And For A Little More 1880s Style…

As the 1880s progressed, day dress style increasingly became characterized by an emphasis on a sharply defined silhouette with clean lines, uncluttered by excesses of trim. This is in stark contrast with the 1870s where day dresses often took on the appearance of layers of fabric and time loosely arranged in a train/bustle silhouette. By the mid-1880s, one begins to see a general simplification in styles characterized by a more restrained use of trim and far less draping and layering of fabrics. In contrast to the previous decade, style’s aesthetic effects were the result of the fabrics themselves and their arrangement than external additions.

In our last post, we noted that style effects could be a achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics such as solid colors and stripes; fabrics in contrasting or complementary colors; and same-colored fabrics with different textures (e.g., silk satin with silk brocade in the same color). One interesting example of these elements can be found with this dress:

Day Dress Early 1880s

Day Dress, c. Early 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1989.246.1a, b)

Day Dress Early 1880s

Three-Quarter Front View

Day Dress Early 1880s

Side Profile

Day Dress Early 1880s

Three-Quarter Rear View

This dress is constructed of a medium blue silk dupioni (at least what we could tell from close-ups of the pictures) for the skirt and bodice combined with panels of dark blue silk with dark blue velvet flocking. The panels make up the bodice front and collar and pieces are strategically placed in the front and then lead along the sides, culminating as part of the train. Depending on the light, the base fabric appears to have a hint of lavender.

Day Dress Early 1880s

Close-Up Of Side Profile

With this close-up, one can get a better look at the flocked fabric panels. The velvet dots appear to be the same basic color as the background silk fabric (probably dupioni) but their luster is different, thus creating a contrast in textures. When placed against the lighter colored base fabric, we see yet a third contrast. The only trim is a series of pleating and ruffles running along the rear hem. The overall effect is somewhat subtle and this was one of the major characteristics found in mid to late 1880s style.

Just to illustrate the effect of lighting (and computers) on fabric colors, the following pictures are also of the same dress but were taken at a different time in different lighting:

Day Dress Early 1880sDay Dress Early 1880s

Day Dress Early 1880s

In these pictures, the base fashion fabric takes on more of a lavender color while the decorative panels seem to retain their dark blue color only with the velvet dots appearing darker while the background fabric is lighter. However, allowing for the variables of lighting and computer color rendition, we still see that the dress achieves its effect by utilizing the fabric’s characteristics (primarily luster) combined with a narrow color range.

Needless to say, analyzing style is a somewhat subjective process which sometimes defies easy explanations but fortunately we are blessed with a large number of extant original dresses that we can look at and draw our own conclusions. More importantly, we can see the results before our eyes and use that as a guide for our own designs and hopefully achieve results as dramatic of those achieved by those who went before us. 🙂

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