Bourne Archive: People: Worth         ©2008 R.J.PENHEY Latest edit 14 Aug 2012

The Bourne Archive

Bourne People: Charles Frederick Worth.

Bourne Civic Society has mounted a permanent exhibition concerning the work of Charles Worth in its heritage centre in Baldock’s Mill, South Street. Since it opened, there have been among the visitors, people who have come seeking information to help their research at one level or another. Since I am not particularly well informed on the subject, I have not been able to help them as much as I should have liked. This page is intended to help fill the gap both for them and for me. It is based on a free translation of the French Wikipedia article, ‘Charles Frederick Worth’, which at the time, was more ample than the English one but now the position is reversed. Some information is added from other sources.

Charles Frederick Worth

Text Box:  
Wikimedia Commons

Charles Frederick Worth late in life.

Charles Frederick Worth, born in Bourne, Lincolnshire on the 13 October 1825 (according to Jean-Philippe’s book, 13th November 1826) and died in Paris on the 10 March 1895, was the creator of the concept of couturier and of the haute couture house. In 1857, he set up his business in Paris. His idea of how best to create and sell fashion was a clear departure from the earlier trade and from this was born the fashion house.

Before Worth made himself noticed, the dressmaker responded to the wishes of the customer: the client asked for what she wanted and the dressmaker supplied it; hers was a craft, like making baskets; with Worth, his personality, ideas and artistic sense came first. Worth created the designs: he presented himself first and foremost, as an artist. His were original designs, prepared beforehand and changed frequently. They were presented in luxurious surroundings one at a time. This type of show improved his competitive position in the market and added value to his work.

Worth was an Englishman of middle class background, who had fallen upon hard times before he had completed his education. He learned his trade; first, by selling the materials, then by developing his interest in creative design. He set up business on his own account and found success which was launched when he was taken up by ladies prominent in the high society of Paris and by the aristocracy, notably the Princess de Metternich who drew him to the attention of the Empress, Eugénie.

By 1895, France was a republic but Worth was still the fashionable couturier. He was able to launch his own collections. The rôle of the client was limited to the choice of colours and type of fabric; Worth said what the design should be. Worth is famous in the evolution of clothing for having replaced the crinoline by the bustle but it was one of the few structural innovations he brought to garments.

Worth’s innovations lay in the field of commercialization and of communication: before him, the dressmaker had communicated through fashion magazines or by sending dressed dolls by post. Worth invented the living mannequin whom he called ‘le sosie’ (the double or look-alike). His own wife, Marie (Vernet) Worth, played a significant part in the development of the business by acting in this capacity. As a woman, she might represent the firm in ladies’ boudoirs. However, once the firm was established, the ladies came to Worth. He organized fashion parades to stage his creations. Worth was creative all through the fashion year. He created a theme, derived several models from it, then personalized it for each client.

He invented the personality of the fashion designer and had connection with numerous artists. It was this emphasis on the artist as opposed to the artisan, which led him to dress himself as he did.

From his years of apprenticeship with the draper, Swan and Edgar, in London, followed by experience with the top flight drapers, Lewis and Allenby in London and Gagelin, in Paris, Worth had a profound understanding of the technicalities of the clothing textile industry: textiles, colours, methods of assembly and stylistic effects. He had links with other craftspeople for the supply of shoes, bags and hats. Once he had shown the way, ten or a dozen other fashion houses grew up in the same mould.


Bourne Archive Worth Chronology

Obituary Notice Fenland Notes and Queries 1895.

J.J.Davies’ short biography 1909

Bourne Civic Society

Bridgeman Library Image Search Worth

Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)

Fashion Era: descriptions of Nineteenth century fashion

Fenland Notes and Queries: 1895

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Worth

Pinterest: House of Worth

Powerhouse Museum: Chambre Syndicale (WebCite)

Victoria and Albert Museum: Interactive timeline of couture houses and couturier biographies. (Loads slowly)

Webshots site Worth gowns


          Charles Frederick Worth


          Fashion design

          House of Worth


·        Griffith, Simone Wyn, L’Evolution du Costume. Hodder & Stoughton (1976) [French language]. Worth material on pp 26-30.

·        MacAndrew, Donald. Monsieur Chiffon: or, the lad from Lincolnshire: concerning the musical comedy Empire of Napoleon III which was .... dressed by an Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth, pp. 159-74 in The Saturday Book: 9th annual issue: Hutchinson, (1949).

·        de Marly, Diana. Worth Father of Haute Couture. Elm Tree Books. (1980). ISBN 0-241-10204-5

·        Saunders, Edith. The Age of Worth: couturier to the Empress Eugenie. Publisher: Longmans, Green, (1954).

·        Worth, Jean-Philippe. A Century of Fashion. Translated by Ruth Scott Miller. Little, Brown & Co., Boston, U.S.A. (1928).

Museum Collections

The quality of the following linked sites varies widely.

An appendix in Diana de Marly’s book lists dresses in the collections of :

In Paris

            Musée de Costume de la Ville de Paris (Musée Galliera) costume

            Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Velvet, satin, muslin and lace evening dress ca. 1896 : satin evening dress ca. 1890 another view :

Centre d’Enseignement et de Documentation de Costume

In London

            Museum of London.

            Worth Boutique, 50 Grosvenor Street. A Worth Boutique evening dress (1950s), held by Leicestershire County Council Heritage Services. 

            Victoria and Albert Museum (Queen Maud’s dresses) . Dresses of :-1889 1897 .  See also the Google list of its Worth exhibits. 

In Liverpool

            National Museums Liverpool (listed by de Marly as Merseyside County Museums.)  Inventory

In Edinburgh (Charles Stewart Collection now at Shambellie House, New Abbey, Dumfries, DG2 8HQ)

            Royal Scottish Museum. Charles Stewart Collection : One male and one female masquerade costume slashed in sixteenth-century style, c. 1893 (de Marley) .

In St Petersburg 

            Hermitage Museum.  See also the Google list of its Worth exhibits. 

In New York

            New York Historical Society

            Museum of the City of New York

            The Brooklyn Museum.  Exhibition including Worth garments : A Worth exhibition : Evening dress 1893 : Teachersresource packet

            The Metropolitan Museum of Art . See also the Google list of its Worth exhibits.

In Boston, Massachusetts

            Museum of Fine Arts

In Madison, Wisconsin

            State Historical Society of Wisconsin Mrs Fairchild’s gown

A museum not mentioned by Diana de Marley is :

In Sydney, New South Wales

Powerhouse Museum: Girl’s dress ca. 1890: Ball gown ca. 1900

Pictures Illustrating Social and Commercial Comment.

With thanks to Wikimedia Commons. The later designs are by the House of Worth after CFW’s death. Click on the image for enlargement.


Elizabeth of Austria dressed by Worth

Portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter,



‘When I tell you it’s a dress by Worth, I recognise the look/touch.’ 1

Drawing by Bertall appeared in La Comédie de notre temps



Court gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth for

Esther Maria (Lily) Lewis Chapin to be worn for her presentation at court.

From collection of the William Doyle Gallery. (Enlargement no longer available)


Ca. 1910.

Dress created by House of  Worth.
Moyse's Hall Museum,

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


Ca. 1910.

Dress created

by House of  Worth.
Moyse's Hall Museum,

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.






‘At the polo match. Afternoon dress by Worth.’
La Gazette du bon ton.



‘A Wolf in a Cage’ Masquerade costume. 2

Gazette du Bon Ton no.4 (Feb 1913), plate VII



‘In the Paddock. Afternoon Dress by Worth.’

Gazette du Bon Ton no.9 (June 1913), plate IX



‘The Favourite Pony.

Elegant suit by Worth.’

Gazette du Bon Ton

no.11 (Sep 1913),

plate VII.




1.         A pun on the French word touche. In creative dressmaking, this means the appearance of the garment, distinctive of the designer. In painting, it refers to the artist’s touch. That is the way he puts paint onto canvas. (PLI) The ladies are looking at the painting but seeing the dress it depicts.

2.         The French caption of the ‘Wolf in a Cage’ print is ‘Un Loup en Cage. Costume de “Maya” par Worth.’  Maya is a Sanskrit word meaning illusion. According to Hindu tradition, it is an illusory apparition which hides reality and induces unawareness or ignorance. (PLI) see Wikipedia.  Though ‘loup’ means ‘wolf’, here it refers to the black satin or velvet mask worn at the species of masquerade known as a bal masqué. (DM p 73) ‘En cage’ means ‘cooped up’. So there is a pun on the meanings of loup, expressing the latent sexuality of the masquerade. ‘Voir le loup’ means to lose one’s virginity. (PLI and Collins-Robert) In a short space, the caption implies much but this is not all. Long before 1913, the steel-hooped frame under the skirt of one of the more extreme ‘crinoline’ dresses of the 1850s was known as une (jupe-) cage so a woman wearing one was en cage – caged.  Une jupe is a skirt. (DM p 76) The dress in the picture is a cheeky, short echo of this way out of date style. In 1913, it was suited only to fancy dress. In 1855, it would have got the wearer thrown out of polite society. The reader could take what she wished from the caption.

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