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.

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.

Back To London…

After three days in Bath, it was time to return to London for a day prior to our departure home to LA. In contrast to our arrival in London, it was now cold and rainy (according to the locals, this was a bit unseasonable). After arriving from Bath by train, we found ourselves with a free afternoon so we decided to do a little shopping. One of the most notable places we visited was Lock and Co. Hatters, a bespoke hatmaker.

Adam

Here I am in a light rain shower…

What to get? Something to cover my head for starters so I decided to get a tweed newsboy hat (and no, I won’t be sewing in any razor blades on it a la Peaky Blinders!)

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In view of the weather, I believe that this was the best purchase I made in London… 🙂

Out And About In London- Liberty London

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It’s been a crazy whirlwind of activity since arriving in London on Sunday. Here’s a little update on some of what we’ve been up to. Today we decided to head to Liberty London to check out their fabrics. From an historical clothing perspective, Liberty has a long history dating back to 1875 when Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened a department store specializing in fabrics, ornaments, and objects d’art from the Far East at 218a Regent Street. In 1885, Liberty moved to its present location at 142-144 Regent Street and this where we paid a visit. 🙂

Arthur Lasenby Liberty

Since its early days, the product mix at Liberty has become a bit more diverse with offerings ranging from mens’ and womens’ clothing, household furnishings, and food, to fabrics and sewing supplies. Most of the fabrics we saw, with the exception of a line from Ungaro, are Liberty’s own proprietary designs and many are offered in cotton, linen, and silk versions.

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Scouting out the line of silks from Ungaro…very exquisite and very expensive… 🙂

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The selection was amazing and while we had many attractive choices, we ultimately settled on these:

Overall, it was a productive visit and it gave us many ideas for future projects. It’s an amazing store and we’ll be returning to Liberty in December for further inspiration. 🙂

Lily Absinthe Arrives In London

 

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After a 10 1/2 hour night flight from Los Angeles, we finally arrived in London at about 11:30 am , Sunday morning (well, technically it was Heathrow Airport). Then came the fun part of actually getting from the gate to the terminal proper to claim our baggage and perform all the usual immigration formalities. It seemed that the walk took forever as we trudged down seemingly endless corridors but finally we made it to immigration. The immigration officer looked at us a bit askance when we told her that we had three bags and would only be in the UK for a week but things cleared up when we explained that we were going to a formal dance in Bath and that we had one ball gown and a day dress along with the all the requisite underpinnings. 🙂

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Getting ready to leave home…I think we were a tad overloaded…

After a chaotic train ride from heathrow to Paddington Station, we finally caught a cab and were soon ensconced at the Montana Hotel, our home for the next four days. In the course of travelling, we came to the realization that we’d packed way too much clothing and our bags weighed what seemed to be a ton. Also, we discovered very quickly that there’s lots of steps that can make moving heavy bags somewhat inconvenient. Finally, we must note that we arrived at the tail end of a heat wave in London topping out at 80 degrees- air conditioning is usually absent in older buildings and it can get a bit hot and stuffy, especially given the humidity (as compared to Southern California). Getting into the hotel was also interesting when it turned out that the elevator was about the size of a shower stall…we had to bring the luggage to our room in shifts. Finally, our room was located in what would be considered a basement, there was a window so it wasn’t completely underground but it was a strange feeling, to say the least.

Well, time to get some rest and decide where we’re going to go… 🙂