Middle-class American women of the mid-1800s spent mornings in an outfit like this: a fitted dressing gown whose skirt opened over an elaborately decorated petticoat, embroidered “en tablier” (apron style) in a triangular panel at the front, the only place where it would be seen.
While the dressing gown was considered an informal at-home garment, and its wearer might not be as tightly corseted as she would be later in the day, it is by no means loose. Darts and bones in the bodice’s front provide shaping and structure.
Brown and blue was a popular color combination in the 1850s. Ombré, or shaded, silk adds interest to the dressing gown’s blue-and-black silk check. Three decorative “buttons” on the bodice front are made of black silk pleated around a blue pom-pom, with dangling tassels. The skirt’s pockets have matching buttons and tassels.
The dome-shaped skirt is knife-pleated into a one-inch waistband of brown taffeta, which is also used in ruched trim throughout the gown. The ruching is designed to give an illusion of a small waist by curving down from the arms and narrowing toward the waist, and then widening from the waist to the hem.
Additional ruching trims the hem, pockets and the wide “pagoda” sleeves popular in the 1850s. The neckline, back bodice seams and even the skirt’s seams between panels are piped with brown taffeta. Although the sewing machine was coming into use at the time this gown was made, the dress was entirely hand-sewn.
Volume 144, Number 2, March/April 2010, Page 16
Photography by Mark Gulezian/Quicksilver