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:

butterick_autumn-1886-pattern-catalog.jpg

butterick_autumn-1886-pattern-catalog1-e1531075072322.jpg

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! 🙂

 

The Tea Gown Revisited…

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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.

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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

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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. 🙂

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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.