B. Altman embroidered tea dress, c.1912
The crisp blue-and-white palette—recalling the beauty of Delft tiles and Chinese export porcelains—touches a deep chord in our collective aesthetic consciousness. The designer cleverly tapped into the cultural archetype with an appealing alternative to the all-white tea dress. We never tire of this color scheme: it is both antique and fresh to modern eyes.
The outer layer has alternating panels of blue cotton batiste and white cotton tulle embellished with blue embroidered floral appliqués. The under layer is of plain white cotton tulle. Both layers are attached at the waist to a petersham. The two layers of the bodice close separately in front with hooks.
The sheer dress will need a slip. Dresses from this period generally had sashes. I tied a ribbon around the waist to show the beguiling effect. You can add a sash or leave it plain. The skirt closes with small snaps.
The embroidered floral appliqués are of the last degree of charm. Wispy tendrils caress the flowers in a masterful display of the embroiderer's art. You will not find such fine hand embroidery on a dress today at this price point.
The tea dress was a type of déshabillé ("undress") that first appeared in the 1870s when day and evening dresses were tightly fitted. Tailor made dresses of the 1880s were even more severe. A welcome alternative was the tea dress: more comfortable, artistic, and fanciful.
The dress was originally purchased at the legendary B. Altman department store in New York, which opened in 1906 and catered to the carriage trade.
The condition is very good. The dress shows gentle wear and has several pin prick holes in the sleeves.
It measures: 36" bust, 26" waist, 36" hip, and 56" from shoulder to hem.