Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kinds of Dresses

Image from Godey's Lady's Book Dec. 1857 pg.541

House Dress: A dress worn only at home. The plainest style of dress it should be comfortable and as sensible as fashion allows. Has long sleeves, high neckline, subdued colors, and little to no decoration.

Toilette de Reception: A more elaborate version of the house dress for receiving visitors. As visitors not always announced themselves and house dresses were equally acceptable for the occasion, dedicated reception toilettes are relatively rare. Politley subdued elegance to shows respect for the visitor.

Visiting Dress / Toilette de Visite: Worn for paying visits to other people during the daytime. Politely subdued elegance that should not embarass the hostess. As visiting others involved a certain amount of staying outdoors on the way there, the visiting dress reflects seasonal changes to a certain extent but doesn't incorporate warm overgarments (which are add-ons rather than part of the dress) as they are meant to be discarded upon arrival. Worn with a hat or bonnet.

Walking Dress / Promenade Dress / Toilette de Promenade: As the name implies, it is an outdoor garment worn for walks. It therefore reflects seasonal change to a great degree, incorporating warm overgarments such as coats or mantillas into its very design as they are not meant to be seen without the overgarment. Summer walking dresses should have a parasol to go with it. Worn with hat or bonnet.

Carriage Dress / Travelling Dress / Toilette de Voyage: A garment for traveling. As outdoor garments, they reflect seasonal change to a certain degree and are worn with hats or bonnets. The emphasis is on practicality: avoiding problems with getting off and on coaches, ease of cleaning, colours on which dust isn't too conspicuous.

Riding / Equestrian Dress: The only dedicated sports garment until the late 19th century. Evolved from 18th century hunting garments, which, from the very beginning on, imitated male dress - the jackets. Forest colours, black and red are favoured. No-nonsense garments without skirt supports, made of fabrics that can take a twig or thorn. Worn with hats.

Dinner Dress: Worn during the late afternoon, e.g. for dinners in public. High degree of elegance and formality, showing off the wearer's good taste and the seamstresse's art. Neckline often lowered but not low, sometimes short sleeves.

Evening Dress / Toilette de Soirée: Dress for evening occupations such as formal Diners, concerts, theatre, parties. High elegance emphasising the wearer's beauty, wealth and decency. Colourful, low necklines, short sleeves, lots of decoration. It's difficult to draw a line between evening and ball dress.

Ball Dress: Highest degree of elegance (a lady's best dress), meant to show off the wearer's beauty and wealth. Low neckline, short or no sleeves, lots of decoration, tight bodice.

Wedding Dress: It was fashionable to marry in white. Until the late 19th century, wedding dresses usually had high necks and long sleeves. Even if they were white, they could later be worn as visiting or dinner dresses as their cut didn't deviate from the current fashion.

~ adapted from "Kinds of Dresses" at

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