Some Gilded Age Inspiration

HBO’s new series The Gilded Age has been on our minds lately, especially since it’s returning for a second season,  and this circa 1880-1882 dinner dress captures that feeling for us:

Dinner Dress, c. 1880-1882; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.2)

In terms of general style, this is almost identical to our gold brocade & blush pink dress shown above and it only shows that the dividing line between “evening dress” and “dinner dress” or “reception dress” is pretty thin. Of course, the dress could have simply been mislabeled (it happens more than one would think) but still…in the end, it can be pretty subjective and we by no means profess to have the answers, it is though-provoking.


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A Circa 1878 Wedding Gown

Today we present another interesting dress design from the Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era with this circa 1878 wedding dress. Yes, you heard that right! This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble.” Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt…

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorative effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Side Profile

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late 19th Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the 19th Century but only by the very rich. For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions.😁


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More Late 1870s Asymmetrical Style

If you liked our previous post in asymmetrical style, here’s another example from the same couturière, Maison Cécile Laisne:

Maison Cécile Laisne, c. 1878-1879; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.45.38.1a, b)

This time, the designer utilized a combination of an ivory-colored silk jacquard overskirt arranged in a spiral drape that works its way upwards towards the bodice combined with a silk underskirt covered in an elaborate network of woven cords and what appear to be large metallic beads. If one looks carefully underneath the net, one can see an underskirt consisting of rows of knife pleating, also in an ivory color.

The bodice is long, going over the hips and is typical of Mid-Bustle/Natural Form styles. The bodice is symmetrical, consisting of what appears to be some sort of plain ivory-colored silk satin fabric framed along the hem and front by wide rows of ivory silk satin with passementerie consisting of cording and metallic beads similar to that of the net underskirt. Below is a close-up of the fashion fabric found on the overskirt:

From the pictures, it appears that the net underskirt is visible on the left side only while covered with the outerskirt draping on the right.

The cord work netting is amazing and the steel beads really give it definition. It also appears that there’s some ruching of the fabric of the underskirt foundation. The dress’s asymmetrical style can really be seen from this rear view picture:

The demi-train is pleated and has two or three rows of knife pleating running along the hem. Further up, one can see where the spiraling outerskirt ends, secured in the folds of the train (can we say draping? 😁 ). A small bow on the bodice back at hem level completes the look.  And last, here’s the dress label:

Compared to Maison Cécile Laisne’s design in the first post, we tend to like this design a lot better because the asymmetrical elements are arranged more harmoniously with the dress achieving a unified style rather than having elements seemingly “bolted on.” But as with all of this, it’s a very subjective thing. 😁


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Mid-Bustle Era/Natura Form – Asymmetrical Style

We’re on a roll when it comes to Mid-Bustle/Natural Form style! Today we feature this day dress that was made by Maison Cécile Laisne sometime around 1879 in Paris. What’s interesting about this dress is the use of asymmetrical design elements:

Maison Cécile Laisne, Day Dress, c. 1879; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.45.38.2a, b)

The skirt and bodice are made from a gold/champagne-colored silk jacquard with a silk satin knife-pleated hem made from the same color. The neck and upper bust are filled in with a gauze that’s also in the gold/champagne color. However, the most striking element are the wide jeweled/gold metallic braid trim stripes that run up both sides of the bodice front and decorate the cuffs. Below, a larger strip of trim with the same jeweled metallic braid runs along the lower bodice and skirt, starting at the center back of the bodice and then spiraling down and following the train on the left side.  Below is a close-up of the front upper bodice:

The trim definitely makes the front bodice stand out and it catches the eye, combined with the large center bow.

The view shows the dress silhouette nicely and one can make out the floral jacquard pattern. Two rows of pleating along the hem further serve to accentuate the train. Below is another view of the train:

In the above and below pictures, we see the trim to its fullest extent, running along the one side of the lower bodice and then down the left side of the demi-train.

Below is a close-up of the silk jacquard fashion fabric with it’s floral motif:

And the cuff accents:

And finally, a nice close-up view of the trim- this was, no doubt, all set by hand and represents hours of work.

The use of asymetrical design elements is one major style that’s common in late 19th Century dresses and the above dress is just one example. What makes this one so striking is the use of a wide, very elaborate stripe that immediately catches the eye, especially from behind and while it’s a bit jarring, it does succeed in capturing the viewer’s immediate attention. While this wasn’t a style for everyone, it was definitely one that was guaranteed to get attention- can you say Mrs. Bertha Russell, anyone? 😁


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