What Is Old Is New (Again)…

In keeping with the Classical theme, below is this 1880s ballgown that’s attributed to Liberty & Co. :

Liberty & Co. (attributed), Ballgown, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.155)

Three-Quarter Frontal View

While the V&A Museum dates this dress to the 1880s, we believe that this was most likely made sometime in the Mid-1880s based on the silhouette (although, as with all garment dating, we’re only making an educated guess). Constructed of a gold silk, this ballgown has a the bustle/train silhouette characteristic of the Mid-1880s while at the same time creating a style reminiscent of the Doric Chiton of Classical Greece:

With its free-flowing, ruffled folds, the ballgown’s fashion fabric gives the appearance of effortless draping. This is a somewhat of a departure to the norm where bodices, for both ballgowns and day wear, were tightly sculpted over a corset-created shell. However, in contrast to the Doric Chiton of Classical Greece, the 1880s interpretation by Liberty is a bit more controlled as can be seen with this interior view:

Interior view of the bodice.

The bodice’s interior construction is fairly typical of 1880s bodices with boning to maintain the bodice’s shape. In short, while this ballgown gives the appearance of flowing drapery, it’s just as controlled and structured as any other ballgown of the era. But, more importantly, the style is also reflects the Aesthetic Movement (aka Aestheticism), a trend that was growing during this era. One of the products of the Aestheticism was the advent of Aesthetic Dress, a dress style based on simplicity of line and rich fabrics that rejected the predominant structured fashion of the era created by the corset and bustle. Overall, the look was meant to be liberating and provide freedom of mobility.

The Doric Chiton of Classical Greece offered a lot more freedom of movement than what most Victorians were ready for…

While Aesthetic Dress’s objectives did not reach full fruition to much later (as with such designers as Paul Poiret), this represented a start. It must be noted that Liberty and Company was one of the leading proponents of Aesthetic Dress, starting production on a line of dresses in 1884. Finally, we’d like to note that this ballgown design is interesting in that it looks back to a much earlier time while at the same time offering something fresh and thus it offers another design choice for anyone interested in replicating styles from the 1880s.