Mrs. Mauve Makes Her Debut: My Completed Simplicity 4156 Dinner Dress

BAM!

One of the most common clichés is the woman who needs “ten minutes” to get ready to go out, only to find herself still in a towel, futzing with her eyeliner an hour later. In my case, finishing my outfit took two months! But finally, I am ready to go to dinner:

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Walking Dress vs. Dinner Dress vs. Evening Dress
Victorians had different clothes for each part of the day and every activity. Simplicity 4156 is designated as a “walking dress” pattern. Walking dresses had shorter skirts to make them more manuverable and often had a jacket (or a jacket-like bodice) to protect a lady’s skin. Walking suits could be very fancy since they were worn to parade around town or in the park on fashionable afternoon walks. However, I consider my dress a dinner dress because it sweeps the floor and is, for my tastes, rather fancy. Dinner dresses emerged in the late 1880s as a halfway point between daywear and evening gowns. An evening gown is typically very ornate and often has a much lower neckine and revealing short sleeves. Dinner dresses generally keep a daytime-appropriate neckline while being more opulent and daring in fabric and trim choices. It’s like the difference between a sundress, a cocktail dress, and a formal gown.

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Big thank you and tons of kisses to Christopher, who suffered his wife’s demands for girly pictures on our anniversary vacation!

I am super-pleased with this pattern! No, I take that back: I am in LOVE with this pattern. After only a few bumps in the road, it came together quite nicely.

Dress Stats:

7 yards of pink polyester-whatever – $7 at Walmart ($1/yard)
3 yards of brown cotton bodice lining – $9 at Walmart ($2.95/yard)
4 yards of grey cotton skirt lining – $9.80 ($2.45/yard)
Maroon faux suede remnant – $3 at Joann Fabrics
2 yards net crinoline for sleeve poof – $4 from Walmart ($2/yard)
Silk shirt for center front – $3 from Goodwill
Hooks and eyes – $1 from Walmart
Twill tape – $5.90 from Joann Fabrics ($2.95/yard)
2 spools of polyester thread – $3 from Walmart
2 sequined and beaded black appliques – $25.18 from Glory’s House on eBay

Total: $70.88

As you can see, the bulk of the cost was in all the notions, especially the trimming. It’s very common for trimmings to cost just as much as the dress itself in some cases! Originally, I was just going to decorate the lapels with four large Czech glass buttons, but then I fell in love with all the dangling beaded trim that came into vogue for opera and dinner wear during the 1890s and decided that this dress needed some goth-glitter to give this otherwise sweet pink confection some wicked edge.

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The pattern calls for the collar and lapels to be wired. I was cheap and just used some floral wire left over from my long-ago Mid-Victorian headdress to wire the collar, but I ran out of wire for the lapels. The lack of wire in the lapels turned out well in the end since the heavy beaded appliques weigh them down anyway, so wiring the edge would have been extra work for no reason. The winged collar can be worn up or folded down. I prefer wearing it up outside and down inside, just because it can get in the way if you are trying to converse with someone seated next to you, but golly does it look bewitching when it’s flipped up and curled!

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I accessorized Mrs. Mauve rather simply, choosing a basic collar pin and a lavish hat. The hat base I settled on is a really nice felt base from a hat factory in China. It is very sturdy and not plasticky or thin like other costume hats. It’s made from wool, so I easily sewed my trims directly to it.

Hat Stats:

Black felt hat base – $18.97 from IOUHat on eBay
Maroon bird ornament – $1.79 from Garden Ridge
Red and black feather bouquet – $3.59 from Garden Ridge
Black feather plume – Free! (Stolen from Christopher’s tricorn)
White silk band and bow – Free! (made from scraps left over from the silk shirt)
Broken vintage brooch – $5 originally, but I consider it upcycling since it’s cracked

Back in January when I first began the Simplicity 4156 project, I knew I wanted a  hat with a bird on it. In the 1890s, anybody who was anybody had at least one dead fowl to decorate their chapeau, the more exotic (and terrifying) the better:

Madame Pauline Hat, circa 1915
“In the history of Western fashion, no period stand out more for the abundance and variety of feather trimmings than that beginning around 1860 and continuing to World War I.” – The Met

Hat, circa 1890-1900
Caught in a net…
Eventually so many birds were being hunted for their plumage that laws had to be passed to protect them from extinction.

Bonnet Hat, circa 1890
The latest from Paris: Zombie parakeets

Clearly, I wasn’t about to put a real stuffed bird on my hat, but in January, all of the Christmas decorations were on sale at the local Garden Ridge (a wonderous home decorating store the size of a football field). The trendy Christmas ornaments of 2013 turned out to be glittery and feathery, so there were plastic birds of every shape, size and color piled up for 60% off, just begging to be made into hats!

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A small sample of my feathery prizes!

All of the birds had metal clips on the bottom that I removed. I selected the wine-colored bird for this particular hat because it matched. Usually, I avoid matching perfectly, but it sat nicely on the brim like it was fate! I secured it to the hat base with two straight pins (I don’t like to glue things to hats because I often recycle the hat bases as I make new costumes).

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To blend them in, I could color them with a permanent marker, but when worn, the pearly pin heads don’t show.

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I tucked a brooch behind Mr. Birdy to fill in the space. I was very upset when that brooch broke, but it turned out to be a good thing since it works perfectly as a hat ornament. Turquoise and amethyst were very popular gemstones in the 1890s.

In addition to my collar pin and hat, my purple double-strap pumps finally got to see some use!

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You can just see one of them peeking out from under my skirt…

Eventually, I’d love to have a chatelaine to hang at my waist, but for now, I am very content!

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Previous Project Posts:

The Beginning – Cutting and fitting the pattern
Am I too Curvy for Victorian Clothes?
– Busty historical silhouettes
Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online – A simple way to make sure your trims will work
Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl – How to give limp hair historical volume
Mrs. Mauve Undergarments – What went under this dress and a corset review

Mrs. Mauve Undergarments: A Review of Orchard Corset’s CS-411

“Scandaless” Undies!

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Yes, there is a dress attached to those SLEEVES.

Well, I did it! I have finished sewing the pink polyester-whatever dress– which I have named “Mrs. Mauve”– and all that is left to do is trim it, figure out how to trick my hair into assuming a vaguely 1890s syle, and find some time to take photos!

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Pragmatic anachronism at it’s finest!

I mentioned in my earlier posts that I was fitting this dress over improvised undergarments. I got a few questions about them, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to introduce one of my costuming staples. The corset I fitted my Mrs. Mauve dress over is my Orchard Corset CS-411. It’s a really comfortable, inexpensive underbust that, while not perfect for 1895 (underbusts came onto the scene around 1893, but weren’t common for daily wear until 1900), is a good option for Edwardian era costuming and an great companion for flouncy vintage dresses. For the Mrs. Mauve dress, I paired it with a underwire sports bra and a cotton tunic shirt for a chemise. Together, they helped hold the bust up to the proper place and prevented overtly modern jiggle.

CS-411 Corset Overview:
Price – averages $75 plus s&h
Fit – underbust to upper-hip, 10″ long
Shape – Hourglass curves

Pros:
Short length
Mobility
Doesn’t squish bust
Sturdy construction
Flattering shape
Comfortable
Fun fabric

Cons:
Laces too slick
Not enough curve
Bulky fabric

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Company photo of Orchard Corset’s CS-411 in Black Pinstripe

Price and Fit

My underbust-to-lap measurement is 9-9.5 inches (depending on how much I slouch). The CS-411 is 10 inches in front and 8.5 inches on the side, making it just short enough for my torso. I do get a little extra “uplift” in the bust, especially when I sit down. It is one of the shorter ready-to-wear corsets on the market at the moment and one of the cheapest– most Orchard Corset styles average about $75 but are often offered on sale (O.C. recently added an even shorter cincher, the CS-201). Besides my pinstripe version, the CS-411 comes in a variety of fabrics, including satin, cotton, and brocade. The brocade and pinstripe corsets are thicker than the satin corsets, so they are very sturdy, but your outside measurement will be larger because of the added bulk. For example, even cinched fully closed, my 24 inch corset has an outside measurement of 27 inches. If outside measurements concern you, the satin is your best option. They also offer this style in breathable cotton, but I have not tried it yet.

Shape

According to Orchard Corset, the CS-411 is a Level 3 silhouette. Level 3s are the curviest corsets the company currently offers. I definitely get eye-catching curves, but I wouldn’t classify them as extreme. There is a 9 inch difference between the hips and waist on my corset which remains fairly constant through all Orchard Corset Level 3s. It is perfect for tubular and round body shapes. Pear shapes might find the hips a bit tight. Ladies with natural hourglass curves might be underwhelmed by the CS-411’s shape since it may closely mimic your own body, fitting to it instead of shaping it.

Pros

I really like this corset. Though I bought it primarily for costuming, I wear it as a modern accessory, too. I have worn it to Thanksgiving (and eaten in it without trouble) and to the mall. It goes wonderfully under vintage pieces as well, which I love. Compared to an overbust corset or a longline corset, it is very easy to move around in. Since it is an underbust, it doesn’t squish my bust down or give me “quad-boob” as many off-the-rack overbusts do, nor does it rub my underarms– a big issue I’ve had with corsets in the past. I also love that I can sit normally in it without the bottom edge jamming into my thighs. It’s great for my posture, too!

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The pinstripe fabric I chose is a thicker poly fabric that has held up very well. When it is cold, the thick fabric gives me an excellent, warming hug! The construction of the corset is very nice quality; all Orchard Corsets are lined and have a waist tape, plus the CS-411 is double boned at each seam. The flexible spiral steels conform really well to my body and the cut of the corset gives a nice, swooping curve without rubbing my hips or ribs. It makes me feel very regal, but devious– always a good feeling to have in my book!

Cons

There are a few things about the CS-411 that bother me. The biggest gripe I have is that the laces the corset comes with are very stretchy and slick, so getting it to lace tightly is an exercise in futility unless you keep the tension very precise and constant when you are tying the laces. It also tends to loosen as you wear it, so even if I close it all the way and tie it tightly, half and hour later there will be a 1 inch gap in the back. Orchard corset does sell other laces, or you can re-lace it with something sturdier, but I wish they would just put good laces on the corset in the first place. The corsets are inexpensive enough that I would be able to afford, and would gladly pay, the extra $8 to have my corset come laced with good laces right out of the package.

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As I discussed earlier, the CS-411 has really nice hourglass curves, but if you are particularly curvy yourself, you might not be as impressed with your transformation. The fabric I chose is very thick, so while my waist inside the corset is ~24 inches, my outside measurement is ~27. Buying a corset to achieve a “proper size” isn’t how you should go about buying one, but if you are concerned about a smooth fit under clothes, the thinner (but still strong) satin is probably a better choice because it won’t have as much bulk as the poly-brocades do. The brocade also takes longer to break in and doesn’t mold as readily to your body. I would definitely buy a satin or cotton version next time. I am considering their shorter CS-301 for my vintage gowns since the CS-411 has a difinitive line around the hips that shows when I wear it under close-fitting gowns and in pants (the CS-411 does just fine with fluffy dresses, though).

All in all, the CS-411 is a good corset for the money. For historical costuming, it works well for 1890-1912 (or earlier with a firm bra and a cavalier attutude towards pure authenticity). The CS-411 does its job, and would be a good corset for a beginner, stage performer, or casual wearer. I’d rate it a 3.5 out of 5.

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I am not paid by Orchard Corsets to give reviews. I simply wear their corsets and thought that others might appriciate a review about their use in historical costuming (there are plenty of waist training and general reviews of this corset online if you are looking to wear this corset with modern clothing).

For more information on corsets, please visit Lucy’s Corsetry. She is one of the best modern-corsetry experts on the web and covers everything from drafting your own corset to corsetting health concerns.

(The wild skirt is an Indian belly dancing skirt that someone was using for swing dance before I got ahold of it and decided to use it as a tawdry Edwardian petticoat!)

Other Corset Reviews:

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Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores