Anatomy of an 1890s Taille


The taille (waist) described here was a find at a London antique shop which occasionally carries Victorian and Edwardian garments. The huge leg-of-mutton sleeves make it easy to date the garment as mid-1890s.


The waist is made of black ribbed fabric, probably silk, with velvety stripes 8-10mm wide. The sleeve fabric (upper left) is slightly different from that of the body in that the velvety stripes are bordered by an additional narrow stripe of satin. In the upper right corner, you can see part of the lace collar.

Frontal view
The garment does not extend far below the waist. It is closed along the centre front with metal hooks that go into holes neatened with buttonhole silk on the right side. The hem is pointed both at centre front and back. Black machine lace is draped around the décolleté, covering the whole breadth of the shoulder seam and plaited to taper towards the CF. The fact that there is a décolleté rather than a standing collar can only mean that the taille was worn for festive occasions, possibly as part of an evening dress, although evening dresses usually had short sleeves.

Back view
The centre back is adorned with an ornament of jett beads hanging from a central round piece of jett cut into facets - another hint at this being a festive garment. (The colours in the picture are distorted in order to bring out more detail - actually everything is black, but the base fabric has in fact slightly faded to brown. The editing has only made it more pronounced than it actually is.) The huge leg-of-mutton sleeves taper gradually towards the wrists. This shape had its prime around 1894/95.

Inside view, back, front
The lining is made up of striped cotton twill, untypically heavy for a lining. As in most garments of the era, the seams and darts are worked through the lining and top fabric at once. The sleeve lining is tight; only the top fabric is puffed. Each seam and dart was boned in the bottom half, but the bones have been removed, and only one along a dart and the two along the front edges remain.

A more detailed view of the inside of the left front part shows the one remaining bone sticking out of its taffeta casing, sewn onto the seam. The edges are neatened rather crudely by hand (the seams are all machined). The eyeholes along the front edge (to the right) are covered with a ribbon of taffeta tacked to the left of the holes and left loose towards the edge. It protects the corset from the hooks. More taffeta ribbon was used to neaten the hem (lower left).

On the outside of the left front part, you can see the eyeholes. The front edge is curved to follow the shape of the corset. The waistline is rather high, so the wearer must have been quite short, maybe 150cm.

The inside of the right front part bears relatively large hooks spaced at roughly 2cm, set onto a taffeta band that neatens the edge. The white ribbon with black edges wriggling away to the lower right corner belongs to a bone casing. It appears to have been put into the casing along with the bone, maybe for additional protection.

A close look at the centre front tip reveals how the neatening taffeta was stitched on, and the hooks fixed on it at three points (the third is almost hidden). The black-edged ribbon (the wriggling one) shows through a rip in the bone casing in the lower right corner. At the very edge of the garment, one of the velvety stripes has been turned and reveals its brownish-faded base where the velvet is worn. Many black fabrics (most notably the sewing thread) fade to dark brown over the years if the dye is not of high quality.

Finally, a very close look at the one remaining bone. It is obviously genuine whalebone, i.e. baleen, a material already precious at the time this taille was made. Small wonder, then, that somebody has removed almost all bones, probably for use in a different garment. Due to this kind of recycling, it isn't easy to get by a specimen of real baleen nowadays.


waist 64 cm
breast 92 cm
shoulder width c. 10 cm
back width c. 28.5 cm
neck->waist 32 cm
shoulder->breast 24 cm

NB: with these large sleeves and the décolleté, it's hard to tell the shoulder and back width.



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