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:
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.