1880s women’s fashion was defined by the rigidly structured bustle and an abundance of decoration. Dress reformers, influenced by artistic movements, protested these heavy, ultra restrictive trends.
In City Dance, Renoir paints a fashionable Parisienne, waltzing with her dance partner, in a winter ball. Dressed in the latest neoclassically draped evening dress style for young women, the dancer’s simple, draped gown is tasteful and classic in the lack of heavy ornamentation and frills.
William Merritt Chase captures the style and youth of his art student, Mariette Benedict Cotton, in this portrait. She wears a black day dress made in the traditional bustle silhouette of the period with puffed sleeves that were rising in popularity at the time. Chase’s use of light adds depth to the piece, emphasizing folds in the fabric and the glittering of Cotton’s eyes and jewelry.
Although dressed in theatrical costume, Degas’ Singer in Green contains details that were fashionable for women’s evening wear at the time, including an off-the-shoulder neckline, a downward-pointing bodice, a diagonal-striped pattern, and a choker-style necklace. What is less fashionable is its lack of applied florals and the bold color palette, which signals the fact that it is a costume.
Mary Cassatt’s 1880 portrait of Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly features the artist’s ailing sister, Lydia Cassatt, wearing a large white bonnet and a blue day dress accented with a plaid print and white lace–a common dress style of the time.