Different Types of Dresses

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Orianna
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Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Mon Sep 27, 2010 10:28 am

Is there a source that outlines the differences between all the classes of dresses that existed in the mid to late 1800s? I'm analyzing quite a lot of antique fashion plates that have no descriptions, and I'd like to be able to identify them properly.

Afternoon, Promenade, Reception, Evening, Dinner, Seaside, Traveling, Ballgown, etc., etc.

Is there a guide anywhere? Something that says, "If an Afternoon dress is worn with a bonnet, then it becomes a Visiting dress." Or "If an Evening gown has long sleeves, it's considered a Dinner dress, but if it has tiny puffed sleeves, it's a Ballgown." Anything like that?

If there is no definitive guide, do any of you know some of the differences? Even if it's just a rough guide off the top of your head, it would be useful. I don't want to mistakenly call a Reception dress a Ballgown, and then get called out for it. . . .
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Frank815 » Mon Sep 27, 2010 12:19 pm

I would check here http://www.fashion-era.com/mid-late_victorian_fashion.htmfor a resource guide for victorian dress. That might help you out :D
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Heather » Mon Sep 27, 2010 12:48 pm

Unfortunately, these distinctions were not written down. I personally believe there was a effort to conceal this information so the fashionable elite could stay that way. People outside the circle could then easily be identified and snubbed. With the "new money" overwhelming the "old money" during this period, they needed to do something to keep them as outsiders. My example of this is one fashion editorial that decried the evils of dress as evidenced in the example of a lady seen in a carriage with a yellow bonnet with green feathers. In 6 paragraphs, there is not even a hint at why this is a major faux-paus. Was it the feathers, the hat, the color, the carriage, the time of day, the dress it was worn with? I will never know.

What I have learned is, the different dresses are all different by very minor minor effects.

A dinner dress is an evening dress, with an open neckline and maybe short sleeves, but usually has a plainer skirt as that part is under the table. A ballgown is usually a light color, not trained, but an evening dress usually is trained, and of darker colors. Ballgowns are typically very low neckline (off shoulder), dinner dresses not as low (meaning a low square neck, and not always off shoulder.) Dinner and evening seem to overlap as the same dress. Though if you were attending and evening party after dinner, then you would have fancier skirts than a strictly dinner dress.

A reception dress is a fancy and formal dress, but is not really for dinner, evening, or balls. A reception is like a formal party, usually to introduce someone, but without food being served and no dancing. (There may be entertainment, like a concert or poetry reading.) It therefore is usually of a more daytime formal look, with higher necklines and longer sleeves than what you would expect for evening wear.

Lace is reserved for after 2pm. Visiting dresses are fancy day dresses, usually of a more outdoor cut, (no train, and with a jacket) as you are spending the afternoon traveling from house to house. A house dress is fancy and with lace, often trained, and the dress you receive visitors in. Not to be confused with a wrapper or other morning dress you wear to do your household chores in, which is not meant to be seen by anyone outside the household.

Carriage dresses are very fancy, long trains, as you are on display and not actually walking, or even going anywhere. Not to be confused with a traveling dress, which is very utilitarian and plain as you spend days on trains or coaches.

All of the above was tempered with never out dressing your guests, nor under dressing either. So you had to know who was coming (or where you were going) and what they would most likely wear. The same dress for morning wear can be made ready for afternoons by the addition of a lace fichu. Or remove a collar inset and you have dinner dress. Bonnets and hats are only for daytime, and hair ornaments are for evening. Fabric selection is also very important. Silks for formal and evening, wools for daytime and visiting. Linens and cottons for hot weather.

I am sure there is more, but this is all I can think of for now.

Oh, jewelry.... Like the lace, not for mornings, other than a small collar pin or broach.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Mon Sep 27, 2010 12:54 pm

Thanks! I checked out that page and didn't see any mention of the differences between types of gowns, only an overview of the changes as the decades progressed. I'll look further on that website, though. Thanks!
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:10 pm

That's wonderful, Heather! Thank you so much.

One question . . . you said ballgowns are not trained, and yet La Mode Illustree and Harper's Bazar show "Ball Toilettes" that have long trains. Is there a distinction between a toilette and a gown? Or were there certain kinds of balls where trains were permissible, and others where they were not? Or is it governed by the time period in question?

Again, thank you for all the details! I really appreciate it. :D
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Heather » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:27 pm

The trains are more of a time period thing. The 1870's everything is trained, but later on the trains recede a bit. If you look at Natural Form period, the young ladies ball gowns will usuallly not be trained. And in the 1880's, only reception gowns still have trains.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Mon Sep 27, 2010 3:06 pm

Okay, great! That you know of, are there any specific rules for Seaside gowns or Promenade gowns?

Where might I go to learn these sorts of things for myself? I know there are a few books on Victorian etiquette . . . would fashion be included in any of those? I'd like to write an article on the subject, but I'll need at least some original sources to reference.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Sarah F » Wed Sep 29, 2010 5:37 am

Hi Orianna,

This question has deviled me too. I have looked through lots of fashion reference books, repeatedly, and have formed some nebulous ideas of what's what, at least according to the fashion prints (which may or may not have been what people actually wore). Here are my totally unscientific and unproven observations:

In the early sixties, you really only see trains on a few evening gowns. In the mid and late sixties, many dresses, both day and evening, have them, but not all.

In the seventies, any and all types of dress seem to have been eligible to have a train, however impractical.

In the eighties, only reception and the occasional evening dress does, but you really don't see them on ball gowns.

Generally, the main difference between evening and ball gowns seems to be that evening dresses show more skin than a ball dress but less than a day dress, but in the mid-seventies you see a lot of "evening gowns" in the fashion prints that have long sleeves and fairly high v-necks too. By the eighties, you even see dresses with high necks and short sleeves. Evening gowns seem to use fancier fabrics and trims than day dresses do. You see a lot of tailored, male-clothing-inspired looks for day wear, with wools and braidwork and appliques; in the evening, it seems to be more of a feminine look. In the seventies, however, they seem to have still preferred a silk underskirt even with a wool dress; a quick scout through the Harper's book that I once did turned up precisely ONE fall/winter dress from this period that's described as having a wool underskirt. The only thing I can think of is that the fact that silk makes much crisper pleats than wool--and God knows they loved their pleats in this period--outweighed the absurdity of a silk skirt dragging in mud and snow.

One quick way to tell if a dress in a fashion print is a day dress is if it has a hat. Reception, evening and ball gowns weren't worn with hats.

I've heard that bright colors were less common in the daytime, which would make sense to us modern folks, but then I have also read that after aniline dyes were invented in the fifties, there was a craze for bright fabrics. Original day dresses from the sixties do seem to be brighter than those from later, but then I've hardly made an exhaustive study on that. Perhaps the craze died down once the dyes weren't so new and exciting anymore?

Well, there you have it. All I've done is look at the same books repeatedly and try to draw some conclusions. Maybe they're right, maybe not.

Sarah
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Orianna
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Wed Sep 29, 2010 6:52 am

One quick way to tell if a dress in a fashion print is a day dress is if it has a hat. Reception, evening and ball gowns weren't worn with hats.

That's good to know. It's my understanding that house dresses (worn to receive visitors) were not worn with hats. Does that sound right? I heard a story where a number of teas or casual receptions were hosted at the White House in the 1870s or 1880s, and several women chose not to wear bonnets. This gave the impression that they were helping to host the event, and were therefore on close terms with the First Lady. The First Lady was quite irritated with these scheming women and made sure that they never pulled something like that again! :lol:

Visiting dresses, on the other hand, were always worn with a hat or bonnet, and I know this because etiquette insisted that you never remove your hat while calling at someone's house, lest it appear that you're planning to stay longer than you're welcome. (I believe 15-20 minutes was considered polite, but I could be mistaken about that.) I believe gloves could come off, but only if you were served something to nibble on?

Anyway, that's the only rule that I was aware of regarding the use of ladies' hats. Heather mentioned that you could only wear hair ornaments with evening dresses, never a hat or bonnet, and that makes sense. Are there any other rules about hats? Could you go out in public without a hat during the daytime, or was that considered wrong?

Are bonnets and hats interchangeable, or are there times when a bonnet is more appropriate than a hat?

Thank you, Sarah! I appreciate you taking the time to write such a detailed reply. :D
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Cathi H » Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:08 am

The lady who was in her own house did not have a hat.
Never in public without a hat during the daytime.

Excuse my English :?
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Heather » Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:23 am

Hat were introduced in the mid 1860's, so you typically think of hats a being for younger people in the early years. But hats quickly become more fashionable than bonnets and become the prefered headwear for the rest of the century. The difference between a bonnet and a hat is the bonnet uses tie ribbons to hold it on. A hat requires the use of a hat pin.

You always wear a hat/bonnet in the daytime if you go outdoors. You do not wear a hat in your own house. But you are not expected to remove your hat/bonnet if you enter a building. You do not remove your hat for church, or other functions. If you go to someones house, you can remove your hat only if you are on familiar terms with them, and are staying more than a few minutes. (15 minutes is the expected "visit" just like Orianna said)
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Tiffers » Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:26 am

I recently visited the theatre and felt dreadful when I didnt remove my hat! Saying that though, the use of 2 very long hat pins and a comb positioned within the hat meant I couldnt remove the hat if I had wanted to without the aid of a mirror!

Tiffers
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:07 pm

I just found a goldmine on Google Books! The Ladies' Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, by Florence Hartley, 1872.

It presents a rather fascinating glimpse into the life of the middle-class woman of the early 1870s! It does not go into the complete sort of detail I was hoping, such as what is the physical difference between a ballgown and a reception dress (for example), but it does cover what sort of dress should be worn at home, and what sort for visiting, what sort for walking, or riding horseback, and so on. In addition, it covers etiquette for balls, going to the opera, dinner parties, visiting friends, and so on. I loved the chapter on how to be a proper house guest!

If this sort of gem exists on Google Books, I wonder if there is anything more specifically geared towards fashion?
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Heather » Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:28 pm

Not really, as fashion changed too quickly for a book to stay current. I have at least 3 versions of various etiquette books, and they all say exactly that. What is really funny, is that the books are all plagiarized from the same source, so no matter how many books you buy, or from what year, they pretty much say exactly the same thing verbatim.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Bookwyrm » Sat Nov 06, 2010 7:49 pm

I had also noticed that the '70s were mad for silk underskirts. I assume that would be taffeta or something similar?

It was relatively common to make one or two bodices to go with a single skirt, because the skirt takes so much fabric and the bodices take relatively little fabric.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby kellydofc » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:00 pm

Hi,
I know that this was originally posted several months ago but I just came across this thread. Several years ago Carolann Schmitt taught a class about Men and Women's accessories at the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s Conference. Her notes included information on many styles of dresses, when to wear them and the accessories that were to go with them. These rules are for the 1860s in America but if you are interested then I would be happy to send you her email address or a copy of my notes.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Orianna » Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:24 pm

kellydofc wrote:These rules are for the 1860s in America but if you are interested then I would be happy to send you her email address or a copy of my notes.


That would be great, thank you! I'd love a copy of your notes. PM me and we can exchange email addresses, okay?
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby SarahS » Thu Mar 24, 2011 11:28 am

This might be useful though see Heather's caveat about books, but it's free and has useful info from 1870:
http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t ... no=4399954
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Heather » Thu Mar 24, 2011 12:02 pm

Wow, that book has quite a lot of details. More so than the books I have, which are 1872, 1880, 1882. I wonder how much the details changes, and how quickly. But in any case, very informative, and a definate place to start. Thank you so much for posting it.

Now if I could just find an easy way to print the whole book. Or save it to file, or something.
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Re: Different Types of Dresses

Postby Bookwyrm » Thu Mar 24, 2011 3:04 pm

I would like a look at those notes, too, kellydofc.

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