Proper Form

By the 1870s advancements in cut and construction led to garments that showcased the hyperfeminized body, but looser-fitting alternatives existed in high fashion and reform dress. Historical styles and eastern attire were quite influential but a lack of body consciousness inherent to unfitted gowns or kimonos made them irreconciliable with Victorian ideals. Mrs. Douglas, a Victorian arbriter, was quite perturbed by this trend:

There are artistic people who rave about the beauty of the Greek attire. It is indeed admirable in a statue or a picture, but what must it have been to wear!…The real truth of the matter is, that our ancestresses wore these shapeless and senseless garments because they knew no better. They did not know how to cut out a jacket then; it is the product of the highest civilization, and we should be thankful for it.[1]

There was a time and place when artistic dress was called for. At five o’clock, a woman of fashion broadened her social network by inviting guests in her parlour for afternoon tea. By the 1870s, she could wear an elaborate interior gown called a “tea gown,” that spoke of domesticity and artistic sensibilities. This magenta quilted garment, with “Watteau” back pleats, is reminiscent of eighteenth-century styles and embellished with eastern touches that could match a lady’s décor.

[1] Fanny Douglas, The Gentlewoman’s Book of Dress (London: Henry and Co., [ca. 1894]), 8-9.

Photograph by Anne Bissonnette©

Cite this page (bibliography):

Bissonnette, Anne, Larisa Cheladyn, Stephanie Huolt, Robyn Stobbs and Sarah Woodyard. “Proper Form.” Stitched Narratives, Clothing and Textiles Collection Web site, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta, July 15, 2015. [INSERT URL].