Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
Silk taffeta, silk satin, cotton
1877-1882. One-piece natural form evening dress made from deep yellow silk taffeta with a blue silk satin pleated lower skirt, with the front-opening bodice having a deep, square neckline and elbow-length sleeves, and the skirt flowing into a long, squared train.
The bodice of this dress had its seams and darts let out between the bust and waist at some point in its history, rendering it almost shapeless and damaging the fabric with unintended strains between the bodice and the attached waistband of the unaltered skirt. A restoration of the original position of these body-shaping elements reveals a very different, much curvier garment. The bodice is cut to in six pieces: two panels at center front with two long steel-boned darts each and a long sharp point in front but rising to just below the hips at the side seam, two side back panels with fabric extending the full length of the train, and two back panels with a center-back seam and another long sharp point. Both bodice points are finished with a double row of piping, one yellow and one pale blue. The bodice closes at center front with twelve large domed buttons which are covered in the same pale blue satin as the piping, and which is reinforced with boning at the button side. The neckline is open, cut deep into a squared shape, finished with a fall of lace. The bodice is flatlined with white cotton.
The shoulders are cut high and angle in and are finished with piping. The sleeves are elbow length, with a two-seam construction, and are smoothly inserted into the scye with no gathers. They still have their fall of lace, however remains of additional lace and silk gauze trimming remains.
The skirt has a foundation layer of white cotton sewn to a waistband which has been sewn to the bodice at the seams. There is a 5.1 cm / 2 in. wide band of the yellow silk sewn to the hem of the cotton foundation skirt, and above this, in front and at the sides, floats a wide pleated frill of pale blue silk satin fabric which has lost a supportive backing layer and most of the stitches controlling the spread of the pleats. At center front this panel has a box pleat with knife pleats radiating out from it on either side, extending in a decreasing wedge to the edges of the train where it finally disappears. Over this, a rectangle of yellow silk extends across the front from one side-back seam to the other, where it is slightly pleated to shorten it, while at center front five vertical rows of gathering stitches shirr the fabric into a high point. This combination of shirring and pleating creates a skirt element with two deep points framing the blue satin pleats, resembling 18th century polonaise styles. Over this, more yellow silk fabric is pleated to the waistband and gathered up with pleats at the side to make a pannier-like shape. Both of these skirt elements are finished with four rows of piping in yellow and blue, and the topmost skirt also has lace on its edge. In back, the fabric for the side-back panel of the bodice is cut from the full width of the yellow silk, 60.3 cm / 23.75 in. wide, and below the waistline the fabric is pleated into two deep knife pleats before being sewn to one full-width center-back skirt train panel. The three panels are cartridge pleated to the waistband and shirred for the next 10.2 cm / 4 in., emerging from beneath the center-back bodice point which floats above them. The train extends from the waistband for 169.5 cm / 66.75 in. and has a square end. After the blue satin of the side skirt ends, the three edges of the train are finished with a box-pleated ruffle. Two ties inside the skirt pull the front tight against the legs and bring all the fullness to the back. The skirt is lined with cotton. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.
Bust (restored): 91.4 cm / 36 in.
Bust (let out): 97.8 cm / 38.5 in.
Waist (restored): 61 cm / 24 in.
Waist (let out): 76.2 cm / 30 in.
Sleeve: 30.5 cm / 12 in.
Shoulder seam: 12.7 cm / 5 in.
Hem (including train): 320 cm / 126 in.
Hem (train alone): 157.5 cm / 62 in.
Length (skirt front): 96.5 cm / 38 in.
Length (skirt back): 169.5 cm / 66.75 in.
Gift of Mary Pepperrell Ffrost Sawyer, Margaret Hamilton Ffrost, and Elizabeth Rollins Ffrost. Likely worn by their mother, Martha Hale Low Ffrost.
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Dresses, 1877-1882, One-piece dresses, Natural form, Evening dresses, Dinner dresses, Silk taffeta, Deep yellow (color), Silk satin, Blue (color), Front-opening, Domed buttons, Deep neckline, Square neckline, Lace, Darts, Steel-boned darts, Piping, Yellow (color), Pale blue (color), Silk, Cotton lining, White (color), Silk gauze trimming, Waistband, Box pleats, Knife pleats, Cartridge pleats, Shirring, Trains (costume components), Ruffles, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Ffrost Sawyer (donor), Hamilton Ffrost (donor), Rollins Ffrost (donor), Ffrost (donor), Frost (donor)