OVERVIEW

Womenswear

I

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).

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 1 - Jules David (French, 1808–1892). Le Moniteur de la mode, January 4, 1876. Hand-painted etching; dimensions unknown. Düsseldorf: Universität Düsseldorf. Source: Universität Düsseldorf

Écru evening dress

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown. Écru evening dress, 1876. Silk, lace; dimensions unknown. Bath: Fashion Museum of Bath. Source: Twitter

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown (French). Le Moniteur de la mode, March 2, 1876. Hand-painted etching; dimensions unknown. Düsseldorf: Universität Düsseldorf. Source: Universität Düsseldorf

Journal des demoiselles

Fig. 4 - Paul Lucinriere (French). Journal des demoiselles, June 1876. Hand-painted etching; dimensions unknown. Source: Pinterest

Holyday

Fig. 5 - James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). Holyday, 1876. Oil on canvas; 76.2 x 99.4 cm (30 x 39.13 in). London: Tate Britain, N04413. Purchased 1928. Source: Tate

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

Fig. 6 - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919). Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Oil on canvas; 131 x 135 cm (51.57 x 53.15 in). Paris: Musée d'Orsay, Gustave Caillebotte bequest, 1894. RF 2739. Source: Musée d'Orsay

Untitled

Fig. 7 - Pierre-Paul-Léon Glaize (French, 1842-1931). Untitled, 1876. Oil on canvas; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Pinterest

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)

Portrait de Mademoiselle X, Marquise Anforti

Fig. 8 - Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus Duran (French, 1837-1917). Portrait de Mademoiselle X, Marquise Anforti, 1876. Oil on canvas; 206 x 127.5 cm (81.1 x 50.2 in). Cambrai: Musée Cambrai. Source: Musée d'Orsay

Mademoiselle de Lancey

Fig. 9 - Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus Duran (French, 1837-1913). Mademoiselle de Lancey, 1876. Oil on canvas; 157 x 211 cm (61.81 x 83.07 in). Paris: Petit Palais, PPP581. Bequest of Alice Tahl known as de Lancey, 1913. Source: Petit Palais

Mrs. J. Wotherspoon, Montreal, QC, 1876

Fig. 10 - William Notman (Scottish-Canadian, 1826-1891). Mrs. J. Wotherspoon, Montreal, QC, 1876, 1876. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper, albumen process; 17.8 x 12.7 cm (7 x 5 in). Montreal: McCord Museum, II-23995.1. Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.. Source: McCord Museum

Dinner Dress

Fig. 11 - Designer unknown (American). Dinner Dress, 1876. Silk; dimensions unknown. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.227.3. Gift of Theodore Fischer Ells, 1975. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 12 - E. Thirien (French). Le Moniteur de la mode, January 3, 1876. Etching; dimensions unknown. Düsseldorf: Universität Düsseldorf. Source: Universität Düsseldorf

Menswear

[To come…]

S. Kinnear, Montreal, QC, 1876

Fig. 1 - William Notman (Scottish-Canadian, 1826-1891). S. Kinnear, Montreal, QC, 1876, 1876. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper, albumen process; 17.8 x 12.7 cm (7 x 5 in). Montreal: McCord Museum, II-24235.1. Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.. Source: McCord Museum

Gentlemen's Magazine of Fashion

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Gentlemen's Magazine of Fashion, October 1876. Hand-painted etching; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leaving the Conservatory (La Sortie du conservatoire)

Fig. 3 - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919). Leaving the Conservatory (La Sortie du conservatoire), 1876. Oil on canvas; 187.5 x 117.5 cm (73.8125 x 46.25 in). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation, BF862. Source: Barnes Foundation Collection

Gentlemen's Magazine of Fashion

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown. Gentlemen's Magazine of Fashion, May 1876. Hand-painted etching; dimensions unknown. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. E.978-1946. Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

CHILDREN’S WEAR

Princess Victoria of Wales

Fig. 1 - William & Daniel Downey (British). Princess Victoria of Wales, February 1876. Albumen print; 13.3 x 9.3 cm (5.24 x 3.66 in). London: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 2903037. Source: Royal Collection Trust

Portrait of Jeanne Durand-Ruel (Portrait de Mlle. J.)

Fig. 2 - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919). Portrait of Jeanne Durand-Ruel (Portrait de Mlle. J.), 1876. Oil on canvas; 114 x 74 cm (44.875 x 29.125 in). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation, BF950. Source: Barnes Foundation Collection

Prince Ernest Louis, and Princesses Irene, Alix, and Marie of Hesse

Fig. 3 - Carl Backofen (German, 1853-1909). Prince Ernest Louis, and Princesses Irene, Alix, and Marie of Hesse, May 1876. Albumen print; 14.2 x 10 cm (5.59 x 3.94 in). London: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 2903049. Source: Royal Collection Trust

Striped girl's dress

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (British). Striped girl's dress, 1876. Silk; dimension's unknown. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980.408.1. Purchase, Gifts from Various Donors, 1980. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

References:

Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1876
Rulers:

Imperial Europe (1871-1914) Source: Omniatlas

Events:
  • 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.

Primary/Period Sources

Resources for Fashion History Research

To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
Have a primary source to suggest?  Or a newly digitized periodical/book to announce?  Contact us!

NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
Womenswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Menswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Etiquette Books (Digitized)

Secondary Sources

Also see the 19th-century overview page for more research sources... or browse our Zotero library.

Online
Books/Articles
Pinterest