Cotton mull sporting ensemble
English or American, mid-1880s
From the mid-century, the rise in tourism and women's growing participation in outdoor physical activities required yet more specialized toilettes. However, clothes worn for walking, skating, yachting, and tennis, all followed the fashionable silhouette, limiting overly strenuous—and by definition, unladylikeexertion. Perhaps worn for a gentle round of croquet or strolling, this summer day dress made an eye-catching appearance.

Women had access on a seasonal basis to an enormous variety of mass-produced printed cottons. Characteristic of the mid-1880s is this bold and somewhat whimsical design. Tiny white irregular shapes, graduated in size, fill the upper part of the black polka dots, set against a sheer white self-striped ground. Seen through the transparent layer of the overskirt, the dots on the underskirt give the impression of shadows.

Uncomplicated in its construction, the three-piece dress shows off the graphic pattern to advantage. The front and back of the jacket bodice are lightly pleated from shoulder to hem, bringing the rows of dots close together—in contrast to their wide spacing on the sleeves and skirts. The overskirt reveals the judicious use of fabric often seen during the period. Probably cut from the same length, the right side gore is placed upside down while the left side gore is turned to the reverse side. Due to the design's regularity and the cotton's sheerness of the cotton, this clever economy is not readily apparent. Black faceted glass buttons and scallop-edged lace trimming add dainty finishing touches.

According to The New York Fashion Bazar of July 1883, "printed mulls are among the latest novelties." This dress with its airy pattern would have made a perfect ensemble for "the month of…intense heat," and diaphanous fashion.



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