Thanks to the new series, The Gilded Age, the early 1880s has once again become a focus of interest for historical fashion. In today’s post, we feature an interesting sub-style of the period, the ensemble dress. Ensemble dresses were an attempt to create an outfit that would work well for both day and evening social events and typically consisted of one skirt combined with day and evening bodices. Come along with us as we show just one example of an ensemble outfit.
Ensemble dresses have always been interesting to us and today we feature one that was made by a one Alice Mason. Although Alice Mason is long gone as a concern, a quick look-up of the address on GoogleMaps reveals that it was located a block east of Saville Row. It’s clear that this was concern with an upper class clientele.[/mfn] in London and dated circa 1883-1884 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that features both reception dress and ballgown bodices; the skirt is common for both but the bodices differ. First is the reception bodice:
The overall fashion fabric is a light pink/champagne silk satin with the skirt trimmed with vertical lace panels on the sides and front. Both bodices are also constructed from the same silk satin and are trimmed with ivory/champagne lace (most likely it’s yellowed a bit from age). The skirt sides are trimmed with long and wide strips of the same silk satin fashion fabric, finished with a simple demi train and some bustling towards the rear skirt top. The reception bodice features three-quarter sleeves with a square neckline lined with lace; wide lace strips matching the ones on the skirt form a “V” on the front, framing a ruched upper bodice front. And here we see the ballgown bodice:
As characteristic with ballgown bodices, there’s no sleeves and shoulders are minimal, trimmed with lace. The fashion fabric on the bodice front has been shaped so as to give the effect of cross-swaging that creates a large “X” on the bodice front. The neckline is “V” shaped and also trimmed with more lace. Both bodices are high-waisted so as to facilitate the bustled/trained upper skirt. Below are some side profile views with the reception bodice:
Note the side bows and peplum on the rear of the bodice.
Here’s a rear view with the ballgown bodice. Note that the ballgown bodice back lacks any peplum and just curves down ending in a sharp point. Both rear views of the skirt give a good view of the train which is free of any sort of adornment or decoration.
Below is a close-up view of one of the sleeves on the reception bodice:
And finally, a close-up of the reception bodice front:
And finally, the shoes that were worn with the dress:
This ensemble is a relatively simple but elegant and practical ensemble that would have been useful for a wide variety of formal events and it reveals a practical side to fashion that one doesn’t normally associate with this period.