The Table-Cloth Dress: 1900-1923


Irish Linen Being Made Up Into Very Unique Toilettes

Several New York women, famed more for originality than taste in dress, have ordered what they call “table cloth” gowns. The idea of the table cloth gown no doubt has its origin in the pretty handkerchief waists which attained a sudden popularity during the winter and which, when properly made, were most becoming garments. The new table cloth gowns are unique, and I have seen one or two that were rather smart. They are made of Irish linen cloths, and are either striped or checked in gay colors. A tan linen cloth of a coarse weave checked with orange was made into an effective gown, the corners of the cloth being used for a jaunty bolero finished with fringe and coarse linen lace. It takes three tablecloths to make one of these gowns, and as the cloths cost from $8 to $15 apiece the material is not a small sum. With the table cloth gown coarse straw hats trimmed with fruit and coarse tan lace will be worn. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 28 May 1900: p. 11

Such a gown was this, designed for Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, a Philadelphia society lady:

A Society Woman’s Tablecloth Gown

One of the weird new tablecloth gowns is being worn by Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney. Her experiment is in deep red linen damask and must have required three cloths at a considerable number of dollars per cloth. It is made with a tucked skirt, over which appear straggling navy blue scrolls, with a deep navy blue and red checked border at the bottom. The fanciful corners of the cloth have been made into a bolero of red and blue, which is edged with coarse linen lace with tassels of linen. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 2 June 1900: p. 11

The Tablecloth Gown

All sorts of oddities have been sprung by fickle fashion upon unsuspecting femininity this spring. We have sallied forth with acorns, raisins and even tomatoes on our hats, but one of the latest fads of all is the tablecloth gown.

Of course the tablecloths are colored and have handsome fancy borders. Some of these linen damask tablecloths come in deep rich red, with navy blue scrolls, checks, stripes and spots. Others are a deep tan linen, with orange and navy blue and white in the border.

Still another combination of colors is steel gray with the border of red.

The favorite waist effect is some sort of a bolero. The corners frequently make the bolero, and they may be edged with coarse linen lace. The skirt is, of course, cut to show the contrast of plain material and fancy border to the best advantage.

Tablecloth gowns will be found in some of the most fashionable women’s wardrobes this summer. They are by no means cheap, for three cloths are usually required, and $10 is sometimes paid for each by the fashionable devotee of this very latest wrinkle in gowning. Evening Tribune [Hornell, NY] 11 June 1900: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil wishes that she could have found an illustration of one of these novel frocks. The closest she came was the modern gown at the head of this post and this amusing Christmas table-cloth gown.  Given the “busy-ness” of some coloured damasks, Mrs Daffodil fears that the gowns they inspired were simply hideous, despite the expense.

Red Irish damask cloth

Red Irish damask cloth

The notion of table-cloth dresses seems to have recurred once a decade, from 1900 onward. While the damask table-cloth dresses were costly, this lady found a cheaper substitute while on holiday.

Following the “Tut” dress comes the Mexican table cloth dress introduced in this country by Mrs. George Barnett. Mrs. Barnett made the trip to California via the Panama Canal last winter and she and the other women on the ship experienced discomfort on account of their winter clothes when they reached the canal zone. As the ship stopped at a port on the picturesque canal Mrs. Barnett went ashore and purchased two Mexican table cloths figured all over with fascinating Aztec designs. These she fashioned into a one piece gown, binding it with black satin ribbon and wearing a wide black satin belt. She wore this in the afternoon and was the envy of all of the women on board. In San Francisco she wore her Mexican dresses and soon they became the vogue. Thus are styles made, often through the necessity of invention. Corsicana [TX] Daily Sun 14 July 1923: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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