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Fine example of a Victorian 'Princess' gown, c1876-1880

Fine example of a Victorian 'Princess' gown, c1876-1880

Provenance: Verbal provenance from the person who sold this dress is that it belonged to the young daughter of a Titled Scottish Gentleman, whose estate still exists in Scotland. It is said that the father bought the gown for his daughter shortly before he died. I have researched this, and he died in 1878.


References used in this description:

Nancy Bradfield ‘Costume in Detail, 1968. Pages 239 – 248.

Kyoto Institute ‘Fashion – A History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Volume 1, pages 242-244, including the painting by James Tissot ‘The Reception’ shown on page 243. The yellow dress is very similar to this one, and very typical of the period.


This wonderful Victorian gown is very high quality and absolutely typical of the period, probably late 1870’s rather than 1880.

As Bradfield explains, dresses of this short period were a complete change from those before and after. It is a period when we see to Victorian lady showing her figure all down from the upper torso to the hips and was considered very daring. It was also difficult to walk or sit down, because the bustle was ‘dropped’ and all the internal ties were around and below hip level.

The young lady would have worn a Tournure [dropped bustle cage] below the dress. [See Bradfield, Page 239 – small sketch] As I do not have one of these, my photographs of the lower parts of the dress appear odd! I believe she may also have worn a fine black silk petticoat/skirt below it, with pleating around the hem. I am not sure about this, but they are easy to find.

The dress is very tightly fitted to the body, with a cuirasse bodice, buttoning through the front with stunning embroidered silk buttons in cream to match the soft, figured silk. The beautiful buttons are actually covered, with silk satin ribbons of cream & black, which we also see on the sleeve cuffs and pocket.

The sleeves are of black silk satin, with cut-out diamond shapes, where the ruched cream figured silk puffs out. Deep cuffs, all typical of the period.

At one hip, there is a glorious ‘show’ pocket of black satin, with the same ribbons as seen down the centre front. These were fashionable for a very short period and are now hard to find. At the time, society mocked the young ladies, saying that any pickpocket could steal the contents of the pocket with ease! This pocket is stiffened so that it stays in place beautifully.

At hip level centre back, the dress is sewn into draped pleats as shown in Bradfield. I do not show this very well, so look at the two books mentioned to see how it should look. Inside, there are low bustle ties of silk again, and I think I have shown these too tightly fastened. You will need to ‘play’ with the shape to get it right.

Internally, the dress is very beautifully made, with a glazed cotton cream lining fabric all down to the hips. There are 6 short bones to pinch the waist in and create the long-line ‘princess’ appearance. There is a perfect satin internal waist belt, and the skirt is unlined, to create the soft drapes necessary.

Other features are;

A tiny hidden watch pocket at the waist.

Cream lace in excellent condition finishing all edges and hems.

Shaped lower hem [which is why I think that a skirt/petticoat may have been worn below it]

This dress has all the features of the period – contrasting fabrics, contrasting colours, many details to give a fussy appearance, and of course, the external pocket. Wonderful!




    There is no underarm staining and the lining is all very clean.

    There is a tiny bit of wear to each black satin sleeve – this is very minor.

    There are patches of soft discolouration at one side of the ‘collapsed bustle’, which can possibly be spot cleaned, but these are mostly hidden by the pleats and drapes.

    You see her on my mannequin size 34” chest and 24” waist. It does not button at the midriff [below bust] because she would have worn a corset. Otherwise the fit is perfect. The centre back length is 58” including the lace trim.

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