1880s Style- Texture And Color

For day dresses, color and texture were two major elements in the styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were typically achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress 1880s

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

Day Dress 1887

Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Or with contrasting colors:

Day Dress 1885-86 1

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Day Dress 1888 1

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:


With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

And just for interest since the view was available is the interior of the bodice:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Interior View Of Bodice

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:


Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)


Side Profile


Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:


Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria in c. 1885:


Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)


Full View With Train


Rear View


Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂

In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

In the end, fabrics and trim also played major roles in creating dress styles in the 1880s and while perhaps these were not employed as often as contrast colors and fabrics, they still played a role and should not be overlooked in attempting to recreate historic fashions of the period.

3 thoughts on “1880s Style- Texture And Color

  1. Pingback: And For A Little More 1880s Style… | Lily Absinthe

  2. Besides the Moire fabric, what other types of fabrics would have been used during this time period to make these gowns. Was it primarily silk, or were cottons/velvets used?

    I am researching the fabric and dress construction of this time period, and this article is really helpful! Thank you!

    • For ball and evening gowns, as well as a lot of day wear, the primary fabric was silk. Moire just describes one of many different weaves, all using silk. Depending, you could have silk satin, silk moire, silk taffeta, silk bengalene, and that’s just a few. These fabrics could also be a cotton/silk blend. Most of these fabrics are still produced today. Any decent textiles textbook can give you the basics but you’ll then have to research from there. This book might also prove useful:

      Vintage Victorian Textiles (Schiffer Book for Designers & Collectors)

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