Tuesday, January 8, 2013

History's Runway: A Ball Gown from the House of Worth, 1900

Ball Gown
House of Worth
Paris, 1900
This and all related images from
The Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We have looked at several gowns by Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895), the famed Parisian couturier whose “House of Worth” was the standard of elegant fashion. Worth was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, and by the age of 12 was apprenticed to a draper's shop in London. At 20, he moved to Paris, working his way up the fashion ladder, finally opening his own house in 1858.

Worth caught the attention of the Empress Eugenie. This association was the key to his monumental success. What the empress wore, the ladies of the court wanted. Very quickly, Worth’s gown became symbols of social and financial greatness. His gowns defined how a wealthy lady of the early Twentieth Century should look.

This particular gown was worn by Princess Nicholas of Greece whose grandson, the Duke of Kent, donated the gown to his friend Sir Cecil Beaton, the society photographer and fashion buff, who was, in 1971, collecting fashionable dresses for his exhibition, “Fashion: An Anthology” at the V&A. 

Sadly, the some of the delicate trimmings of the gown have been lost to time. However, the rest of the gown has been painstakingly restored based on photographs from 1900 when it was made. The draped bodice is constructed of silk velvet and trimmed with diamanté and lace at the centre back. The inner foundation of the bodice has ten bones, and the bodice fastens at the left side with hooks and eyes. The skirt is also trimmed with diamante and flares from the panels that form the train.

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