What’s Old Is New Again- A Tea Gown From The 1890s

Today’s tea gown selection was created by Maison Worth sometime in the 1890s and presents a style that looks back more to the 18th Century Robe à la Française, a dress style that was popular during the years 1720-1780  than the 1890s:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890s; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0179 ab)

This gown is consists of an outer part constructed of a pink silk brocade with an Oriental floral motif. The inner part consists of the front and sleeves and are constructed of a gold silk brocade featuring a floral motif similar to the the outer part. Also, below the waist the fabric is covered with a lace forepart and finally, there’s a faux stomacher (stomachers were normally a separate item but here it’s integrated into the overall gown) also made of a silk brocade and is jeweled. Here’s a closer view of the gown front:

The sleeves are also trimmed with lace and the interior of the sleeves are lined with a red velvet. Also, the edges of the front are trimmed in red velvet and one can see two inset panels flanking the stomacher. Finally, to finish things off, there’s a lace jabot. Below are more pictures of the gown from various angles:

And with the rear views, we get a good look at the Wateau Back, a fairly standard feature for tea gowns during the late Nineteenth Century and the style characteristic of the Robe à la Française. From a style/design perspective, this is a very busy gown between the floral designs, lace, and pink and gold silk base fabrics. Of course, this complexity of design is to be expected from Maison Worth. As for dating this gown, while it’s difficult to make a precise guess, we think that it’s safe to say that judging from the relatively restrained sleeve caps that it probably wasn’t made in the Mid-1890s but rather more likely either early or late in the decade. Ultimately, this gown is an excellent example of how prior fashion styles inspired design and this one takes is pretty far by even including a faux stomacher. Upon initial viewing it appears to actually BE an 18th Century gown and it actually had us fooled for a moment. 🙂 We hope you’ve enjoyed this unique example of a tea gown as interpreted by the leading couture house of the time, Maison Worth. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

 

1870s Tea Gown Style…

Today’s tea gown selection dates from circa 1875-1879 and incorporates a princess line style:

Tea Gown/Day Dress, c. 1875-1879; Kent State Museum (1983.001.0138)

The front of the gown presents a contrast between a purple colored front combined with white outer sides and back. The back and side fabric has a purple floral decorative motif (printed or embroidered is hard to determine). Running along the left side of the dress are a series of purple ribbon bows that help to create the illusion that the dress is a robe draped over a purple underskirt. However, in reality, it’s all one dress as can be seen in this close-up:

As can be seen from this close-up, it’s actually all one dress constructed in the princess line style. On the right one can see a row of buttons running town the front of the dress and the purple colored front is acting as a long plastron. Interestingly enough, the buttons and the ribbons on the front and cuffs appear to be more of a blue color. And here’s the side profile, both left and right:

Left Side Profile

Right Side Profile

The profile pictures illustrate that there’s a well-defined train and as such, this garment was probably made towards the Mid-1870s and would have been worn with a bustle. Below you can see the train:

Rear View

Compared the front, the rear is fairly unexceptional and presents a fairly conventional train except for the outline of purple ruffles running along the train. Unfortunately, the museum staging is not the best and the trim line is somewhat jumbled. This is a gown that we would love to have an opportunity to examine in person; the train is strangely asymmetrical and it would be interesting to see if this was by design or simply poor staging. But is what most compelling about this gown is the front- the color is amazing and it presents a bold contrast with the rest of the gown. We hope you’ve enjoyed this gown and may it be an inspiration. 🙂

Tea Gowns & Aesthetic Dress

Aesthetic, or Artistic, dress was an outgrowth of the Aesthetic Movement and as such, was a fashion trend that arose out of reaction to the heavily structured and trim heavily trimmed fashions of the late Nineteenth Century. In contrast, the Aesthetic Dress movement focused on basing fashion on simplicity of design and quality materials.  Aesthetic Dress drew many of its ideas from the Reform/Rational Dress Movement and at their core, both movements sought to create more simple utilitarian garments that would give women freedom of movement, free from the restrictions of tight-lacing corsetry and elaborate undergarments such as bustles and the like.

Many Aesthetic Dress styles drew inspiration from the loosely flowing robes characteristic of the late Middle Ages and were based off of the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an artistic movement that sought a return to the artistic styles of the abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art . It was almost natural that the influence of the Aesthetic Dress Movement would be reflected in tea gowns such as this example from circa 1897 made by Liberty London:

Liberty of London, Tea Gown c. 1897; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The  tea  gown  consists  of  two parts, a peach/light orange silk  outer dress  trimmed in peach/red-orange colored silk with floral pattern embroidery running along the front edges and back collar. On the front, the outer dress mimics an open robe with an inner dress made of an ivory colored linen or cotton material. The outer dress is sleeveless, the inner dress providing the sleeves. Overall, this dress reads late Medieval/early Renaissance and definitely succeeds in capturing that aesthetic.     

In this view, one can see a Watteau style back running down the length of the dress. During the late Nineteenth Century, Liberty London positioned itself as the leading supplier of Aesthetic style garments and there are a a number of extant garments from the era. Stay tuned for future postings on this interesting sub-fashion genre of the late Nineteenth Century.

The Princess Line Dress In The 1890s: One Example From Maison Worth

With its clean silhouette, the princess line dress was a very popular dress style during the late 19th Century, offering a wealth of fashion possibilities in terms of fabric and trim choices. Originally developed during the late 1870s, the princess line dress greatly influenced a shift in styles away from the bustle, instead focusing on a more slender, cylindrical silhouette.  While the princess line was more common during the 1877-1882 time frame, one still sees exampled well into the 1890s as with this one that was created by Maison Worth in circa 1896:

Worth, Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.2)

The above example is a good illustration of the perfect princess line style: the waist is completely de-emphasized with a smooth canary yellow silk panel combining skirt and bodice into one unit. At the same time, the gold colored silk brocade sleeves, collar, and front inset panels present a contrast that draws the eye to the upper body. Although this dress is described as a “bridesmaid” dress, it would have been perfectly suitable as a dress for everyday wear (in contrast to today’s interpretation of the bridesmaid dress). Here’s some close-up of some dress details:

Rear view of the collar and shoulders.

Close-up of the collar.

Shoulder detail.

The above picture illustrates the front inset panels with beaded trim.

In terms of style, this dress is relatively restrained to the point of blandness and while it pushed no fashion boundaries, it does illustrate the basic characteristics of the prince line style. What’s especially interesting is that although the princess line style is attributed to Worth, there are very few extant examples of princess line dresses that can be linked to Maison Worth such as this one:

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1880; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of the princess line style. 🙂