Something Different In 1880s Dress Style

We recently came across this very interesting circa 1880-1882 day dress in the costume collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  What’s striking about this dress is that the dress fabric is more of a composite consisting of a polka dotted mesh over an underlayer rather simply being a just a single fabric. Let’s take a look…

Day Dress, c. 1880-1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.38.8.1a, b)

In both pictures, above and below, one can see the polka dot mesh combined with rows of wide lace trim also with polka dots. The sleeves are interesting in that the design appears to be a railroaded mesh that contrasts with the main bodice.

Silhouette-wise, this dress follows an early to mid-1880s style with some training but not quite the more extreme styles that arise later in the decade. At the same time, the training is somewhat restrained and minimal as was characteristic in Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form styles.

The bodice appears to be a fairly standard polonaise style, as can be seen from both these front and rear views.

And views of the train…

Now for some closer views of the fashion fabric:

In the above picture, we have an extreme close-up view of the mesh fashion fabric with inset polka dots. It’s hard to make out what the underlayer is but we can safely assume that it’s probably some form of silk or may be even a sateen (I’ve got an inquiry in with the Met on this point). Below is a close-up of the bodice top which appears to have a black velvet collar and lapels.

Another close-up view to include the sleeves with appears to be made of a patterned black netting combined with gold-colored piping. It’s more delicate and subtle than when first viewed at a distance.

Finally, here are views, above and below, of the lace treatments with black polka dots. The detail is amazing!

From a fashion historical perspective, this is a fascinating dress although in that one doesn’t usually see a mesh effect used on fashion fabric in quite this matter for late 19th Century styles. Also, visually, the sleeves provide an interesting contrast to the rest of the dress and they seem to almost clash- at least to us. While design-wise this is interesting, we’re not so sure that this was particularly effective from an aesthetic perspective but this is subjective on our part. Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed this small excursion into an out-of-the-way fashion style.

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2 thoughts on “Something Different In 1880s Dress Style

  1. What an extraordinary piece. I have to wonder exactly how long will it take the costume team for The Gilded Age to reproduce and for which character?

    • It would be interesting to see- basically, they’d have to find a mesh that could be layered over a base-probably silk. There would be a lot of hand work involved between setting the polka dots and tacking down the mesh layer to the underlayer. Also, it would have to be taken care of very carefully- there’s a lot of chances of the mesh getting hooked on something inadvertently.

      As for a specific character, this would work best on the the young lady, Marion Brook.

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