Possibly the Best Early Edwardian Color Ever

November 28, 2012

Suddenly I’m Hungry for Red Lobster…

My three great loves in life are history, fashion, and art. I love costuming because it combines all three of them into a pretty neat little package that offers infinite variety at the same time. One of my favorite aspects of fashion is the use of colors like puce, mauve, cerulean, and ecru. The names of some colors are so interesting and beyond weird! As a painter, I’ve come across many, many colors in my lifetime and had grown used to strange, creative, drab, foreign, and even obvious names, but the auction listing for these two antique dresses surprised me.

The lovely gown on the left is described as “1870s light blue,” which it very obviously is. However, the auction editor must have been feeling rather serendipitous (or hungry) that day because the gown on the left is described thus:

“1890s shrimp.”

Yes. Shrimp. It’s an apt name for the blushy-orangy-reddish tone, but really?! There are so many more flattering things that color like Salmon (okay, not much more flattering, but much more common), Coral, Warm Blush, French Rose, Deep Carnation, or even just…Pink.

This is what I picture when someone says “1890s shrimp.”

 However, it is a highly entertaining, memorable description. The gown itself is a classic 1890s silhouette: fussy, fluffy top with balloon sleeves and a long, trained skirt (you can find a similar, but less seafood-inspired pink morning dress in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections).
Both dresses are full of ruffles and lace and are made of fine wool fabric. Morning dresses were for home wear, considered somewhere between a robe and a dress. They are loosely cut in comparison to other Victorian fashions and were often worn to breakfast with a loosely-laced corset or none at all. Some designers created more couture morning gowns for wealthy clients, but most morning dresses were made at home. Since a 19th century lady needed multiple changes of clothes for social functions, a woman used comfortable odds and ends to make her morning gowns since no one outside the home would ever see it. It was a great use for a fabric you loved but was a little too plain or “out-there” to use on a more visible dress. So we find dresses in crazy colors like shrimp or more mundane colors like classic cream.

I hate to tell you this, Florence, but perhaps you should have saved that fabric for a dressing gown…

Ladies weren’t the only ones who had to change clothes throughout the day. Victorian men had a less rigorous, but still influential set of rules governing their attire. A morning jacket for a man was one of his most relaxed jackets, considered fine for informal events, but not at all suitable for formal dinners, meetings, or parties. Morning dress has come to refer more to a man’s formal suit with light grey pants and a dark jacket rather than a loosely fitted lady’s dress. You’ll hear the term most often used to describe a wedding suit or other formal outfits like this:

Click the pic for a great article about the evolution of morning dress for men!

So what began as some of the most informal clothes for men in the Victorian and Edwardian eras have turned into the most formal clothes in our modern Internet Age!

Anyway, kind of got off-topic talking about colors and fabric and social norms. Women’s morning dresses were loose, colorful, somewhat fussy affairs while men’s morning dress was dull grey and black. I think someone should break that mold! Can anyone say: “1890’s shrimp morning dress jacket?”

Close enough.

For more about morning gowns and to see one with a very similar pattern to the 1890s Shrimp, check out this entry on the fabulous FIDM Blog:

“Morning Gown, c. 1895”

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