Rate the Dress: mid-century plaid

Last week I showed you a ca. 1890 high-society half-mourning dress.  Some of you were totally behind the dress, until you saw the behind of the dress (yes, I have been waiting a whole week to use that!).  Some of you loved it, stripey ‘I backed into a fireplace and did the world’s most awkward mend’ and all.  And some of you disliked the whole thing: stripey back panel, lace sleeves, ribbon trim, velvet bow and all.  It frequently got points for ‘entertainment value’ if nothing else, coming in at

I’ve been drooling over 1840s frocks recently (helped by Sarah’s amazing 1840s paisley maternity dress), so thought I should post something along those lines.  This one isn’t paisley, but it is an even more classically 1840s pattern: plaid.  The colour schemes of muted blues, ambers and browns is also classically 1840s.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is associated with the wedding of Laura Phillips nee Battle, to Charles Phillips, held at Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina on Dec 8th 1847.  Laura is believed to have worn the dress as a ‘second day’ dress, for a reception or events held the day after her wedding.  The NC Museum of History also hold Laura’s wedding dress: a lovely confection in white organdy and lace, shoes and stockings, and various other articles associated with her wedding (search ‘Laura Phillips’ to see them).

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

While her wedding dress is gorgeous, I thought this one was more interesting for being wearable for events afterwards.  To make it even more versatile, the dress came with a matching pelerine cape.  In a number of other 1830s and 40s dresses I have seen with matching capes, the cape hides a lower neckline, and makes an evening dress suitable for daytime wear.  In this case the neckline is already suitable high (and would have been worn with a collar), but the cape gives it a different look.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is a tiny bit too small for the dressform, but that does at least give us a rather nice look at the tidy row of hooks that fasten the back!

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

What do you think?  Is this classically 1840s dress classic and interesting?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Rate the Dress: A visit to Paris, ca 1890

Last week I showed you a luxurious silk frock inspired by simple folk embroidery.  The scores were all over the place: mad love, complete revulsion.  Quite a few of you expressed doubt that it would look good on most women, which didn’t help its score.  Overall, the dress came in at 6.9 out of 10 – very close to the 7 that was the most commonly given score.

This week, we’re leaving peasant chic behind, and going very upscale: Paris couturier fashions in the 1890s.  It’s not quite Worth, but this gown reflects the decadence of late 19th fashion that he helped to inspire, and the caché that his work lent to Parisian fashions.

This gown was purchased by American heiress Cara Leland (née Rogers) Broughton, either on a European tour just before her first marriage, or after she was widowed a year later in 1891, but  before she married (only slightly) upper class Englishman, Urban H Broughton in 1895.  His work as an MP and during WWI led to Cara being given the title of Lady Fairhaven after his death, meaning that Cara is sometimes used as an example of a Dollar Princess or a Buccaneer (though only in a fast and loose usage of the terms, I would contend).

While purchased by Cara, the dress may have been worn by her older sister Anne.  The restrained black and white colour scheme means it is possible that the gown was used for the later stages of mourning by Cara, or by Anne, who would have had a much shorter, more relaxed mourning period for her brother-in-law (or either one could have been in morning for another family member).

While the colour scheme is restrained, the rest of the dress is anything but.  There are lines of lace, ribbon, and bows.  Layers of light frothy cloth and lace.  Texture upon texture.

The entire dress is quite muted and diffused, until you get to the unexpectedly bold stripes of the back skirt panel.

The more you look at the dress, the more details there are to find: the way the lines of ribbon keep the tulle flat over the hips, allowing it to escape in gathers below.  The unexpected asymmetry of a few lines of lace on one side of the black and white striped panel.

What do you think of the dress?  Is it an interesting way to do a very simple colour scheme, perhaps for mourning?  Is it the garish vulgarity of nouveau riche that the term ‘Dollar Princess’ usually implied (Cara’s family had been reasonably prominent for generations, so nouveau riche isn’t quite accurate).  Does it say ‘widow seeking exciting new husband!’ or ‘woman with a more interesting story than meets the eye’?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

The ‘Downs Self Adjusting Corset’

Sometimes having friends who point out things that you might be interested in is fabulous.  And sometimes it is…dangerous.

Like when you are just going along, minding your own business, not finding things that you don’t need to buy on Trademe, and then a friend emails you and says “Just saw this auction and thought of you!”  And the auction is corset advertising cards from the early 1880s.  And you say “thanks, but I really don’t need them”.  And you keep saying that.  And then somehow (you really can’t explain it, it was like an out of body experience) you end up buying them.

So now I am the proud/slightly ashamed owner of two ‘Downs Self Adjusting Corset’ trading cards from the early 1880s.

The first one features a fashionable (albeit slightly garishly clad) lass and her pug on a quest for a Downs self adjusting corset':

'Downs self adjusting corset' 1880s advertising cards thedreamstress.com

And the second one features a smug miss who has already achieved the goal (an accomplishment which has inexplicably earned her a pair of over-the-sleeve bracelets and an ermine trimmed robe – because this is 1880s advertising and nothing makes sense).

'Downs self adjusting corset' 1880s advertising cards thedreamstress.com

 

The backs of the cards are identical, and extol the virtues of the Downs Self-Adjusting Corset: its ‘scientific and sanitary principals’ and the way it combines ‘Beauty of form, COMFORT, HEALTH and DURABILITY’ (because logical capitalization and punctuation is another thing that doesn’t exist in 1880’s advertising).  Oooh, and it comes with optional shoulder straps and skirt supports!

'Downs self adjusting corset' 1880s advertising cards thedreamstress.com

 

I’ve done a bit of research, and while there isn’t much written on the Down’s corset, they did a lot of advertising in the 1880s, touting the corset as ‘The Best, most Healthful and Comfortable corset on the market” which “adapts itself to the various positions that the body assumes in stooping, sitting or reclining” and “gives perfect ease in all positions, affording great relief to the wearer.”  The magic construction that allowed this to happen?  “Silk elastic gores (covered with fine muslin) above and below a corded waistband.

In looking at the illustration of the corset, the elastic gores are quite visible, as is the shaped straight (rather than spoon) busk, the corded bust, and corded front panel, as well as the lines of boning on either side of the elastic panel.  It’s quite a clear illustration, and I think I shall have to give my own version of the Downs’ Self-Adjusting Corset a go!

'Downs self adjusting corset' 1880s advertising cards thedreamstress.com

 

If you are wondering about the trading cards themselves, they are quite small – 5″ high by 3″ wide, and have some pencil marks on the back.

I wonder how they got from Allen, Michigan to New Zealand?  Quite possibly the Trademe bought them on e-Bay recently, marked up the price and put them up for sale on Trademe – it happens.

I’m unlikely to ever own an original 19th century corset, but I’m enjoying adding these to my PD corset box, and building a little collection of corset paraphernalia!

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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