Japonisme Redux

Throughout the ages, Western fashion has incorporated foreign influences and the late 19th Century was no exception, most notably with the advent of Japonisme. Originally coined in 1872 by Philippe Burty, a French art critic, “Japonisme”  was used a term used to encompass the idea of the popularity and influence of Japanese art and design on Western European (and later by extension, American) culture.1Philippe Burty, Renaissance Littéraire et Artistique, May 1872-February 1873

James Tissot, Young Ladies Looking at Japanese Objects, 1869

Originating as an artistic movement, interest in Japonisme stemmed from the re-opening of Japan to the world, a process that began in 1854 with the forced re-opening of trade with the West. One of the foundations of Japan’s participation in the world economy was the export of textiles, both in the form of raw fabric and finished goods designed expressly for the Western market. Along with this, there also a flood of Oriental bric-a-brac that was exported in the form of fans, kimonos, lacquers, bronzes, and of course, silks, which began to attract much interest by Westerners, especially in Great Britain and France.

During this time, Japanese designs began to attract the interest of various artists who began to incorporate them into their work. One area of special interest were woodblock prints in the Ukiyo-e Style (“Floating World”) and these designs influenced artists such as Tissot, Monet, Degas, and Whistler, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Below are some examples of these woodblock prints:

Otani Oniji II, dated 1794 Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95) Polychrome woodcut print on paper; 15 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1 x 22.9 cm) Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)

Otani Oniji II, dated 1794; Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95)
Polychrome woodcut print on paper; 15 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1 x 22.9 cm)
Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33 Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849); Published by Eijudo Polychrome ink and color on paper; 10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in. (25.7 x 37.9 cm) (Oban size) H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1831–33; Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849); H. O. Havemeyer Collection (JP1847)

Along with woodblock prints and other Japanese artwork, interest in the Japanese design aesthetic also included fabrics which incorporated motifs such as plants, flowers, insects, birds, and geometric patterns. Below are a few examples of textile designs from the 1880s:





We can see further examples depicted by various notable Western artists themselves:

Claude Monet, Camille Monet in Japanese Costume, 1876; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


James Tissot, The Japanese Bath (La Japonaise au bain,), 1864

James Tissot, The Japanese Bath (La Japonaise au bain,), 1864.

James McNeill Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine

James McNeill Whistler, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863 – 1865.

So how does this translate into fashion? Well, garments of the period began to use traditional Japanese fabrics, largely in the form of kimono fabric. In many instances, the garments themselves were made from re-worked kimonos which were largely made from silk. Below are some examples:

1870 Court Dress

Day Dress, c. 1870s; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC8938 93-28-1AB)

1870 Tea Gown

Tea Gown, American, c. 1870; Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (80.1.4)

Side profile

Side profile

Close-up of the front.

Close-up of the front.

The above pictures are interesting in that they illustrate typical Japanese design motifs that would normally be found in Kimonos. Also, interestingly enough, the two above dresses were made from re-worked Kimono fabric which suggests that new markets were being found for kimonos that normally would be worn by a small class of upper class Japanese, primarily the wives of Samurai. Below is another interesting dress that utilizes a quilted habutai silk fabric:

House Dress,, Japanese c. 1875; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC989 78-30-3AB)

Moving forward into the 1880s, Japanese design influences still remained strong as can be seen in these examples:

Day Dress/Reception Dress, c. 1880s, belonging to Marquise Nabeshima Nagako; Jingu Chokokan Museum

Side Profile

Three-Quarter Rear Profile



Close-up of the train.

What is interesting about the above dress is that this one appears to have been made for the Japanese market. In this case, the dress reflects Japan’s increasing westernization and is a mix of traditional fabric design with western dress style. Note that the line of the cuirass bodice has fringe running along the bottom, creating a visual effect of elongating the bodice’s lines, covering the hips completely.

Dressing Gown/Wrapper, c. 1885; FIDM (80.40.1)

Three-Quarter Rear View

The use of kimonos as dressing gowns and even tea gowns was popular in the West and it allowed women to be able to wear something that did not not require the use of the corset, or at least having to lace up the corset to the degree normally required when wearing a dress. As the bustle disappeared from use in the 1890s and the lines of women’s dresses became more upright, kimonos began to be incorporated into designs for evening wear and some day wear and this is especially evident during the years from 1900 – 1913. Here’s one example from 1894-1896:

1890s Dress

Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1896; Indianapolis Museum of Art (74.351A-B)

The above example is a day dress typical of the mid 1890s with the characteristic leg-o-mutton sleeves, thin waist, and open bodice designed to appear to be a coat with an exposed shirtwaist (which was often a fake one that was actually part of the bodice itself). What is interesting in terms of Japonisme is the geometric pattern of the fabric which follows a fairly standard Japanese design motif. The provenance of the fabric is unknown but it’s clear that it’s not material from a reworked kimono.

Image result for japonisme definition philippe burty

Finally, we end this series with a wonderful example of Japonisme in the form of a Visite from Paris, circa 1890:

Cape/Visite, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC5367 86-17-7)

The above illustrations and descriptions barely touch the range of Japanese influences that were found in Western fashion during the late 19th Century but even from this limited sample, it can be seen that they served to create some stunning effects that only served to enhance the aesthetics and sheer beauty of the period styles. This is an area that has been largely neglected by those striving to recreate the fashions of the period and it merits further consideration.

House Dress? Wrapper? Morning Dress?


Wrapper? House Dress? Morning Dress? When it comes to these three garments, there’s a lot of overlap and it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. One useful way to approach this is to consider the characteristics that all these garments have, or to tend to have, in common:

  • Princess Line Styling
  • Relatively Loose Fit (This can be subjective)
  • Worn At Home Either In Private Or For Social Situations

When  stripped of all their trim and lace, they become functional, stripped-down versions of day dresses characteristic of the 1880s and 90s. Also, while it envisioned that a corset wasn’t worn with these garments, that wasn’t always the case but either way, the created a less structured silhouette. The Princess line style with its lack of a defined waistline was especially useful in this endeavor.

To further illustrate, we start with this dress from circa 1879-1880:

Wrapper/House Dress, c. 1879-1880; John Bright Collection

Side Profile

Rear View

This dress has clean lines and little ornamentation except for the embroidered middle hem, cuffs, and pockets. While this dress appears to be somewhat looser than a conventional day dress, it’s clear that it was meant for wear with a corset. This dress below is more unstructured and almost could be mistaken for being a robe:

And dresses could be more structured as with this one:

House Dress, c. 1880s; University of New Hampshire Textile Library

In looking at the side profile, to a great degree it maintains the robe-like appearance although it’s much elaborately trimmed.

This one has far more ornamentation and in our opinion really is more of a day dress than a house dress per se. But, as with a lot of this, the border between something that was worn out in public versus strictly at home is blurred and it’s possible that dresses often served “double duty,” especially for those of lesser means.


In the end, probably the easiest way to distinguish between dress types is to consider the dress silhouette, style, and use of fabrics and trims. Dresses meant to be worn in the privacy of the home are more likely to be functional and not as structured as dresses that were meant to be seen in social situations in the home. Finally, we wish to note that while we don’t profess to have the definitive answer, we do hope that we’ve provided some useful tools for trying to distinguish between dress types while acknowledging that there’s bound to be inconsistencies. Stay tuned for more!

Trending For The 1890s: The Wrapper

As with many garments, the wrapper started off as a simple, practical garment that was intended for informal wear at home. However, as with all fashions, the wrapper gradually morphed into a more elaborate garment that could be quite elaborate and was clearly intended for more a more public wearing at home, at least for close friends. The popularity of wrappers can be attest to in the variety of patterns that were available on the market and they were widely advertised as with this one from the Butterick Publishing Company that appeared in the February 1895 issue of The Delineator:

And here’s just one of their patterns, No. 7437:

And for a description:

This illustrates a Ladies’ wrapper. The pattern, which is No. 7437 and costs 1s 6d or 35 cents, is in thirteen sizes from twenty-eight to fourty-six inches bust measure…

Refined women are careful to be gowned as neatly when attending to their domestic duties, as when receiving formal callers, and the wrapper here shown, being planned with especial grace and precision,
will be a general favorite for a variety of indoor uses. Figured challis showing blue tints is here combined with plain silk.

The garment receives its trim and close adjustment from the lining, which extends only a trifle below the waist-line and is carefully fitted by double bust and single under-arm darts; and the fronts and back are shaped to outline a round yoke on the fitted lining, and are turned under deeply at the top and  shirred to form a frill heading; the fullness is drawn well to the waist-line and collected in short rows of shirring, and the part of the lining exposed with round-yoke effect is faced with silk. The rolling collar is of silk and had square ends that flare prettily, and a silk rosette decorates the front the front at the waist-line at each side of the shirring.

The full sleeves are mounted on coat-shaped linings, which are revealed with round-cuff and faced with silk. A band of silk decorates the lower edge of the wrapper. The wrapper may be developed in inexpensive silk, cashmere, Henrietta1Henrietta cloth is tightly woven twill fabric, usually made completely from extremely fine wool although silk warp threads were often used., challis or any pretty washable fabric, dark and pale tints being equally effective; and decoration may be contributed by a material that contrasts harmoniously.

Whew, that’s a mouthful! From the description, it’s clear that this is not a “simple” garment and that some work is required to pull this off successfully. 🙂

However, as with all fashion, there was also some push-back in regard to wrappers. In a commentary on warm weather clothing in the July 3, 1897 issue of Harper’s Bazar, it’s noted that:

While a thin gown fits well and is clean. it is the prettiest apparel possible, but when it is soiled, or, worse still, when it is in the form of a
loose Mother Hubbard wrapper, it is slovenly in the extreme. Many women who are neat in winter seem to think that carelessness of attire in summer is permissible and conducive to coolness. They therefore, on the hottest days, cast aside collars and cuffs, ruches and ribbons, and the other dainties that make women attractive and in their own homes remove their corsets, put on thin wrappers, and look generally deplorable. Still in the hope of keeping cool, they take as little exercise as possible and perform only such work as is absolutely necessary.

As a matter of fact this kind of self-indulgence is a mistake. Heat, like every other is comfort, grows in its power over us as we allow our minds to dwell upon it. We can not totally ignore its existence, but if dressed coolly and becomingly, we go about the duties of the day, we shall actually suffer less than if we cast aside outward conventionalities and devote the energies of our bodies and souls to keeping cool.

The woman who has not the time to sit still and pant and fan suffers infinitely less with heat than does her indolent sister. This kind of thing is after all, entirely a matter of habit, and a well-fitting gown, when one is accustomed to it, will prove quite as comfortable as the loose, unbelted, and thoroughly untidy wrapper. An abundance of will-power and a goodly supply of patience are the best qualities with
which to provide one’s self at this trying period of the year.

The arguments in the above commentary reflects the Victorian precepts of the importance about maintaining appearances and looking tidy. While one can argue the about the merits of the above commentary, it is interesting that loose-fitting wrappers are singled out because they encouraged a “slovenly” appearance. This is a bit reminiscent of the criticism leveled at athleisure wear today. It’s interesting that many of the same criticisms leveled at certain styles over a hundred years ago once again turn up again, albeit in a slightly different form.

Stay tuned for on wrappers in future posts. 🙂

The Wrapper…

During the Mid-Bustle Era of the late 1870s/1880s, the princess line dress came into its own as a specific dress style. One interesting sub-variant was the informal wrapper, a garment meant to be worn around the house and usually only seen by immediate family members (or maybe close friends). The princess line design especially lent itself to the wrapper and there was endless variations in fabrics and trims. Below are two examples of the wrapper patterns that were offered by Peterson’s Magazine. First is this example from the November 1880 issue:

Here’s a description of the wrapper:

For ordinary wear we prefer the flannel, either plain twilled in one color, or striped, in two colors…this model is a loose, tight-fitting princess dress. It may be made loose by leaving out the darts in front. The back fits tight like a basque, to about six inches above the waist, there the fullness of the back is put in by six or eight rows of fine gatherings. A narrow knife-plaiting of silk, or of the material finishes the fronts, edge of pockets, cuffs and collar. The collar, cuffs and top of the pocket, are of velvet to match, or black as may be preferred. Twelve yards of flannel or seven yards of cashmere will be required. [One] half-yard of velvet. One dozen buttons.

And here’s another example from the January 1881 issue:

And here’s the commentary from Peterson’s:

We give the front and back view of a simple and comfortable everyday wrapper, to be made of flannel, cashmere, or chintz. If made of flannel it needs no lining; cashmere, or chintz will require a lining of silesia, or colored cambric. It is cut with half-fitting tight back, a little below the waist line, and then the fullness of the back breadths is put in, with two double box-plaits finished at the top, and lined with the material, as seen in illustration. The fronts are loose without darts, and a sash, or cord and tassels confine the wrapper at the waist This, however, is optional.

Many ladies prefer the garment entirely loose. A flounce of the material, gathered and put on with a heading, trims the bottom of the skirt. Our model calls for the flounce to be edged with torchon lace. Collar, cuffs and pockets of the same, edged with lace. A narrow knife-plaiting may be substituted for the lace as a finish; or if the wrapper is only intended for ordinary wear, the flounce may be simply hemmed, and plain cuffs, pockets and collar simply stitched on the edge.

And finally, there’s this example from the January 1878 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

Now let’s take a look at some extant wrappers staring with this example from circa 1879-1880:

Wrapper/House Dress, c. 1879-1880; John Bright Collection

Rear View

Side Profile

This particular dress is a fairly simple design and in many ways is reminiscent of a modern bathrobe. The wrapper is constructed of an ivory cashmere and is unadorned with any decorative elements except for the embroidered strips around the mid-hem, cuffs, and pockets. Below are close-ups of the embroidery:

Pocket and cuff detail.

Detail of embroidery pattern.

Finally, there are these two wrappers that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:

Although the auction website was short on dating details, we believe it’s safe to say that these are most likely from the 1878-1881 time frame (although we could be wrong). These wrappers are princess line and share a similar silhouette even though the decorative elements differ. Moreover, the wrapper on the right also features a long train. Below are some pictures of the left wrapper:

And here’s a close-up of the embroidered design running down the dress front:

The above wrapper has a definite emphasis on the practical although the black silk velvet collar, cuffs, pocket flaps provide nice accents along with the embroidered silk circles running down each side of the front. Also, it’s interesting in that a robe effect has been created with the inset front panel. Overall, this one is functional yet stylish. Here’s a close-up of the embroidery:

And here’s some more pictures of the right wrapper:

With its long train, this wrapper is seemingly more of a formal garment than a simple wear-around-the-house garment, a perception that’s helped along by the elaborate silk ruched panel in front. Also, the same ruching is also incorporated into the pockets. And here’s some details of the cuff. Note the layering of different colored silk fabrics with differing textures combined with pleating and lace.

In closing, we just want to mention that in the course of researching this post, we note that the terms “wrapper,” “house dress,” and “tea dress” are used interchangeably to describe the same garment and there’s quite a lot of overlap between all three garment types although functionally, each had a different purpose. Of course, to a woman of modest means, one garment could have fulfilled all functions so as with a lot of fashion history, there aren’t always absolutes. In future posts we hope to uncover more about this fascinating yet obscure aspect of late Nineteenth Century fashion.