A Little Commentary On Bridesmaid Dresses

As a follow-up from yesterday’s post, here’s a little commentary on colors for bridesmaid dresses from the February 1883 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

 Quite a new departure has been taken recently in the adoption of colors for the dresses of bridesmaids instead of the repetition of the conventional white. Why it should ever have been considered necessary for bridesmaids to wear white does not appear. There is a pretty sentiment in the purity of the robes of the bride, but the bridesmaids ought to be differentiated in some way from their companion who is about to take a serious step, and separate herself forever from the old happy life. It ought to represent the innocence and joyousness of youth, the free hopeful spirit which is still theirs, and which would naturally express itself in tints and colors, in light delicate green, mauve, pink, and dull pale gold.

It’s interesting to note that it seems that having both the bride and all the bridesmaids all in white was a thing, at least in some weddings. The writer makes an interesting point in that visually, the bride should stand apart because of the significance of getting married. This is an interesting tidbit and just reveals that when it came to wedding dress protocol, things were a lot more mixed than what we’d expect.


Bridesmaid Fashion- 1883

Bridesmaid dresses have always played a role in just about any 19th Century wedding and especially during the 1880s and 90s. Today, we take a look at this circa 1883 example worn by a one Isabella Cameron Murray who was a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding on March 21, 1883 in Sydney, Australia. This dress is also somewhat rare in that its provenance has been firmly established and can be firmly dated to 1883.1For a full account of Isabella Murray and the significance of the wedding, the full story can be found HERE.

Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1883; Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, NSW, Australia (A7538)

The bodice and skirt are constructed from a creme-colored merino wool fabric and trimmed with lace on the neck, cuffs, and skirt. The skirt is trimmed with four rows of ruching and the bottom hem has long box pleats. The skirt bottom has a hem guard that appears to be of a dark blue sateen and, according to the museum website, is also lined with the same dark blue sateen. Finally, the rear of skirt has a built-up train topped off by a large blue silk satin bow. Below are close-ups of the bodice:

The bodice is closed with pearl glass buttons and they’re fully functional.

And more of an extreme close-up. Note the twill weave pattern of the fashion fabric.

Another close-up of the fashion fabric:

And now for some side profile views:

The dress silhouette could be characterized as “transitional” in that while it still retains much of the cylindrical shape of the earlier Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era, there’s also a much more developed train that was no doubt support by some sort of bustle support. It’s not quite as extreme as the later “shelf bustle” styles of Late Bustle Era of the mid to late 1880s but it’s heading in that direction.

Below is a close-up of the ruching on the skirt front:

And finally, some of the lace trim:

This is definitely could be considered a more modest, practical dress based on the use of wool merino as the fashion fabric and the minimal trim and it would have seen a lot of use as a “best dress” after the wedding. Perhaps the fabric choice was more a function of not wanting to upstage the bride or simple economics but either way, it’s an interesting example of a dress worn for a formal occasion that’s not made of a silk satin and that alone makes it compelling to us. We hoped that you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of 1880s bridal fashion, especially as it applies to the often maligned “bridesmaid dress.” 🙂


Looking Back- Mining The Miners

Awhile back, we took a trip up to Virginia City, Nevada. Virginia City got its start as a mining town and was a boom town. This picture was taken while we were taking a train ride on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad.


Mining the miners in Virginia City before running off to that new silver strike in Tombstone to take a meeting with some man named Wyatt.

 

 


An 1883-1884 Reception Dress/Ballgown Ensemble

Ensemble dresses have always been interesting to us and today we feature one that was made by a one Alice Mason1Although 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. in London and dated c. 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:

Evening Dress Ensemble- Evening Bodice, c. 1883-1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.54.5.1a–e)

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:

With The Ballgown Style 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-swagging 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:

Side View- Evening Bodice

Note the side bows and peplum on the rear of the bodice.

Three Quarter Rear View- Evening Bodice

Rear View- Evening 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.

Rear View- Ballgown Style Bodice

Below is a close-up view of one of the sleeves on the reception bodice:

Close-Up Reception Bodice Sleeve

And finally, a close-up of the reception bodice front:

Close-Up 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. Stay tuned for more as we delve further into 1880s fashion. 🙂


The Princess Line Dress- One Unique Example

One of the most noteworthy features of Mid-Bustle Era (roughly 1876-1881), fashion was the advent of the princess line dress. Attributed to Charles Worth who supposedly created the style for Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress, the princess line style was characterized by the lack of the defined waist created by the conventional bodice/skirt combination as seen in these original photographs:

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Now, here’s one interesting take on the style:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

It’s difficult to make out the specific fabrics from the pictures but we assume that it’s silk. The color combination of pale green, chartreuse, brown and cobalt blue is interesting; not our first choice but it’s a bit different from what is normally seen from extant examples.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Side Profile

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Rear View

One of the most interesting features of this dress is the use of a capote; that’s not something we’ve seen utilized with a dress. With its upright mandarin collar and capote, it’s more suggestive of outerwear, along the lines of a redingote. Below are some more pictures:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Upper Front with capote.

As can be seen from this close-up of the capote, it’s been artfully cut in layers so that there is no interruption to the pattern of the fashion fabric.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Back view with capote.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-up of the front.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Dress unbuttoned to show interior detail.

The interior detail shown here is interesting in that it employs the same fashion fabric underneath that’s also the outside on the cuffs, train and back.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-Up of the front.

As can be seen here, what we think is “brown” fabric is actually close brown stripes.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

View of the train.

The train is characteristic of Mid-Bustle Era style, lot and fanning out. Not as extreme as some examples with the “mermaid tail” but the pleating does create a pleasing profile. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the dresse’s provenance or the construction details; all we can do is speculate from the available pictures. In terms of dating, it’s probably safe to say that it falls in the 1878 – 1881 period (although the picture that we obtained indicates 1878). We suspect that these pictures were part of some sort of auction listing although we were unable to find out anything specific. But, in spite of the lack of information, it’s still an interesting example of a style that had a fairly short lifespan. Hopefully, we’ll find out more in the future. 🙂