What’s Old Is New Again- A Tea Gown From The 1890s

Today’s tea gown selection was created by Maison Worth sometime in the 1890s and presents a style that looks back more to the 18th Century Robe à la Française, a dress style that was popular during the years 1720-1780  than the 1890s:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890s; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0179 ab)

This gown is consists of an outer part constructed of a pink silk brocade with an Oriental floral motif. The inner part consists of the front and sleeves and are constructed of a gold silk brocade featuring a floral motif similar to the the outer part. Also, below the waist the fabric is covered with a lace forepart and finally, there’s a faux stomacher (stomachers were normally a separate item but here it’s integrated into the overall gown) also made of a silk brocade and is jeweled. Here’s a closer view of the gown front:

The sleeves are also trimmed with lace and the interior of the sleeves are lined with a red velvet. Also, the edges of the front are trimmed in red velvet and one can see two inset panels flanking the stomacher. Finally, to finish things off, there’s a lace jabot. Below are more pictures of the gown from various angles:

And with the rear views, we get a good look at the Wateau Back, a fairly standard feature for tea gowns during the late Nineteenth Century and the style characteristic of the Robe à la Française. From a style/design perspective, this is a very busy gown between the floral designs, lace, and pink and gold silk base fabrics. Of course, this complexity of design is to be expected from Maison Worth. As for dating this gown, while it’s difficult to make a precise guess, we think that it’s safe to say that judging from the relatively restrained sleeve caps that it probably wasn’t made in the Mid-1890s but rather more likely either early or late in the decade. Ultimately, this gown is an excellent example of how prior fashion styles inspired design and this one takes is pretty far by even including a faux stomacher. Upon initial viewing it appears to actually BE an 18th Century gown and it actually had us fooled for a moment. 🙂 We hope you’ve enjoyed this unique example of a tea gown as interpreted by the leading couture house of the time, Maison Worth. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

 

The Princess Line Dress In The 1890s: One Example From Maison Worth

With its clean silhouette, the princess line dress was a very popular dress style during the late 19th Century, offering a wealth of fashion possibilities in terms of fabric and trim choices. Originally developed during the late 1870s, the princess line dress greatly influenced a shift in styles away from the bustle, instead focusing on a more slender, cylindrical silhouette.  While the princess line was more common during the 1877-1882 time frame, one still sees exampled well into the 1890s as with this one that was created by Maison Worth in circa 1896:

Worth, Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.2)

The above example is a good illustration of the perfect princess line style: the waist is completely de-emphasized with a smooth canary yellow silk panel combining skirt and bodice into one unit. At the same time, the gold colored silk brocade sleeves, collar, and front inset panels present a contrast that draws the eye to the upper body. Although this dress is described as a “bridesmaid” dress, it would have been perfectly suitable as a dress for everyday wear (in contrast to today’s interpretation of the bridesmaid dress). Here’s some close-up of some dress details:

Rear view of the collar and shoulders.

Close-up of the collar.

Shoulder detail.

The above picture illustrates the front inset panels with beaded trim.

In terms of style, this dress is relatively restrained to the point of blandness and while it pushed no fashion boundaries, it does illustrate the basic characteristics of the prince line style. What’s especially interesting is that although the princess line style is attributed to Worth, there are very few extant examples of princess line dresses that can be linked to Maison Worth such as this one:

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1880; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of the princess line style. 🙂

Mid-1890s Style: Evening Gowns

For fashion, the 1890s was all about “going large” and that was especially true during the years 1895-1897 when fashion reached extreme levels with massively sized gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves, narrow waists and large gored skirts. This trend was especially evident with evening gowns1The terms “evening gown” and “evening dress” are used somewhat interchangeably. For the purposes of consistency, we have chose to use the term “evening gown.” as can be seen below with these fashion illustrations:

Evening Gowns, 1895; Le Moniteur de la Mode

This style is interesting in that it utilizes a prince line combined with the hourglass “X” silhouette and gigot sleeves.

Illustrations are useful but nothing beats the real thing. Here’s some examples of extant evening gowns from the high 90s:

Evening Gown, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.59a, b)

Rear View

And for some close-ups of the shoulder/sleeve:

Close-Up Of Shoulder

Shoulder Detail

Why do these shoulders give off a Dynasty 1980s vibe? 🙂 Below is something a little different with a different sleeve color and fabric:

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Nordiska Museet

The black velvet sleeves offer an interesting contrast to the silk bodice and skirt not only in colors, but also in luster. The sleeves seems to suck up all the light around them while the silk skirt and bodice do just the opposite. The gown pictured below also does a similar thing although it’s a bit muted:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion

Here we have a contrast between the brown velvet bodice inserts and the gold silk bodice and skit. The eye is definitely drawn towards the bodice and by extension, the face. The circa 1893 gown design by Maison Worth below also offers an interesting contrast:

Worth, Evening Ensemble Dress, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.622a–c)

The silver gray and gold floral design skirt and outer bodice make an interesting contrast to the red silk inner bodice and skirt insert panels. Here the contrast is between colors rather than luster. Now for something a bit different, there’s this circa 1895 gown design by Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2339a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

And again, there’s contrast but this time between the ecru lace skirt and ivory silk bodice, also trimmed in ecru-colored lace- here the contrast is between textures. Also, the cut of the bodice is interesting, more reminiscent of an 18th Century design with its waistcoat silhouette. Finally, we see an inversion of the velvet/silk contrast theme in this circa 1887 gown, also from Maison Rouff:

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.332a, b)

Three-Quarter Rear View

With the above gown, the skirt and outer bodice is made from a salmon/peach silk velvet combined with a gold/champagne belt and under bodice. However, most of the gown is dominated by the salmon/peach silk velvet while the gold/champagne belt and under bodice give a pop of color. Also, the bodice is small in relation to the skirt with the skirt dominating. The above is only a small sampling of the variety of evening gowns that existed but it should give an idea of some of the period aesthetics. Stay tuned for more posts! 🙂

A Cape From Maison Pingat

Capes were a major fashion during the 1890s and were made both for exclusive haute couture as well as the mass market. Below is one example of a cape made by Maison Pingat sometime circa 1891-1893:

Pingat, Cape, c. 1891-1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.60.6.8)

A look at the interior.

Side Profile

This case is constructed out of black silk velvet with fur trim and panels of silver metallic beading running along the collar, front, and back. In many respects, it’s reminiscent of decoration found on church vestments. The use of a wide strip of fur trim on the front is interesting in that it appears to be a fixed panel with two separate arm openings. We would have loved to be able to examine the construction more closely because it certainly seems to be a bit more sophisticated design than what one usually sees with capes.

Rear View

The Label.

Here’s a good look at the silk lining fabric.

Close-up of the bead embroidery.

It would appear that the beading panels were constructed separately and applied as applique panels. This design utilizes a dark black ground to show off the beading which takes center stage, drawing the eye towards the center and neckline. It’s definitely a major showpiece and bears further study. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at one of Pingat’s masterpieces.

Black As A Fashion Color Revisited…

Our recent post on the subject of black as a dress color prompted me to do a little more digging into the role of black in styles of the 1880s and 90s so here we go… 🙂


In the course of researching the use of black dresses for other than mourning wear, we were struck that there aren’t many extant black dresses/gowns in pure black. On the other hand, one sees black frequently used in combination with another color or colors with black being predominant. The utility of black as a dress color is commented on in the June 1892 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine which notes in its commentary on current fashions that:

Old-fashioned gauzy-looking stuffs are used for dresses as well as for the elaborate garnitures which are now so popular. There are all-wool and silk-and-wool crépons in black, which are very much liked by conservative ladies; and as all-black dresses are not only tolerated, but highly commended for evening wear, attention has been drawn to the preparation of many elegant and
appropriate fabrics for this purpose.

Black’s utility is also noted in the November 1891 issue of Demorest’s when commenting the use of black foundation skirts or petticoats:

…though not an individual part of each costume, the foundation skirt is by no means abandoned: made. of silk, most perfectly fitted, trimmed at the foot with narrow ruffles or one or two plaitings, and just escaping the ground, it replaces the conventional petticoat, and when one wears black dresses habitually, one petticoat, or foundation skirt will serve for several dresses. When colors are worn, it is usual to have this undershirt matching in color the material of the dress, and on the street only the dress skirt is raised.

And just to give an idea of what one of these foundation or under skirts might have looked like, here’s one example:

Underskirt, c. 1893 (Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.42.54.2)

Demorest’s also notes in its March 1892 fashion commentary that:

A NOTE of black runs through many of the fashions for spring. Black garnitures are used on almost all colors, in silks black forms a. background for brilliant or delicate blossoms or vines, all-black dresses trimmed with jet are considered very stylish, and when a touch of color is necessary for becomingness, the vest is the favorite point for introducing it. Vests in plain red, blue. yellow, or the favorite sage-green, when used in all-black dresses are either veiled with lace having a more or less decided pattern, or seeded with finely cut jet beads or the more conspicuous clone, or nail-heads.

Now, lest you think that the commentary in Demorest’s was only there to sell patterns, here’s a passage from the fashion commentary in the March 1892 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Black dresses are much too useful, especially when the wardrobe is a limited one, to be discarded. A black dress with change of vests, or ribbons or other trimmings, can be transformed into a great variety of costumes and is always lady-like. Black net is rather newer than black piece-lace, for dresses.

And, as for underskirts (aka foundation skirts), in the same issue, Peterson’s notes that:

Underskirts At Present: probably because the upper skirt must be held up, are richer than ever. They are even richer than the dress itself. Thus, under a woolen dress of the most modest description, you may see a rich silk skirt of the same. color as the over-dress, and trimmed with a deep lace flounce, beaded with rows of velvet. Then again, under a black dress you may see a shot silk skirt, trimmed with a black lace flounce or pinked-out frills of the same silk. There is a new silk made especially for these under-skirts and is called the frou-frou silk- the “rustling ”
silk. one might say in English.

To show just how black was worked with, let’s start with this evening gown made in 1895 from Maison Worth:

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1897 – 1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy (00000113)

Three-Quarter Rear View

What’s interesting about this evening gown is that the black silk fashion fabric is given further pops of “color” in the form of beading that reflects any ambient light. It’s a very clever effect and definitely draws the eye. At the same time, the wearer’s face would have been lightened up by the ecru/ivory lace running along the neckline. To take this idea further, here’s a day dress from c. 1897-1899 where we see a similar color scheme:

Day Dress, c. 1897-1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

And for one one example of manipulating black in dress styles, here’s this day dress from Maison Felix:

Maison Felix, Day Dress, c. 1893-1895; FIDM Museum (2008.5.51AB)

With this day dress, we see a lighter color used as an underskirt combined with shirring around the neckline of the bodice, both in an ivory color. The distribution of color is more vertical and the contrast is toned down by the use of a black lace overskirt in the front.

And there were instances where black was more of a background color as with this circa 1896 evening gown design from Worth:

Worth, Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

Here we see the gold appliques take center stage while the white neckline trim plays the role of lightening up the wearer’s face.

This has only been a small sampling of what’s out there but we think it goes a long way towards establishing that black was very much part of the period fashion aesthetic and could be utilized in a number of different ways to achieve various style effect. In the future, we’ll be examining this topic in more depth so stay tuned! 🙂