House of Rouff
Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
Silk taffeta, silk satin, silk bobbinet, sequins, ebonite beads
c. 1905. Two-piece black silk taffeta evening gown with black bobbinet overlays embroidered with black elongated spangles and sequins, closing in front, having a slightly bloused or pouched bodice with full-length two-part sleeves and a wide black silk satin cummerbund sash, and a floor-length gored skirt with a train, trimmed with layers of net overlays, by House of Rouff, Paris.
The dress bodice has a structured foundation layer made of a black silk taffeta in ten pieces: two center-front panels closing in front with ten hooks, two side-front panels with curved bust seams, and a six-panel back with a center-back seam. The bodice has a waist-stay ribbon with one hook. All seams and openings are boned, for a total of eleven bones, and the lining does not extend over the shoulders. The black taffeta reaches only to the middle of the scye at its top edge, coming to a sharp peak near the base of the neck in front and back, and comes to the natural waist at its hem. It is somewhat bloused or pouched, though by this date the pouched silhouette was shrinking, present mostly at the bust above a fitted waist. Accordingly, the fitted taffeta layer is given added fullness above the bust with ruched black silk chiffon flounces that support the black bobbinet overlay. The black bobbinet overlay extends beyond the edge of the taffeta bodice to form a yoke that rises to the base of the neck. The yoke is embroidered with rays of black sequins and black beads, studded with round flower-like forms, resembling exploding fireworks. Many of the beads show evidence of corrosion, with a whitish-gray powdery chalking or accretion on their surfaces. This indicates that they are likely a popular jet substitute called Ebonite (also known as Vulcanite), an inelastic thermoplastic. This is a hard rubber, vulcanized (treated with sulfur) and susceptible to chemical deterioration as sulfuric acid is released. Beneath the yoke, the bobbinet continues into a free-hanging drape with a scalloped hem that extends past the bust; this closes at center front with six hooks. The scye is partway in the net yoke and partway in the taffeta, and the upper sleeves are sewn in place with some fullness. These have a taffeta foundation and a bobbinet overlay strewn with the elongated spangles, and come to the elbow. The lower sleeve extends to the wrist and is made only from the bobbinet, embroidered with sequins and more Ebonite beads in the manner of the yoke. The bodice waist is firmly wrapped in a high silk satin pleated cummerbund sash, sitting at the natural waist in front and curving low in back, reaching 12.7 cm / 5 in. up the bodice in front and arcing up to 15.2 cm / 6 in. at the back.
There are five gored taffeta skirt panels: one at center-front, one at each side, and two in back, where the skirt lengthens into a train and has a 25.4 cm / 10 in. opening at the top of the center-back seam, fastening with three hooks. The skirt has a two-layered silk ruffle at the hem, 15.2 cm / 6 in. wide, with two additional ruffles made of bobbinet on top. A full-length rectangular plain bobbinet overlay with a center-back seam is smoothly fitted to the waistband in front and gathered at the sides and back. It floats above the taffeta and extends past it to create a longer train that is edged with a densely gathered 3.2 cm / 1.25 in. wide net ruffle. Three overlapping rows of scalloped, spangled bobbinet are sewn to it in tiers to the hem, all longer in back than they are in front, with the bottom-most row matching the line of the plain bobbinet hem as it also widens into the train. Many of the spangles in the upper tiers have broken off.
The House of Rouff, or Maison Rouff, was one of the prominent Parisian couture houses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Opened by L. Rouff in Vienna in 1884, Rouff was established in Paris by 1890. Their presence at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and their frequent appearance in American fashion periodicals such as Harper’s Bazaar ensured the couturier’s popularity among American women of means. By the 1920s the design house was in trouble, unable to adapt its signature elaborate ruffles and laces to the changing tastes of the time. Maison Rouff came to an end in 1929 when the designer Marguerite Besançon de Wagner bought it and changed its name—and her own—to Maggy Rouff. Professionally made with a label on waist stay reading “Maison Rouff / 13 Bd Haussmann / Paris”. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.
Bust: 91.4 cm / 36 in.
Waist: 63.5 cm / 25 in.
Sleeve: 76.2 cm / 30 in.
Hem (taffeta): 388.6 cm / 153 in.
Hem (overlay): 528.3 cm / 208 in.
Length (skirt front): 106.7 cm / 42 in.
Length (skirt back): 139.7 cm / 55 in.
Gift of Robert and Janet Varney
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Dresses, Evening gowns, c. 1905, Paris, France, Belle Époque, House of Rouff, Maison Rouff, Two-piece dresses, Silk taffeta, Silk satin, Silk bobbinet, Silk Chiffon, Black (color), Overlay, Embroidery, Sequins, Spangles, Ebonite beads, Bloused bodice, Pouched bodice, Full-length sleeves, Two-part sleeves, Cummerbund sash, Floor-length skirt, Gores, Trains (costume components), Net, Overlay, Hooks, Boning, Waist stay ribbon, Ruching, Flounces, Tiers, Ruffles, Yoke, Embroidery, Drape, Scalloping, Gathering (textile process), Professionally made, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Varney (donor)