Be inspired by the style of the 18th and 19th century through the dress collection at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin
300 years of European fashion history
The acquisition of the internationally well reknown Kamer/Ruf fashion collection in 2003 allowed the Kunstgewerbemuseum to build on the significance of its rich collection of textiles and hold its own with comparable museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris. This extensive accession documents 300 years of European fashion history with exceptional objects which allows the public audience to follow up on the development of garment through the centuries and discover the latest trends of each era.
Fully Boned Corset
A fully braced corset shaped the upper body with a straight spine, shoulders pulled back and an upward-pressed
bust. Wilhelmine of Bayreuth, sister
of Frederick the Great, reported how unpleasant this was: “…and to my misfortune, so I would seem more delicate, the queen had me laced up so tight that I became quite black in the face and ran out of breath.” (Wilhelmine
von Bayreuth 1990: 82)
The cut and style of the robe à la française changed little throughout the decades. Materials and trimmings determined stylistic alterations.
Detail of Women’s Gown
The splendid silk of this gown shows parrot tulips and chrysanthemums with sparse, bracken-like foliage upon a dark green background and a naturalistic flower pattern as was fashionable between 1730 and 1740.
Detail of a "robe à l’anglaise"
France or England, ca. 1780
This gown expresses the late 18th century preference for light fabrics in pastel tones. Printed cotton fabrics from India have been popular in Europe since the 17th century. In January 1786, the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported from London that “in England the finest floral printed and painted muslins and East Indian chintz was in vogue and about four times more expensive than ladies silk fabrics. Nevertheless, they sold like hot cakes and up to 6000 London silk weavers became unemployed”.
During this time additional new types of dresses came about:
Robe à l’anglaise
France or England, ca. 1780
Interest in the English lifestyle grew within France and during this Anglomanie France adopted the cut of the English morninggown with fitted back in the 1770s and, with slight adjustments, turned it into the robe à l’anglaise.
Women’s Shoes in the Chinese Style
England, ca. 1785
In January 1786 the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported about this new English shoe fashion that: “The English ladies’ shoe differentiates itself as much through the raised tip, as the ‘sabots chinois’, namely more than one inch higher than the sole. The shoe tip, moreover, is stiffened with leather. The English women wear this shoe to go for a walk. The advantage is that they give the toes space and the stiffened cap protects against the impact of stones.”
Two Chemise Gowns
Left: France, ca. 1800
Right: England, ca. 1805
For the first time, and then only briefly, women could abstain from bodices, hoop skirts or hip cushions. The chemise dress was a one-piece garment with a high waist and wide neckline. Worn beneath it were undergarments or skin-coloured stockinettes. A regular “nudity fashion,” as the Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported in June, 1794: “Yet the strangest is a new type of garb that they (the Parisians) have adopted that is already being worn all over, and is to remain the national costume in the future. Namely they, like the men, wear trousers of skin-hued material, and over that a skirt of finest muslin … The waist is very short and fastened with a tricolour belt.”
Red Velvet Gown with Pearl Embroidery
Unusual for its time, this narrowly cut festive gown is of dark red silk velvet. On the occasion of his 1804 coronation as Emperor of France Napoleon reintroduced courtly dress, which led to the return of laboriously embroidered silk and velvet. In so doing Napoleon deliberately supported the French silk industry.
Walking Dress – Spencer and Skirt
England, ca. 1820
From 1815 on the waist slid down to its natural height, the corset made a comeback. The seams of skirts, still worn smoothly at the waist, spread more fully as a result of voluptuous dimensional trimming, affording them a triangular shape. These remained short enough for the ankles to be seen.
Short little jackets, so-called Spencers, were very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. English Lord George John Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer (1758-1834), who is said to have cut off the damaged tails of his tailcoat, lent his name to this fashion. Ladies fashion adopted the practical garment as an ideal supplement to the low-cut chemise dresses.
Women’s Dress with Fichu
In March of 1836 the Berliner Modenspiegel wrote: “Now the last dubious question is decided: the adjoining sleeves have carried off the victory … The ladies save with the materials, the men gain more space, be it at the table or at the theatre, and the geese are no longer pitilessly robbed of their down in order to form Gigots from them and pile them on our shoulders”. Mutton sleeves became outdated almost over night. This delicately printed summer dress shows the new line.
Boteh (paisley) motifs, coming from the Indian word bota for bush or blossom, were a central motif of the cashmere scarfs that had been popular in Europe since the late 18th century. During the 19th century they were rewoven in Europe. The patterns influenced the designs of woven and printed materials to lasting effect and these forms were also combined with European motifs.
England, ca. 1855
Little jackets that were open in front and had tails that seemed to form the uppermost flounce of the dress became very popular around 1855. Already after 1845 skirts had become larger and in the 1850s achieved a consistent dome-like form that was often accentuated with ruffles.
The English company Thomson was one of the most significant producers of steel ring crinolines. It cleverly advertised this product with reference to Empress Eugenie, who personified the fashion ideal of her time and made a decisive contribution to the spread of crinoline fashion.
Informal House Frock “déshabillé“
Charles Frederick Worth
The bustle returned in 1882, and in an even more extreme form, under the name cul de Paris. The waist was now back at its original place and was very tightly laced to appear more narrow. The rear cushion stuck out almost horizontally.
Sarah Bernhardt as Fédora
L‘Art et la Mode, 1883
Wealthy Americans, ladies of the European court and important stage artists such as Sarah Bernhardt counted among the customers of this exclusive fashion house. Worth sketched a déshabillé, worn by Bernhardt in the third act of Sardous’s 1883 “Fédora”, that strongly resembles our house frock.
Black Evening Cape with Medici Collar
Paris, ca. 1895
This elegant evening cape by Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) emphasizes the broad shoulder line typical of 1895. Like Charles Frederick Worth and Pingat, Jacques Doucet belonged to the first generation of large haute couture houses in Paris and was known for his rich, luxurious style.
Only the era of the fin de siècle finally disengaged women’s fashion from the constant change of artificial silhouettes according to historical model and set the stage for modern, contemporary garments which corresponded to the changed role of women in society.
Playing a leading role was the French couturier Paul Poiret, who succeeded in banishing the corset. Following him in the 1920s were Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin, to name but a few. Their work marked the beginning of the century of haute couture.
Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Christine Waidenschlager in: Fashion Art Works, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2014
Concept / Editing / Realisation: Merle Walter
Translation: allround Fremdsprachen GmbH von der Lühe, Berlin
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum