The early 1870s were characterized by bustles, square necklines, sleeves that flare at the wrist, the appearance of aprons, and flounces, frills, and ruffles. This ca. 1872 silk day dress designed by Mon. Vignon is the perfect example of a fashionable early 1870s garment.

About the Look

This ca. 1872 silk day dress designed by Mon. Vignon (Fig. 1) features two colors: muted light green and muted salmon. The square neckline is finished with a cream ruffle. This dress alludes to the idea the a jacket is being worn over it, but the jacket is actually a jacket-style bodice. The bodice hosts a bow followed by three buttons down the middle. The buttons are decorated with little stars or flowers stitched in the middle (Fig. 2). The sleeves slightly flare before they reach the wrists, and each sleeve is adorned with two ruffles and a bow (Fig. 3). One overskirt is asymmetrically draped over another, creating the appearance of an apron, which again is finished with a ruffle. And there is another bow at the waist at the back of the dress. The dress is supported with a bustle, and the back of the dress from the waist down has approximately nineteen layers of ruffles (Fig. 4).

Label, Day dress

Fig. 1 - Mon. Vignon (French). Label, Day dress, ca. 1872. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 40.45a, b. Gift of Louis G. Smith, 1940. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Detail, Day dress

Fig. 2 - Mon. Vignon (French). Detail, Day dress, ca. 1872. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 40.45a, b. Gift of Louis G. Smith, 1940. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Side view, Day dress

Fig. 3 - Mon. Vignon (French). Side view, Day dress, ca. 1872. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 40.45a, b. Gift of Louis G. Smith, 1940. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rear view, Day dress

Fig. 4 - Mon. Vignon (French). Rear view, Day dress, ca. 1872. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 40.45a, b. Gift of Louis G. Smith, 1940. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mon. Vignon (French). Day dress, ca. 1872. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 40.45a, b. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

About the context

By 1870, the bustle moved the fullness of the skirt to the rear, as can be seen in this day dress by Mon. Vignon and the Victoria fashion plate from March 1870 (Fig. 5). Square necklines, jacket-style bodices, numerous ruffles, and asymmetry were common, and the Vignon dress as well as the British afternoon dress from the 1870s (Fig. 6) hit all four of these marks. And the adorned sleeves of the British afternoon dress, with their ruffles, bows, and flares at the wrists mirror the sleeves of the main garment. In the early 1870s, more is in fact more, and the more decorations and adornments the better. The look of an apron by draping an overskirt (not a real apron, of course) was also very common, as seen in the main garment and expressed in The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion (July 1872):

“Upper skirts, forming tablier and bouffant, are still very much worn; sometimes they are cut separate, at others they are like our full-sized pattern, and looped up at the sides.” (1)

Victoria

Fig. 5 - Artist unknown. Victoria, 1870. Fashion plate; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Wikimedia

Afternoon dress

Fig. 6 - Designer unknown (British). Afternoon dress, late 1870s. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.2a–c. Gift of Mary Pierrepont Beckwith, 1969. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The main garment’s colors, a muted light green and a muted salmon, while rarely seen in other surviving garments, were common enough to be mentioned in Peterson’s Magazine (April 1872):

“The new spring colors are most delicate and lovely, too delicate sometimes for very pale persons, or for middle-aged ladies; but in those cases they should be combined with some other decided contrasting, but harmonizing color; light-green, the old sky-blue, salmon, with a good deal of pink, straw color, the most delicate lilac, are all seen in both cheap and expensive goods.” (306)

A similar muted green color is featured in the day dress in figure 7. And similar muted salmon colors can be seen in a Le Moniteur de la mode fashion plate (Fig. 8) and another day dress (Fig. 9). These two colors were particularly relevant in the spring of 1872.

The ca. 1872 silk day dress designed by Mon. Vignon was very fashionable for the time. It featured numerous elements that were popular in the early 1870s. The early 1870s were distinguished by elements such as bustles, ruffles, square necklines, jacket-style bodices, sleeves that flare at the wrist, asymmetry, and the look of aprons. The muted light green and muted salmon of the main garment were also typical of the early 1870s. All of these elements can be seen on the main garment, the quintessence of early 1870s fashion.

Day dress

Fig. 7 - Designer unknown. Day dress, ca. 1870. Private Collection. Source: Pinterest

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 8 - Artist unknown. Le Moniteur de la mode, 1874. Hand-colored engraving; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Pinterest

Day dress

Fig. 9 - Designer unknown (European). Day dress, 1870-74. Wool and cotton; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.38.23.245a–c. Gift of Lee Simonson, 1938. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Its Afterlife

While the garment is not currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was exhibited in from December 1975 through June 1978 at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The exhibit was titled “1876: A Centennial Exhibition.”

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