The Bloomsbury Dress - Part 2 Aesthetic Dress Movement

The Bloomsbury Dress - Part 2 Aesthetic Dress Movement

In my Part 1 of this blog post, I described the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite artists on a new dress design I've named the Bloomsbury Dress.

I want to go into a little more fashion history before I finish up the story, by talking about their influence on the Aesthetic Dress movement. This movement shaped women's fashion in the early part of the twentieth century, including the female members of Bloomsbury group living in the 1910s.

Aesthetic Artistic Dress 1898

The second half of the nineteenth century brought calls for a huge revolution in women’s dress. Reformers objected to the restrictive corsets that damaged women’s health, the sheer weight of fabrics they were forced to wear, as well as the overly ornate decoration.

The emphasis on quality fabrics and more comfortable, simply designed clothing was named the Aesthetic Dress Movement and came out of a wider Aesthetic Movement that sought to create “art for art’s sake”, meaning art for beauty and pleasure rather than an expression of restrictive Victorian morality. The Aesthetic Dress Movement was actually founded by female members of the Arts and Crafts Movement in 1890, and this movement continued to grow in popularity until it became very much mainstream by the 1910s.

Silk Velvet Coat 1900

 Silk Velvet Coat 1900, Marshall & Snelgrove Ltd

Something I found out that I thought was fascinating is that from 1912, a new dance craze started to sweep the world - the Tango. Many dresses were specifically designed to allow women to dance easily, with free movement of their arms and legs.

This dress below is a model for the one I’m designing, and you can see how it would allow someone to swing their arms around while not getting out of breath from wearing a tightly laced corset. Sounds like ladies back in the day liked to party as much as we do!

French Evening Dress 1909-11
French Evening Dress 1909-11

Coincidentally I recently went to a Downtown Abbey exhibition that had many 1910s and 1920s dress examples that I could see in real life. It was hard to get good quality photos in the dim light, but you can see some nice detail especially on the 1920s dresses.

1910s Dress

1910s dress worn by Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham played by Maggie Smith in Downtown Abbey

1920 Robe

Robe worn by Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham played by Elizabeth McGovern

1920 Dress Downton Abbey
Dress worn by Lady Mary Talbot, played by Michelle Dockery

1920s crystal gown from Downton Abbey

Dress worn by Lady Rose Aldridge, played by Lily James 

1920s velvet gown from Downton Abbey

Gown worn by Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham played by Elizabeth McGovern

Now that I've got all the fashion history out of the way, I'd better actually show you the dress I've been working on!

It certainly doesn't look as glamorous as the gowns above but let's face it, we're not dressing for dinner and going to 10-course dinner parties, we're just looking for something to wear every day.

The first thing I did was design the bodice, with a batwing sleeve all in one piece - nice and flowy and comfortable:

Sweet Violet Dress Bodice
One thing I need to explain is that I always make a toile (also called a muslin) as a mock-up before making the garment in the final fabric. I try to use fabric that is as similar as possible, and I had this silky pink fabric that was as close as I could get from my stash. That way, you don't waste any valuable fabric and you can make plenty of changes to the design before a final sample is made.

Here it is sewn up:

Sweet Violet Dress Bodice 2

I haven't decided what I want to do with the neckline yet, so I just made a quick bias binding. I decided to do a back opening with a pretty button and fabric hook as a fastener:

Sweet Violet Dress Bodice Back Opening

Here it is on the mannequin, and I quite like it. It will be pulled in at the waist (probably elastic) but when I saw it, I thought it would look great on its own as a slightly cropped blouse. I may end up making it as a blouse in a different fabric as another piece in the collection to go along with the dress. I tried it on and it was surprising flattering and comfortable.

Sweet Violet Dress Bodice Final

Now for the hard part. I tried draping the actual final fabric on the mannequin with the bodice as a gathered skirt and I'm not sold on it. I think I might want to make it less gathered and more streamlined. I will have to keep working on it and draft something that has less fabric in it.

You can see the final dark green skirt fabric is kind of sheer so I can see I will need to make a lining as well.

Sweet Violet Bloomsbury Dress Toile

That's as far as I've got on the Bloomsbury Dress so far, I'll keep you posted as I develop it and finalize the skirt and all the finishes!


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