1881 Winter Dresses

Friday’s Fashion Plate
1881 Winter Dresses

Here are two winter “in-door” dresses from Peterson’s Magazine, February 1881. (As always, click on pictures to see larger images.)

Fashion Plate

Winter In-Door Dresses ~ Peterson's Magazine, 1881

1881 fell at the end of the Natural Form period, just before the bustle made a spectacular comeback. You can see no evidence of it in these narrow dresses, but the bustle’s return was imminent.

I really love the simplistic grace of the dress on the right. It’s a dress for daytime, intended to be worn at home, and as such has a short train. It’s likely made of a thin wool; the color is pale, with a floral border, while the underskirt is dark. We cannot see the front, but we can see that, like most day dresses, it has a high neckline with a bit of lace around the throat. The dress is cut in the fashionable princess style, where the bodice and overskirt are one piece, with no waist seam. There is little decoration, but the bulk of the overskirt is pulled to the back, where it’s pinned with a rosette and allowed to fall in a very elegant waterfall. The narrow sleeves are three-quarters long, with an inverted ruffled cuff. A row of buttons runs down the back of the dress, from neck to hip—possibly a false closure, since rear-fastening dresses were rare in adult clothing.

She wears gloves, a narrow bracelet on one wrist, and round, dangling earrings. Her hair is worn in a simple chignon at the back, with frizzed curls at the forehead and temples.

Fashion Plate

Dress on Right ~ Peterson's Magazine, 1881

On the left is another day dress to be worn indoors, this one of what appears to be a dark brocade. The fabric looks heavy and warm, perfect for a winter’s morning. The bodice is cuirasse style, snug to the hips, with a straight hem and a notch cut out of the bottom of the center front. It has a high, ruffled neckline with an enormous bow tied at the base of the throat. The full-length sleeves are tight, with a plain cuff, and a bit of a white undersleeve or narrow flounce at the wrist. There is a dark pleated ruffle at the hemline, peeking out from under the plain skirt, and, though we cannot see it, the back appears to be trained. A pleated jabot falls from the neckline to the waist; a matching flounce cascades from the waist all the way to the hem, twisting and ruffling as it falls.

She wears small dangling earrings, but no other jewelry and no gloves. Her hair is pulled back with a highly unusual side part, and a bit of curled fringe at the forehead.

Fashion Plate

Dress on Left ~ Peterson's Magazine, 1881


Which of the two do you prefer for a winter’s day—the rich, heavy brocade, or the plain, yet elegant wool?

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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