1880s Aesthetic Dress

Also Known As: well I ran out of time for that dinner dress, huh?

I really didn't think this "dress" warranted a blog post, but far be it from me to deny plaintive and pointed requests from all two of my fans, so here we are. 

Disclaimer: 90% of the pictures taken of me at the event are ridiculous; part of that because I make weird faces, but the more significant part is because it was really windy that day! Oh well, we work with what we have... (that's a theme here, for those of you taking notes.)


I got my dinner dress for the event (an 1870s-1880s dinner hosted by my BFF Robin of SewLoud) more than three-quarters done, but at the last minute had a few Real Life things come up, and with less than 48 hours til the dinner, had to be honest with myself that there was no way the dress was going to be wearable. And I don't currently have anything else 1870s-80s that's wearable, day, evening, opera, afternoon...nada. So this was going to require some creativity.

Creativity struck in the form of a joking text sent to Robin, that I was going to wrap myself in a roll of silk and call it aesthetic dress. Ha ha ha...wait wait wait. Wasn't there a plate in that Harpers Bazar book that shows a couple of aesthetic dress outfits?

Why yes. Yes there was.


Two of the three are more inspired-by, as in "you want to give a nod to artsy dress but you still want to be fashionable and wear your corset" style, but the other is full on "I am an ARTISTE, see me swan around in Ancient Greek costume!" And the description very helpfully gives the instructions for making it.


AESTHETIC DRESS (11.19.1881, p. 749), Fig. a: this costume is a reproduction of the Ancient Greek dress. It may be made of any soft flowing fabric, of silk or of wool, and is shown in yellow-greens, deep yellow, greenish blue, and white. The dress illustrated is of white Surah and is all in one piece, being made of five long breadths sewed together and hemmed at the top and bottom. It is then suspended from the shoulders by cameo brooches that catch the top together, leaving sufficient space for the head to pass through; the edges beyond this then droop down behind the arms as sleeves. A girdle of ribbon is first passed over the shoulders crossed in the back, and straight under the arms in front; it is then easily tied around the waist, and the robe is pulled through the girdle far enough to let the upper part droop over it, and to bring the lower edge even with the floor. Vines of sunflowers, lilies or daisies are wrought up the back and front in South Kensington embroidery, or else they are painted by hand.

Oh, it's a tube? Sign me up!

A very general rundown of aesthetic/artistic dress can be found on Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artistic_Dress. I did a little bit more online reading than that, but not a ton. It's very interesting and I would like to do some more research, but an hour of online reading was good enough for my last-minute tube!

 I used almost-three panels of 54" wide silk, green shot with brown. (Green seems to have been popular in aesthetic dress, how convenient for me.) It was a big roll of lightweight drapery silk taffeta that I got a very good deal on, that's been hanging out in the stash for a couple of years. It's not top-of-the-line quality - it's got some imperfections and slubs, not to mention it water-spots if you sneeze on it (literally. I sneezed on it while hemming, and now it's got spots there)...but I didn't need prime silk quality for a silk tube, so this was more than fine!


Sewed the panels together by machine and hand-hemmed the top and bottom (yeah, I always have time for a hand-sewn hem - that's very much in the Arts & Crafts spirit, right?), and that's all the sewing on this thing...apart from the girdle/sash, and tacking the shoulder medallions on.

Girdle is just a loooooooooong stitched-and-turned tube of saffron yellow silk shantung - 216", if I remember correctly, which took foreverrrrrrrr to turn. Ugh. The Harpers Bazar plate recommends using two cameo brooches to hold the shoulders together, but as I do not have that extensive of a cameo collection to pull from, I made do with a last-minute peruse of the Joanns jewelry section that came up with two decent-looking gold pendants that I stitched on and called Good Enough.


Instructions for tying the girdle are in the fashion plate description, although not being a spatial reasoning person it took me some time to figure out what on earth they were doing there. 

Accessories were all things pulled from my existing stash/collection; the only thing I bought new this year was the gold bangle set (because they were intended for the dinner dress, haaa). They're not actually a set, but they're close enough. Hair is wrapped up in one of my voile 18thc kerchiefs, and the shawl gets used for a lot of eras, but I might have made it for 1790s originally. Maybe? It's old. Shoes are vintage from ebay several years back, and I'm wearing a pair of silk stockings.


In terms of undies...not terribly period-correct but not obviously offensive. If I had a chemise with ribbon straps I would have worn that, but at this point we're still going with tank top. I also wore the yellow flannel petticoat from my Welsh outfit underneath...partly because I wanted a petticoat (any petticoat!) and this one coordinated nicely, and partly because it ended up being COLD AND WINDY on the Saturday of the dinner!

Mr. Dedicated is very dedicated...he very trepidatiously embarked on a journey of mustache wax for this event per my request. I thought he looked very dapper!

No corset, because ditching the corset is one of the big things of hardcore aesthetic dress...being more "natural" and all that. I naturally don't have much sagging (ahem) to worry about, so I happily followed that aesthetic rule and slouched all over the place all night. Very comfortable!

Unrepentant lounging.

I did add a safety pin on each side to hold the sides of the dress in...I don't know if the original design just intended your armpits to be letting a breeze in (not to mention side-boob), but I figured I didn't need to make the dress focal point HERE LOOK AT MY TANK TOP. Also way too windy for that.

Admire my tank top!

Ultimately, for an outfit I threw together at the very last minute, I like it pretty well! I'm amused by it, too - and amused that of COURSE my last-minute-hail-Mary outfit is still totally documentable to the period, just kinda niche! Yes, sounds like me.

She is beauty, she is grace...

Utterly ridiculous, but isn't the shot fabric pretty?

If I didn't need to make use of his pockets, I'd sew them shut...

Group tintype!


  1. I love this! What a great idea for a new outfit. Perfect color, too!

  2. Looks like lots of fun and a very well dressed group! It's neat to see your creation, too! It is nice to represent a variety of possibilities and fashions.



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