1880’s BLUE Dresses

Yesterday, I shared a solitary doll from the Fashion Museum of Bath’s Little and Large exhibit. But the main focus of the exhibit is side-by-side comparisons of human-sized and doll fashions.

The first doll/dress pair from the exhibit is beautiful in BLUE. I know, I’m obsessed with BLUE. I’m not ashamed to admit it and I’m not interested in a cure.

Here’s the Museum’s description of the doll:

Object number: No number Object number: BATMC I.09.1410
(DOUBLE NUMBER ISSUE)
Object: Fashion doll, circa 1880s Object: Bodice and skirt, 1880s
Description: Circa 1880s wax fashion doll in blue
princess line dress.
A good English wax doll, the material popular in the mid to late 19th century. Glass eyes, Many makers were from Italian families who settled in the UK adapting their tradition of religious ‘creche’ figures for making dolls.
The clothes are very likely to have been made in Paris – where all the best dolls garments were produced at this time.
Fashion History:
The ruching on this doll’s dress replicates the fashion for a highly sculptured silhouette at this time, when the bustle was at the height of fashion. Dolls like this were often placed in shop windows of
fashionable dressmakers to show the latest fashions.

This is a very elegant wax lady doll with beautiful painting and mesmerizing pale BLUE eyes. This doll definitely represents a grown woman, not a teen. Her body is most likely cloth (not really sure, but most wax dolls of this era had cloth bodies).

While described as a bodice and skirt, this appears to be a one-piece dress that was custom made for this doll. The fabric looks to be a silk twill or wool with cream silk trim, bows and piping.

As with most dresses from this era, the back is more ornate than the front.

The side view shows the modest bustle and train. I love the pleated ruffle.

DH and I just had a long discussion over lunch about whether this dress was homemade or professionally done. We really did. What do you think? One thing I looked at closely was the lace. Most of it matches, except on her right sleeve. Was this because they ran out of lace, or was it a later repair?

The description of the human-sized dress is minimal:

Description: Pale blue ruched front princess line silk bodice and skirt, 1880s
Collection History: No information Collection History: Unknown. No Micromusée record (double number)

I enjoyed examining the photos of this dress (even though there is no back view). It is made up of separate bodice and skirt. If you look carefully, you can see the buttons on the sides of the skirt.

Look at the sleeves. I think they indicate that this dress is later than the doll’s dress. They offer a hint at the huge gigot sleeves that became popular in the 1890’s.

Another thing to note about this dress is that, unlike the doll’s dress, it is fancier in the front. There appears to be just a solid BLUE drape at the back of the skirt.

I appreciate these transitional pieces. It almost feels like cheating to look back at this dress’s differences from the earlier doll’s dress from the same decade and know that it points toward where the next decade’s fashions are heading.

I love how the wide stripes on the fabric were used. The cream colored section was used in the center of the bodice. Since fabrics in the 1880’s weren’t very wide, the tailor used the length of the fabric to go around the skirt and pieced it together vertically. If you look at the bottom of the cream sections you can see where it was seamed.

The bows that decorate the skirt are made from ribbon that closely matches the dress fabric. As a costumer, finding a printed silk and matching printed ribbon would make me swoon.

These are both BLUE 1880’s dresses with princess silhouettes and square necklines. They both have pleated ruffles at the hems and modest ruffles and trains. Both have lace and bows as decoration. I enjoyed comparing these two 1880’s dresses and discovering their similarities and differences

If you’re on Facebook, I recommend following the Fashion Museum of Bath. Today they showed a delightful framed collection of tiny handmade gloves. “Little and Large” is just a part of a larger exhibit called “Collection Stories”, featuring groups of items from their extensive 19th Century collection with an emphasis on the stories behind the objects.

Three more doll/ dress pairs to go…


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