Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
Silk, wool, velvet, lace, jet
c. 1892. One-piece aesthetic or reform dress, wine red and black ribbed silk and wool, trimmed with black velvet, lace, and jet, with leg-of-mutton sleeves and a floor-length skirt with a small train.
The dress is built onto a highly structured plain weave silk lining, which has ten pieces: two center-front panels with two boned darts each, two side-front panels, and a six-piece back constructed of two back panels with a center-back seam, flanked by two narrow curved panels on each side. All seams and darts are boned, for a total of sixteen stays. The bodice extends just past the waist and rises to the base of the neck. It closes at center front with twenty alternating hooks and eyes, and is joined to the outer fabric only at the side seams and scyes. It is currently badly torn and can no longer provide shaping.
The dress itself is shaped to skim the bust, waist, and hips, flowing directly into the skirt without a waist seam. The construction is deceptively simple: the main piece is cut from a single length of 119.4 cm / 47 in. wide fabric, wrapped around the torso from the front, nearly meeting at center back in the torso, and seamed to itself only at the shoulders. The center front is cut away from the neck to the waist, as is the curve for the back of the collar and the two scyes. The rectangle is further transformed by a total of two pleats and four darts which do all the required torso shaping. The pleats flank the front opening at the waist, capturing the loose drape of the fabric beneath the bust then freeing it to create the necessary width of the skirt below the hips. Each side of the dress then has one dart 34.9 cm / 13.75 in. long, which runs down from the scye to define the waist and the curve over the hip. In back, a pair 35.6 cm / 14 in. long darts flanks the center, beginning at the back of each scye and arching toward the small of the back, drawing the fabric in to conform to the curves of the small of the back and releasing it over the swell of the posterior. While this single rectangle is enough to form the dress bodice and front of the skirt, more fabric is needed to complete the back of the skirt and the train. One 26.7 cm / 10.5 in. wide and 105.4 cm / 41.5 in. high triangular gore is added in at each side. Then, to create a dramatic sweeping mermaid train, a cross-grain panel using a full width of the ribbed fabric and measuring 44.5 cm / 17.5 in. wide at the top and 176.5 cm / 69.5 in. wide at the hem is knife pleated down to 6.4 cm / 2.5 in. and sewn to the gores at its sides. The hem is finished with an 8.6 cm / 3.375 in wide trim band made of three rows of bias-cut dress fabric alternating with two of black velvet. The skirt is fully lined with black plain weave silk, and there is a small bustle pad sewn to the lining.
With the front of the bodice deliberately cut away and shaped by its pleats into a long, slightly flat-bottomed V, the dress is given a black ribbed wool knife pleated dickey with a high collar to fill the entire length of the bodice center, closing to the bodice lining on the left side with five hooks and eyes and with three on the collar. This is framed with two narrow black velvet panels sewn in at the shoulders and crossing at the waist to create the effect of a vest, secured with two hooks and eyes on the left and four on the right. The velvet is trimmed with jet and faced with a deep red velvet, and the dress might have been worn with the edges of the “vest” popped to show the splash of color. The edges of the ribbed main fabric have three hooks at the right side of the waist where the pleat disguises a slit cut further into the skirt to facilitate dressing; a shallow V-shaped piece of the main fabric is sewn to the top of the skirt, emerging from the bodice opening pleat on the left side and fastening to the right. In back, the center of the bodice is filled with a 43.2 cm / 17 in. long narrow black velvet panel from collar to waist, where the 4.4 cm / 1.75 in. wide gap, just past the small of the back, is bridged by a 5.1 cm / 2 in. high tab of the ribbed fabric. The pleated top of the skirt’s train is sewn to this tab. The shoulders are covered with a yoke of black lace in front and back, with cord-work added to the ends bringing appliquéd lace elements into the skirt.
The sleeves of the dress are extremely full at the top, made in the leg-of-mutton or gigot style, and have one seam. They narrow past the elbow to the wrist, where the hem is finished with a slit and a facing of the red velvet. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.
Bust: 108 cm / 42.5 in.
Waist: 90.2 cm / 35.5 in.
Shoulder: 11.4 cm / 4.5 in.
Sleeve: 62.9 cm / 24.75 in.
Hem: 348 cm / 137 in.
Length (skirt front): 105.4 cm / 41.5 in.
Length (skirt back): 127 cm / 50 in.
Gift of Mary Pepperrell Ffrost Sawyer, Margaret Hamilton Ffrost, and Elizabeth Rollins 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, c. 1892, Dover, New Hampshire, United States, One-piece dresses, Aesthetic dresses, Reform dresses, Natural form, Princess line, Wool, Silk, Plain weave, Velvet, Wine red (color), Black (color), Boned darts, Stays, Knife pleats, Hooks and eyes, Lace, Appliqué, Cord-work, Jet (coal), Dickey, High collar, Gigot sleeves, Leg-of-mutton sleeves, Floor-length skirt, Bustle pad, Gores, Trains (costume components), Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Ffrost Sawyer (donor), Hamilton Ffrost (donor), Rollins Ffrost (donor), Ffrost (donor), Frost (donor)