Irma G. Bowen Historic Clothing Collection


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Date Created

c. 1875


Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses; Housedresses




c. 1875. Two-piece cotton princess line housedress, roller printed with small brown geometric patterns, buttoned in front, with full-length curved sleeves, and a separate floor-length underskirt with more fullness in back.

The housedress is made of five full-length, roughly trapezoidal pieces cut narrowest in the bodice and widest at the hem: two center-front panels, two side-back panels, and one center-back panel. Each front panel is cut with its center edge entirely on the straight grain and its side seam edge on the bias; each side-back panel is cut on the straight grain in the skirt where it meets the back panel and with its side seam edge on the bias, and with the bodice portion of the panel entirely on the bias; and the back panel is cut with the straight grain at its center and its edges on the bias, angling in from the shoulders to the waist and out from the waist to the hem. The dress opens in front from its neck to the hem with twenty-one functional domed buttons.

The bodice portion of the dress is flatlined to undyed cotton twill which has an unfinished bottom edge at the waist. The front panels each have a horizontal dart at the side front to take in extra fabric at the waist, and two long darts which run from the bust to over the hips but are boned only to the waist. The dress neckline is high and has a standing ruffle, 4.1 cm / 1.625 in. high, made of the dress fabric. A 2.54 cm / 1 in. printed brown cotton band anchors it 3.8 cm / 1.5 in. out from the neckline edge. The shoulders are slightly dropped, and the sleeves are full length, with a curved two-seam construction. They are very slightly gathered to the scye and fit the arm loosely, narrowing to the wrist from the elbow. A 4.1 cm / 1.625 in. wide printed brown cotton band is sewn above the sleeve hem to secure a 7.6 cm / 3 in. wide ruffle, made of the dress fabric, so that it is even with the hem. There is piping at the neckline and scyes.

The waistline is defined only by the tailoring of the dress, there is no waist seam. The fabric flows into the skirt from the bodice in shaped panels, and the front panels have godets to add width to the skirt hem. In addition to the narrowing cut of the individual panels at the waist, fabric fullness is controlled by the bodice darts at the front and by pleats in the side-back and center-back seams. There are remains of interior tapes partway down the side-back seams; these would have been used to keep fabric fullness in back or to bustle the skirt, but they are too short now to be functional and their original length and the effect they were intended to achieve is not known. Without the tapes pulling the skirt to the back, the darts in front release enough fabric that soft pleats form in the skirt beneath them. Given the private nature of the garment, it is possible that this fullness is intentional, to allow for use in pregnancy.

A patch pocket is sewn to the right side of the skirt, trimmed to match the sleeves and a similar ruffle and band trim finishes the skirt hem. The skirt is unlined. A matching underskirt has a 2.54 cm / 1 in. wide waistband, to which six panels are sewn. One center-front panel, two side panels, and two side-back panels are gored and fit smoothly to the waistband. The front panel has one small knife pleat above each seam, and the other panels all have one small pleat at their centers. The back panel is a rectangle, cut on the straight grain, and is tightly gathered at the waist. It has a slit at center for dressing, which closes with two hooks. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.


Bust: 95.3 cm / 37.5 in.
Waist: 78.7 cm / 31 in.
Shoulder: 14.6 cm / 5.75 in.
Sleeve: 56.5 cm / 22.25 in.
Hem (dress): 323.9 cm / 127.5 in.
Hem (skirt): 309.9 cm / 122 in.
Length (dress skirt front): 93.3 cm / 36.75 in.
Length (dress skirt back): 106 cm / 41.75 in.
Length (underskirt front): 98.4 cm / 38.75 in.
Length (underskirt back): 108 cm / 42.5 in.


Gift of Mary Pepperrell Ffrost Sawyer, Margaret Hamilton Ffrost, and Elizabeth Rollins Ffrost.

Museum Number



University of New Hampshire Library


Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator

Date Digitized


Creative Commons License

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


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.


Dresses, Robes, Housedresses, Wrappers, c. 1875, Two-piece dresses, Princess line, Cuirass, Maternity, Cotton twill, Roller printed, Geometric pattern, Brown (color), Front opening, Buttons, Domed buttons, High neckline, Ruffles, Full-length sleeves, Curved sleeves, Darts, Knife pleats, Floor-length skirt, Gores, Underskirt, Tapes, Pocket, Hooks, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Ffrost Sawyer (donor), Hamilton Ffrost (donor), Rollins Ffrost (donor), Ffrost (donor), Frost (donor)