The Front Parlor at the Florence Griswold House (c.1905-1910). William Chadwick (American, 1879-1962). Florence Griswold Museum.
This museum was originally a boarding house, known as the Lyme Art Colony, owned by Florence Griswold, where American artists lived and painted. The original neoclassical mansion is charmingly preserved. Here is Miss Griswold reading in her parlor.
It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! If you have been
reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that one of my favorite
aspects of fashion history is the influence of society on dress. I can’t
believe I haven’t written about today’s topic yet, since it is one of
the best examples of this! We’re talking tea gowns!
gowns rose to popularity in the late 1870s, reaching widespread
popularity throughout the late 19th to early 20th centuries. To put it
simply, a tea gown is an informal garment worn in the house- you guessed
it- at tea time, though later they were worn at dinnertime as well.
What is so interesting about tea gowns is that their creation was a
direct result of the rapidly changing society of the time.
Industrial Revolution led to a dramatic rise in urbanization.
Naturally, this congested setting shifted social customs. Increased
social circles meant increased social obligations. Visiting a friend or
acquaintance for tea quickly became one of the most popular social
calls, namely because it was the shortest. Custom dictated that one
would not stay for more than half an hour for tea. The short time frame
meant a less formal atmosphere.
On a different note, during this same time, there
was a strong Asian influence on design. Due to the 1868 Meiji Restoration, trade lines between Japan and Europe opened up, bringing a steady stream of Japanese goods to the Western world. Using these pieces, homes were decorated in the
exotic style. Kimonos also held a fascination among the Victorians,
many adopting them as dressing gowns. Women would commonly host members of their wide social circles in their homes (particularly the parlors) to show off their
creative interpretation of Asian and exotic inspired design. So how does this all connect to the
To begin with, women desired a specific garment for these new abridged social calls- something relatively informal, yet still fashionable. Tea gowns have been described as a blend between a dressing gown and an evening gown. They were a far more relaxed style
than the majority of fashions at the time. They were often loose
fitting, and were often worn without the usual restrictive shapewear-
namely bustles and (gasp!) corsets. Naturally, this meant that tea gowns
were a very controversial garment, with many condemning them as lewd
and immoral. Of course, many women who were so accustomed to wearing
corsets still wore them with tea gowns, but disguised it with a loose
bodice. Since they were so relaxed, though, a lady would never leave the
house in a tea gown. As a result, only the hostess would wear one,
while guests would wear afternoon or visiting gowns.
One of the
biggest appeals of the loose tea gown was that they were so easy to put
on, and a lady could dress herself without the help of a lady’s maid.
While the structure of tea gowns were simple, though, their design was
anything but. Women pulled inspiration from the exotic into their gowns,
often aiming to match the design of their parlors. There was also a
strong historical influence in many tea gowns. Watteau pleats, the
cape/train-like pleats used in 18th century robes a la française, were a
popular design element. Some tea gowns would be made to look like two
garments, a faux-robe over a dress. As with all fashions of the day,
ladies would show of their wealth through their tea gowns, using rich
fabrics, lace trims, ruffles, and other embellishments.
fashion developed, so did the tea gown. By the Edwardian Age, they
became difficult to distinguish from other styles of dress. As society
changed through the 1920s and 30s, the tea dress slowly faded from
popularity, vanishing altogether by World War II. It just goes to show
how the life and death of a fashion can all be directly related to
shifts in society!
Have a question about fashion
history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just
click the ASK button at the top of the page!
The Gilded Cage (c.1905-1910). Evelyn de Morgan (English, 1855-1919). Oil on canvas. De Morgan Centre.
An overriding theme in de Morgan’s work was women’s suffrage. A young woman, dressed in sumptuous gold robes, looks wistfully at revellers outside. Jewels and a book which she may have been reading to her husband lie discarded on the floor. Her entrapment in a patriarchal society which dictated her confinement in the domestic sphere is echoed by the golden caged canary, in contrast to the bird flying free outside.