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. 🙂


The Princess Line Dress- One Unique Example

One of the most noteworthy features of Mid-Bustle Era (roughly 1876-1881), fashion was the advent of the princess line dress. Attributed to Charles Worth who supposedly created the style for Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress, the princess line style was characterized by the lack of the defined waist created by the conventional bodice/skirt combination as seen in these original photographs:

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Portrait Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878 - 1881

Now, here’s one interesting take on the style:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

It’s difficult to make out the specific fabrics from the pictures but we assume that it’s silk. The color combination of pale green, chartreuse, brown and cobalt blue is interesting; not our first choice but it’s a bit different from what is normally seen from extant examples.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Side Profile

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Rear View

One of the most interesting features of this dress is the use of a capote; that’s not something we’ve seen utilized with a dress. With its upright mandarin collar and capote, it’s more suggestive of outerwear, along the lines of a redingote. Below are some more pictures:

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Upper Front with capote.

As can be seen from this close-up of the capote, it’s been artfully cut in layers so that there is no interruption to the pattern of the fashion fabric.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Back view with capote.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-up of the front.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Dress unbuttoned to show interior detail.

The interior detail shown here is interesting in that it employs the same fashion fabric underneath that’s also the outside on the cuffs, train and back.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

Close-Up of the front.

As can be seen here, what we think is “brown” fabric is actually close brown stripes.

Princess Line Day Dress c. 1878

View of the train.

The train is characteristic of Mid-Bustle Era style, lot and fanning out. Not as extreme as some examples with the “mermaid tail” but the pleating does create a pleasing profile. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the dresse’s provenance or the construction details; all we can do is speculate from the available pictures. In terms of dating, it’s probably safe to say that it falls in the 1878 – 1881 period (although the picture that we obtained indicates 1878). We suspect that these pictures were part of some sort of auction listing although we were unable to find out anything specific. But, in spite of the lack of information, it’s still an interesting example of a style that had a fairly short lifespan. Hopefully, we’ll find out more in the future. 🙂


The Panier Polonaise- Part 1

The Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form Era was a time of fashion transition and that saw the development of several new styles. As mentioned in several previous posts, this new look often consisted of polonaise and basque bodices combined with narrow skirts and low demi-trains. However, styles were not always “new,” often they were revivals of earlier styles, somewhat modified. Today we look at one of these styles, an 18th Century style revival called the “Panier Polonaise,”1“Pannier” is the proper spelling currently in use but we will stick with the earlier “panier” spelling to avoid confusion. as described in the February 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

According to Peterson’s, it was “the latest and prettiest thing of the kind that is out in Paris” and a pattern of it was offered as a supplement in the February 1880 issue.2It would be interesting to locate the actual pattern. Peterson’s goes on to describe the pattern further:

The large notches [on the pattern pieces] show where the plaits [pleats] are arranged to make the panier, on the seams, where the front joins the side back. The notch, in the back seam of the skirt of the back, shows where he looping, or rather bunching, is placed at the back. It all goes in a bunch, from the notch, down to the end of the seam. The looping may be placed higher up if preferred.

The skirt, worn with this polonaise, has five double box-plaits, extending from the waist in front; and there are two straight breadths, forming the back, each edged with two narrow, knife plaited ruffles. The back of the polonaise falls over this. These straight breadths are better made to hang loose from the waist, being sewed into the side-seams, where the box-plaited front ends. A cambric foundation is used to arrange the box-plaits upon and for the back part of the under petticoat.

By the letters, it will be seen where the several pieces of the polonaise join each other. In the sleeve, it will be seen, the under-part is very narrow, and the slope different at the hand; but upon putting it together, it will be found all right, and is a very nice-fitting sleeve. Trim the edge of the polonaise with a narrow knife-plaiting.

Look familiar? Well…here’s a version the Panier Polonaise style in the February 1880 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:


To be continued…


Something Cool From The Late ’80s

When the weather warms up, fabric choices shift towards lighter fabrics such as cotton and linen. Here’s just one example of a late 1880s summer dress:

Day Dress, c. 1885-1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.X.54.4.1a, b)

This is a interesting dress both for the simplicity of the silhouette as well as fabric selection. While the Met Museum website indicates that this dress is from the late 1880s, it could have just as easily have been been made earlier in the decade- the basque style bodice completely covers the hips, something not usually seen with late 1880s dresses because of the extensive trains and bustling. At the same time, the skirt is not cut as narrow as earlier Mid-Bustle/Natural Forms.  However, we also believe that the staging might be affecting our judgement- note that the skirt hem isn’t even and that it dips towards the rear. It’s conceivable that some sort of bustle or padding was employed that would have lifted the rear skirt a bit. Of course, this is a bit of conjecture on our part… 🙂

The pictures seen above and below give some good views of the hem and silhouette and give credence to the idea that there some sort of padding out of the rear would have been employed but given the bodice, it would would have been fairly minimal, at least compared to the extended “shelf” bustles normally associated with late 1880s styles. However, one other interesting clue can be seen with the sleeves in that the upper sleeves have some ease and one can see some fullness in the sleeve heads. Perhaps, this belongs towards the 1889-1890 time frame when full bustles were disappearing and the upper sleeve was becoming fuller. It’s an interesting question and in the end we’re going to lean towards 1889-1890 thereabouts.

Turning from the silhouette, the fashion fabrics are a natural white or ivory colored cotton composing most of the skirt and a cotton eyelet featured on the bodice body and lower sleeves. The bodice is interesting in that the cotton eyelet sets the bodice off nicely, especially when combined with the plain natural white/ivory cotton on the upper sleeves. With the open front, the bodice gives the impression of a lace bed jacket or similar (although it’s obvious that there’s an underlayer in the front).

The skirt front has three rows of the cotton eyelet, the row at the bottom serving as a hem and all of these are wide. The rear is plain and unadorned except for the hem. Here’s some close-ups of the cotton eyelet fabric:

The eyelet pattern is amazing when viewed up close and it’s very busy; when viewed from a distance, it almost reads as appliques.

This dress has been a fascinating exercise in dating and while we do not profess to be the “final word,” we believe that date wise, that can be attributed to the 1889-1890 time frame. But just compelling is the extensive use of cotton eyelet, something more characteristic of Edwardian Era lingerie dresses, and as such this dress definitely reads “summer.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into late 19th Century summer dresses and we’ll definitely be looking for more examples.



And For Original Inspiration…

Details! I love the hand-drawn fringe, the pretty pleated watch pocket, and a complete set of her original buttons. It’s so lucky that there’s no silk shattering, so when I’m done today, back to her tissue-stuffed box she goes! 🙂