“Fashion is so liberal now, that provided a dress is sufficiently clinging, and tied back, anything else may be worn.” Peterson’s Magazine aptly sums up the fashions of 1876-77 and this brass-colored silk day dress.
About the Look
This 1876-77 look features a tailored cuirasse bodice that fits tightly over the hips (Fig. 1), creating the typical late 1870s slim silhouette. The wrapped fabric (overskirt) in the front is pinned in an asymmetrical fashion with decorative buttons (Fig. 4), as well as sewed on with ribbons in the back, to create that tight fitting bodice (Fig. 2). The dress is made of two different shades of yellow silk fabric. The overskirt is brocaded with a leaf or floral pattern (Fig. 3). The color is still very bright and vivid, and doesn’t show any signs of having faded. The front bodice is fastened with buttons that are covered with stitching (Fig. 4). Frills and ruffles are added for the sleeve trimmings. The collar is trimmed with frills and has a beautiful lace trimming around the u-shaped neck. The overskirt is trimmed around with a plaited flounce, which gets longer at the back breadths. The overskirt is trimmed with ruffles, frills and pleats, which is mirrored in the sleeves.
Dress, 1866-77. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981.245.3. Catharine Breyer Van Bomel Foundation Fund, 1981 Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
About the context
In 1876 the amount of skirt drapery was still very prominent, if not even more complex. The well-loved bustle of 1874-75 completely disappeared and was replaced by the tight and low cuirasse bodice; however women would wear very small hoops on the bottom, to keep the large amount of fabric away from their feet. The bodices became longer and sometimes even extended over the hips; the long bodice was fitted more snugly to the hips. Occasionally bodices were buttoned down the entire length of the front (Fig. 8 and main dress). Peterson’s Magazine described the figure and silhouette of the year very clearly in their 1877 “Fashions for January” column, writing:
“The fashion is so liberal now, that provided a dress is sufficiently clinging, and tied back, anything else may be worn.” (93)
A January 1877 Townsend’s Monthly fashion column describes the preferred Princesse line and styles of trimmings:
“The Robe Princesse is perhaps the most fashionable style; especially for Dresses intended for Visiting Costume or for Morning receptions. For Costumes, the Polonaise Princesse is still the favorite form; it is worn very long, and but only moderately draped; for this style the under skirt is made with but little trimming, while the Polonaise, which nearly covers it, is richly trimmed with fur, with ball, or tassel fringe, or with a fringe of chenille: these fringes are arranged in spiral folds, or caught up with the draperies of Polonaise, festooned, or entwined, thus falling over the under skirt, with a most charming effect.” (1)
This style of dress was a one piece that did not have a waist seam, giving the illusion of a taller and slimmer figure, as we see here. We also find the same style of tassel fringe decoration described by the Townsend‘s columnist.
Since it was a new style, the Princesse line was quite popular, however the “over-skirt” and basque, were still worn, as can be seen in figure 6, which is very similar to the main dress but is assembled in separate parts. Peterson’s Magazine wrote in their May fashion column that:
“yellow, of all shades, especially the Mandarin yellow, which is more like the old-fashioned marigold, is perhaps the most fashionable.” (388)
Dresses in similar shades of yellow can be seen in figures 6, 9, and 11. In regards to the main dress, which is on trend with the fashionable yellow shade, the Townsend’s Monthly fashion column for April 1877, also noted that “some very fashionable costumes are composed of two shades of the same color” (1).
Bodices were often very simple in style, while the skirts were full of textures and colors, which made them look asymmetrical; two great examples can be seen in figures 7 and 10. They use a lot of decoration, such as flowers and bows (Figs. 5, 7, and 10) to hide the tacking on the skirts. Townsend’s Monthly, described the fashion as such in their January 1877 column:
“Toilettes which are of themselves quiet in style, are lighted up by bows or bands of bright color, and where there are revers, these are covered with the most brilliant color of the Toilette.” (1)
They loved to have elaborately trimmed dresses (Fig. 8), with a lot of ornaments, contrasting colors, or lined with another color, to counteract the simplicity of the dress’s line. Embroidery was very popular and very much used to trim dresses, as well as flat braids, ruches (Fig. 7), and all kinds of imaginable trimmings (Peterson’s 388).
Often dresses were cut from the same fabric, but the overskirt and faux-vest were made from different or the same fabric. Dresses made from multiple fabrics were called “combination costumes,” which Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine described in their January 1876 Fashion column (102). Godey’s goes on to describe how this fashion is in favor and easier to adopt, because one has the ability to make up old dresses, since there is no necessity to match the materials. The main dress in this paper seems to adopt this trend in that it has used different fabrics for the bodice and overskirt. But a better example of this trend adoption is figure 8, which is similar in style to the main dress, but has adopted this “combination costume” further by using different colors and textures.
- “Chitchat on Fashions for January.” Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine 92, no. 547 (January 1876): 101–2. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015014112935;view=1up;seq=104.
- “Fashions for January.” Peterson’s Magazine 71, no. 1 (January 1877): 92–93. https://books.google.com/books?id=crw6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA93#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Fashions for May.” Peterson’s Magazine 71, no. 5 (May 1877): 387–88. https://books.google.com/books?id=sCPQAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA388#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Observations on London and Parisian Fashions.” Townsend’s Monthly Selection of Parisian Costumes 25, no. 280 (January 1877): 1. https://books.google.com/books?id=6BoGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Observations on London and Parisian Fashions.” Townsend’s Monthly Selection of Parisian Costumes 25, no. 283 (April 1877): 1. https://books.google.com/books?id=6BoGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PT16#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Reception Dress, c. 1876.” FIDM Museum Blog. Accessed April 28, 2018. http://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2012/06/reception-dress-c-1876.html.