Some Evening Wear From The Late 1870s

To continue the late 1870s theme, we’ll now take a look at some late 1870s evening wear. 🙂 “Evening wear” is a somewhat generic catch-all term for dresses that were intended for wear at various formal events held in the evening, whether they be balls, dinners, or receptions. To start, we have this circa 1877 evening dress:

Evening Dress, c. 1877; Museo de Historia Mexicana

Unfortunately, not a lot is known about this dress, at least from what we could gather from the Museo de Historia Mexicana except to say that that was possibly made by Worth based on the style. In any event, it does have the distinct “Natural Form” silhouette from the late 1870s and has any characteristics of the princess line dress. Like many dresses of this era, this dress emphasizes vertical lines, aided by the use of a gold-striped ivory-colored silk taffeta. Framing the front skirt are two rows of ivory silk satin pleated trim that run somewhat asymmetrical.  Somewhat jarringly, at the top of the bodice front below the neckline is a strip of what appears to be a gold-striped white silk with thin horizontal strips of a darker shade of gold. Design-wise, it’s hard to understand its purpose. Finally, the neck is trimmed in white ruching.

Next is this circa 1877-1878 reception dress from Worth:

Worth, Ensemble-Reception Dress/Evening Bodice, c. 1877-1878; Cincinnati Art Museum (1986.1200a-c)

This is an interesting dress that we’ve posted previously, pointing out that this dress is an ensemble dress that had two bodices for daytime and evening wear. The overskirt is constructed of a dark blue silk satin while the underskirt is actually two layers consisting of a solid ivory-colored pleated inner layer constructed of silk satin and a fringed floral pattern outer later that’s swagged. Below is a closer view of the skirts:

Next, we have this circa 1877 dinner dress from Worth:

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

This is another brilliant illustration of the late 1870s silhouette. The bodice and overskirt are constructed of a gold-colored silk jacquard in a floral pattern combined with a pistachio-green front underskirt that appears to be made of silk taffeta. Below is a closer view of the silk jacquard:

Close-up of fashion fabric.

Below are views of the rear train. The train has an underlayer of the same green pistachio used in the front underskirt and it’s shown off through a series of folds. It’s an interesting design effect. Below are some more pictures that show off the train:

Rear View

Close-up of rear

The above pictures give a really dramatic view of the train, especially with the rear bow giving the illusion of being the only support for the gold jacquard train. The dresses shown above are only a small sampling of what was out there as illustrated in this fashion plate from the January 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine and for those wishing to recreate the era, there’s a wide variety of choices available. Enjoy!

From the January 1878 issue of Peterson’s Magazine.

And For A Little More Finnish Style

We found another interesting fashion from the Museovirasto in Finland, this time a circa 1880s evening dress that once belonged to a Ellen Mathilda Wilhelmina Tudeer (nee Wijkander) who was born in 1858):

Evening Dress, c. 1880s; Finnish Board of National Antiquities (KM 32035)

Based on the silhouette, this dress perhaps dates from about 1880-1882. The train is low and the bodice is long, extending over the hips. The dress appears to be constructed from a pink blush silk taffeta with two rows of knife pleating running along the skirt hem as well as more knife pleating running below the neck line and upper shoulders. The one interesting feature about this dress is the bertha running along the neckline that’s reminiscent of earlier 1860s styles; it’s not something you usually see on 1880s dresses.1During the 19th Century, a bertha was defined as being a collar made of lace or another thin fabric. It is generally flat and round, covering the low neckline of a dress, and accentuating a woman’s shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s not much more information on the dress itself but nevertheless, it’s a n interesting garment because of its blend of 1880s and 1860s fashion elements. Hopefully one day we’ll find out more about this dress.

And For A Little More Commentary…

During the 19th Century, fashion developed from into a major industry catering to a mass market and along with it, the fashion press. Thriving on a newly-emerging middle class’ desire to keep abreast of the latest fashion trends, the fashion press undertook the mission of instructing their readers on fashion etiquette. Where previously, ideas of fashion had been restricted to the wealthy upper classes, it was now becoming a mass market commodity widely available to a broad mass of people and this in turn stimulated a desire to know what the correct etiquette was for wearing cloths. The guiding philosophy behind the need for proper fashion etiquette is explained in the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Etiquette for Morning-Dress.- For a lady, dress is so important, that, even as a matter of etiquette, it must be given the first place. In other words, there is an etiquette of dress as well as of manners. Certain dresses should be worn, at certain times, and in certain ways: one is fit for the house in the morning, another for promenade, another for an evening party; and one who dresses differently, in cultivated society, is apt to be thought underbred.

We would premise that we do not encourage extravagance, when we say there should be this variety of dress; for if a lady uses one dress, she cannot be wearing out another; and one suitable dress for each occasion will not only last for one season, but for two or three, if the material Is good, and it is well made, and Is not cut, or trimmed, in too pronounced a style. For, be it remembered, a very showy dress Is one that will date itself; in other words persons will say, “She has lived In that dress for years; it was made at such and such a time.” With this preliminary observation, we proceed to speak, this month, of the etiquette for the dress a lady should wear at home, and for morning callers.

Some of the above advice even holds true for today in that a more restrained, perhaps “classic” style tends to age less than one that is based on the latest fad and as such, provides better value for the money in that it will not age as fast. One dramatic example of this phenomenon can be found with styles of the 1970s, most which have aged poorly and are generally avoided as style inspiration by designers (that’s an interesting discussion best saved for another day 🙂 ).

Turning to the passage itself, one is struck by how the “standard” is obviously one that is oriented towards the more wealthy who had the wherewithal to maintain several styles of dresses for each specific occasion and time of day. But even so, this upper class ideal still remained the standard to which the middle classes, or anyone with any pretensions of aspiring to a higher social status paid heed to. In practice, while many lacked the means to follow it to the letter, it was still something to aspire to and as such, people  made do with the means at hand.

The above passage also illustrates the downward theory of fashion, one of the basic theories of how fashions are transmitted. Essentially, the theory holds that fashion is transmitted from the upper classes, flowing downward to the lower classes. Throughout history, this process had been slow and gradual but with the industrial revolution and the advent of cheaper clothing, the process of fashion began to speed up. Of course, today this theory has been greatly modified in today’s modern world but elements of it still hold true. Next, we proceed to some more practical advice:

For the morning, at home, a dress ought to be longer than one for out-of-doors. The demi-train Is much more graceful than the short skirt; and with a ruffle, from a quarter to half a yard deep basted on the inside of the skirt, the train is kept clean; and the ruffle can be taken out, and washed, and replaced, as often as is necessary: this ruffle need only start from the side gores.

One of the prettiest fashions for morning dress is the Princess, straight down the front and almost close-fitting there, but quite so at the back, with a train that is untrimmed: the front is usually trimmed all the way from the shoulders down, and buttoned the full length. This dress can be mode of camel’s hair, cashmere, merino, or any of the hundreds of varieties of woolen goods that now come, varying in price from twenty cents up to two dollars a yard, and therefore can be brought within the means of all. Silk can be used, but it is not so soft and pretty.

For those whose occupations are no more arduous than making point laces, embroidering in crewels, or reading the last new book, light blues, or pinks, or delicate buffs, even whites, or soft grays, or fawn colors, trimmed with knots of pretty gay ribbons, are suitable. In such a case, frills of lace, zigzagged down the front, with bows or knots of ribbon, add very much to the effect. For those who are older, and require a more sober style of dress, darker shades of blue, violet, crimson, deeper grays and fawns are in keeping.

The above passage advocates both fashion and practicality at the same time in regard to trains and the use of a bayaleuse, or dust ruffle, that lined the inside of the skirt along the hem and acted to pick up the dirt and otherwise protect the skirt’s fashion fabric. These were often simply basted in and could be readily removed and laundered or replaced.

Also interesting is the advocacy of the princess line dress, a new style that was coming into vogue as this time characterized by the lack of a waist seam between the bodice and skirt. Below are some illustrations of the princess line dress:

Journal Des Demoiselles_1878_1


Day Dress, American, c. 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.528.4)


The second paragraph is also interesting in that it’s clearly aimed at someone who has servants to bulk of the household work, or at least the more arduous tasks- use lighter colors if one does not have to do any serious work since there is little chance of stains or soiling showing up against the light-colored fabric.

So, from the above, it appears that the princess line dress was definitely trending for 1878 as an ideal dress style for “morning dress,” constructed preferably of wool (although silk was acceptable. Morning dress was meant to be worn at home, preferably in the morning hours (hence the name). Below are some more style ideals:

The busy housewife should have the train of her morning dress made shorter than that of the woman of leisure. It should be without the lace, the many bows of ribbon, buttons alone being the only ornaments down the front, with ribbons at the throat and pockets only. Pretty flannels, in small plaids, or some simple-figured goods, will stand the wear of much use better than a plain material. Of course, for summer, the simplest chintz, or pique, or any white goods, may be worn, trimmed with braids, or ruffles: a belt or sash would add greatly to the summer morning dress. To protect the dress, while busy, a neat white apron should be worn; it may be full of pretty, suggestive pockets, if liked, or it may be inside of one of the towels, that ore now embroidered in rod at the ends (for which embroidery we have given patterns), and pinned on. In our next number we will give an engraving of a morning dross with one of these towel aprons.

The above provides some interesting information in regard to how the morning dress should be constructed and detailed in regard to the train. Also, it notes that a decorate apron should be used if the dress-wearer is going to be doing any sort of household chores.

And now we get to the some commentary on the appropriateness of wearing the morning dress and overall appearance:

When the breakfast cups have boon washed, the room dusted, and the flowers watered, the apron may be laid aside. Neatness, above all things, is necessary to the true lady. One woman will look perfectly thorough-bred in a shilling dress, while another may have on the most expensive toilet that Paris can produce- and yet look vulgar. No crimping pins, or curl papers are allowed after a lady learn her chamber: the hair should be simply, but becomingly adjusted; the collars and cuffs should be spotlessly fresh; the shoes and stockings neat; and above all no jewelry is to be worn in the morning; rattling bracelets and dangling chains are utterly out of place then. If the ears are pierced, only the simplest ear-rings should be worn, and the fingers should be divested of all rings, except the wedding or engagement ring, or a seal-ring. By following these hints, any lady can be prepared for either the privacy of her own home, or for early morning callers. But no matter what the material of the “breakfast dress” may be, nor how pretty made, is it allowable to be worn during the whole day; the half tight fitting dress that looks so comfortable and appropriate in the morning, looks slovenly when morning occupations are over.

In the above, projecting the proper image is critical and especially if one is going to receive morning visitors. The emphasis is definitely on dressing simply with a minimum of jewelry and at the same time making sure that everything is neat, clean, and in the right place. In short, the woman’s appearance here is also a reflection on her household, and by extension, her husband. Definitely the Victorian ideal personified. We hope you’ve enjoyed this small window into the Victorian mindset as it related to fashion and in the future we hope to be able present some more of this so stay tuned!

And Something New From Maison Pingat…

We don’t normally associate Emile Pingat with more casual designs such as tea gowns and morning dresses but that’s not always the case. Recently, we came across this interesting 1890s era example that was on an auction website:  🙂

Pingat, Tea Gown, c. 1890s; Whitaker Auctions

This dress is constructed from cream-colored wool trimmed with ivory lace at the sleeve cuffs and neck. The dress is also trimmed in a floral pattern constructed from soutache cord appliques mounted on linen running along the hem, neck, and dress front.

This dress has a silhouette that approximates the quintessential 1890s x-silhouette yet the lines are more loose and free-flowing, aided by the princess line style. This dress reads “tea gown” although it would also work for a house or morning dress; in any event, this was probably a bit too casual for going outside of the house and was intended for wear at home. As we’ve commented on other tea gowns, Pingat has taken what was meant to be a simple style and upgraded into more of a couture gown. Here’s some close-up views:

This close-up view from the rear shows the princess line seamwork although there are waist lines on the side pieces- whether these are simply stitch lines or actual seams is hard to determine from the picture but either way, the dress reads princess line. The sleeves are elbow length and have moderate poufs on the sleeve caps- based on the sleeve caps, we’d be willing to estimate that this was garment was made something in the 1893-1894 time frame but this is just an estimate on our part.1Unfortunately, like most auction website listings, the dating is very vague and in this case, it just stated that it was “1890s” which is not very helpful.

The above lace collar extends up the neck and is topped off by a row of tiny silk flowers. Also, the pictures above and below show excellent close-up views of the applique decorative design and in many respects it’s reminiscent of trapunto.

The dress was front opening and concealed by this elaborately worked placket consisting of raised appliques worked in a floral pattern designed to mimic a vine with flowers. It’s a very cleaver design solution and keeps the rest of the dress lines clean, unfettered by the need for an opening.

And here we seen Pingat’s label stamped into the petersham, something that was very common for couture houses to do. The petersham was intended as a way to control the dress and keep it firmly attached at the waist. With this tea gown, we see a design is simple and elegant, embodying the oft-quoted idea of “less is more;” it’s definitely that. With dress’s simple, clean lines acting as a canvas for the restrained decorative scheme, and it all harmonizes together nicely.