Mid 1880s Evening Dress Style

The topic of evening dresses during the late 19th Century has always been an interesting one to us in that style-wise, it covers a lot of ground. Some evening dress styles seem to be more like ball gowns while others lean more towards reception dresses or formal afternoon dresses. It also doesn’t help that period sources are often inconsistent (as well as modern museum classification). We have found that probably the most convenient way to separate the evening dress from the ball gown is to consider the presence of sleeves or lack thereof. Ball gowns tend to have either no sleeves or minimal ones consisting mostly of some sort of net, gauze, or organza.  Also, ball gowns tend to have lower necklines while this seems to be less of a thing with evening dresses. Finally, ball gowns tended to have lower neck lines on the back bodice.

Recently we came across an exquisite circa 1885 evening dress on the Augusta Auction website.

Evening Dress, c. 1885; August Auctions

The fashion fabric consists of a Prussian blue colored silk Ottoman fabric combined with a floral patterned gold on blue silk jacquard; the blue appears to be a shade different than the solid Ottoman. Silhouette-wise, it’s firmly in the mid-1880s and has a train, suggestive of a more formal dress.

The bodice is primarily made from the solid Ottoman fabric with a yolk made from the jacquard and all combined with a Medici collar trimmed in ivory (probably yellowed with age). The sleeves are three-quarter and trimmed with lace similar to the collar. This bodice is definitely reminiscent of Renaissance Era styles.

As with many dresses of the era, it’s got an overskirt that essentially is a train, combined with an apron that wraps around the waist area, below the bodice. Also, the jacquard underskirt has inset panels in the Ottoman. The side profile picture below gives an excellent view of this:

And with this rear view, one can definitely see that there’s a high back…

Below are close-ups of the upper front and back bodice:

And here are two views of the jacquard fabric:

And here’s a close-up of part of the bodice that gives a better view of the Prussian Blue fashion fabric as well as the corded trim. Note the horizontal weave pattern characteristic of an Ottoman fabric:

This is a really exquisite example of 1880s evening dress style and especially with the use of an Ottoman fabric- the Prussian blue Ottoman fabric provides a rich background for the floral pattern jacquard fabric which attracts the eye, leading it upwards to the wearer’s face (helped along with the yoke made from the same fabric). Overall, an exquisite example and perhaps a good style for recreating some day.  😄

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