plissé underskirt.
- Thomas, Mrs. Edward (Jane), The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion, Literature and Fine Arts, Vol. 54, No. 604, London: Kent & Co. 1881.