The Museum of Costume and Lace in Brussels, was created in 1977 with the aim of preserving the city’s textile heritage, especially its beautiful and extremely valuable collection of handmade, Brussels lace.
Its new exhibition, Crinolines & Cie: The Bourgeoisie on Display (1850-1890), which runs until April 10th, 2016, explores the evolution of female dress during the second half of the 19th century, along with the development of photography as an art medium and the rise of the fashionable calling-card portrait.
Sixteen, impressively restored dresses with crinolines are exhibited, along with hats, bonnets, silk Marquise parasols, crocheted purses, folding fans, silk, leather boots and lace shawls, all of which inform visitors about the typical wardrobe of an elegant Bruxelloise of the 1850s, who could change outfit up to eight times a day according to her social agenda.
Visitors can thus admire the numerous walking dresses, afternoon dresses, dinner dresses, travel dresses, ball gowns, visiting capes or ceremonial outfits and their varying designs, as well as ‘transformation dresses’, that enabled ladies to pair different bodices and boleros with the same skirt.
Less known is the fact that these gowns were worn in bright colours as progress in chemistry greatly improved the quality of dyes, while making it possible to produce certain ‘difficult’ colours like violet.
The luxuriously adorned crinoline dress, which restrained movement and required sixteen meters of fabric, reflected women’s idleness and husbands’ wealth. Crinolines also bore witness to the rise of a Belgian elite, made up of entrepreneurs, bankers and merchants, who accumulated huge fortunes during the Industrial Revolution and flaunted their bourgeois way of life.
The Belgian–and European– bourgeoisie used portrait photography to display its social success, while the calling-card portrait, patented by André Disdéri in 1854, allowed its members to publicize a polished image of themselves. Indeed, the setting, as well as the pose and clothes of the sitter, were all staged to his/her advantage, which gives us clues about the sociology of fashion during that period.
Particularly noticeable is a very beautiful dinner dress designed by Charles Frederick Worth in 1876, which is a good example of his ‘princess line’ and was designed to give the wearer a leaner silhouette, as well as a magnificent 1867 ceremonial skirt made entirely of lace, which could only have been created for a member of a royal family – possibly Empress Eugénie, Napoleon III’s wife. There is also a gorgeous crinoline-inspired skirt by Belgian-born, former Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory Creative Director, Olivier Theyskens, who created the model especially for the exhibition.
(All images Courtesy of Museum of Costume and Lace, City of Brussels)