And For Some 1880s Fall Color…

Plum has always been one of our favorite colors and even more so as we move into Fall. Recently, we came across this wonderful circa 1883-1889 day dress in the collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design and we just couldn’t resist sharing it with the rest of you: 🙂

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Day Dress, c. 1883 – 1889; Goldstein Museum of Design (1963.007.002a-b)

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter frontal view.

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Rear View

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Three-quarter rear view.

Style-wise, this is a classic 1880s day dress with three-quarter sleeves and distinct over/underskirts. There doesn’t appear to be much of  a bustle effect (but this is probably due to the museum’s staging). What’s striking about this dress is its use of a solid dark plum color underskirt combined with a silk brocade overskirt and bodice. Also, the trim on the bodice is fairly minimal while we see extensive ruching and layers of pleating for the underskirt. Here’s a close-up of the silk brocade fashion fabric on the bodice back; the pattern is suggestive of chinoiserie:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of bodice back.

And here’s part of the underskirt with its extensive ruching:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of overskirt.

Here’s a close-up of the bodice front which utilizes a jacketed/under-vest effect with facing lapels. It’s interesting but attempt but it strikes us as a bit disorganized- it’s attempting to meld typical design elements of the period but in a clumsy manner. Also, the fringe appears to be an afterthought and does little to add to the overall design effect. C’est la vie….

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of front bodice.

On the other hand, the middle back is neatly done and the train appears tidy in comparison with the bodice front:

Day Dress c. 1883 - 1889

Close-up of rear.

Plum and its shades and tints have always been favorites with us and are always a source of inspiration for many of our designs. When combined with utilizing fabrics with varying degrees of luster, patterns, and textures, the results are phenomenal and offer a high degree of individuality. Let it inspire you as it’s inspired us. 🙂

Correct Dress- The View From The 1870s & 80s…

This post did not set out to delve into social commentary but in the course of researching fashions of the late 1870s and early 1880s, we came across some interesting statements made in the fashion press of the time in regard to the proper etiquette for wearing specific dresses. While this in itself is no surprise, what did strike us is the degree to which the concept of dress and fashion were intertwined with wealth and class and especially here in America.

While in many ways America was free of the rigid social structures of nobility vs middle class vs the lower classes, in reality it had its own social structures that acted in much the same manner only with money substituting for birth being the determining factor. Along with this was the idea of social mobility and opportunity- anyone could rise to a higher social standing by making money and America had plenty of opportunities to do so.

In terms of fashion, in order to properly maintain one’s social station, it was essential to have the appropriate dress and especially when it came to women. The ideal portrayed in the popular fashion press of multiple outfits for each of the day’s activities was only attainable to those who had the means. However, at the same time, with industrialization and mass production, clothes were becoming increasingly less expensive and this in turn made this ideal achievable for more women. So, in the end, it could be argued that the popular fashion press took the idea of exclusivity and opened to the masses (at least the masses of a rising middle class).

That said, we now turn to the question of why there’s so many badly dressed women in spite of an abundance of moderately-priced good clothing…

“Why are there so many badly dressed women?”

The eternal question that has been asked as long as fashion has existed and asked countless times throughout history. The 19th Century was no exception and today, we take a look at one attempted to answer this question from the January 1879 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine (page 43):

The question is often asked, why there are so many badly dressed women when the choice is so great in the selection of materials, and greater skill in the industrial arts constantly makes fabrics more beautiful. The answer to this question is to be found in the enormous choice, and this very variety which confuses inexperienced persons much more than it assists them in making a selection.

Taste, also, has improved with the development of true art in design, and the woman is now tested by far more rigid rules, so far as clothing is concerned than formerly. There was a time when ordinary dress was so simple, and so little diversified, that no more thought was required in regard to it, than to decide on the suitable material and color for the purpose for which it was required. But now colors have been multiplied and these again broken up into an infinite number of ones and shades; instead of the few standard fabrics, we count them by the hundreds, half at least being only an imitation of the original by whose name it is called.

Instead of the straight skirt, and plain tight body, we have complete designs in never-ending supply clearly outlining the form, and depending on little details of style and finish, and minute differences of cut for the wide distinction between elegance and crudity, if not vulgarity.

A knowledge of all this minutia presupposes time, and means sufficient to make oneself acquainted with the changes as they occur in every department of dress and fashion, and this, to the majority is not possible. The actual work of life absorbs all the strength, and most of the hours not spent in sleep, with the larger number, and their clothing becomes not a matter of selection, or the gratification of cultivated taste, but a concession to the law of necessity which compels the substitution of something new for the old, when the latter is worn out. What it shall be depends upon what is thrust upon the attention at the moment the new clothing is needed, modified by the length of the purse, and the concessions which have to be made to the existing state of the wardrobe.

The most of the clothing of women is bought piecemeal, and this is why it so often happens that one part of it seems to bear no relation to the other. It is for this reason, also, that it is of great importance to ladies of restricted incomes that they should adopt a few principles or permanent ideas, in regard to the material of their dresses at least, and stick to them. The dark colors, which have become fashionable of late years, and the long complete designs are a great small amount of material for which it can be advantage to all who do not wish to bestow much thought upon their dress. Given these two central ideas for a starting point, and the dress must be unobtrusive, and almost as certainly neat, and ladylike looking. Moreover, the difference of a few inches in the length of a skirt makes a difference between a plain walking, and more stylish indoor dress. Black, or wine-colored cashmere is not superlative fashion, but the wearer cannot help looking like a lady particularly if it is plainly cut, and allowed to fall with natural, and therefore artistic grace.

The peculiarity about the fashions of to-day is, that they may be made either very costly, or very economically. The fine soft woolen fabrics are no less desirable than the richest silk and satin. In fact, they are much more in demand by those who wish to realize pure art conceptions; the best dressing is not that which costs the most, but that which is most effective, and best suited to for the age, means and requirements of the wearer.

The above basically attributes poor dressing to several reasons:

    • Too much variety in styles, materials and trims.
    • Women do not have the time and resources in order to learn all the necessary details, especially with all the demands of everyday life.
    • Because of lack of knowledge, fashion choices are due to on-the-spot snap decisions dictated by immediate need rather than any sort of planning.

These are all valid points and are still valid today- not a day passes that one doesn’t see this sort of commentary in popular fashions blogs and magazines. At root, the problem is one of too many choices and not enough knowledge to determine what the right choices should be. The solution? Demorest’s suggests that women should “adopt a few principles or permanent ideas, in regard to the material of their dresses at least, and stick to them.” Sound advice, to be sure, and especially when grounded in the idea that “dress must be unobtrusive, and almost as certainly neat, and ladylike looking.” As with Peterson’s fashion etiquette, the ideal was that one should select their dresses consistently on the basis of creating a modest, tidy appearance.

Demorest’s then goes on to state that:

The difference, in fact, between good and bad dressing is less a difference of individual taste than of fitness. The poor parade their one flimsy, showy best on all occasions. The rich can afford to dress suitably, and reserve their displayed toilets for occasions when they are demanded, and may be properly worn. All that ingenuity can invent money now can buy, and we are no longer restricted to one fashionable style, color, or fabric. It is difficult to make inexperienced persons believe that the deep Spanish lace collars, for example, have not superseded the plated [pleated] ruffle, and the narrow rim of linen at the throat. It takes some time to learn that all neat, unobtrusive styles are retained for street wear, while whatever can lend a charm, or add to the picturesque effect, is pressed into the service of those who can afford to make themselves beautiful at home.

The above reflects the zeitgeist or spirit of the time in that dress is intertwined with class and wealth. In order to be properly dressed for society, one needs to be equipped with several dresses that will properly match the occasion for which they are being worn. More fancy dresses be reserved for proper occasions than indiscriminately worn all the time. As part of this, it is noted that the rich can afford a variety of dresses/outfits for various occasions and thus, they can maintain a more modest appearance for everyday purposes yet have the ability to dress fancy as the occasion demands.

Perhaps, we are reading way too much into this but when considered along with what was previously noted in the past two posts (Here and Here) in regard to Peterson’s notes of dress etiquette, one definitely can see that being properly dressed reflected one’s social position and wealth and as such, wealth provided the foundation for social position. While this may seem to be a concept that is more in keeping European class attitudes, it really is not because in America, the only measure of class status was wealth rather than a varying combination of noble birth and wealth.

OK, we have strayed a bit afield here and we completely admit it. 🙂 To get back on track, let us consider the issue of the over-abundance of fashion choices- it’s a situation that confronted Victorians and it’s one that confronts us today. 🙂  In both instances, the solution is relatively the same- plan your outfits around a few basic principles and use that to shape your purchases. Rich or poor, this is a plan that was, and still is, easy to follow. What’s interesting is that the problem then and now is pretty much the same although it could be argued that perhaps the scale is a bit less with today’s emphasis on more casual fashions. We hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion through Victorian fashion philosophy and we hope to unearth more information in the future. 🙂

And For A Little More Commentary…

During the 19th Century, fashion developed from into a major industry catering to a mass market and along with it, the fashion press. Thriving on a newly-emerging middle class’ desire to keep abreast of the latest fashion trends, the fashion press undertook the mission of instructing their readers on fashion etiquette. Where previously, ideas of fashion had been restricted to the wealthy upper classes, it was now becoming a mass market commodity widely available to a broad mass of people and this in turn stimulated a desire to know what the correct etiquette was for wearing cloths. The guiding philosophy behind the need for proper fashion etiquette is explained in the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Etiquette for Morning-Dress.- For a lady, dress is so important, that, even as a matter of etiquette, it must be given the first place. In other words, there is an etiquette of dress as well as of manners. Certain dresses should be worn, at certain times, and in certain ways: one is fit for the house in the morning, another for promenade, another for an evening party; and one who dresses differently, in cultivated society, is apt to be thought underbred.

We would premise that we do not encourage extravagance, when we say there should be this variety of dress; for if a lady uses one dress, she cannot be wearing out another; and one suitable dress for each occasion will not only last for one season, but for two or three, if the material Is good, and it is well made, and Is not cut, or trimmed, in too pronounced a style. For, be it remembered, a very showy dress Is one that will date itself; in other words persons will say, “She has lived In that dress for years; it was made at such and such a time.” With this preliminary observation, we proceed to speak, this month, of the etiquette for the dress a lady should wear at home, and for morning callers.

Some of the above advice even holds true for today in that a more restrained, perhaps “classic” style tends to age less than one that is based on the latest fad and as such, provides better value for the money in that it will not age as fast. One dramatic example of this phenomenon can be found with styles of the 1970s, most which have aged poorly and are generally avoided as style inspiration by designers (that’s an interesting discussion best saved for another day 🙂 ).

Turning to the passage itself, one is struck by how the “standard” is obviously one that is oriented towards the more wealthy who had the wherewithal to maintain several styles of dresses for each specific occasion and time of day. But even so, this upper class ideal still remained the standard to which the middle classes, or anyone with any pretensions of aspiring to a higher social status paid heed to. In practice, while many lacked the means to follow it to the letter, it was still something to aspire to and as such, people  made do with the means at hand.

The above passage also illustrates the downward theory of fashion, one of the basic theories of how fashions are transmitted. Essentially, the theory holds that fashion is transmitted from the upper classes, flowing downward to the lower classes. Throughout history, this process had been slow and gradual but with the industrial revolution and the advent of cheaper clothing, the process of fashion began to speed up. Of course, today this theory has been greatly modified in today’s modern world but elements of it still hold true. Next, we proceed to some more practical advice:

For the morning, at home, a dress ought to be longer than one for out-of-doors. The demi-train Is much more graceful than the short skirt; and with a ruffle, from a quarter to half a yard deep basted on the inside of the skirt, the train is kept clean; and the ruffle can be taken out, and washed, and replaced, as often as is necessary: this ruffle need only start from the side gores.

One of the prettiest fashions for morning dress is the Princess, straight down the front and almost close-fitting there, but quite so at the back, with a train that is untrimmed: the front is usually trimmed all the way from the shoulders down, and buttoned the full length. This dress can be mode of camel’s hair, cashmere, merino, or any of the hundreds of varieties of woolen goods that now come, varying in price from twenty cents up to two dollars a yard, and therefore can be brought within the means of all. Silk can be used, but it is not so soft and pretty.

For those whose occupations are no more arduous than making point laces, embroidering in crewels, or reading the last new book, light blues, or pinks, or delicate buffs, even whites, or soft grays, or fawn colors, trimmed with knots of pretty gay ribbons, are suitable. In such a case, frills of lace, zigzagged down the front, with bows or knots of ribbon, add very much to the effect. For those who are older, and require a more sober style of dress, darker shades of blue, violet, crimson, deeper grays and fawns are in keeping.

The above passage advocates both fashion and practicality at the same time in regard to trains and the use of a bayaleuse, or dust ruffle, that lined the inside of the skirt along the hem and acted to pick up the dirt and otherwise protect the skirt’s fashion fabric. These were often simply basted in and could be readily removed and laundered or replaced.

Also interesting is the advocacy of the princess line dress, a new style that was coming into vogue as this time characterized by the lack of a waist seam between the bodice and skirt. Below are some illustrations of the princess line dress:

Journal Des Demoiselles_1878_1


Day Dress, American, c. 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.528.4)


The second paragraph is also interesting in that it’s clearly aimed at someone who has servants to bulk of the household work, or at least the more arduous tasks- use lighter colors if one does not have to do any serious work since there is little chance of stains or soiling showing up against the light-colored fabric.

So, from the above, it appears that the princess line dress was definitely trending for 1878 as an ideal dress style for “morning dress,” constructed preferably of wool (although silk was acceptable. Morning dress was meant to be worn at home, preferably in the morning hours (hence the name). Below are some more style ideals:

The busy housewife should have the train of her morning dress made shorter than that of the woman of leisure. It should be without the lace, the many bows of ribbon, buttons alone being the only ornaments down the front, with ribbons at the throat and pockets only. Pretty flannels, in small plaids, or some simple-figured goods, will stand the wear of much use better than a plain material. Of course, for summer, the simplest chintz, or pique, or any white goods, may be worn, trimmed with braids, or ruffles: a belt or sash would add greatly to the summer morning dress. To protect the dress, while busy, a neat white apron should be worn; it may be full of pretty, suggestive pockets, if liked, or it may be inside of one of the towels, that ore now embroidered in rod at the ends (for which embroidery we have given patterns), and pinned on. In our next number we will give an engraving of a morning dross with one of these towel aprons.

The above provides some interesting information in regard to how the morning dress should be constructed and detailed in regard to the train. Also, it notes that a decorate apron should be used if the dress-wearer is going to be doing any sort of household chores.

And now we get to the some commentary on the appropriateness of wearing the morning dress and overall appearance:

When the breakfast cups have boon washed, the room dusted, and the flowers watered, the apron may be laid aside. Neatness, above all things, is necessary to the true lady. One woman will look perfectly thorough-bred in a shilling dress, while another may have on the most expensive toilet that Paris can produce- and yet look vulgar. No crimping pins, or curl papers are allowed after a lady learn her chamber: the hair should be simply, but becomingly adjusted; the collars and cuffs should be spotlessly fresh; the shoes and stockings neat; and above all no jewelry is to be worn in the morning; rattling bracelets and dangling chains are utterly out of place then. If the ears are pierced, only the simplest ear-rings should be worn, and the fingers should be divested of all rings, except the wedding or engagement ring, or a seal-ring. By following these hints, any lady can be prepared for either the privacy of her own home, or for early morning callers. But no matter what the material of the “breakfast dress” may be, nor how pretty made, is it allowable to be worn during the whole day; the half tight fitting dress that looks so comfortable and appropriate in the morning, looks slovenly when morning occupations are over.

In the above, projecting the proper image is critical and especially if one is going to receive morning visitors. The emphasis is definitely on dressing simply with a minimum of jewelry and at the same time making sure that everything is neat, clean, and in the right place. In short, the woman’s appearance here is also a reflection on her household, and by extension, her husband. Definitely the Victorian ideal personified. We hope you’ve enjoyed this small window into the Victorian mindset as it related to fashion and in the future we hope to be able present some more of this so stay tuned!

Fashion Commentary From 1878

In considering late 19th Century fashion, skirt length is always a factor that can’t help but be a major consideration. Although the fashion idea visualized dresses with trains of varying length, practical considerations were never far away and many fashion publications spoke to this issue. One such example can can be found in the February 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

The dress for the street, or for the dusty and muddy country road, ought always to be made with a skirt that will just escape the ground. This very sensible fashion is slowly gaining favor, though most people are very loath to dispense with the more graceful, half-trained, walking-dress, which gathers up so much dirt.

The above comment speaks to a common problem that was very common. Even from just a quick glance at period photographs and fashions plates reveals that even for the more “practical” day dresses have trains and these were clearly natural dirt collectors. On a more practical level, trains restricted mobility and while this may have been less of an issue in the home, it was a big problem outdoors, as many re-creationists today have found out, much to their chagrin, on more than one occasion; some fashion problems are seemingly timeless.

For going out of the house on simple errands or other non-social activity, the following advice for dressing were made:

For the ordinary morning walk, for shopping, and all the many occasions, in which the mother, or the useful daughter of the house, is required to be out of doors, the quietest of dresses should be worn, unobtrusive in color, and plain in make. This, we say, without reference to the money the wearer may possess. Good taste calls for the sober tones, and few trimmings for this kind of dress, in the woman who spends thousands on her toilette, as in the one who goes out early in the morning to gain her daily bread, and comes home late at night. Dark grays, browns, greens, or blues are appropriate, or a black cashmere, which always looks lady-like. If it is objected that this has too much the appearance of mourning, that can be remedied by a bow of some bright ribbon, at the neck. Silk, at the early morning hour, is not suitable, unless it is a plain black silk. From the myriads of woolen goods that come now, a cheap and pretty dress can always be made.

From the above, it is obvious that good taste, even for those with money, dictated that dresses were to be simple in style with duller, darker colors such as dark grays, browns, greens, or blues with few trimmings. However, just in case this gives an appearance of looking like one was in mourning, Peterson’s offers a solution in the form of a ribbon. Finally, it is noted that most silk is inappropriate as a material for “morning” dress and that wool is the preferred material.

Peterson’s also offers some advice in regard to hats:

The hat or bonnet should have but few flowers or feathers and felt to be more appropriate than velvet; if a hat is worn it should be of some shape not too pronounced. But the middle-aged woman should be chary of wearing this style of headgear. The face, that has lost its youthful roundness and bloom, often looks hard and grey, under the severe lines of a hat. When large shade-hats were worn in summer, they had common sense on their side for usefulness; but the hat of the present day does no more than the bonnet to protect the face.

It is interesting that straw was the preferred material with a minimal use of flowers or feathers. It is also noted that as a practical article, they are mostly useless as a means of protecting oneself from the sun.

Next, we see some more general commentary on dress:

The outside wrap should correspond with the dress, in quietness. A deep plain sacque, like the dress, is the prettiest; but many persons wish to utilize an old garment, and cannot always afford to have the new wrap. In that case, take off all superfluous trimmings from the old one, and make it look as neat as possible. The colored street petticoats are more appropriate, for morning than white ones; they should be a little trimmed, but not gaudily so. The boots should always be neatly laced, or buttoned, so that the wearer need not fear a puff of wind. Plain linen collars and cuffs, always fresh looking, and carefully mended gloves, if now ones cannot be afforded, are very important. No jewelry, except a watch and chain (which latter ought not to be conspicuous), and small ear-rings. These remarks apply, in all respects, to women of all stations; the rich woman will have more latitude in the quality of her dress, not more in the quantity of ornament, or in color.

It is interesting that in the above passage, the emphasis is on presenting oneself is that one’s dress should be “quiet” and that the only difference between wealth and not-so-wealthy should be in the quality of the garments themselves. These comments seem stand in stark contrast to what we see in many pictures and fashion plates but naturally, we need to take this all with a grain of salt- we suspect that the reality was somewhere in between and that like today, some people dressed what was considered poor taste (the fact that these comments were even published is proof of that).

However, as with all “rules,” there are exceptions and so there are here when Peterson’s states:

For the woman of leisure, who passes her morning on the promenade, or in calling on her friends informally, more richness of dress is quite allowable, but not much more ornament. Silks for out-of-door wear are now used much less than the rich, woolen materials; but if the silk is considered more desirable, it can be worn for visiting. We must admit that the fashion here is for the slightly trained skirt; we wish it was otherwise, pretty as it is; and some ladies have boldly taken up the cause of the “round” skirt, and had their nicest out-of-door dresses made in this way.

The dresses for the promenade and visiting in winter should not be of light or showy colors; but they may be more dressy-looking than those worn earlier in the season, or worn for business. More trimming is allowed; but both color and trimming should be unobtrusive. Either a felt, or velvet hat or bonnet, may be worn, with feathers or flowers; the hat has greater latitude in shape also. A velvet sacque, or cloak, should never be worn with a woolen dress; a cloth one is much more stylish, as well as appropriate, for such a dress. The cloth sacque or cloak, however. may be worn over silk; a velvet wrap is, of course, appropriate for silk. Dark gloves to match the dress are very suitable; but those of a medium shade are a little more dressy.

Here we see a little more latitude in dress: it is now acceptable for one’s dress to be a bit more elaborate, utilizing more fancy fabrics such as silk and a bit more ornamentation so long as it’s “unobtrusive.” In terms of the winter season, it is recommended that light or “showy” colors be avoided but at the same time color can be “dressy-looking,” a statement that can be interpreted a number of ways. Ultimately, based on extant dresses and other documentation, we believe this to mean that richer jewel tone colors were also acceptable for winter wear when visiting or otherwise displaying oneself in public (as opposed to simply being out on business).

Peterson’s also on the side of practicality when it comes to to dress lengths and the role of the train- it is clear that they would prefer the train to be eliminated for day wear (or at least most of it). The comments on outerwear are also interesting in that a velvet sacque or cloak is not to be work over a wool dress but rather one made of “cloth” (linen or a heavy cotton?) is acceptable. Also, velvet worn over silk is always acceptable. Finally, it is noted that velvet hats are acceptable here and, of course, gloves are essential preferably in a medium color (e.g., brown or gray).

For dinners and receptions, Peterson’s makes the following recommendations:

It is only in our large cities, as a rule, that dinner parties are given late in the day, or by gaslight, which is the universal custom abroad. Even at Newport the dinner is at three or four o’clock, as a rule: this is, that people may drive afterwards. In the country, or even in the city, where the dinner is early in the day, the hostess should wear some pretty, quiet dress, brightened up by ribbons and jewelry, if she likes; but she should always endeavor to be less dressed than her guests. This is a rule for a hostess, under all circumstances.

The guests at a dinner, at this time, should never wear silks that are too light; but otherwise may make their dress as festive-looking as will be suitable by daylight. For small dinners, later in the day, the kind of dress, which we suggested, in the last number, for a lady to wear at a formal “Reception” in her own house, is quite appropriate for either hostess or guest. Even for small evening companies such a dress is suitable. Of course, the lightest shades of blue, pink, etc., are not to be worn at home, when a lady has a “Reception;” neither, as a rule, should they be worn at a small dinner at her own house, though, if she is sure that her guests will be much dressed, she may do so.

But those light colors can be worn most suitably, when the lady is a guest at a small dinner, having the dress made as we suggested for the “Reception,” in our last number. A few artificial flowers in the hair, and on the dress, can be worn; the hair may be more elaborately done up; jewelry is very appropriate; gloves are indispensable; and these are not to be removed till the seat is taken at the table.

The dress open in front is very pretty, and cooler at a hot dinner table; but if that is not liked, the dress can be high in the neck, with a pretty lace fichu over it. Shoes and stockings must be neat, and ought to match the dress. If silks are too expensive, very right shades of cashmere make beautiful dinner, or small evening party dresses, especially for young ladies; in fact, are more appropriate for them than silk ones are.

In the above, it is noted that “Dinner” was held in the late afternoon or in the evening. For the hostess of a late afternoon dinner party, the acceptable dress would be the same as a better dress worn to receive visitors in the home with perhaps a little more decoration. However, at no time was the hostess to dress more better than her guests- understated elegance was definitely the byword here. Also, it is noted that the light shades of blue, pink, green, et al. are not to be worn by the hostess (but it is perfectly acceptable for guests) and conversely, these colors are perfectly acceptable for wear at someone else’s dinner party or reception. Naturally, there is an exception is the hostess “is sure” that her guests will be wearing these colors and the event is in the evening (confused, yet? 😉 ).

Some further observations are noted in regard to dress necklines: either open neck or closed collar are acceptable and that a dress worn to a reception or dinner party need not be made out of silk, cashmere is also acceptable (and in fact, more appropriate for young ladies). Below is a circa 1878 dinner dress that incorporates many of the elements discussed above:


Dinner Dress, Lord & Taylor, American, c. 1878 – 1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.34.2a-d)


Side Profile


Rear View

The above dress was made by Lord & Taylor in New York (Lord & Taylor had agents in Paris who kept the home office abreast of Parisian fashion trends) and for the most part perfectly fits the ideal of the “perfect dinner dress” that one would mostly likely wear out to other people’s functions. For the skirt, we see the use of an ivory silk satin trimmed with two rows of flounces on the lower skirt followed by a row of knife-pleating along the hem line.

The above passages provide some insight into acceptable forms of day and evening wear for the late 1870s and early 1880s and their usefulness still exists over 100 years later as recreationists strive to replicate the styles of this era. Moving up, we also see the same color silk satin used in the bodice in the front and sleeves covered by a celadon-colored silk brocade shaped in a vest-like over-bodice that flows towards the back to form a tail that descends about half-way down the back of the dress; the lines flow to create a tailcoat effect. Supplementing this is a train and front apron made from a matching celadon silk satin. The overall effect is quite imaginative and without know more about the provenance of the design, we would venture to guess that this was inspired by Worth or one of the other Parisian couture houses.

So now that we have whetted your appetite, we hope that this dress and the preceding commentary provide some ideas those who wish to recreate a slice of this era and for others, provide some aesthetic pleasure. Until the next post, we bid you, adieu!

Taking A Step Back To 1878…

And for a change of pace, we step back a few decades to circa 1878 with this wonderful Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form day dress that’s identified as a wedding dress1This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble”, Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.:

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Below is a nice close-up showing details of the fashion fabric and some of the details.

Side Profile

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorate effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late 19th Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the 19th Century but only by the very rich.2For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions. 🙂