I bow to nobody in my appreciation of Weird Victorian Antics, hold a gold medal for getting distracted by bizarre stuff from Victorian periodicals and should in any case really be concentrating on my viva prep / teaching prep / article.
Neverthless, thanks to a database search gone (so) wrong, I just found the following paragraph at the start of an 1888 article on women’s fashion and beauty:
“Hints to Women: [...]
TEA GOWNS. If you want to look your prettiest, to bewitch your husband or big brother, to fascinate your cousin or to charm your friends en masse, get a tea gown.” [emphasis mine. Like the screams]
The guilty publication was The Daily Inter Ocean, published on 12 February 1888 in Chicago, presumably then a city of webbed feet, hairy backs and family trees that would have made Queen Victoria’s maddest lapdog look like a good genetic prospect.
The article then goes on to say that the tea dress is “strikingly English”, to which I can only respond with a whoa there, 1880s Chicago, don’t blame your scary sibling-bewitching fashion tips on us.
Please use the comments to offer suggestions on what other fashions might have been great, er, ice-breakers in the 1880s, attempt a serious discussion about what this article says about the brother/sister dynamic, or just join me in repeating or big brother in whatever typeface best suits your “my eyes, it burns” textual needs.