Dinner Dresses I would NEVER Wear to Dinner

November 21, 2012


It’s the time of year to enjoy all kinds of overindulgences, especially at the dinner table! For such feasts, wearing your loosest jeans/sweatpants and a not-white shirt (cranberry sauce stains like no other) is the modern norm. In the past, however, fancy dinners required fancy clothes! Corsets, manners, and the meals themselves– served in courses– would have made a historical dinner party a much different adventure than today’s free-for-all feasts. Women, especially those lucky enough to be rich, would often change clothes multiple times a day, switching between a morning dress, afternoon dress, and an evening dress or ball gown, depending on the occasion. As the 19th century continued, the use of occasion dresses increased to include visiting dresses, promenade dresses, walking dresses, and dinner dresses.  The heyday of the dinner dress began around 1870 and turned into a full-blown trend by 1910, so many of these wonderful, festive gowns are from those eras.

American Silk Dinner Dress, circa 1841-46

American Silk Dinner Dress, circa 1870s

Jeanne Hallée Dinner Dress, circa 1894-96

House of Worth Dinner Dress, circa 1897-1900

Rouff Dinner Dress, circa 1900-03

Dinner Dress Attributed to Callot Soeurs, circa 1908

American Silk Dinner Dress, circa 1910-12

If they are all so beautiful, why won’t I wear any of these dresses to dinner? Well, truthfully, I would love to wear all of them, but with our family track record of globs, blobs, and escapee forkfuls of buttered potatoes, it would probably be best to avoid wearing such fine dresses to any family get-togethers!

There have many Thanksgiving celebrations in late fall throughout many cultures. The first official, nation wide celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States occurred in 1863 after a declaration from President Abraham Lincoln. His hope was that a united holiday of peaceful thanks, prayer, and brotherly celebration would help calm a shattering nation. However, it was not until many years later in 1941 that F.D.R. moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in an effort to boost the national economy and morale.

After stuffing yourself with tasty foodstuffs, take a moment to appreciate your blessings and indulge in a smile!

4 Responses to “Dinner Dresses I would NEVER Wear to Dinner”

  1. I know! Eating in 19th c finery, including all the underpinnings is hard for we 21st c gals. I prefer Regency garb for costuming feasts :) Love the 1840s gold gown.

  2. They are lovely dresses for sure, especially the first gold one and the last floral one. But they wouldn’t suit me either. I like to be comfortable when I dine and yes… I too have problems with food falling off my fork and onto the front of my clothes. Tsk! Tsk!

  3. Annie Says:

    What characterized a dinner dress as opposed to a reception dress or an evening dress?

    • Liz Says:

      Dinner dresses are the halfway point between day wear and evening wear. Day wear in the Victorian era generally meant a high neckline, long sleeves, and walking-length/manageably sized skirts. Evening wear like ballgowns were usually much more dramatically designed with low necklines, short sleeves, and sweeping skirts. Dinner dresses mix the two: generally, they have higher necklines and long sleeves like day wear while having fuller skirts and more sumptuous decoration like evening wear.

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