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:
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:
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.