Cloaks Home | The Costar Site | Holdings | Help
Costar / Full Description
u: p:
Member Login loading...

Detail Images

Black and Green Bodice


by: Kelly Renko-Clarkson

The green and black print silk bodice dates from c. 1893.  The exterior is made from tissue paper taffeta and the boned interior from glazed cotton.


This garment was difficult to date because it does not display any of the extreme characteristics associated with styles between 1890-1905, which was the presumed time range at the beginning of this project.  Bodices during these dates and the previous era (1876-1890) all have a fitted heavily-boned base that the exterior is then mounted on, according to Norah Waugh on page 229 of The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930.  But the styling of the front and sleeves vary enough to make a more specific date possible.  Confirming the date involved a process of elimination, especially as the skirt is missing.

Starting in 1894-1895, peplums became popular at the bottom of bodices and this bodice is lacking a peplum.  Another reason for choosing c.1893, it that before 1893 bodices featured long two-pieces sleeves with a bit of fullness at the cap which eventually gave way to the leg-of-mutton, according to Jean Hunnisett on page 145 of her book Period Costume for Stage and Screen:  Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909.  The larger sleeve eventually subsides for a more slender one by 1897, but by this time "the front fullness became softer and looser and began to pouch over the waistline" according to Norah Waugh on page 229 of The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930

During the Bustle Period (1876-1890) bodices had long lines sometimes reaching the hip.  When bustles became larger in the back, bodices could no longer reach to the hip, but they still retained a long front. This bodice is cut more straight acros in the back.  Jean Hunnisett has a diagram of a bodice similar to this bodice on page 120 of Period Costume for Stage and Screen.  She says that it can function as a base starting in the late 80s into the 90s.  On page 144, Hunnisett has another diagram that displays the same style of opening as the Costar garment and writes that at the beginning of the 1890s, "the back of the bodice was mounted in with the foundation while the front foundation fastened independently down the centre.  The bodice fabric was then arranged in whatever was the style of the bodice. Some were draped across and fastened at the side.  Others had a false bolero filled in with an imitation blouse."  While this is not a true bolero style, it still functions the same.
Another indication of date are the bone casings.  When examining the hand stitching to get a better look at the bone casings, it was possible to read "Coraline Dress Stays Patented" printed onto the back. Research led to the discovery that that the Coraline stay was patented by the Warner Bros. Co. and differs from later steel boning in that it made from a fibrous cord.  The majority of advertisements for this product appear in places such as Ladies' Home Journal and Overland Monthly between 1891-1894, eventually slowing by 1897.  This additional information led to dating this transitional garment c. 1890-1893.


The exterior of the garment is made of silk tissue taffeta with a mint green floral-inspired print on a black background.  The exterior is mounted on a fitted base of glazed cotton with a check print.  The fitted layer is cut in four pieces on the half: center back, side back, side seam, and front.  The front has two under bust darts: 8 1/4" and 8 3/4" long.  The center front of this layer closes with hooks and eyes.  All seams are trimmed at the waist and curves and then are finished with a hand-overcast stitch.  The center front is cut with a slight curve instead of on the straight to allow for more shaping at the waist.  There is also a horizontal dart center front at bust level to help control fullness.

Figure 1: Bodice Front

Figure 2: Bodice Back

. .


Like other garments between 1891-1899, according to costume historian Jean Hunnisett, this blouse does not have a center back seam on the outer layer but is cut on a fold.  The more fitted underneath layer does have a back seam, and the seam allowance is used as an anchor for stitching the center back bone.  There are 12 bones located, one each on all seams and darts, and at the center front behind the eyes, as seen in Figures 3 and 4 below.  The lengths are all approximately 8" long, except for the center front bone which is 7 1/4".  The bones are in a casing that is reinforced with machine stitches all the way around; they are feather stitched to the seam allowances.  As stated before, "Coraline Dress Stays Patented" is printed onto the back of each of them.

Figure 3: Bodice Interior

Along with being cut on a fold, the back also has four pleats pressed into the waist, as seen in Figure 5 below.  There are fell stitches controlling the two outer pleats for two inches above the waist.  Mirroring the pleats on the back, there are two pleats on either side of the front.  Again, pleats are controlled on the bottom by hand stitches.  The front over layer is connected to the foundation at the side seam, armscye, shoulder, and hem; the front is left free and through a series of hooks and bars, it is used to conceal the edge of the bib.  The front decorative plackets are hand-stitched to the free end of the top layer.

Figure 4: Boning

Figure 5: Back Pleats

Figure 6: Bib and Interior Detail

The bib, what is left of it, is a solid black taffeta, as seen in Figure 6 above.  It is 9" wide and gathered down at the neck (six inches) and waist (four inches).  The bib is attached to the right side of the foundation layer with running stitches.  It then spans the center front and closes on the left side of the foundation using hooks and bars.  The edge with the hooks is reinforced with 5/8" bias cut fabric.


The sleeves consist of an over and under sleeve.  The under sleeve is a fitted two-pieces shaped sleeve made of the same glazed cotton as the bodice.  Part of the sleeve has been replaced with a brown glazed cotton.  It seems likely that a shortage of the fashion fabric led to the use of the brown to finish.  There are stitch marks on either side of both seams, showing that these sleeves have been let out.  There are also hand stitch lines just above the elbow; this is how far up the fashion fabric covered, again to conserve fabric.

Figure 7: Detail of Tucks on Sleeve

The over sleeve is a two-piece three quarter length with some slight shaping at the elbow.  There are nine pin tucks concentrated in the center of the over sleeve, as seen in Figure 7 above. The farthest back tuck lines end up at the shoulder seam.  In addition to the tucks there is slight gathering across the cap.

Figure 8: Sleeve Trim

Figure 9: Sleeve Ends

There is decorative green 1/2" ribbon hand stitched to both the over and under sleeves, as seen in Figures 8 and 9 above.  The same ribbon is also hand applied to the front placket. 

Additional Details

Black lace trim, an inch and a half at widest, edges the center front of outer most layer from hem to shoulder seam.  The hem is finished with a 1" belt.  The belt is made of canvas and covered with bias cut taffeta and then is hand stitched to the bodice.


This bodice has considerable damage.  The taffeta layer is shattered throughout; the fabric's integrity is gone and the fibers tear under the slightest amount of pressure.  With the exception of a remnant around the wrist, the taffeta has been completely torn away from the under sleeve, thus exposing the glazed cotton.  One edge of the bib has been mostly torn away.

Figure 10: Damage to Bib

Until recently the garment was stored improperly, as evidenced by permanent creases and folds all over it.  Due to the fragility of the fabric, it was difficult to get it to lay flat.  Where the bib is attached at the side front and at the neck, there are traces of a lace net.  It must have once been layered over the taffeta bib but has since almost completely disappeared. There is a bias finish to the neck but no collar was found. (Editor's Note:  The collar was located after this project was completed.  it has been photographed and is included on the Costar page with the garment.)

© Kelly Renko-Clarkson, 2014