Tea Gowns- Some Notes

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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 Maison 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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And Now For A Tea Gown From Maison Worth

Today’s video feature is a tea gown from circa 1893 that was made by Maison Worth and worn by either Helen Olivia Brice (1871–1950) or Margaret Katherine Brice (1873–1911):

Here’s are a few stills of the dress:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1893; Museum of the City of New York (MCNY 42.146.10).

As expected with a tea gown, it has a relatively unstructured silhouette and appears to be one-piece with no distinct waist. It’s unclear whether the gown is a princess line but given the nature of the tea gown style, probably so. While the sleeves are gigot or leg-of-mutton, they’re relatively muted fitting in perfectly with the 1893 time frame. The fashion fabric is a voided velvet with a dark blue silk velvet pile combined with a lighter purple silk satin to create a floral pattern. The bodice top is cut on a curve, reminiscent of early 16th Century Renaissance styles, and the area between above is filled in with guipure lace going all the way to the neck. Similar lace is also used on the lower sleeves to create a glove-like appearance. The close-up of the bodice below gives a better idea of the fabric:

The fashion fabric takes on a very fluorescent appearance, no doubt designed to make maximum use of the gaslight or early electrical lighting typical of interior lighting during this period.1There are a number of examples of Maison Worth’s work that utilize this fluorescent design effect with the fashion fabric- The Madame Greffuhle tea gown is a good example. The bodice top is trimmed with a strip of gold bullion and above it is the guipure lace insert.

And the interior of the bodice. The bodice is lightly boned and appears to have been flatlined in a pink silk satin combined with an ivory (it looks like a pistachio color but that’s probably the lighting) petersham and bone casings. This tea gown when worn must have been been amazing sight and it’s clear that this was intended for a more formal in-home affair than simply taking tea. 🙂



The Palais Galliera Reopening

We’re happy to announce that the Palais Galliera in Paris is finally opening on October 1, 2020! While it appears that they’ll be adhering to their policy of having specific exhibitions rather than maintaining a permanent collection on display (at least what we can gather from the official press release and the website). A visit to the Palais has always been high on our list of must-sees in Paris but it’s been closed for the past several years so hopefully we can go there the next time we’re in Paris. The downside is that while they have an extensive collection, it’s all in storage and the only time anything is on public display is if there’s an exhibition (it would be nice if they had an organized photo archive, but alas, no).

As a warm-up, you might recall that the Palais holds this tea dress that once belonged to the Countess Greffuhle:

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

And one of her evening dresses:

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

So here’s hoping to maybe being able to see these up close and personal one day! 🙂



Gigot Sleeve Style…

Gigot, or leg-of-mutton, sleeves was one the key defining elements in Mid-1890s style. Often taken to extravagant lengths, it’s a style element that dominated any dress whether for good or ill. When used judiciously and balanced against other style elements in a dress, the effect could be amazing. However, done wrong, the result could be atrocious to the point where the wearer of the dress’ face disappears in a sea of poufy fabric. Below is an example when it’s done right as with this 1895 house dress/tea gown Laboudt & Robina1One could argue that this dress is either a tea gown or a house dress and either would fit, in our opinion.:

Laboudt & Robina, House Dress/Tea Gown, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.670)

Three-Quarter Rear View

This garment is constructed from a dark blue silk velvet combined with a lighter blue patterned silk taffeta or bengaline for the sleeves and the edges of a front inset panel. The inset panel appears to be an silk embroidered decorative motif consisting of bunches of flowers set against an ivory silk satin. The patterned fabric on the sleeves and garment front consist of large swirls of black and yellow and draw attention to the sleeves in an aesthetically pleasing manner. In terms of silhouette, the garment features a fitted waist and is clearly intended for wear with a corset and is designed to mimic a robe. While it could be argued as to whether this is a fancy house dress or a formal tea gown, either way it was intended as more of an at-home dress.   Below is a close-up of the decorative front trim:

Trim Detail

While it may seem to be a bit of a reach, the blue patterned silk reminds us of the night sky in this painting The Starry Night by Van Gogh:

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

In terms of overall style, this house dress/tea gown stands out as one of the best examples of this style but for us, the most striking thing about it are the sleeves which act as a major style element but not to the exclusion of all else. With this garment, the gigot sleeve style has been taken to a new height of sheer aesthetic beauty.



Pingat & Tea Gowns

No sooner did we say that tea gowns didn’t seem to be a thing with Emile Pingat than this amazing circa 1892 example from the National Gallery of Australia came along:  🙂

Emile Pingat, Tea Gown, c. 1892; National Gallery of Australia (NGA 92.1129.A-B)

This design takes the while idea of a “tea gown” and takes the style to the extreme, elevating it to an extremely fashionable garment. Utilizing complementary colors of acid yellow and dark brown, the gown combines a silk satin skirt and bodice and velvet sleeves with a Medici collar. The effect is further enhanced by the same brown velvet running along the skirt hem. Finally, a large belt with a jeweled design and decorative panel running down the gown front completes the gown’s dramatic effect. With the belt, it’s difficult to tell if it’s a princess line or not but in either case, the silhouette is a typical 1890s style. With the Medici collar and jeweled velvet sleeves, this gown reads Renaissance with a nod to aesthetic dress. And here’s the rear view:

Fashion has always been a play between extremes and this tea gown is no exception in that Pingat’s design pushes the boundaries of what a tea gown was intended to be- what was once meant as a casual garment for wear at home has now been transformed far beyond that definition to the point where it bears little difference between it and full-on formal wear. Of course, one could argue that perhaps it’s more a matter of the dress being mislabeled by the museum and we acknowledge that it’s quite possible too although the neo-Renaissance style seems to belie that a bit. In either case, without further documentation, all we can do is speculate but one can’t deny the dramatic style effect either way.