n 1876, the popular silhouette was straight in the front with volume distributed to the back. A typical dress of this year would be comprised of a long cuirass, which is a tight-fitting bodice often reaching down to the hips and upper thighs, over a skirt. The polonaise princess dress was also one of the most significant styles of the year. This refers to a dress with a very long overskirt with ample fabric in the back, often draped in interesting ways to show a bit of the underskirt beneath (“Chitchat on Fashions for March” 293). This year was devoted to making the female figure appear slender and, as described in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine:
“Dresses are made more and more scant in front. Present beau ideal of fashion is for the figure to present a perfectly straight line all the way down in front while the skirt describes a well-supported train at the back… Cuirass bodices are made longer, waists elongated – the figure is not compressed but the outlines are clearly defined.” (294)
Day and evening dresses had roughly the same silhouette, but are differentiated from one another through their materials and the amount of trimmings used. 1876 was a year that greatly favored trims and it was considered stylish to lavishly embellish a dress with these added details, the most popular of which were écru lace, fringe, braids, and flowers of every variety (“Fashions for January” 90). Flowers were heavily used in spring and summer garments, as seen in figure 1, and some magazines even considered them to be “the most fashionable, as they are also the most beautiful of trimmings” (“Chitchat on Fashions for March” 294).
Écru was not only used in lace, but it was a highly favored shade of fabric as well, as seen in figure 3. Along with black, it was certainly one of the most popular colors of the year. Other fashionable shades included pale gray and cream white, and red was often used for trims (“Fashions for September” 226). Figure 3 showcases écru, black, and red fabrics as well as braid detailing.
One of the most significant trends of the year was combining different colors and fabrics together within a single dress, as noted in Harper’s Bazar:
“There are daily discovered such varied and ingenious combinations of two materials, one plain and the other figured… Not only will they compose most of the toilettes this winter, but all the orders given for the spring and for next summer in fabrics of all kinds – silk, wool, and cotton – are for combinations of two different but well-matched materials employed for one and the same toilette.” (10)
Stripes and gingham in light shades were very popular in the spring and summer (“Fashions for April” 307). One combination that is seen very often is a blue and white dress that includes both stripes and solid panels of these colors. Variations on this particular outfit have been depicted in many fashion plates (Fig. 4) and paintings, including James Tissot’s Holyday (Fig. 5), Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Fig. 6), and an untitled portrait by Pierre-Paul-Léon Glaize (Fig. 7).
In Portrait de Mademoiselle X, Marquise Anforti (Fig. 8), Carolus-Duran depicts his subject as the epitome of a wealthy, fashionable woman. She wears an incredibly opulent evening gown, comprised of gray silk satin and heavily adorned with floral embroidery and a large strip of fringe along the hem. The plain cuirass bodice hugs her form and swaths of fabric balloon out behind her. The clinging, low-cut nature of this dress along with the trimmings, voluminous back, and gauze over the shoulders all transform the subject into an embodiment of style, wealth, and femininity. We can see an almost-identical garment in another of Carolus-Duran’s portraits, Mademoiselle de Lancey (Fig. 9), and a similar outfit is described in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine’s “Chitchat on Fashions for December”:
“Embroidery on dresses is the present fancy of rich women in Europe…The tablier breadth is usually covered with needle work, and there are many yards of wrought bands for borders and as beadings of flounces. One very beautiful imported dress is of pale gray satin, has a tablier front, embroidered with silk and chenille to represent water lilies.” (578)
Such opulence was commonplace in the evening wear of 1876 and it was considered stylish to use heavy brocades, oftentimes combined with other rich fabrics (“Fashions for April” 307). This trend can be observed in figures 10, 11, and 12. The attitude towards this style is illustrated best by Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine:
“But alas! While the cry is for simplicity in material, costliness and extravagance seem the order of the day. Heavy fabrics are very much more fashionable, rich fabrics falling in straight folds.” (577)
- “Chitchat on Fashions for December.” Godey’s Lady Book and Magazine, no. XCII (December 1876): 577–78. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015034639941;view=1up;seq=562.
- “Chitchat on Fashions for March.” Godey’s Lady Book and Magazine XCII (June 1876): 293–94. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015014112935;view=1up;seq=293.
- “Fashions for April.” The Peterson Magazine XVI (April 1876): 307. https://books.google.com/books?id=qpfNAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA307#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Fashions for January.” The Peterson Magazine XVI (January 1876): 90. https://books.google.com/books?id=qpfNAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA90#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Fashions for September.” The Peterson Magazine XVI (September 1876): 226. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076520061;view=1up;seq=710.
- “Paris Fashions.” Harper’s Bazar IX, no. 1 (January 1, 1876): 10. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth;cc=hearth;idno=4732809_1446_002;node=4732809_1446_002:2.16;size=l;frm=frameset;seq=10.
- February 15 – Boston dressmaker Olivia Flynt patents and advertises a corsetless breast supporter designed for women with large busts. It is known as the first bust supporter produced in the United States.
- March 7th – Alexander Graham Bell is granted a United States patent for the telephone.
- June 4th – The Transcontintental Express arrives in San Francisco (from New York City) via the First Transcontental Railroad.
- June 22nd – Madeleine Vionnet, French fashion designer, is born.
- June 25th/26th – The most significant event of the Great Sioux War of 1876, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, occurs. This gruesome battle resulted in the defeat of US forces and a great victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes.
- July 1st/2nd – Serbia and Montenegro declare war on the Ottoman Empire.
Resources for Fashion History Research
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