During the late Nineteenth Century, the combing or dressing jacket was a fashion staple for at-home wear. These jackets were intended as an alternative to performing personal grooming wearing only one’s underwear. Originally these were relatively simple, unadorned garments but over time they became increasingly elaborate with lace and ribbon trimming.
The September 1881 issue of Peterson’s Magazine provides some detail in an article discussing the essentials of a proper lady’s toilette, stating:
Now we come to combing-jackets. Under this term, people often include, not only the loose garment, which one throws over one’s shoulders, while one is doing one’s hair, but the warm, becoming Jacket, required by an invalid sitting up in bed. It is best to distinguish between the two, and to call the latter a camisole. The combing-jacket should always be of some washing material. A three-quarters-length loose-fitting jacket, with long, open sleeves, is the best kind to have. White muslins and percales in summer, and white flannels and serges in winter, are the most suitable materials ; but ordinary prints, if the pattern be pretty, will answer every purpose of home wear. If meant for invalid wear, they should be made as coquettishly as possible—of pale-blue cashmere, with jabots of cream -colored lace falling down the front.
So, how might the combing jacket look like? One illustration is with the “Ilona Morning Jacket” pattern that was featured in the June 1892 issue of the Demorest’s Family Magazine:
The ad copy is especially interesting:
This simple model is suitable for a combing-jacket or for a house-jacket to be worn with different skirts. For the first purpose it is best made in washable goods, although smooth-finished flannel can be used ; and for a house-jacket, any of the light-weight woolens and silks can be used India or foulard silk, either plain, striped, or figured, being preferable. Embroidery or lace can be used for trimming. The back pieces and side forms are cut short, forming a dull point in the middle of the back, and a gathered skirt piece is added. The fronts are loose and full, and held in to the figure by a sash-ribbon proceeding from the back
Basically, this pattern could be used to make a garment intended for use purely as a more intimate dressing garment or something more general for wear around the house. From a marketing perspective, a multi-use garment definitely made more sense.
Below are some extant examples starting with this on from circa 1885-90:
Dressing Jacket, c. 1885-1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.121)
Constructed of an ivory colored silk, the most striking feature of this jacket is the use of pin tucks long the front combined with lace trim and ribbons. This has definitely transcended the purely practical. Below is a rear view:
And here’s another example that takes the concept further:
Dressing Jacket, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.69)
This jacket from circa 1885 combines a wool paisley outer shell with a ruched celedon blue silk trimmed with ivory lace. The pockets are especially fascinating with ruched silk insets and the jacket’s lines are reminiscent of Eighteenth Century styles.
The combing jacket could also be made of cotton and linens as with this one from the 1880s:
Dressing Jacket, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.56.10.10)
Finally, we leave you with this interesting example from circa 1895:
Dressing Jacket, c. 14895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.370)
This jacket is made from a combination of salmon-colored silk moire combined in alternating stripes with a silk embroidered floral pattern fabric. Ivory lace on the front and collar offset the neck and face from the busy pattern and the gigot sleeves date this to the mid-1890s. The lines of this jacket give more the appearance of an over-sized waist. It’s hard to tell if there’s a front opening but we’re pretty sure there is given that there otherwise wouldn’t have been any way to put on this garment. Here’s a view of the back:
This has been an all-too-brief introduction into a fascinating topic and we intend on seeing what more we can discover. Because of the nature of the garment, it’s not one that’s been recreated a lot but perhaps that will change in the future. 🙂