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Date of your Antique Dress ARTICLE 2 Fabulous Fakes by Lisa Schnapp on 03-26-2009


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1895 Vintage Victorian Reproduction Costumethis lovely gown is a vintage theater costume possibly from the 1930's, or made later during the 1960's. It is also to be a gown made later than that made with vintage parts expressively to have the appearance of being vintage possibly for a play, reenactment or dance.

This dress was made especially to resemble an 1895 gown with leg of mutton sleeves, my opinion is possibly for a dinner- dance scene in a play. Even with the addition of the actual Victorian trim, this gown is not actually a Victorian gown. Just one that was made to resemble so. This costume is one that was made reasonably well enough to deceive most people if they are unsure what to look for, so we have to be detectives and search for the telling clues...

Please let me explain my conclusions...

Clue 1: First, the velvet pile does not appear correct for the actual Victorian period. The velvet tufted rows appear spaced too far apart- actual Victorian era velvet is very fine textured and thin-the tufts tightly spaced together so tufted rows cannot be seen deep into the pile. It is not a Victorian cotton-backed twilled velvet either, but, this fabric has an almost iridescent sheen quality- reminiscent of the sheen and overall look of a woven rayon-backed velvet. (Seems more vintage than newer due to the woven aspect on the reverse side.) You also concurred with this line of thought of rayon, but rayon-backed velvets didn't come into being until well into the mid 20th century... So, at this point alone, we know the gown is vintage. Or, at least just made with vintage parts, but, not authentic Victorian.

Clue 2: In the bodice front, the cut of the princess lines does not look shaped to be original from 1895. Look closely and you will see tiny folds and wrinkles sewn into the overly curvy bustline curves. This wrinkling has to do with the lack of structured fitting during construction. As an authentic Victorian garment, the front panels should be slightly stiff, extremely well structured, perfectly fitted with no sagging or wrinkling. Fitted like a glove, especially around and under the arms. On this gown, the underarm cut actually becomes looser (and even wrinkles from excess fabric) so the actress (or wearer) has plenty of room for arm movements. Late Victorian gowns were extremely fitted throughout the shoulder, underarm and bust regions, so movement was often curtailed for the wearer. The waist also looks cut too long as usually seen in this era.

Clue 3: The ruched shoulder treatment has the look of the late Victorian theater gowns, or 1930's, or again in the 1960's theater gowns. But, I have never seen this treatment used on authentic gowns from the late Victorian period. I have also seen this treatment on 1930's regular dresses (which this is not). The low back that corsets down to close is not a trait for this period. Most gowns opened by the front then. Even if we suggested that it was a ball gown that opened from the back, it still would be odd feature to be low in front, drop around the shoulders, then drop lower, almost to the waist in back... this grouping never happened together in this period. The woman would be baring much skin, with little stability to keep the gown from falling lower. The back should be more covered, and be shaped like a "V" in front, then a "V" behind, or other combinations of this.

Clue 4: The front bodice point is attached to the skirt in a single seam, then the wired trim was added over the top of both. This is another clue to pinpoint age here...In the Victorian era, separate pieces (bodice and skirt) were always made to be complete unto themselves, rather than sewn together as one single piece (a dress-making time saver not to have to hem, and then bodice finish edges. But, when a dressmaker does this single piece treatment, the un-hemmed/ un-bordered waist edge loses needed stability hence the Victorian trim is added to mask this.). The Victorian trim should actually have been attached only to the upper bodice hem area, not on skirt- this was to hide this waistline definition deficiency. Even home sewers made pieces separately.

Clue 5: You had mentioned that the lining was made like a dress unto itself... so we know that the innards are not "flat-lined." This term "flat-lined" actually means that each pattern piece when cut originally was sewn with all the layers included to be treated as one single piece. Then each section would be treated like a single entity when sewn together. By doing this treatment, authentic Victorian gowns could stabilize their thin, cotton backed velvets or looped velvets well, some of which had silk pile faces. Victorian gowns were all about neatness in line and stability.

Clue 6: Front of skirt also has a bit too much gathered fullness for this era, skirt should have been smoother around the front of the hips to fit flatter/ more fitted around the upper side hip. The top layer of the skirt and bottom should have been two separate layers, not one. The underskirt should be lining to about the area where the overskirt would skim. The zigzagged hem had the trim added to assist weighting the skirt. The rear bustling does not have enough gathered fabric in the back area to bustle effectively. It should have less folds in the front area and more, deeper folds in the rear to look right.

1895 Victorian style Vintage  Costume ReproductionClue 7: Interesting metal "corseting" loops. Often seen used for a dress or corset to have constant hard wearing--often a theater wear trait. Authentic Victorian gowns utilized holes punched out by an awl in the fabric, then the holes were handsewn carefully around with a buttonhole stitch. Sometimes these holes had been reenforced inside with metal disks with open centers to keep the holes from tearing out when tightlaced. Since gowns never usually had a curtain of more than 1," their gowns were fitted precisely to close well. Corsets were another story. This gown has a large fabric curtain, so, this gown could be adjusted a few inches in or out depending on the slightly different sizes of the slim ladies who wore it. This eliminated the need for constant fitting. Also, the rose ribbon was added at a later time. Authentic gowns would have used a very fine black twilled silk rope, or silk braided corset string with metal enders.

Clue 8: The corseted back has had the metal stays replaced as they look new. The corset boning is fully encased in the brown linen cotton and you can see the seams only... This area is very telling of this gown actually being a costume- authentic Victorian gowns NEVER encased their bones within fabric layers. Only costumers encase boning for strength. Inner bodices were often made of white or black cotton, silk taffeta, cotton/ silk blends, and other light but stable fabrics, but never all brown linen unless the item was a costume that would get hard wear. Light fabrics tore, wore out and stained easily.

Clue 9: Authentic boning on original garments often needed replacement from breakage, comfortable wearing or fast removal for cleaning, so stay casing holders are always sewn on with looped/ embroidered criss-crossing attachments, so stays are always accessible for quick alterations. Also, mid Victorian edge finishes are always hand finished, not machine zigzagged like on this one, this is another major clue to being made later.

Clue 10: There are black snaps under the corset. Snaps were not widely in use until the Edwardian period. The black hooks look shiny and newer to me, but they have been used since mid Victorian times.

Clue 11: The black hem treatment around neckline and bottom hem is usually seen used on theater gowns or other costumes. In this period, originally authentic gowns usually used thin self fabric hem treatments, plus a hem stiffener or dust ruffle. I can see thick sewing thread and coarse stitches, instead of fine thread and fine hand stitches, another clue to age and origin.

Clue 12: Inside skirt seams are finished with black/grey stripe ribbon. I have a few costumes finished with a similar ribbon, but never seen an authentic gown use this treatment with this ribbon. The black cotton cheesecloth support in the back rear underneath area suggests older vintage making vs. newer making, but not a definite clue as someone could use older cheesecloth they found... but, as black cheesecloth is harder to find then white nowadays, and it has a treadle type sewing stitch (except for the zigzagging at the seam edges) so I'm voting for vintage 30's or 60's construction, although it could possibly have been made later again by someone who had vintage parts.

The silk Victorian passementerie glass-beaded braid is actually Victorian in age. It was wired to help give the old trim stability from tearing apart during hard wear. Wired trim on authentic gowns is rarely found before 1900, and then found mostly on millinery items. The tassel dangle ornaments on the bodice area are missing in a few areas, but they are Victorian-20's as well. This helped to give the gown a more formal Victorian flavor.

I hope you are not disappointed that this lovely gown is actually a costume. Who would think so at first glance? I doubt that the person who sold it knew either. It is very pretty, and even as a vintage costume, this gown is pretty enough and interesting to have value. It's my informal opinion as it sits with the problems/ concerns mentioned it is worth about $175.-$250. depending on the amount of damage to the trims.

I hope this helps... My very best, Lisa

Reply by Trish:

Dear Lisa, Wow, that was the best $10 I ever spent! You are so well versed, and I totally am in awe of your knowledge. I am a bit disappointed that it is a costume, but I paid 160 for it, so it wasn't a complete disaster! I appreciate your time, thought and expertise. Thank you so much! Warm regards, trish
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