Patterns of History home
Catalog page of Patterns
Books and Videos
Measurement Chart
Order Patterns Online
Contacting Us

Rena Parfrey Keys in the original 1888 Reception Toilette WHi(X3)49791

Rena Parfrey Keys in the original 1888 Reception Toilette
WHi(X3)49791
1888 Reception Toilette

History of the 1888 Reception Toilette and Notes on Late 1880s Fashions

The 1888 Reception Toilette pattern is taken from a 2-piece gray silk faille dress with a white silk satin neck insert and trim of gold braid. The dress was made by Rena B. Parfrey, an 18-year old from Richland Center, Wisconsin, who wore it as a wedding gown for her 1888 marriage to James Keys.


The original gray silk fabric and gold braid from Rena's dress
The original gray silk fabric from Rena's dress The original gold braid from Rena's dress
 

A fashionable outfit for the middle class lady, The Ladies' Monthly Review, April 1888

The original Directoire style, Journal des Dames, June 1792


During the late 1880s most dress fashions had tight-fitting bodices and sleeves, a long waist, a high collar, a large shelf-like bustle worn protruding from the top of the derriere, a v-shaped waistline, an asymmetrically-draped skirt, and a street-length hem. This look combined with a high-crowned hat created a sense of height and slimness with its vertical emphasis. Rena diverged from the traditional draped dress when she made hers in the newly-fashionable Directoire style.
 
 A Wisconsin woman wearing the tight-fitting bodice and draped skirt of the late 1880s.
Whi(V22)1468

In late 1887 and early 1888 Sarah Bernhardt wore fashions from the 1790s, the Directoire period, while starring in the play "Tosca." Within months of her debut, Paris designers introduced a new dress style loosely based on the Directoire fashions of 1790 to 1795. Women of the early 1790s also wore a bustle, but their dresses were short-waisted and undraped with a low decolletage filled in with a neckerchief. The fashion editor of Harperís Bazar described the 1888 version with:

"The Directoire dress is flat as to the skirt, which is divested of all drapery and even of the smallest of poufs; the corsage [bodice] is cut on the lines of a Directoire coat, flat and plain, with narrow sleeves almost tight to the arm; two very broad revers [lapels], one crossing over the other, are on the upper part; [and] a wide folded sash is around the waist."

The editor did not mention that the neckerchief effect of the 1790s was often created with a surplice bodice.

The Directoire style as defined in the 1880s, Harper's Bazar, March 17, 1888

Right: This fashion illustration or the one above may have influenced Rena when she designed her dress. The Ladies' Monthly Review and The Delineator, September 1888


The same editor added that she considered the original style "peculiarly ugly and ungraceful." Her displeasure with the styleís reappearance is evident when she gloated that though the Directoire style was worn "by a certain number of fashionable women" it was not finding favor with the majority. The real problem with the Directoire style was its high waist. Low waists sitting almost on the hips, usually with a deep v-waistline, had been in style for over a decade and were considered flattering to all figures.

This fashion illustration or the one above may have influenced Rena when she designed her dress. The Ladies' Monthly Review and The Delineator, September 1888

Designers and dressmakers resorted to artificially shortening the Directoire dressís waist by using a wide belt or sash, or horizontal trim between the revers. Rena used the latter approach.

Other fashion editors, like the one for Petersonís Magazine, were pleased to see the change in skirts brought about by the Directoire style, since "we are rather weary of the many draperies--so difficult to arrange gracefully and so hard to keep in order." Later in the year, the same editor added that "the vast amount of material in the draped dresses made them absolutely unhealthy to wear."

Rena may have been influenced by fashion magazines, since dresses similar to hers appeared in the March 17, 1888 issue of Harperís Bazar and the September 1888 issue of The Delineator. Both these dresses shared features seen in Renaís dress, such as wide lapels, a surplice bodice, horizontal trim at the bodiceís waist, smocking at the center front of the skirt, and braid trim. Renaís skirt is more draped at back and over a larger bustle then most illustrated Directoire gowns.

 

A typical collapsible bustle from the late 1880s, Harper's Bazar, February 4, 1888

A bustle made of three to four spiral springs that folds up flat when the wearer sits. It is very similar to the bustle in the 1888 Reception Toilette pattern. The maker of the original homemade bustle may have been trying to copy the one in this advertisement. Harper's Bazar, March 31, 1888


In 1888 the bustleís heyday was coming to an end. It reached its zenith in popularity and size in 1887, and then began shrinking. As early as January 1888 Godeyís Ladyís Book wrote, "The big bustle has departed, it is to be hoped never to return, for it is an insult to the common sense of all women, and so absurdly open to ridicule and caricature that one marvels how any woman can lend herself to such distortion." Throughout the year fashion magazines consistently reported that the bustle was growing smaller, but was not yet discarded. In October Petersonís Magazine wrote that "a slight bend [at back] is necessary for real elegance--and nothing is uglier than a perfectly flat dress." Rena appears to have agreed with Petersonís since she wore a fairly large bustle with her dress. However, by the end of 1889, most women considered all bustles out-of-date and unfashionable.

Left: A bustle made of three to four spiral springs that folds up flat when the wearer sits. It is very similar to the bustle in the 1888 Reception Toilette pattern. The maker of the original homemade bustle may have been trying to copy the one in this advertisement. Harper's Bazar, March 31, 1888

click on image for larger version


Top of Page

 
©2002 Wisconsin Historical Society
Last updated April 02, 2002