Trending For October 1886

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hile studying old fashion plates may not seem as exciting as looking at pictures of extant original dresses, they still yield a wealth of information, especially if one carefully reads the descriptions that accompanied them. It’s easy to be put off by the fading and often poor state of preservation that many of these plates are in but if we can see past that, we believe that the reward is worth it.


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ctober 1886 was an interesting time for fashion. The bustle was definitely back in force, refining the earlier bustle styles of the early 1870s and creating a more tidy and sharply defined silhouette than what was found in 1870s styles. In this post, we step back to October 1886 with this plate from the October issue of Peterson’s Magazine. Of special interest is the wedding dress in Figure I on the far left.

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Peterson’s Magazine, October 1886

Below is a description of the above plate:

Fig. I.- WEDDING DRESS, OF BROCADED SILK AND WHITE ILLUSION. The skirt is made of three deep plaited [pleated] ruffles of illusion over white silk, the two upper ruffles falling in deep curves in front. The bodice, short tunic in front, and train are of the brocaded silk. The tunic is caught up with clusters of orange-blossoms. The bodice has a plaited vest of the illusion, with lace revers at the sides. The sleeves are open, on the outside of the arm, over an illusion sleeve, which is full at the elbow, and trimmed with sprays of orange-blossoms. Orange-blossoms at the throat and in the hair, from which a long veil of illusion falls.

Fig. II.- WALKING-DRESS, OF VERY DARK GRAY CASHMERE. It is made in plaits all around the skirt, with side-panels of plaid velvet. The close-fitting bodice is made with two revers of the velvet, both placed on the right side, and coming to a sharp point in front of the waist. Collar and cuffs also of the velvet. Gray felt hat, with ribbon and wings of the colors in the plaid velvet.

Fig. III.- EVENING-DRESS, OF LIGHT CANARY-COLORED SURAH. The skirt is trimmed with many narrow flounces, with a pointed apron-front of white lace, nearly to the bottom of the ruffled skirt. The train is plain, and trimmed with white lace. The bodice is cut with a sharp point, both front and back, and is ornamented with folds of the surah and white lace on the left side. Puffs of canary-colored ostrich-tips and ribbon trimming. Yellow bird in the hair.

Fig. lV- EVENING DRESS, OF POPPY-RED SILK. The skirt has a narrow knife-plaiting at the bottom. The back fails in large plaits, with a short full tunic over them. The front is trimmed with drooping rows or black lace, natural habitat of the cyclamen is in the woods, and this with long loops of poppy-colored ribbon. Panniers of black lace at the sides. The high bodice has a jabot of black lace down the front. Bow of red ribbon on the left side of the neck. Red poppies in the hair.

Fig. V.- WALKING DRESS, OF DARK-BLUE WOOLEN MATERIAL. The skirt falls in straight plaits at the back, with a short tunic over it. The front of the skirt at the bottom is trimmed with a broad band of striped blue-and-red bouclé material, and it is plaited at the waist. The bodice is made with a sharp point, with a reddish-blue velvet waistband, revers, and collar of the same material. The vest is of the striped bouclé. Dark-blue felt hat, trimmed with a red bird and wings.

Starting with the wedding dress in Figure I, it is styled with the skirt arranged in the front with three rows of vertical ruffles with the top two rows swaged to the rear. The base fashion fabric is a white silk covered by a layer of white illusion. Illusion is a  lightweight netting fabric with diamond-shaped holes and constructed from silk (today, it is more likely to be made of nylon and it primarily used for bridal veils). It is a form of tulle fabric, characterized by its soft hand and excellent drapability.

Illusion- Note the Diamond-Shaped Holes

White Silk Brocade – There was an endless variation in brocade patterns.

The bodice and overskirt/train is a silk brocade with the sleeves constructed from same illusion as the skirt. Covering the upper sleeves is lace that has been formed as revers. Also, interestingly enough, the front of the bodice is pleated in a fan pattern, giving the appearance of a vest. Finally, the dress is trimmed in orange blossoms in the front and in the headpiece. Overall, it’s a fairly “traditional” look that embodies the white wedding trend that was beginning to take hold during the late 19th Century.

Figure II is a fairly conventional day dress combined with plaid velvet to create a “highland” effect of sorts. The skirt and bodice are of a gray cashmere (although it appears to be more of a blue) combined with plaid velvet side-plates on the skirt. The plaid velvet is also used for the cuffs as well as on the front of the bodice (although the illustration distorts this somewhat, making it look more like a sash). Below are some modern-day examples of cashmere that easily could be used to make this dress:

Dark Blue-Gray Cashmere-Wool Blend

Dark Blue Cashmere

Figure III is an evening dress made of canary (sort of a light yellow) surah combined with white lace. The front of the skirt is trimmed in rows of narrow flounces and is covered in the front with a lace apron. Style-wise, this is a conventional med-1880s look with an emphasis on pleating running all the way up the front of the skirt. For color, the plate is a bit faded so here’s a bit more on the color canary which is essentially a yellow. It can vary in intensity from bright, as on the left, to a more subdued as on the right:

As indicated in a previous post, surah is a twilled silk fabric and would have looked something like this (unfortunately, it’s not an easy fabric to find, especially in any shade of yellow):

Surah

For Figure IV, we see another variation on the pleating/flounce theme only this time it is limited to the front apron which is done in black lace. To complement the black lace apron is a jabot of matching back lace running down the front of the bodice. The bodice and skirt are constructed from a poppy-red silk and the skirt hem has a row of knife pleating. Overall, this a relatively simple style for an evening dress and if we did not have the description from Peterson’s to go on, it would be easy to mistake for a day dress. Here is a sample of the color:

Poppy Red

Poppy Red

Unfortunately, the color depicted in the late is more of a wine color but as we know, colors can change dramatically in 100 plus year-old documents and especially those involving color printing processes so take this all with a grain of salt. 🙂

Finally, Figure V depicts is a fairly conventional day dress with the basic skirt and bodice constructed of a dark blue wool. However, the front of the skirt and skirt hem are trimmed in a blue-red bouclé, a fabric woven from loosely spun yarns giving a looped pile effect. In more recent times, bouclé has become the signature fabric found in many Chanel designs.  Although not stated, it is assumed that this was composed of wool fibers. Below is an example (unfortunately, we were unable to find a red-blue color):

All of the above dresses are fairly conventional in terms of style but they do exhibit some interesting uses of fabrics and trims and especially with the velvet trim in Figure III and the bouclé in Figure V. While perhaps not spectacular when compared to the creations being produced by Worth, Doucet, and Pingat (to name a few), it does demonstrate that the limits of particular styles were constantly being pushed in both big and small ways.



Some Commentary on Walking Dresses & Walking Suits From the 1880s

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ne of the more interesting styles to develop during the 1880s was the walking suit/walking dress and they were both practical and stylish, incorporating both a wide variety of cuts, fabrics, and colors and were intended for wear while out in public. Just to preface, from what we’ve seen in the research we’ve done, the terms “walking dress” and “walking suit” seemed to be used somewhat interchangeably and it doesn’t appear that the concept was fully formed until the early 1890s with its characteristic jacket-waist-skirt combination. However, looking at this style in the 1880s, it would appear that first and foremost, the skirt was untrained and the hem tended to be a off the ground. Also, to a great degree, the bodice tended to be styled as a “jacket-bodice” in which the bodice was constructed to mimic a jacket over a visible vest or some sort of decorative treatment- often shirred chiffon. But, as mentioned above, the concept doesn’t seem to have been fully formed and the boundaries could get hazy at times (no doubt influenced by marketing concerns since much of the fashion press of the times was owned by various pattern-making concerns such as Butterick).

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The walking dress in action…

What ultimately became the distinct walking suit of the 1890s seems to have gotten it’s start by 1884 as a walking dress that was meant as a more practical garment. Below is some commentary from the December 1884 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

In opposition to these dazzling house toilettes are the sober, neat street costumes which are almost universally worn. The material is usually some dark shade of cloth. Heavy serge and bure, a thick worsted goods with a coarse, shaggy surface, are especially popular for walking suits. The skirt is almost plain, simply a plaiting around the bottom, but a broad band of fur encircles it about a quarter of a yard from the bottom. A full overskirt drawn up high over the hips, and a little tight fitting fur-trimmed jacket complete a costume rich in its quiet simplicity. To be worn with it is a little bonnet fashioned from the same material, with plume 3 or tips of some contrasting color and velvet strings.

One suit is of dark-brown cloth, the skirt consisting of bayadère stripes {fabric]1A fabric with bayadère stripes is a fabric with horizontal stripes in strongly contrasted colors. of a lighter hue mingled with a grayish blue traversing the ground. No trimming except the foot plaiting of plain brown. Drapery and corsage are also of plain brown. The latter opens at the side beneath the full plaits of the waist proper so as to leave the striped vest unbroken in front. Cuffs and close collar are of the striped goods, and a band of the same about two inches wide reaches down the shoulder seam from the collar to the insertion of the sleeve.

The above passage defines the walking outfit as streetwear that is plain with an emphasis on darker colors and plain woolen fabrics. Skirts are meant to be simple and untrained with a minimum of gathering. At the same time, it’s noted that that the underlying vest is somewhat more colorful and loud and that the bodice is to be arranged to show it off to the best advantage. Finally, it must be noted that the skirt could be in a contrasting material, striped in the above example. The above points are further discussed in this passage below from the same issue:

The newest winter walking suits consist of skirt, jacket basque, and vest, real or simulated, and street-coat or cloak. The walking-jacket is not at all so indispensable a part of them as formerly. The jacket-basque, with vest, is cut in such a way that it completes a dress fit for the street; and when the temperature demands additional clothing, a longer, more protective. and adjustable garment is found necessary to meet varied requirements.

This is really an improvement, but a greater one is the getting rid of looped and bunched-up drapery from heavy cloth materials. “Tailors” proper—what are known as “ladies’” tailors—would have served a really good purpose, if they had strictly adhered to the original idea, maintained a certain standard, and not endeavored to copy the follies of tulle in solid cloth.

Redfern, the great Isle of Wight tailor, has done this less than others. He gets up astonishing contrasts in colors; his “yachting ” suits, his “men of war” costumes for girls, and his cloth “gowns,” are original and striking, but they are useful and suitable; his coats are full of inside pockets, and his traveling costumes seem made for the “road” and to have a satchel, or lorgette slung across them.

The above comments on Redfern are also interesting in that we see tailors trying to incorporate elements in their work that are more in the area of dressmaking, much to Demorest’s disapproval. Below is an illustration from the April 1885 of Demorest’s that illustrates some of the ideas expressed in the above passages in regard to the utility of the walking suit/walking dress. In the right figure, the skirt is simple with a minimum of gathering and the pattern provides a nice contrast to the solid colored skirt front and bodice sides and back. The jacket/bodice is also faced in the same material as the underskirt and helps create the appearance of a long waistcoat reminiscent of early 18th Century styles.

And just to show some of the variations in jacket/bodice styles, here’s another illustration, this time from the May 1885 issue of Demorest’s:

And lest we think it was just Demorest’s that was presenting this style to the public, below is an illustration below from the October 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Below are some extant walking dresses from the 1880s, starting with this one from circa 1885:

Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.8a, b)

And below is another example from circa 1884-1885; and yes, it’s labeled as being a day dress and that’s true but it also encompasses elements of the walking dress style.

Day Dress, c. 1884-1885; Museum of London (32.26/2a)

Finally, we have this circa 1885 walking dress from Worth:

Worth, Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.771a, b)



Style Analysis- The Early 1890s

When starting out to study any fashion era, it’s easy to get lost in the details- the old phrase of not seeing the forest from the trees comes to mind here. 🙂 But this situation is easy to overcome by approaching things in a systematic manner. To help, we found the following method to be very helpful in approaching l1890s styles.  Some key elements to look for when classifying garments are:

  • Silhouette- What basic shape is the garment or dress (since that is mostly what we are dealing with)? The easiest characteristic to look for is the bustle- is there one? Maybe a vestigial one? Does it have a sharp, shelf-like appearance or is it softer?
  • Skirt- Is it straight or does it have a train? Many formal dresses has some sort of a train, usually extending out from the bottom of the dress (for example the “fan train” or “mermaid tail” commonly found with Mid-Bustle dress designs). Is there just one skirt or a combination over and underskirt?
  • Bodice- Is there just a single bodice or is it a combination of an outer bodice/jacket and an under bodice/vest? Are the sleeve caps extended or blend in with the bodice body? The leg-of-mutton sleeve is an extreme case of this and reaches its height during the 1895 – 1897 time frame (although there were always exceptions).
  • Fabrics- What is the basic fashion fabric? Wool? Silk? Cotton? Some sort of a combination? Woolens were very common for day dresses and especially those meant to be more “practical” such as with the house dress. Cashmere was (and still is) a better grade of wool and of course, silk was used for more finer dresses for wear in public or for some sort of social event. China silk, dupioni, shantung, taffeta, faille, and bengaline were some of the more popular choices for silk fabrics. Brocades and velvets were also employed although often only as contrast fabrics. There was a wide variety of yardage used and one could easily write a book on it.
  • Trims- What sort of trim is there? Knife-pleated fabric along the hemline? Netting? Embroidery? Buttons? The possibilities are almost endless.

The above is only a very cursory review but it provides a good roadmap in analyzing fashion and especially if one is designing their own dress or simply classify a dress.

In this post we’re going to apply the above scheme a bit towards understanding the development of one of the key trends of 1890s fashion- the development of the jacket-bodice/jacket and skirt style. To begin, below are some examples of extant garments from the early 1890s that should give a better idea of what to look for. We start first with wedding/day dress from 1891:

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Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

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Side View

The above was made as a wedding dress and has provenance as such but it also illustrates one of the more typical day dress styles that are characteristic of the period. This dress was obviously meant to worn in public and could have been used for visiting or as a dress to be worn at home to receive visitors; the beadwork gives it a simple elegance. Style-wise, we see that the bodice is acting as a jacket (somewhat) and some sort of shirt-waist or vest was worn underneath (the display mannequin just has some black velvet filler).

Here’s another example, a little more elaborate day dress from circa 1887-1891:

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Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

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Close-Up

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This is clearly a much more fancy dress than the first one but it does share the same over-bodice/jacket style. If you look at the top two pictures carefully, you can see that the fashion fabric is a light brown faille or taffeta. The fabric lining the inside of the collar and trimming each side of the bodice appears to be a peach-colored chiffon and it acts as a contrast to better show off the beading.

Below is another example, this time a visiting/reception dress from circa 1891:

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Visiting/Reception Dress, c. 1891, attributed to Mme. Lambele de St. Omer, No.30 E. 21st St, New York; Smith College Clothing Collection (1985.5.4ab)

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The above dress utilizes a combination of rust-colored silk faille, rust/gold brocade, and a claret-colored velvet. The brocade overskirt skirt is covered with rust-colored silk tails leading down from the bodice/jacket and underneath is a matching silk underskirt. The bodice is styled as a jacket, suggestive of a bolero with its high sleeve caps and wide lapels/revers. The sleeves are made of velvet and contrast with rust-colored silk on the rest of the jacket/bodice. The vest is also made of a rust-colored silk. Also, it must be noted that the skirt does have a small bustle made of spring steel. Besides the classic bolero style effect, we also see the overskirt being topped off with a waistband of the same brocade material giving the appearance of a sash wrapped several times around the waist, giving the effect of an obi found on a kimono. It is interesting that the brocade pattern runs at a 90 degree angle to the pattern on the skirt.

Each of the above dresses attempts to utilize color and trim in different ways. The first dress is a mono-colored and uses the leaf-patterned embroidery to provide a contrast. The second dress uses two different colors- a light brown/khaki color as the base combined with peach-colored chiffon accents covered with elaborate beadwork. Finally, with the third dress, we see the use of three different colors (rust, claret, and gold) in three different fabrics to achieve its effect. The third dress is far more ambitious and it succeeds.

In the above three pictures, we have seen three very different dresses that still share come common style elements. In particular, each dress’s bodice is styled as more of a jacket than a true bodice and it continues a trend that stared in the 1880s and would culminate with the development of “tailormade” walking suits during the mid to late 1890s. While an under-bodice or vest was usually worn underneath, a shirtwaist could also be used. Below are some early examples of the walking suit style:

Redfern, Bodice Jacket, 1892; National Gallery of Victoria- Melbourne (D187-1974)

Walking Suit, c. 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Front Close-Up

Ultimately, all the above dresses feature a jacket and skirt style but each executes it in a different manner and this trend was present throughout the 1890s. Where before dresses tended to consist of a bodice/skirt or princess line styles, they were now supplemented by the jacket/jacket-bodice and skirt style. One of the end results was a style that was extremely practical for everyday wear which reflected women’s increasing involvement in public life.



Fabric Trends- Spring 1890

Fabrics are a major part of fashion and often are the center of focus of a dress design. In terms of style, a fabric could be said to consist of three elements: 1) the fabric’s specific type and construction; 2) the fabric’s decoration (i.e. does the fabric have some sort of decorative motif or is it plain?); and 3) the fabric’s color. This is illustrated in this commentary from the April 1890 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

In the way of dress materials, the newest is a gauze with wide woven stripes in a fabric much more transparent than the ground of the material, these stripes being figured in large patterned designs in the thicker stuff. The effect thus produced is very pretty, and, when the gauze is made up over a colored satin underskirt, the toilette thus composed will be charming.

Interesting, that could be referring to Edwardian styles. 🙂 As for silks, brocades were definitely in vogue:

The newest silks are brocades, having very small sprays of flowers in their natural colors scattered over a black ground. Some of the designs are very tasteful as well as novel, and especially one representing a single stalk of the fuchsia with its pendent blossoms, and another showing one of the crimson clover. These floral designs are repeated on the foulards of the season- snowdrops or ears of wheat being represented on the black grounds, and fuchsias on cream-white or pale silver-gray.

Here are some fashion plates from Peterson’s that help illustrate this a little:

Peterson’s Magazine, March 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, May 1890

And here are some extant examples of garments that incorporate one or more style elements noted above:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.59.20)

Worth, Ballgown, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.11a, b)

 

 

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1890; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2015.688.a-b)

Sara Mayer & A. Morhanger, Day Dress, c. 1889-1892; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.270&A-1972)

 

 

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1890-1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.636a, b)

The above examples are only a small sample but they serve to underscore some of the fashion trends that were underway during the later 1880s/early 1890s.



Fashion Commentary From 1878

In considering late 19th Century fashion, skirt length is always a factor that can’t help but be a major consideration. Although the fashion idea visualized dresses with trains of varying length, practical considerations were never far away and many fashion publications spoke to this issue. One such example can can be found in the February 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

The dress for the street, or for the dusty and muddy country road, ought always to be made with a skirt that will just escape the ground. This very sensible fashion is slowly gaining favor, though most people are very loath to dispense with the more graceful, half-trained, walking-dress, which gathers up so much dirt.

The above comment speaks to a common problem that was very common. Even from just a quick glance at period photographs and fashions plates reveals that even for the more “practical” day dresses have trains and these were clearly natural dirt collectors. On a more practical level, trains restricted mobility and while this may have been less of an issue in the home, it was a big problem outdoors, as many re-creationists today have found out, much to their chagrin, on more than one occasion; some fashion problems are seemingly timeless.

For going out of the house on simple errands or other non-social activity, the following advice for dressing were made:

For the ordinary morning walk, for shopping, and all the many occasions, in which the mother, or the useful daughter of the house, is required to be out of doors, the quietest of dresses should be worn, unobtrusive in color, and plain in make. This, we say, without reference to the money the wearer may possess. Good taste calls for the sober tones, and few trimmings for this kind of dress, in the woman who spends thousands on her toilette, as in the one who goes out early in the morning to gain her daily bread, and comes home late at night. Dark grays, browns, greens, or blues are appropriate, or a black cashmere, which always looks lady-like. If it is objected that this has too much the appearance of mourning, that can be remedied by a bow of some bright ribbon, at the neck. Silk, at the early morning hour, is not suitable, unless it is a plain black silk. From the myriads of woolen goods that come now, a cheap and pretty dress can always be made.

From the above, it is obvious that good taste, even for those with money, dictated that dresses were to be simple in style with duller, darker colors such as dark grays, browns, greens, or blues with few trimmings. However, just in case this gives an appearance of looking like one was in mourning, Peterson’s offers a solution in the form of a ribbon. Finally, it is noted that most silk is inappropriate as a material for “morning” dress and that wool is the preferred material.

Peterson’s also offers some advice in regard to hats:

The hat or bonnet should have but few flowers or feathers and felt to be more appropriate than velvet; if a hat is worn it should be of some shape not too pronounced. But the middle-aged woman should be chary of wearing this style of headgear. The face, that has lost its youthful roundness and bloom, often looks hard and grey, under the severe lines of a hat. When large shade-hats were worn in summer, they had common sense on their side for usefulness; but the hat of the present day does no more than the bonnet to protect the face.

It is interesting that straw was the preferred material with a minimal use of flowers or feathers. It is also noted that as a practical article, they are mostly useless as a means of protecting oneself from the sun.

Next, we see some more general commentary on dress:

The outside wrap should correspond with the dress, in quietness. A deep plain sacque, like the dress, is the prettiest; but many persons wish to utilize an old garment, and cannot always afford to have the new wrap. In that case, take off all superfluous trimmings from the old one, and make it look as neat as possible. The colored street petticoats are more appropriate, for morning than white ones; they should be a little trimmed, but not gaudily so. The boots should always be neatly laced, or buttoned, so that the wearer need not fear a puff of wind. Plain linen collars and cuffs, always fresh looking, and carefully mended gloves, if now ones cannot be afforded, are very important. No jewelry, except a watch and chain (which latter ought not to be conspicuous), and small ear-rings. These remarks apply, in all respects, to women of all stations; the rich woman will have more latitude in the quality of her dress, not more in the quantity of ornament, or in color.

It is interesting that in the above passage, the emphasis is on presenting oneself is that one’s dress should be “quiet” and that the only difference between wealth and not-so-wealthy should be in the quality of the garments themselves. These comments seem stand in stark contrast to what we see in many pictures and fashion plates but naturally, we need to take this all with a grain of salt- we suspect that the reality was somewhere in between and that like today, some people dressed what was considered poor taste (the fact that these comments were even published is proof of that).

However, as with all “rules,” there are exceptions and so there are here when Peterson’s states:

For the woman of leisure, who passes her morning on the promenade, or in calling on her friends informally, more richness of dress is quite allowable, but not much more ornament. Silks for out-of-door wear are now used much less than the rich, woolen materials; but if the silk is considered more desirable, it can be worn for visiting. We must admit that the fashion here is for the slightly trained skirt; we wish it was otherwise, pretty as it is; and some ladies have boldly taken up the cause of the “round” skirt, and had their nicest out-of-door dresses made in this way.

The dresses for the promenade and visiting in winter should not be of light or showy colors; but they may be more dressy-looking than those worn earlier in the season, or worn for business. More trimming is allowed; but both color and trimming should be unobtrusive. Either a felt, or velvet hat or bonnet, may be worn, with feathers or flowers; the hat has greater latitude in shape also. A velvet sacque, or cloak, should never be worn with a woolen dress; a cloth one is much more stylish, as well as appropriate, for such a dress. The cloth sacque or cloak, however. may be worn over silk; a velvet wrap is, of course, appropriate for silk. Dark gloves to match the dress are very suitable; but those of a medium shade are a little more dressy.

Here we see a little more latitude in dress: it is now acceptable for one’s dress to be a bit more elaborate, utilizing more fancy fabrics such as silk and a bit more ornamentation so long as it’s “unobtrusive.” In terms of the winter season, it is recommended that light or “showy” colors be avoided but at the same time color can be “dressy-looking,” a statement that can be interpreted a number of ways. Ultimately, based on extant dresses and other documentation, we believe this to mean that richer jewel tone colors were also acceptable for winter wear when visiting or otherwise displaying oneself in public (as opposed to simply being out on business).

Peterson’s also on the side of practicality when it comes to to dress lengths and the role of the train- it is clear that they would prefer the train to be eliminated for day wear (or at least most of it). The comments on outerwear are also interesting in that a velvet sacque or cloak is not to be work over a wool dress but rather one made of “cloth” (linen or a heavy cotton?) is acceptable. Also, velvet worn over silk is always acceptable. Finally, it is noted that velvet hats are acceptable here and, of course, gloves are essential preferably in a medium color (e.g., brown or gray).

For dinners and receptions, Peterson’s makes the following recommendations:

It is only in our large cities, as a rule, that dinner parties are given late in the day, or by gaslight, which is the universal custom abroad. Even at Newport the dinner is at three or four o’clock, as a rule: this is, that people may drive afterwards. In the country, or even in the city, where the dinner is early in the day, the hostess should wear some pretty, quiet dress, brightened up by ribbons and jewelry, if she likes; but she should always endeavor to be less dressed than her guests. This is a rule for a hostess, under all circumstances.

The guests at a dinner, at this time, should never wear silks that are too light; but otherwise may make their dress as festive-looking as will be suitable by daylight. For small dinners, later in the day, the kind of dress, which we suggested, in the last number, for a lady to wear at a formal “Reception” in her own house, is quite appropriate for either hostess or guest. Even for small evening companies such a dress is suitable. Of course, the lightest shades of blue, pink, etc., are not to be worn at home, when a lady has a “Reception;” neither, as a rule, should they be worn at a small dinner at her own house, though, if she is sure that her guests will be much dressed, she may do so.

But those light colors can be worn most suitably, when the lady is a guest at a small dinner, having the dress made as we suggested for the “Reception,” in our last number. A few artificial flowers in the hair, and on the dress, can be worn; the hair may be more elaborately done up; jewelry is very appropriate; gloves are indispensable; and these are not to be removed till the seat is taken at the table.

The dress open in front is very pretty, and cooler at a hot dinner table; but if that is not liked, the dress can be high in the neck, with a pretty lace fichu over it. Shoes and stockings must be neat, and ought to match the dress. If silks are too expensive, very right shades of cashmere make beautiful dinner, or small evening party dresses, especially for young ladies; in fact, are more appropriate for them than silk ones are.

In the above, it is noted that “Dinner” was held in the late afternoon or in the evening. For the hostess of a late afternoon dinner party, the acceptable dress would be the same as a better dress worn to receive visitors in the home with perhaps a little more decoration. However, at no time was the hostess to dress more better than her guests- understated elegance was definitely the byword here. Also, it is noted that the light shades of blue, pink, green, et al. are not to be worn by the hostess (but it is perfectly acceptable for guests) and conversely, these colors are perfectly acceptable for wear at someone else’s dinner party or reception. Naturally, there is an exception is the hostess “is sure” that her guests will be wearing these colors and the event is in the evening (confused, yet? 😉 ).

Some further observations are noted in regard to dress necklines: either open neck or closed collar are acceptable and that a dress worn to a reception or dinner party need not be made out of silk, cashmere is also acceptable (and in fact, more appropriate for young ladies). Below is a circa 1878 dinner dress that incorporates many of the elements discussed above:

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Dinner Dress, Lord & Taylor, American, c. 1878 – 1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.34.2a-d)

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Side Profile

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Rear View

The above dress was made by Lord & Taylor in New York (Lord & Taylor had agents in Paris who kept the home office abreast of Parisian fashion trends) and for the most part perfectly fits the ideal of the “perfect dinner dress” that one would mostly likely wear out to other people’s functions. For the skirt, we see the use of an ivory silk satin trimmed with two rows of flounces on the lower skirt followed by a row of knife-pleating along the hem line.

The above passages provide some insight into acceptable forms of day and evening wear for the late 1870s and early 1880s and their usefulness still exists over 100 years later as recreationists strive to replicate the styles of this era. Moving up, we also see the same color silk satin used in the bodice in the front and sleeves covered by a celadon-colored silk brocade shaped in a vest-like over-bodice that flows towards the back to form a tail that descends about half-way down the back of the dress; the lines flow to create a tailcoat effect. Supplementing this is a train and front apron made from a matching celadon silk satin. The overall effect is quite imaginative and without know more about the provenance of the design, we would venture to guess that this was inspired by Worth or one of the other Parisian couture houses.

So now that we have whetted your appetite, we hope that this dress and the preceding commentary provide some ideas those who wish to recreate a slice of this era and for others, provide some aesthetic pleasure. Until the next post, we bid you, adieu!