Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
Silk taffeta, cotton
c. 1883. Brown and tan silk taffeta three-piece dress, with a front-buttoning, long-sleeved cuirass bodice extending over the hips, a floor-length underskirt with a train, and a bustled draped short overskirt.
The bodice is made in the figure-hugging cuirass style, flowing snugly over the hips into a peplum with no waist seam. It has six brown silk taffeta pieces: two front panels with two flared darts each going from the bust to the hem and a horizontal dart between the second dart and the side seam that defines the waist above the hips, two side-back panels with curved back seams, and two center-back panels joined with a center-back seam. It opens in front with twenty silk-wrapped and crocheted domed buttons. The high neck has a 3.8 cm / 1.5 in. high knife pleated frill as a standing collar. The bodice is flat lined with brown cotton, and the peplum has a 5.1 cm / 2 in. wide facing of brown polished cotton. The sleeves are full-length, with a curved two-seam construction. They are smoothly inserted into the scye with no gathers, and are tight-fitting to the wrist.
The floor-length brown silk taffeta underskirt has a train, with all the fullness in back. It has seven shaped panels: three are cut to fit smoothly to the waist in front and at the sides, and four are cartridge pleated at the back. Interior tapes pull the bulk of the skirt behind the legs. It has one hook and eye at the waist in back and is lined at the hem only, with brown polished cotton. The tan silk taffeta overskirt is made of four shaped panels, unlined, draped low in front like an apron to mid-calf and elaborately drawn up in back with interior tapes to form a bustle. A large constructed bow with streamers is tucked beneath the bustle. At the top, the overskirt has a small panel of polished brown cotton at center back with a drawstring to pull the fabric into a bustled shape; this is covered by the bodice peplum which hooks to it to hold the elements together.
The entire dress relies on an interplay of brown and tan taffeta for decorative effect. Bands of bias fabric alternating tan and brown go from the back waist, over the shoulder, to the front waist, ending in elaborate bows. The sleeves are finished with matching banded trim at cuffs. The bodice hem is finished with a tan pleated band. The skirts are trimmed with the contrasting fabric in a variety of pleating and edge-finishing techniques. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.
Bust: 86.4 cm / 34 in.
Waist: 62.2 cm / 24.5 in.
Shoulder: 13.3 cm / 5.25 in.
Sleeve: 55.9 cm / 22 in.
Hem (underskirt): 288.3 cm / 113.5 in.
Length (underskirt front): 106.7 cm / 42 in.
Length (underskirt back): 129.5 cm / 51 in.
Gift of the Nims family. Notes in the original files indicate this is part of a group gift of the Nims family of Keene. Although it is credited as the 1851 wedding dress of matriarch Elizabeth Hosking Nims, stylistically this dress is clearly decades later and is in not a remade 1851 dress. If it is a wedding dress, then based on its cut and details it would be that of Alice Nims, who married in 1883.
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
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Dresses, c. 1883, Keene, New Hampshire, United States, Three-piece dresses, Silk taffeta, Brown (color), Tan (color), Front-opening, Cuirass, Peplum, Darts, Silk-wrapped buttons, Crocheted buttons, Domed buttons, High neck, Knife pleats, Frills, Standing collar, Cotton lining, Polished cotton, Tight-fitting sleeves, Underskirt, Floor-length skirt, Trains (costume components), Cartridge pleats, Tapes, Hooks and eyes, Bustled overskirt, Short overskirt, Bows (costume components), Streamers, Bias fabric, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Nims (donor)