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! 🙂

 

1870s Tea Gown Style…

Today’s tea gown selection dates from circa 1875-1879 and incorporates a princess line style:

Tea Gown/Day Dress, c. 1875-1879; Kent State Museum (1983.001.0138)

The front of the gown presents a contrast between a purple colored front combined with white outer sides and back. The back and side fabric has a purple floral decorative motif (printed or embroidered is hard to determine). Running along the left side of the dress are a series of purple ribbon bows that help to create the illusion that the dress is a robe draped over a purple underskirt. However, in reality, it’s all one dress as can be seen in this close-up:

As can be seen from this close-up, it’s actually all one dress constructed in the princess line style. On the right one can see a row of buttons running town the front of the dress and the purple colored front is acting as a long plastron. Interestingly enough, the buttons and the ribbons on the front and cuffs appear to be more of a blue color. And here’s the side profile, both left and right:

Left Side Profile

Right Side Profile

The profile pictures illustrate that there’s a well-defined train and as such, this garment was probably made towards the Mid-1870s and would have been worn with a bustle. Below you can see the train:

Rear View

Compared the front, the rear is fairly unexceptional and presents a fairly conventional train except for the outline of purple ruffles running along the train. Unfortunately, the museum staging is not the best and the trim line is somewhat jumbled. This is a gown that we would love to have an opportunity to examine in person; the train is strangely asymmetrical and it would be interesting to see if this was by design or simply poor staging. But is what most compelling about this gown is the front- the color is amazing and it presents a bold contrast with the rest of the gown. We hope you’ve enjoyed this gown and may it be an inspiration. 🙂

Tea Gowns & Aesthetic Dress

Aesthetic, or Artistic, dress was an outgrowth of the Aesthetic Movement and as such, was a fashion trend that arose out of reaction to the heavily structured and trim heavily trimmed fashions of the late Nineteenth Century. In contrast, the Aesthetic Dress movement focused on basing fashion on simplicity of design and quality materials.  Aesthetic Dress drew many of its ideas from the Reform/Rational Dress Movement and at their core, both movements sought to create more simple utilitarian garments that would give women freedom of movement, free from the restrictions of tight-lacing corsetry and elaborate undergarments such as bustles and the like.

Many Aesthetic Dress styles drew inspiration from the loosely flowing robes characteristic of the late Middle Ages and were based off of the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an artistic movement that sought a return to the artistic styles of the abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art . It was almost natural that the influence of the Aesthetic Dress Movement would be reflected in tea gowns such as this example from circa 1897 made by Liberty London:

Liberty of London, Tea Gown c. 1897; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The  tea  gown  consists  of  two parts, a peach/light orange silk  outer dress  trimmed in peach/red-orange colored silk with floral pattern embroidery running along the front edges and back collar. On the front, the outer dress mimics an open robe with an inner dress made of an ivory colored linen or cotton material. The outer dress is sleeveless, the inner dress providing the sleeves. Overall, this dress reads late Medieval/early Renaissance and definitely succeeds in capturing that aesthetic.     

In this view, one can see a Watteau style back running down the length of the dress. During the late Nineteenth Century, Liberty London positioned itself as the leading supplier of Aesthetic style garments and there are a a number of extant garments from the era. Stay tuned for future postings on this interesting sub-fashion genre of the late Nineteenth Century.

Another Tea Gown From the 1890s…

Lately, 1890s have been a major focus for us and especially when it comes to tea gowns. We recently came across this tea gown from circa 1890 (at least according to the auction website) that reflects a Japonisme style1Dating garments is more of an art than a science in many instances and sometimes the best that can be done it to approximate it to a decade.:

Tea Gown, c. 1890; Kerry Taylor Auctions

This is an interesting example because the outer dress on the front is a light pink robe that mimics a kimono, opening up to reveal a light cream colored underdress. Also, we note that the sleeves are properly part of the underdress and that the outer dress is sleeveless. Here’s a view of the rear:

The rear presents a more conventional view and gives a princess line appearance. Given the size of the sleeve caps, this tea gown is either from the early or late 1890s.  Here’s a close-up of the front:

The underdress is detailed with ruching and a net-like trim that draws the eye up towards the face. Below is a close-up of the embroidered design that runs along the front of the outer dress:

Close-up of the embroidered floral design.

The pattern is very subtle here and tends to blend in with the background of the dress fabric. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information available on this tea dress except to say that it was produced in Japan for the export trade. That’s perfectly possible although it could have just as easily been made in the West. Aesthetically, this is an interesting tea gown because of melding of Japanese and Western elements: from the front, there’s definitely a mock-kimono style while from the rear, it looks like any number of princess line dresses of the time. Stay tuned for more!

Japonisme Redux

Throughout the ages, Western fashion has incorporated foreign influences and the late 19th Century was no exception, most notably with the advent of Japonisme. Originally coined in 1872 by Philippe Burty, a French art critic, “Japonisme”  was used a term used to encompass the idea of the popularity and influence of Japanese art and design on Western European (and later by extension, American) culture.1Philippe Burty, Renaissance Littéraire et Artistique, May 1872-February 1873

James Tissot, Young Ladies Looking at Japanese Objects, 1869

Originating as an artistic movement, interest in Japonisme stemmed from the re-opening of Japan to the world, a process that began in 1854 with the forced re-opening of trade with the West. One of the foundations of Japan’s participation in the world economy was the export of textiles, both in the form of raw fabric and finished goods designed expressly for the Western market. Along with this, there also a flood of Oriental bric-a-brac that was exported in the form of fans, kimonos, lacquers, bronzes, and of course, silks, which began to attract much interest by Westerners, especially in Great Britain and France.

During this time, Japanese designs began to attract the interest of various artists who began to incorporate them into their work. One area of special interest were woodblock prints in the Ukiyo-e Style (“Floating World”) and these designs influenced artists such as Tissot, Monet, Degas, and Whistler, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Below are some examples of these woodblock prints:

Otani Oniji II, dated 1794 Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95) Polychrome woodcut print on paper; 15 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1 x 22.9 cm) Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)

Otani Oniji II, dated 1794; Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95)
Polychrome woodcut print on paper; 15 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1 x 22.9 cm)
Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33 Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849); Published by Eijudo Polychrome ink and color on paper; 10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in. (25.7 x 37.9 cm) (Oban size) H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1831–33; Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849); H. O. Havemeyer Collection (JP1847)

Along with woodblock prints and other Japanese artwork, interest in the Japanese design aesthetic also included fabrics which incorporated motifs such as plants, flowers, insects, birds, and geometric patterns. Below are a few examples of textile designs from the 1880s:

Birds1

Textile1

Kimono1

Textile2

We can see further examples depicted by various notable Western artists themselves:

Claude Monet, Camille Monet in Japanese Costume, 1876; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

James Tissot, The Japanese Bath (La Japonaise au bain,), 1864

James Tissot, The Japanese Bath (La Japonaise au bain,), 1864.

James McNeill Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine

James McNeill Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863 – 1865.

So how does this translate into fashion? Well, garments of the period began to use traditional Japanese fabrics, largely in the form of kimono fabric. In many instances, the garments themselves were made from re-worked kimonos which were largely made from silk. Below are some examples:

1870 Court Dress

Day Dress, c. 1870s; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC8938 93-28-1AB)

1870 Tea Gown

Tea Gown, American, c. 1870; Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (80.1.4)

Side profile

Side profile

Close-up of the front.

Close-up of the front.

The above pictures are interesting in that they illustrate typical Japanese design motifs that would normally be found in Kimonos. Also, interestingly enough, the two above dresses were made from re-worked Kimono fabric which suggests that new markets were being found for kimonos that normally would be worn by a small class of upper class Japanese, primarily the wives of Samurai. Below is another interesting dress that utilizes a quilted habutai silk fabric:

House Dress,, Japanese c. 1875; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC989 78-30-3AB)

Moving forward into the 1880s, Japanese design influences still remained strong as can be seen in these examples:

Day Dress/Reception Dress, c. 1880s, belonging to Marquise Nabeshima Nagako; Jingu Chokokan Museum

Side Profile

Three-Quarter Rear Profile

 

 

Close-up of the train.

What is interesting about the above dress is that this one appears to have been made for the Japanese market. In this case, the dress reflects Japan’s increasing westernization and is a mix of traditional fabric design with western dress style. Note that the line of the cuirass bodice has fringe running along the bottom, creating a visual effect of elongating the bodice’s lines, covering the hips completely.

Dressing Gown/Wrapper, c. 1885; FIDM (80.40.1)

Three-Quarter Rear View

The use of kimonos as dressing gowns and even tea gowns was popular in the West and it allowed women to be able to wear something that did not not require the use of the corset, or at least having to lace up the corset to the degree normally required when wearing a dress. As the bustle disappeared from use in the 1890s and the lines of women’s dresses became more upright, kimonos began to be incorporated into designs for evening wear and some day wear and this is especially evident during the years from 1900 – 1913. Here’s one example from 1894-1896:

1890s Dress

Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1896; Indianapolis Museum of Art (74.351A-B)

The above example is a day dress typical of the mid 1890s with the characteristic leg-o-mutton sleeves, thin waist, and open bodice designed to appear to be a coat with an exposed shirtwaist (which was often a fake one that was actually part of the bodice itself). What is interesting in terms of Japonisme is the geometric pattern of the fabric which follows a fairly standard Japanese design motif. The provenance of the fabric is unknown but it’s clear that it’s not material from a reworked kimono.

Image result for japonisme definition philippe burty

Finally, we end this series with a wonderful example of Japonisme in the form of a Visite from Paris, circa 1890:

Cape/Visite, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC5367 86-17-7)

The above illustrations and descriptions barely touch the range of Japanese influences that were found in Western fashion during the late 19th Century but even from this limited sample, it can be seen that they served to create some stunning effects that only served to enhance the aesthetics and sheer beauty of the period styles. This is an area that has been largely neglected by those striving to recreate the fashions of the period and it merits further consideration.