B. Altman French satin tea gown, c.1900
Elegant tea gowns, the mainstay of every lady's wardrobe, were worn by society ladies in the privacy of their homes before dinner. They could relax with loosened corsets hidden under the flowing designs. This lovely French creation from the upscale store B. Altman in New York would have been worn by a fashionable lady of means.
What gorgeous color! The tea gown is fashioned from heavenly lilac satin still fresh and pretty despite of the passage of time. The gown is unboned and is lined with matching China silk.
The style is borrowed from 18th century open robes. In this updated version, the open front of the skirt is filled in with delicate lace where the petticoat would have been in the open robe. And don't think tea dresses are out of style. At her first collection for Gucci, Frida Giannini offered tea dresses 2006-style.
The cape collar and sleeve flounces are fashioned from the same lace. The gown closes in front with hidden hooks; the green silk ribbons are decorative only.
Provenance: The tea gown has a handwritten label with the name of the original owner—see the bottom picture: "Mrs. J.W. Tillinghast," a society figure at the turn of the century. Included with the dress will be a replica of the original New York Times society page of July 28, 1906, which reports in part:
"Over 800 persons will be at Bretton Woods (NH) by the week end in the great hotels, the Mount Washington and the Mount Pleasant. There will also arrive noted society people...Mrs. Taylor of New York, who occupies a cottage at the Profile House, is entertaining Miss Mary Burke of Chicago, Mrs. J.W. Tillinghast of Albany..."
The condition is almost excellent. There are several barely visible mends in the lace; a few of the silk ribbons are fraying; and the inside of the neckline is soiled. These are minor flaws that do not detract from the beauty of the piece when displayed.
Since the gown in its original condition was a major design statement, design integrity must take precedence: removing or altering an important part of the garment would detract from the original design statement. There is no underarm or other structural damage.
It measures: 42" bust, 36" waist, full in the hip, 15 1/2" from shoulder seam to shoulder seam, 23" sleeve length without the lace ruffle, and 55 1/2" from the shoulder to the hem.