In the late nineteenth century, women had access on a seasonal basis to an enormous variety of mass-produced printed dress 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. Presented in vertical lines, they suggest rows of bubbles streaming upward. Seen through the transparent layer of the overskirt, the dots on the underskirt give the impression of shadows.
Uncomplicated in its overall 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. Small black faceted glass buttons that form the center front closure and scallop-edged lace trimming add dainty finishing touches.