And Now For Some 1888 Court Style…

In a previous post, we discussed the ensemble sub-style that was popularized by Charles Worth and consisted of a combination day and evening dress composed of a base skirt and two separate bodices for day and night wear. To continue this theme, we feature another ensemble dress but this time, it’s a combination court presentation/reception dress. Let’s start with this court presentation dress from circa 1888:

And here’s a close-up of the bodice:

Being presented at court marked a young woman’s introduction to society.1And signifying that they were now suitable for marriage. No matter which royal court in Europe, was an extremely ceremonial occasion and the presentation was governed by a strict set of protocols covering everything about the ceremony itself as well as what sort of dress was to be worn; all the major couturiers including Worth were knowledgeable in every nuance of court dress protocols which in turn guided their designs.2Most of what we know (at least in English) about presentation at court protocol derives from English practice. As part of the court dress protocol, feathers were an important element (at least in the English court) and below are the feathers that accompanied the dress:

In the case of the English court, the court protocol decreed that women were to wear three feathers in the style of the Prince of Wales crest with the center feather higher than the other two:

The Prince of Wales's feathers (With images) | Welsh tattoo, Welsh ...

Here’s how the feathers looked being worn. This picture is circa 1900:

So, now that one has been presented at court, what was next for the dress? Well, conceivably the dress could be worn again in a return visit to court, but this time the wearer would have been accompanying someone else who was being presented. Otherwise, one now had a dress that was pretty unusable anywhere else, in much the same way as a modern wedding dress.3While the idea of the “one-shot” dress was not unknown during the late 19th Century, it was still considered a bit wasteful and extravagant. A practical solution was to be able to convert the dress to a reception dress or ballgown by substituting some key elements. First we see more of a reception dress created by removing the train and replacing the bodice:

Worth, Court Dress Ensemble, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2007.385a–l)

Or a ballgown with a sleeveless bodice:

In each instance above, the pink silk satin skirt and train remains the same. For the court presentation version, there’s a matching silk floral pattern bodice and full train (per court protocol). Below are some close-ups of the bodices:

The reception or day bodice. Constructed of pink silk satin, this was front lacing and trimmed with silk chiffon/netting with what appear to be metal spangles.

The ballgown bodice, also constructed of pink silk satin and trimmed in white silk chiffon/netting with metal spangles. Below are views of the back bow/upper train, also in pink silk satin:

Finally, below are the bodice laces and bows:

The above dress is fascinating from the perspective of utility that it can transform into three different outfits for a variety of social occasions. Worth is usually associated with sheer extravagance, catering for a wealthy clientele with seemingly endless amounts of money who could afford separate dresses for each function. However, there was also a practical side to Worth his ensemble outfits.4We seriously doubt if anyone got much of a price break by buying an ensemble dress but it fit the ideal of Victorian practicality very elegantly. In future posts, we’ll be posting some more interesting ensemble dresses for your enjoyment. 🙂


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