In The Works- Tea Gowns, Part 1

William Blake Richmond, Mrs Luke Ionides, 1882; V&A Museum (E.1062:1, 2-2003)

In recent posts, we’ve been going on about tea gowns and aesthetic dress and you’re probably beginning to wonder what it’s all about. Tea gowns have always been a big favorite with us and we’ve always wanted to explore this area more and we now that we have some free time, we’re going to act on it! 🙂 We’re looking to take the basic tea gown design and add a flair of Aesthetic style to it- more to follow on that! In the meantime, here’s some of the gowns that are inspiring us:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1895-1900; Modemuseum, Hasselt (2013.0075)

The fabric on the above gown is very striking and appears to be a gold-colored silk print floral pattern with a blue/lavender background and trimmed with lace. The silhouette is fairly typical of a house dress style although it’s evident that this was meant more for receiving guests at home than any practical work around the house. Interestingly enough, it appears that the bodice and skirt are separate pieces rather than the usual princess line style typical of this design. While this gown contains many Aesthetic Dress design elements, it’s still more of a mainstream style. Still, we love the fabric and clean lines (although we would be employing a one-piece princess-line style).

Tea/House Dress, c. 1905-1907; The State Hermitage Museum (ЭРТ-9473)

The above gown definitely reads Edwardian, lacking the defined curves characteristic of 1880s and 1890s tea gowns and as such, is seemingly a loose draped robe (although there is no doubt that a corset was worn underneath). What is most striking to us about this garment is the incorporation of Neo-Classical and Renaissance design elements with its straight lines and geometrical trim arrangement. In much the same vein, the tea gown below also captures many Aesthetic Dress features although it’s more structured:

Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to track down any specific information on this tea gown (the downside to Pinterest) but we believe that this either a late 1880s or early 1890s style. As with many examples of this style, the gown is designed to give the effect of an outer robe being worn over an full-length under-dress (in reality, these were actually a single garment with elements artfully arranged to give the appearance of there being two pieces).  Below is a more extreme example of the open robe effect with this circa 1888 example:

Tea Gown, c. 1888;

Finally, just to bring it home, there’s this example from circa 1890:

Tea Gown, c. 1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.44.122)

Is it a tea gown? House dress? Something in between? Given the styling, we guess something that would have been worn to receive guests at home (and definitely not for going out). With this style, there’s not really any specific “Aesthetic Dress” style going on except to note that the basic silhouette is very similar with an emphasis on seeming ease of movement.

And of course, period artwork also inspires as with these two paintings by August Toulmouche:

August Toulmouche, Dolce Far niente, 1877, Private Collection

August Toulmouche, An Afternoon Idyll, 1874

So what’s going to be our specific design? Wait and see… 😉

Thinking Positive…

It’s been a busy August between renovating No. 11 in Tombstone, sorting out three households’ worth of goods (some which have been in storage for nearly four years), and working on new commissions but we’ve gotten it all under control and we’re looking forward to returning to the UK, and hopefully London, in October, assuming that the COVID situation doesn’t take a turn for the worse. Of course, on our return to London, we’re going to be hitting our usual haunts and maybe some new ones…

Some tentative stops on our fabric safari are:

  • MacCulloch & Wallis, Ltd.– This one has admittedly mixed reviews and is priced a bit on the high side but you never know until you look.
  • The Berwick Street Cloth Shop– The reviews are better here and it’s a short walk away from MacCulloch & Wallis so we might as check this one out too.
  •  The Silk Society– The name says it all…we’re always on the lookout for the unique and different and especially when it comes to silk. 🙂
  • Kleins– Looks more of a generalist establishment but it may be worth hitting just because.

I’m sure there’s a lot more out there and I realize that the pricing is on the high side but we’ve always had the philosophy that if we come across the right piece for our clients, we’re willing to pay a little more. So with that said, it’s really more about the search and if we walk away empty-handed, that’s OK too.  So here’s hoping! 🙂

An 1883-1884 Reception Dress/Ballgown Ensemble

Ensemble dresses have always been interesting to us and today we feature one that was made by a one Alice Mason1Although Alice Mason is long gone as a concern, a quick look-up of the address on GoogleMaps reveals that it was located a block east of Saville Row. It’s clear that this was concern with an upper class clientele. in London and dated c. 1883-1884 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that features both reception dress and ballgown bodices; the skirt is common for both but the bodices differ. First is the reception bodice:

Evening Dress Ensemble- Evening Bodice, c. 1883-1884; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.54.5.1a–e)

The overall fashion fabric is a light pink/champagne silk satin with the skirt trimmed with vertical lace panels on the sides and front. Both bodices are also constructed from the same silk satin and are trimmed with ivory/champagne lace (most likely it’s yellowed a bit from age). The skirt sides are trimmed with long and wide strips of the same silk satin fashion fabric, finished with a simple demi train and some bustling towards the rear skirt top. The reception bodice features three-quarter sleeves with a square neckline lined with lace; wide lace strips matching the ones on the skirt form a “V” on the front, framing a ruched upper bodice front.  And here we see the ballgown bodice:

With The Ballgown Style Bodice

As characteristic with ballgown bodices, there’s no sleeves and shoulders are minimal, trimmed with lace. The fashion fabric on the bodice front has been shaped so as to give the effect of cross-swagging that creates a large “X” on the bodice front. The neckline is “V” shaped and also trimmed with more lace. Both bodices are high-waisted so as to facilitate the bustled/trained upper skirt. Below are some side profile views with the reception bodice:

Side View- Evening Bodice

Note the side bows and peplum on the rear of the bodice.

Three Quarter Rear View- Evening Bodice

Rear View- Evening Bodice

Here’s a rear view with the ballgown bodice. Note that the ballgown bodice back lacks any peplum and just curves down ending in a sharp point. Both rear views of the skirt give a good view of the train which is free of any sort of adornment or decoration.

Rear View- Ballgown Style Bodice

Below is a close-up view of one of the sleeves on the reception bodice:

Close-Up Reception Bodice Sleeve

And finally, a close-up of the reception bodice front:

Close-Up Reception Bodice Front

And finally, the shoes that were worn with the dress:

This ensemble is a relatively simple but elegant and practical ensemble that would have been useful for a wide variety of formal events and it reveals a practical side to fashion that one doesn’t normally associate with this period. Stay tuned for more as we delve further into 1880s fashion. 🙂

Using Up Old Fabrics- This Week A Liberty Cotton Print!

Will this be a dress by Sunday? I fell in love with this at Liberty of London and carried the bolt with me on the fabric floor and bought it all. Two years later, it’s getting used! 🙂


Raspberry Stripe Cotton Batiste Fabric!

We still have a large supply of the Raspberry Stripe Cotton Batiste fabric available for immediate shipment and just in time for Summer! 🙂 Sold by the yard at $5 per yard. To order, please contact us at

We have secured an additional supply of the Raspberry Stripe Cotton Batiste fabric that so many you have been looking for! The stripe is woven (see detail where I pulled the threads) and it burns to a grey ash (see detail) stripes run parallel to the selvage. It’s 55″ wide with a soft hand and begs to be your next project…it reminds me of gowns worn in French Impressionist paintings! Sold by the yard at $5 per yard. To order, please contact us at