Is It A Wrapper Or Is It A Tea Gown?

In the course of researching tea gowns, I came across an interesting thing while looking at reprints of the Autumn 1886 and Spring 1893 editions of the E. Butterick & Company’s pattern catalog. In looking at the illustrations, I noted that that while they seemingly appear to be tea gowns, with one exception, they’re labeled as “wrappers.” Let’s take a look- first, for 1886:



In looking at the various styles above, there are 12 wrapper patterns versus the lone tea gown pattern (No. 52). Interesting enough, style-wise, the one tea gown pattern appears fairly similar to many of the wrapper patterns. Just what the criteria was that separated the two styles is not obvious and would bear further study; perhaps it was simply a matter of marketing: a tea gown implies a more “fancy garment” while wrapper implies a more basic informal garment meant to be worn while at home.

Moving forward, we seen an explosion of choices in the Spring 1893 Butterick pattern catalog:

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

And once again, while there’s a wider variety of styles, many whose features mimic regular day dresses, they’re all labeled as wrappers. Of course, some of the styles are clearly ones that would be worn at home on in the presence of family members (maybe) but others are far more elaborate and imply that they would be worn in the presence of close friends for social occassions.

One useful way to look at tea gowns is that they tended to be more closely fitted that the wrapper, often boned and worn with a corset. Also, the tea gown was more “public” in that it was worn for more social occasions, albeit in the home. As with fashion in general, styles can be take to extremes so we’ll leave you with this example made by Worth in 1894:

Worth tea gown afternoon dress c. 1890 - 1895

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890 – 1895; Royal Ontario Museum (969.223)

Worth tea gown afternoon dress c. 1890 - 1895

Note the boning…

Stay tuned for more! ūüôā


The Tea Gown Revisited…

Image result for tea gowns 1890s

Perhaps the extreme hot weather we’re dealing with in Southern California or simply the aesthetics but tea gowns have been an object of interest for us lately. As noted in a prior post, the tea gown was an informal garment that was meant to be worn without a corset (in practice, this was not always the case) although many tea gowns were boned in the bodice area to provide a little structure.

Image result for tea gowns 1890s

There was certainly a wide variety of tea gown styles that were available ranging from ones mass-produced  for the middle class market to the haute couture varieties aimed at a more upscale clientele. Below is one example from  1894, complete with gigot sleeves, offered by Worth:

Worth Tea Gown 1894

Worth, Tea Gown, 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.637)

Worth Tea Gown 1894

Rear View

And here’s another offering from Worth, circa 1900 – 1901:

Tea Gown Worth c. 1900 - 1901

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1900 – 1901; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2498)

Tea Gown Worth c. 1900 - 1901

Rear View

61.219.8_front bw

And if one could not afford to buy a ready-made tea gown, they could make their own:


The tea gown offered another alternative for women’s wear and it’s interesting to see how the varieties that were out there. Stay tuned for more in the future. ūüôā

Image result

The Tea Gown

During the 1880s and 1890s, tea gowns evolved as an alternative form of day wear. Influenced in part by a growing interest in Japonisme and the desire for an alternative to the tightly structured dress styles created by corseting, the tea gown provided an ideal alternative. The tea gown was a loose-fitting garment that was essentially an elaborate dressing gown/wrapper and as such was meant to be worn at home in the company of immediate family and close friends and especially if one was dining or taking tea. The tea gown was meant to be worn without a corset (although some women wore them anyway) and was never worn outside the house. This was as close to informal wear as it got for Victorians. Below are a few examples:

Tea Gown c. 1891

Tea Gown, c. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.39.3)

The above gown has an Aesthetic Movement feel to it while the one below is more formal.

Tea Gown c. 1898 - 1901

Tea Gown, c. 1898 – 1901; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.558)

And the influence of Japonisme  was also evident as with this gown constructed so as to mimic a kimono:

As with any garment, high fashion versions of the tea gown developed, characterized by layers of soft fabrics such as tulle, chiffon, silk and velvet, combined with lace (lots of lace). Also, while tea gown were fairly shapeless, there were versions that were inspired by the Far East such as ones designed as a Kimono of sorts:

Tea Gown c. 1885

Tea Gown, c. 1885; FIDM Museum (80.40.1)

And even Maison Worth got involved as with this tea gown constructed out of cut velvet that was featured in the the December 12, 1891 edition of Harper’s Bazar:

Worth Tea Gown Harper's Bazar Dec 12 1891Worth Tea Gown Harper's Bazar Dec 12 1891

And here’s a description:

It is a long flowing caftan of beige-colored cloth, draped over a velvet gown which fits the slender figure with sheath-like closeness. Velours frappe (stamped velvet), with maroon design on lighter ground, is used for the front of the close gown; it is fitted by darts and extends far back on the sides, fastening invisibly on the left. The back of the bodice is simply a continuation of the silk lining covered at the top with velvet in yoke shape. The full topped sleeves are also of velvet, which is drawn up below the elbow over close sleeves of cloth.

Upon this gown is hung the graceful caftan of supple cloth, which falls in sweeping folds to the floor. The fronts frame subtle slight figure with wide revers of white plush; their fullness is narrowly massed on the shoulders, with ends carried thence to the middle of the back, and knotted there above full back breadths that fall in Watteau-like pleats. A high collar has velvet at the back, and is covered in front with white lace extending lower in a pointed plastron. Deep cuffs of ]ace are on the sleeves.

The above passage is interesting in that it describes a garment that’s anything but what a tea gown is supposed to be, especially with its tight contours that follow the body’s curves, curves that only could be created by corseting. It’s the triumph of form over function. Below is one such tea gown produced by Worth in 1895 that closely matches the above description:

Tea Gown, Worth c. 1895

Tea Dress, Worth c. 1895; Palais Galliera (GAL1964.20.4)

However, Worth also produced styles that were more closely followed the tea gown ideal of soft lines and fabrics as with this design from circa 1900 – 1901:

Tea Gown Worth c. 1900 - 1901

Worth, Tea Gown; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2498)

Tea Gown Worth c. 1900 - 1901

Rear View

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the world of the tea gown and as we can see, the style could be interpreted in a number of different ways. In future posts, we hope to be able to explore this theme a little further.

Introducing The Camille

Since its introduction, our Camille dress design has been a major hit with our clients and has become one of the mainstays of our day dress line-up. The Camille is based on the Mid-Bustle Era styles that the Impressionist models would wear, primarily characterized by a fitted, narrow tied-back skirt that is swagged, pleated, and ruffled with fullness from the knees down. This style was also made popular by the famous actresses of the time such as Lilly Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. What also makes this skirt more distinct is the custom bayleuse which is installed in each of our dresses which serve to create the distinct silhouette that characterized the late 1870s/early 1880s.

Camille Dress Elena

The Camille is a solid design that is suitable for a variety of occasions, both indoor and outdoor, and is available in a nearly endless combination of colors and fabrics. Below is one example that we recently made for a client:

Camille Dress Elena
With this dress, we’ve employed a blue color palette with a solid light blue foundation for the basic skirt and bodice sleeves and¬†¬†combined it with dark blue cuffs and lapels on bodice. Then, just to make things interesting, we also employed a¬†blue plaid¬†fabric for the bodice¬†body and swaged overskirt with pops of yellow. Finally, to complete the effect, we used a shirred white net to¬†cover the upper underskirt.

Here is a three-quarter view of the rear of the dress. The underskirt is covered with shirred white net from the top to mid way down, and then with three rows of pleating from mid way down to the hem.

Camille Dress Elena
Below is a closer look at the hem- three rows of¬†pleating…
Camille Dress Elena
Here are some more views of the dress details:

Camille Dress ElenaCamille Dress Elena

Now let’s take a look at some bodice details:

Camille Dress Elena

The bodice incorporates features reminiscent of 18th Century styles to include an inset of shirred white net framed by dark blue lapels or revers, creating a faux waistcoat appearance. The sleeves are three-quarter length ending in cuffs that match the lapels trimmed with three buttons. To finish it off, each sleeve has inset lace with silk ribbon trim.

Below is a close-up of the sleeve and cuff (before the lace was added). This is a good illustration of the color palette:

Camille Dress Elena

Overall, the effect is an interesting mix of plaid and solid-colored fabrics with a palette that harmonizes. The shirred front overskirt, knife pleats, and folds create an uneven texture that contrasts with the smoothness of the bodice and sleeves. The design was definitely a hit with our client and we look forward to creating more dresses in this style.

Back To The Rancho- Lily Absinthe Goes Picnicking

Well, this is from over a month ago and it’s only now that I’m posting this…yes, life got in the way but I figure that better late than never! Picnicking in period dress has always been a favorite pastime for us (and it provides an excuse to wear our period fashions) and provides a nice break from the fast pace of the modern world. As many of you no doubt know, 2017 has been a year of tremendous change for us and it’s easy to lose sight of what we truly like to do. So anyway, here’s just a little recap from our latest excursion to Rancho Camulos. Enjoy!


This past Sunday, we decided to take a break and go to a picnic at our favorite spot-Rancho Camulos¬†in Piru, California, one of the last surviving examples of a Californio rancho. The theme, of course, was Victorian and it gave us a wonderful opportunity to relax in period attire in an historic location.¬†Established by Ygnacio Del Valle in 1853, Rancho Camulos was once part of a 48,000 acre Mexican land grant deeded to Ygnacio‚Äôs father Antonio Del Valle in 1839. Also, most notably, Rancho Camulos is also the purported setting for Helen Jackson Hunt’s¬†famous book Ramona.


We also decided to take the occasion to model one of our newest designs, a simple picnic dress constructed in a light cotton sheer in a pale turquoise blue:



And of course, we took the opportunity to relax…


The weather was perfect and it was easy to lose all sense of time, relaxing in the cool ocean breezes underneath shady trees. The time was all too short. ūüôā