House of Worth (French, 1858–1956)
Charles Frederick Worth (French (born England), Bourne 1825–1895 Paris)
Length at CB (a): 22 1/2 in. (57.2 cm)
Length at CB (b): 64 in. (162.6 cm)
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Lois McLaughlin, 1961
Not on view
This graceful Worth dress is composed of an effective textile with the subtle acorn and oak leaf motif which signifies stability, longevity and good fortune.
The bustle silhouette, although primarily associated with the second half of the 19th century, originated in earlier fashions as a simple bump at the back of the dress, such as with late 17th-early 18th century mantuas and late 18th- early 19th century Empire dresses. The full-blown bustle silhouette had its first Victorian appearance in the late 1860s, which started as fullness in skirts moving to the back of the dress. This fullness was drawn up in ties for walking that created a fashionable puff. This trendsetting puff expanded and was then built up with supports from a variety of different things such as horsehair, metal hoops and down. Styles of this period were often taken from historical inspiration and covered in various types of trim and lace. Accessories were petite and allowed for the focus on the large elaborate gowns. Around 1874, the style altered and the skirts began to hug the thighs in the front while the bustle at the back was reduced to a natural flow from the waist to the train. This period was marked by darker colors, asymmetrical drapery, oversize accessories and elongated forms created by full-length coats. Near the beginning of the 1880s the trends altered once again to include the bustle, this time it would reach its maximum potential with some skirts having the appearance of a full shelf at the back. The dense textiles preferred were covered in trimming, beadwork, puffs and bows to visually elevate them further. The feminine silhouette continued like this through 1889 before the skirts began to reduce and make way for the S-curve silhouette.
Charles Frederick Worth was born in England and spent his young adulthood working for textile merchants in London while researching art history at museums. In 1845 he moved to Paris and worked as a salesman and a dressmaker before partnering with Otto Bobergh to open the dressmaking shop, Worth and Bobergh, in 1858. They were soon recognized by royalty and major success followed. In 1870 Worth became the sole proprietor of the business. At his shop, Worth fashioned completed creations which he then showed to clients on live models. Clients could then order their favorites according to their own specifications. This method is the origin of haute couture. Worth designed gowns which were works of art that implemented a perfect play of colors and textures created by meticulously chosen textiles and trims. The sheer volume of the textiles he employed on each dress is testimony to his respect and support of the textile industry. Worth's creative output maintained its standard and popularity throughout his life. The business continued under the direction of his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons through the first half of the twentieth century.
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