Irma G. Bowen Historic Clothing Collection
 

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Creator

Lucinda Litchfield Smith (likely)

Date Created

1860-1863

Subject

Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses

Medium

Silk damask

Description

1860-1863. Teenage girl’s green silk damask Swiss waist dress with pinked shoulder straps and a full, pleated floor-length skirt, opening in front, worn over a separate cotton long-sleeve and high-necked blouse.

The bodice is flat-lined to a brown cotton twill and has three pieces: two front panels with two darts each, and one back panel with two curved tucks positioned where side-back seams would fall. There is no boning. The fabric wraps around the torso beneath the arms, giving the bodice a low straight neckline in front and back, as well as a straight waistline, and is held in place with narrow 27.9 cm / 11 in. long shoulder straps set wide over the arms. The bodice is quite short, just 14 cm / 5.5 in. long at the slightly diagonal side seams, which are positioned toward the back, and 14.6 cm / 5.75 in. long at the center front opening. The opening has seven hooks, with four green decorative buttons sewn to the left front. The bodice hem is finished with narrow piping made from the dress fabric, and this fabric is also used to make strips of ruffled trim. These trim strips are a single thickness of silk, 4.1 cm / 1.625 in. wide, hand-stamped from the fabric with a pinking iron to form their pinked, scalloped edges, then slightly gathered and sewn down along their center line. One piece 30.5 cm / 12 in. long trims the back neckline, one piece 29.2 cm / 11.5 in. long trims each front neckline, and one piece 41.9 cm / 16.5 in. long rises from the waist in back at each side seam and over the shoulder to the top edge of the bodice in front. The bodice requires a separate blouse to be worn beneath it, such as the example shown here (Museum Number 294). It has a simple construction of one back panel and two front panels closing at center with buttons, a short standing band collar, dropped shoulders, and long sleeves, and is embellished with corded vertical shirring and a narrow ruffle sewn into the back sleeve seams.

The dress skirt is pleated to a waistband that is sewn to the bodice, with 10.2 cm / 4 in. left free on the right front over a 24.1 cm / 9.5 in. long slit that facilitates dressing. The skirt has eight pieces: one front panel with a center-front box pleat, two side-front panels with one box pleat each, two side panels, two side-back panels, and one back panel. The side, side-back, and back panels are all cartridge-pleated to the waist, creating more fullness in the back than in the front. Like the bodice, the skirt is trimmed with pinked fabric strips. Four stacked rows in graduating widths from 5.1 cm / 2 in. to 4.1 cm / 1.625 in. are sewn into four large swags encircling the skirt roughly halfway to the hem, and the hem itself is finished with two horizontal rows of the trim. The skirt has a brown cotton twill facing of variable width at the hem. A green and white brocade ribbon bow is tacked to the waist in back, measuring 22.9 cm / 9 in. across and with 48.3 cm / 19 in. long streamers.

It is possible that the rich green of this garment and bow are the result of an arsenic-containing chemical dye, though there were many ways to achieve green at this time. Still, arsenic-based greens were popular because they were brighter and more stable than greens produced by overdyeing blue and yellow. The dangers of arsenic-bearing clothes and accessories came from ongoing exposure, and so the risks were far greater for workers producing the materials than for those simply wearing them. While these greens eventually became the focus of public outcry, the reality was that in the 19th century, arsenic compounds were ubiquitous and readily available, present in chemical dyes for other colors as well as in paint, wallpapers, furnishings, cosmetics, curatives, and more. Homemade. Hand-sewn.

Extent

Bust: 83.8 cm / 33 in.
Waist: 58.4 cm / 23 in.
Hem: 271.8 cm / 107 in.
Length (skirt front): 96.5 cm / 38 in.
Length (skirt back): 104.8 cm / 41.25 in.

Provenance

Gift of the Freeman family. Worn by Celestia Smith at around age 17-20, before she married Cyrus Freeman. Likely made by her mother, Lucinda Litchfield Smith, who died in 1868. In 1870, Celestia Smith Freeman moved with her husband and young son to company housing at the Great Falls Manufacturing Company in Somersworth, New Hampshire, where Cyrus was a textile mill overseer. Shortly after her arrival in Somersworth, she made and wore another dress in the Bowen Collection, Museum Number 114.

Museum Number

55

Publisher

University of New Hampshire Library

Contributor

Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator

Date Digitized

6-26-2019

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

Comments

The Irma G. Bowen Historic Clothing Collection digital catalog was produced by the UNH Library Digital Collection Initiative, supported in part by a grant from the Mooseplate program and New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Additional funding provided by the E. Ruth Buxton Stephenson Memorial Fund.
Photography copyright, Astrida Schaeffer.

Keywords

Dresses, Swiss waists, Blouses, 1860-1863, Lewiston, Maine, United States, Teenage girls' dresses, Green (color), Arsenic, Silk damask, Shoulder straps, Full skirt, Floor-length skirt, Pleats, Front-opening, Long-sleeve blouse, High-necked blouse, Cotton twill, Brown (color), Darts, Tucks, Low neckline, Straight neckline, Straight waistline, Waistband, Hooks, Decorative buttons, Piping, Ruffles, Cotton twill, Pinked edges, Scalloping, Gathering (textile process), Box pleats, Brocade ribbon, White (color), Bows (costume components), Homemade, Hand-sewn, Freeman family (donor)

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