Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
Mother Greeting Child
In this vignette, the French brass carriage clock on the breakfast tray has just struck 9:00am and the lady of the house, in her role as mother, makes time over her morning tea to hear of her young daughter’s plans for an active summer’s day, including a children’s luncheon party at 1:00pm. She greets her daughter after rising from her late 19th century French giltwood Louis XV style chaise and setting aside her recently delivered breakfast tray and Spode porcelain tea service. This chaise belonged originally to Frederick Vanderbilt -- brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt II of The Breakers and William K. Vanderbilt of Marble House -- and was used at his Hyde Park, NY estate on the Hudson River. The Spode service belonged to Mrs. William Greenough, a great beauty of the Gilded Age often depicted by society portrait artist Paul César Helleu, who divided her time between New York, Paris, and Newport. Mrs. Greenough's father, architect Whitney Warren, designed New York's Grand Central Terminal in 1913.
The declining popularity of corsetry in fashion, combined with the growing recognition among educators of the importance of play and freedom of movement in children's development, resulted in less restrictive and less formal clothing for both adults and children in the 20th century. This little girl’s dress reflects a well-to-do childhood with changes of clothes for school, play, and formal events, whereas middle-class children might have had only one or two outfits for each occasion. White cotton in a variety of weights and weaves was the most popular choice for both boys' and girls' clothing during this period because it could withstand the aggressive laundering techniques that would have been administered by members of an upper class household staff. This was in contrast to the fragile silks, lace, and embroidery of a lady’s dressing gown, which required specialty care to maintain their perfectly ethereal appearance. Dressing gowns for women mimicked changing daywear fashions, and the raised waistline of the mother's dressing gown is exemplary of this shift away from the lower placement of the corseted waistline earlier in the Victorian period.
Photography by Al Weems