House Dress? Wrapper? Morning Dress?


Wrapper? House Dress? Morning Dress? When it comes to these three garments, there’s a lot of overlap and it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. One useful way to approach this is to consider the characteristics that all these garments have, or to tend to have, in common:

  • Princess Line Styling
  • Relatively Loose Fit (This can be subjective)
  • Worn At Home Either In Private Or For Social Situations

When  stripped of all their trim and lace, they become functional, stripped-down versions of day dresses characteristic of the 1880s and 90s. Also, while it envisioned that a corset wasn’t worn with these garments, that wasn’t always the case but either way, the created a less structured silhouette. The Princess line style with its lack of a defined waistline was especially useful in this endeavor.

To further illustrate, we start with this dress from circa 1879-1880:

Wrapper/House Dress, c. 1879-1880; John Bright Collection

Side Profile

Rear View

This dress has clean lines and little ornamentation except for the embroidered middle hem, cuffs, and pockets. While this dress appears to be somewhat looser than a conventional day dress, it’s clear that it was meant for wear with a corset. This dress below is more unstructured and almost could be mistaken for being a robe:

And dresses could be more structured as with this one:

House Dress, c. 1880s; University of New Hampshire Textile Library

In looking at the side profile, to a great degree it maintains the robe-like appearance although it’s much elaborately trimmed.

This one has far more ornamentation and in our opinion really is more of a day dress than a house dress per se. But, as with a lot of this, the border between something that was worn out in public versus strictly at home is blurred and it’s possible that dresses often served “double duty,” especially for those of lesser means.


In the end, probably the easiest way to distinguish between dress types is to consider the dress silhouette, style, and use of fabrics and trims. Dresses meant to be worn in the privacy of the home are more likely to be functional and not as structured as dresses that were meant to be seen in social situations in the home. Finally, we wish to note that while we don’t profess to have the definitive answer, we do hope that we’ve provided some useful tools for trying to distinguish between dress types while acknowledging that there’s bound to be inconsistencies. Stay tuned for more!

Leave a Reply