Printed day dress, ca. 1850

This small dress was probably worn by a girl in her teens. Although the skirt is full-length like adult styles, the style of the bodice with a yoke and pleats down the front and back is typical of children’s dress at the time. The dress was made just about the time when sewing machines were first introduced, but they were not used in its construction. The entire dress is completely handsewn.

The bodice is completely lined with cotton twill fabric. The hook and eye closures down the center front are on the lining rather than on the outer wool fabric and are hidden by the pleats. This underbodice is stiffened with baleen from a whale’s mouth (misleadingly known as whalebone), which is enclosed in casing stitched into the lining.

The skirt is fully lined with a different cotton fabric, which is also used to make a pocket. The bottom edge of the skirt, which would have grazed the ground, is protected with a strip of wool braid. The fullness of the skirt was created with the cartridge pleating at the waist. The thickness of these pleats, which is pushed to the inside of the dress, would cause the skirts to stand out from the body.

  1. Printed day dress
    American, ca. 1850
    Printed fabric with wool weft and cotton or linen warp, bodice lined with cotton twill, baleen (whalebone), skirt lined with plainweave cotton, braid
    In memory of Blanche M. Bartshe (Mrs. Glen E.), KSUM 1984.2.46

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2 thoughts on “Printed day dress, ca. 1850

  1. This dress fastens up the front, not the back as the photo shows it has bust darts next to the center front opening. The presence of bust darts also indicate this is dress was not a child’s dress but for a female well into if not past puberty. The yoke and gathered bodice was a style common on children’s dresses, but usually with a low neckline, adult versions had a high neckline as shown here.

    Glenna Jo Christen


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