Friday, October 14, 2011

A Ballgown from the 1890s

I've been quite involved with events set in the 1860s lately, but I don't want to forget another period of the nineteenth century that I love.

Here is a ballgown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art which they date to 1896. I think it demonstrates some of the distinctive features that were popular in the early-mid 1890s (from about 1892 to 1896.) The first things you notice are the skirt and sleeves. The trumpet- or lily-shaped skirt smooths over the hips and flares out to the hem. Hems in these gowns are usually reinforced with 8 to 10 inches of stiff canvas or horsehair, which provides the flared shape.Sleeves are quite small before and after these years, but they seem to reach the size of small watermelons in about 1893.

Notice the body skimming bodice. It does not end at the natural waist as an 1860s bodice would. Instead, it continues an inch or two below the natural waist. The V neckline in front and especially the V neckline in back are really classic. The back is laced, which is a nice touch, reminiscent of the back lacing of early 1860s formal dresses.

I would choose a dress without a train for a night of serious dancing, but most of the well-preserved museum gowns from this period have trains. I suspect that women of the period would have called them dinner gowns, or reception gowns and would save the term ball gown for a dress without a train, but I haven't seen that distinction spelled out in period sources.

No comments:

Post a Comment