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.
The 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 tea gown?
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.
As 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!