Two day dresses of the very early 1880s in the collection demonstrate the differences and similarities of style and quality dictated by wealth, class and occasion: the one piece dress in this image, and the two piece dress seen as a Related Item. The brown dress is roughly constructed, partly by hand and partly by machine, of stout fabric with inexpensive buttons. Despite the contrasting bands of dark brown silk and the horizontal waistband harking back to the previous decade, its slim line, puffed bustle back, horizontal ruching and curved extended neckline are all contemporary characteristics shared with the up-to-date silk dress, suggesting a garment that belonged to a lower middle class or working class woman aspiring to a fashionable appearance.
The pale greeny blue dress, an afternoon dress of an affluent woman, clearly involved hours of expensive work in its construction from fine silk twill. Although a stylish contemporary garment, its softly draped fabric of a delicate hue, the extensive areas of ruching mimicking smocking, and of puffing and draping, reflect an influence of artistic dress (see an example of around the same date belonging to Hull Museums). By the early 1880s middle and upper class women with cultural interests would have been aware of the impact of the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts movements on contemporary arts in their espousal of an idealised rural past, and chosen to incorporate elements of this aesthetic into their clothing to achieve a picturesque, yet fashionable, appearance.
For more information see Related Item.