This green silk afternoon dress is made fashionable for a woman in 1868 by its vibrant green color, its high neck and bustled skirt silhouette, and its embellishments of bows, trim, and tasseled fringe.  

About the Look

This 1868 afternoon dress was made in an eye-catching green silk.  As was common for the late 1860s, the dress has a flat-front crinoline headed into a bustled silhouette.  The bustle creates more volume at the back of the dress with draping and folding of fabric, completed with a small train (Figs. 1-2).  The top of the dress has a high neckline with a mandarin-style collar, and nine buttons down the center front of the bodice.  The bodice is fitted to the waist and is edged with tasseled trim where it ends below the waist.  Sleeves are attached to a slightly dropped shoulder, executing a softer shoulder line into the armholes and sleeves.  The sleeves are widened at the elbow where they fall at the waist, creating a strong contrast against the small waist of the bodice.  The bottom of the sleeves have a cuff detail attached by five buttons, and attached below the cuff are small pleats (Fig. 3).  A tasseled trim (Fig. 4) is seen prominently throughout the dress.  The trim is cream colored along with cream knots holding the green tassels together.  The trim runs along the bottom of the bodice, in a curved shape on the front of the dress, around the skirt of the dress, and along the draped fabric on the back of the bustle.  Above the tassels and trim there is a small ruffle in the green silk fabric.  On the top of the dress, there is a square of the cream trim also paired with the green ruffle.  In addition to the trim, there is a cream-colored ribbon around the hem of the dress and on the folded fabric details on the front and back of the bottom of the skirt.  The dress is finished off with bows made of the green silk fabric (Fig. 5) placed strategically on the side and back of the skirt.

Rear view, Afternoon dress

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown. Rear view, Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Side view, Afternoon dress

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown. Side view, Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sleeve detail, afternoon dress

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown. Sleeve detail, afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Trim detail, Afternoon dress

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown. Trim detail, Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bow detail, Afternoon dress

Fig. 5 - Designer unknown. Bow detail, Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art,  C.I.53.72.1a–c.  Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953.  Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

About the context

I

n 1868, a prominent and popular dress color for spring was green.  Jane Weaver in Peterson’s Magazine writes:

“The new spring colors in silks are the Matternich green, and the Nora green; the former being a rich, full shade of green, with a little more yellow in it than the arsenic green, so popular and so becoming; and the Nora green is a very light shade.  Then, there is the beautiful Mermaid green, so lovely and so indescribable.” (320)

This featured dress is a Matternich green, which was very fashionable for the time.  A very similar dress is seen in figure 6, alike not just in its color but also in silhouette and design.  Both dresses have a high neckline with buttons down the center front.  The bodices are fitted to the waist and have a top yoke lined with ruffles and/ or trim.  They have the slightly dropped shoulder and widened sleeves, with pleats at the cuff of the sleeves.  On the skirt, the dresses have trim and ruffles in various rounded shapes on the flat-front crinoline skirt, completed with a bustle that was becoming very stylish in the late 1860s.

Another similar dress is depicted in Claude Monet’s Portrait of Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert (Fig. 7).  The dress also has the high neckline, slightly dropped shoulder, and buttons down center front.  Even though in the portrait Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert is holding a scarf over the back portion of the skirt, there is a slight bustle shape that is clear by the excess fabric coming out towards the back of the skirt.  The skirt has a flat-front crinoline, with more gathering and draping of fabric at the back, similar to the flat-front and back draping of the featured dress.  In addition, Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert’s dress has decorative bows along the front skirt of the dress.  Details of bows were also seen sporadically on the skirt of the featured dress.

Dress

Fig. 6 - Designer unknown. Dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.44.92.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William H. Johns, 1944. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert

Fig. 7 - Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Portrait of Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert, 1868. Oil on canvas; 217 x 139 cm (85.43 x 54.72 in). Paris: Musée d'Orsay, RF 1951 20. Source: Musée d'Orsay

Miss Torrance, Montreal, QC

Fig. 8 - William Notman (Scottish-Canadian, 1826-1891). Miss Torrance, Montreal, QC, 1868. Photograph- Silver salts on paper mounted on paper; 8.5 x 5.6 cm. Montreal: McCord Museum, I-34415.1. Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.. Source: Musee McCord

Journal des Desmoiselles

Fig. 9 - A. Lacouricte. Journal des Desmoiselles, vol. 7, no. 9 (December 1868). Source: The Met Digital Collections

S

imilar to both the featured dress and the dress in Portrait of Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert, is the dress in Miss Torrance, Montreal, QC, photographed by William Notman (Fig. 8).  The dress as well has a flat-front crinoline, and more volume in the back of the dress, creating a slight bustled silhouette.  The dress has shorter draped pieces of fabric at the back, like the featured dress, creating a more dynamic and interesting back bustle shape.  It also has a slightly dropped shoulder, which was fashionable at the time because it created a softer shoulder line where the bodice transitioned into the sleeves.

In addition to the color and silhouette, the featured dress was also made fashionable by its trimmings.  A Peterson’s Magazine article titled “Chitchat for Fashions in May” states:

“Some persons prefer plain materials, for those the same goods can be trimmed with a contrasting color, if desired. They can be worn with ribbons, edged with fringe; or they can be trimmed with any color desired.” (475)

The featured dress matches this fashionable description, as it it trimmed with a contrasting cream colored trim, and is edged with green tasseled fringe on the bodice and skirt.  The skirt is also trimmed with a cream colored ribbon on the hem and some of the skirts folded details.  Similar fabric folding is seen on the skirt of the green dress in the Journal des Desmoiselles fashion plate in figure 9.  The dress also has similar sleeves to the featured dress, as they are widest where they fall at the waist to contrast the fitted waist of the bodice.  In the fashion plate, the green dress, as well as the pink dress, have the fashionable flat-front crinoline and bustled skirt.  The pink dress also has ruffled trim on the bodice and skirt, similar to the ruffles on the featured dress.

A La Sylphide fashion plate in figure 10 also shows a fashionable dress for 1868.  The left dress is in a Matternich green matching the color of the featured dress.  The dress is in the fashionable silhouette of a high neck with buttons down center front, and a back bustle shape.  The dress also has many trimmings like the featured dress.  It has ruffled trim on the hem of the skirt in the same green color, comparable to the matching green ruffles on the bodice and skirt of the featured dress.  Below the ruffles on the fashion plate’s dress are pleats, and pleats are also seen on the cuffs of the featured dress.  The dress is finished off with a large bow at the side in the same green color, not unlike the green bows seen around the skirt of the featured dress.  At the time, fashion journals were sent out to inform women on current trends.  Seeing such similar dresses in fashion plates throughout 1868 makes this featured dress very fashionable for the year.

La Sylphide

Fig. 10 - Hélöise Leloir (French, 1820-1873). La Sylphide, vol. 29, no 23 (April 1868). Source: Pinterest

Exhibition view, Afternoon dress

Fig. 11 - Designer unknown. Exhibition view, Afternoon dress, 1868. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Its Afterlife

This dress has been featured in three exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 20th century.  The first exhibition was called “Costumes – 18th and 19th Century,” and was shown from March 1955–August 1955.  A little over 20 years later, it was shown in “Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove from the Costume Institute,” which ran from December 15, 1977–September 3, 1978.  The dress was last shown in “Waist Not,”  which ran from from March 30, 1994–August 21, 1994.  Fig. 6 shows the exhibition view of the dress, paired with 19th century gloves and hat.

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