Gold silk and blue velvet dress, ca. 1880

The interior of this dress is so beautiful it is no surprise that the maker added her label. Waistbands of petersham ribbon were common in dress bodices from the 1870s through to the 1910s. While they anchored the waist of the bodice, they also served as a place for the dressmaker to add her name and address. One of the benefits of custom made clothing is that it can compensate for perceived figure flaws. A peak inside this bodice reveals that the bust has been generously enhanced with padding.

Around 1880, skirts were relatively slim down the legs but finished in a wide, sweeping train. To keep the train from folding in on itself and from wearing out on the floor, the floorside of the skirt was finished with rows and rows of ruffles. The term in French for the bottom ruffle is balayeuse, which means sweeper. This cotton ruffle was easily replaced once it wore out. The fullness at the back of the petticoat was created by tying the sides together with tapes. The ties in this skirt combine elastic and silk ribbons. Such ties are typical of the full bustle skirts of the 1880s. While a similar concept to the ties in the 18th century skirt, these run horizontally when tied rather than vertically.

  1. Gold silk and blue velvet ensemble
    Label: “Mrs. C. Donigan 109 West 12th St. New York”
    American, ca. 1880
    Jacquard woven gold silk, ivory taffeta, silk fringe, dark blue velvet, petersham waistband, baleen (whalebone), ivory cotton petticoat, starched cotton ruffles and lace, buckram
    Gift of Elizabeth Macintyre, KSUM 1995.49.1 a-c

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3 thoughts on “Gold silk and blue velvet dress, ca. 1880

    • No, there is no reason to believe it is maternity wear. It was fashionable to have a little bit of fullness in the belly – that was partly shaped with the corset. Furthermore, the fullness in the bodice is exaggerated with the fringe at the front. The skirt should probably be a little fuller in the front. In fact, there would originally have been an overskirt which would have filled in the front. It also appears from the photograph that the torso of the mannequin tips backward which makes the belly appear to bump out a little.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I spoke too quickly: ”
    English women don’t appear to have viewed pregnancy with as much shame

    Queen Victoria welcomed Lady Charlotte Guest (6 months pregnant) to a ball at the palace in 1840, Queen Victoria was pregnant herself”

    just found this online, courtesy an “Elena Greene” dot com website where pregnancy and childbirth sources listed for historical writing purposes. I did not know this about Lady Guest or Queen Victoria. Learn something new…


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