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. 🙂


Some Late 1880s Style

Just to change things up, today we take a brief look at the other end of the spectrum with the late 1880s with specifically, this circa 1889 evening/reception dress from Kent State University Museum:

Mme. Ludinart, 129 Boul. St.-Honoré, Paris, Evening/Reception Dress, c. 1889; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0202 ab)

Here’s a better view (unfortunately most of the photos are lower resolution):

The dress is constructed of a mauve/cream-colored silk brocade covered with a cream-colored chiffon with white dots. The hem is relatively simple, consisting of a taupe-colored ruched silk band (it was probably more of an ivory color when initially constructed but has yellowed a bit with age). The bodice is also fairly plain with no sleeves and trimmed with lace around the neckline that matches the hem color. One interesting style detail is the use of taupe-colored silk ribbons on the shoulders that are shaped in a sort of rosette pattern with long tails. While it definitely provides a point of focus that attracts the viewer, it’s a bit distracting.

In terms of silhouette, the train is fairly restrained and we don’t see the more extreme style common to the 1885-1888 time frame. However, looking at the hem and how it curves downward towards the rear, there probably was a more pronounced bustle/padding effect going on so who knows? 🙂 Finally there’s the train which is made of a champagne/gold-colored silk satin with darker gold-colored vertical strips of silk faille with a jacquard floral pattern. Below are two views of the train (fortunately one is higher resolution):

One interesting detail is that the bodice back appears to match the train, creating the visual effect of a continuous flowing train running up the bodice, although the train and bodice are separate pieces.

And here’s a close-up of the silk jacquard faille ribbon strips. Note the horizontal ribs:

Overall, this is an interesting that places most of its style emphasis on the train and when looking at the back and front, it’s almost like we’re looking at two different dresses. The large ribbons at the shoulders are a bit of a distraction but ultimately that’s a matter of personal taste. This is an interesting late 1880s dress and in looking at it, there’s little hint of the style changes that were to occur in the 1890s.


The Bustle Dress- A Brief Overview, Part 2

By 1872 we begin to see the fully trained/bustle look that was to be trademark of the the First Bustle Era. Most notably, styles of the early 1870s places an emphasis on accentuating the bustle effect while at the same time minimizing any fullness on the front, often using vertical lines as an aid such as can be seen in the fashion plates below:

Day Dress, c. 1873

This 1874 reception dress by Emile Pingat also puts this design aesthetic into action:

Emile Pingat, Reception Dress, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

The striped outerskirt on the front with its vertical lines emphasizes flatness in front while at the same time, the stripped outerskirt in the rear serves to emphasize the bustle silhouette.  However, stripes wasn’t the only way of emphasizing the bustle and front flatness. This 1875 afternoon dress by Worth uses color to achieve a similar effect:

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

This dress utilizes a green silk taffeta front skirt trimmed with a layer of swagged taffeta material in the same color with gold fringe. Paired up with the green taffeta is a dark blue and gold patterned silk bengaline-like (it’s hard to precisely say) fabric that’s used for the bodice and the train, serving to harmoniously contrast the green taffeta. Finally, the hem has three rows of knife pleating in the same green taffeta. The side profile pictured below shows the contrast:

Side Profile

The side profile shows how the train is emphasized with the blue and gold and provides  natural focal point that draws the eye upwards towards the bodice and then the neck/head. At the same time, the front is minimized to a degree by the gold fringe and the rows of knife pleating on the hem; the eye just isn’t drawn here in the same way as with the train. Below is a view of dress rear where one can see the blue/gold material used to the best advantage:

Rear View

Close-up of skirt detail.

The above dress examples give interesting insights into early Bustle Era styles in that the style details were all oriented towards emphasizing the trained/bustled silhouette- whether it be stripes, contrasting colors, draping, or a combination of one or more of these elements.

Auguste Renoir, La Parisienne, 1874

In the next installment, we’ll be moving into the Mid-Bustle Era as the bustle gives way to a different look…

(To be continued…)



Wedding Dresses- It Wasn’t Always A White Wedding

In contrast to today, the term “wedding gown” was far more flexible in the late 19th Century than it is today. When we think of a wedding gown, we invariably think of some sort of dress that’s in some shade of white or ivory that’s only worn once on the wedding day and then stored away forever, unless a descendant chooses to wear the dress for their wedding. However, in recent scholarship, it’s been noted that the concept of the “white wedding” with its one-use wedding gown is a fairly recent development, as much a product of merchandising as social convention. During the late 19th Century, a wedding dress was typically a woman’s “best dress,” often enhanced by netting, lace, and flowers (especially orange blossoms). The dress was definitely meant to be worn long after the wedding and in fact, the idea of having a dress for that’s only worn once and then stored away forever was considered the height of wastefulness. With that said, here’s just one example of what a wedding dress could be, at least if we accept the Walsall Museums’ description:

Day Dress c. 1885

Day Dress, c. 1885; Walsall Museums (WASMG : 1976.0832)

Day Dress c. 1885

Side Profile

Unfortunately the photography is not the best…style-wise this is mid-1880s with a defined train/bustle and is constructed from a silver-gray silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a silk brocade floral pattern for the underskirt, under bodice and sleeve cuffs. The bodice is constructed to create the effect of a jacket over a vest (although these were usually made as a single unit) and the red flowers on the silk brocade provide pops of red that add richness and variety to what would otherwise be a somewhat dull monochromatic silver-gray dress.

Day Dress c. 1885

Close-up of front bodice.

And here’s a nice close-up of the silk brocade fabric:

Day Dress c. 1885

Close-up of fashion fabric.

Here’s a couple of more pictures (although the color is a bit off):

Day Dress c. 1885

Three-Quarter rear view.

Day Dress c. 1885

The red flowers on the silk brocade panels definitely draws the eye up and fixes the viewer’s eyes (As should be the case with all bridal dresses!). Of course, as with much of fashion history, there’s rarely any absolutes and this was the case with using “regular” colors versus the more bridal colors of white and ivory during the 1880s. However, in the end, it’s important to realize that the dividing lines between “bridal” and non-bridal were not as rigid was we tend to view them today (although that’s changing). This was just a brief glimpse into the world of bridal dresses during the 1880s and that there are alternatives to the “traditional” when it comes to bridal dresses. 🙂



Happy Birthday Charles Worth!

Happy Birthday Charles Worth! Born October 13, 1825, Charles Worth was a pioneer in the development of the fashion industry and laid the foundation for many key details of the fashion world that survive to this day. In commemoration of the day, albeit belated, here’s an interesting circa 1878 reception dress he created: 🙂

Worth, Reception Dress, c. 1878; FIDM Museum (2006.25.2AB)

This skirt and base bodice of this dress is constructed from a black silk velvet combined with sleeves of a dark gold covered in black lace with black beaded passmentarie. More black beaded passmentarie covers the front skirt and bodice front. Below is a close-up of the front bodice:

And here’s a view of the rear upper shoulders and neck:

And here’s a rear profile view:

In terms of the age of the dress, it would appear that the skirt is fuller than what would be expected for a natural form/Mid-Bustle Era dress silhouette. Also, the bodice  hem appears to be riding high on the hip, something that was done to optimize the drawing of the train to the rear through use of a bustle. Of course, it could also be a matter of staging, without viewing it in person it can often be hard to tell. Time-wise, we’re inclined to place this one more towards 1875-1876. Well, hopefully we’ll one day have an opportunity to view this dress in person but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures and once again, happy birthday Charles Worth!