In the 1890s, the era of the bustle skirts had faded away. Instead, skirts became fitted closely to the waist but full along the hemline at the back. This look was achieved by making the front panel A-line in shape and the back panel shaped like a semi-circle. Because of the way the skirt fanned out at the back, often falling in natural pleats, it became known as the “fan” skirt.
There were many other skirts of similar design that were used during this period, all called rather unique names. Janet Arnold provides some of the names in her book, Patterns of Fashion 2, and they include the “Bell” skirt, the “Restoration” skirt, the “French” skirt, the “Rejane” skirt, the “Papillon” skirt, and the “Umbrella” skirt, among others. Essentially they were all the same in that they were fitted at the waist and full at the back hemline.
The way in which the back of the “Fan” skirt spread out when moving made it a very pretty skirt for ball dancing, and for this reason I have been very keen to make one of my own.
There are several basic patterns in this style reproduced just as they were printed in newspapers and fashion magazines, in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. For this particular garment I used Illustration 70 and 71 – “Illustrations and diagrams of the ‘Fan’ skirt, from Le Moniteur de la Mode, The Lady’s Magazine, 1 June 1894.”
Unfortunately for present-day dressmakers, many of these types of patterns and the accompanying instructions that have been extracted from historical sources presumed a fair bit of knowledge on the contemporary reader. For instance, there is no instructions about what sort of a waistband to construct or how the back or side fastens, especially when there is no allowance for a placket. In the absence of this information, I have had to look at extant examples to discover what sorts of waistbands and fastenings were used during this period and do my best!
One beneficial inclusion in the sewing directions is the precise instructions of how to make the garment to your own figure. However, the instructions also presume the wearer will be using a corset and has a relatively small waist measurement. (The pattern uses a waist size of 24″ as an example.) I wanted to make this skirt to my uncorseted waist size and, whilst I still used the sizing instructions, I found I needed to adjust them a little when using a much larger waist measurement. Basically I just applied the measurements to the cloth and then cut out the fabric, allowing a little extra for the seam allowances.
For the outer fabric I used a soft thick cotton (woven similarly to drill) and for the lining I used cotton broadcloth.
Step One: Sew the side seams. Here, I treated the lining and the outer fabric as one. This made the fabric thicker and helped it stand out properly.
Step Two: Make two darts in the front panel at the waistline (one on each side). I also made two darts on each side of the waist, near where the back panel meets the front panel. You can see the darts in the photos below. Mine are a bit dodgy and I think I will need to go back and fix them.
Step Three: I was initially going to make a basic waistband which fastened at the centre back, but where to place the placket really baffled me, especially since the centre back was on a fold. In the end, I changed the design of the waistband, using this extant example as a guide.
But I wanted the back of my skirt to look more like this:
So, using these two ideas, I developed a way to have a centre back opening without the need for a placket. Most extant Victorian skirts I have seen have plackets, so I am unsure of exactly how they were done in this case where the centre back is on a fold and the side seams are so close to the front of the skirt.
The finished back closure is pictured below. It is not what I would call strictly historical, as most Victorian skirts had plackets and were generally fastened with hooks and eyes, but I am happy with it nonetheless.
If you are interested in looking at the way other skirts of this era are fastened, I have since found that Nancy Bradfield’s book, Costume in Detail: 1730-1930, has several drawings of extant garments from this period with different types of fastenings.
Step Four: Then the skirt just needs to be hemmed.
Here are the finished pictures:
It was really a fairly quick and easy sewing project to make. I have been thinking about also adding two tabs onto the waistband that I can tie in to make the skirt wearable with a corset. All that would change in the appearance will be that there will be an extra set of pleats at the centre back.
I am looking forward to my next dancing evening now!
I have since made a matching 1890’s bolero jacket for this skirt.
Sources and Relevant Links
First Image Source: at Victorian Trends by Vintage Field and Garden
Second Image Source: at All the Pretty Dresses
Black and purple extant Victorian ensemble (1895) – at All the Pretty Dresses
Tweed Victorian ensemble with a pleated skirt back (1890’s) – at All the Pretty Dresses