Irma G. Bowen Historic Clothing Collection


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Date Created

c. 1880


Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses


c. 1880. Natural form two-part asymmetrical brown silk taffeta and satin dress, with a front-buttoning, slightly bustled ‘princess line’ sheath overdress and a floor-length underskirt with a train.

The calf-length taffeta overdress is made in the figure-hugging ‘princess line’ style, cut in long panels without a waist seam, and has a complex asymmetrical construction and hem line. Six main shaped pieces extend from the bodice into the skirt: two front panels, two side panels, and two back panels. The two front panels close at center front with thirteen large flat brown shell buttons from the neck to the hips. The panels are shaped with two long darts each, running from below the bust to over the hips, boned only at the waist and up, and with a horizontal dart between the second dart and the side seam that defines the waist above the hips. The side panels are placed directly below the arms and narrow to the waist before flaring over the hips. The right front and right side panels end just below the hips and have horizontal skirt panels added to them. The first panel, folded into large diagonal pleats, is added in at the seam between the side and back panels and curves around to the front right hip, where a second panel, ruched vertically, is added on to continue across to the left hip, creating a diagonal hem line. The left front and left side panels are calf-length. The back panels reach almost to the floor, and each has one 50.8 cm / 20 in. long dart that begins at the shoulder seam, angles toward the small of the back, then flares out over the hip. There is a 61 cm / 24 in. long center-back seam, reaching 26.4 cm / 10.375 in. past the waist, at which point the left back skirt is pleated into a low draped bustle wrapping over to the right side seam, while the right back skirt is allowed to hang straight down; this uses the full 50.8 cm / 20 in. width of the fabric and has narrow gores added on either side to make it wide enough to cover the back of the skirt. The effect, in back, is of a three-tiered skirt once the underskirt is in place.

The underskirt is a separate floor-length garment with a train, and is made of a plain brown cotton fabric, reserving the silk taffeta only for where it shows beneath the overdress. Small fabric-covered buttons at either side ensure the two skirts cannot drift apart to show the cotton, and it has an integral bustle pad of five rows of ruffles at center back.

The dress bodice is flat-lined with brown cotton to the hips, and there is a 10.2 cm / 4 in. wide waist stay made of the same fabric, closing in front with five hooks and eyes. The skirt of the overdress is unlined. The silk portions of the underskirt are lined with a dark brown polished cotton.

The dress uses the contrasting textures of satin and taffeta in its embellishments. The bodice is fairly plain, decorated only with a 2.54 cm / 1 in. high standing band collar over a narrow bib-like yoke, both in brown silk satin. The fitted three-quarter length sleeves, which have a curved two-seam construction and small pleats at the elbow on the outside seam, have cuffs flared with six pleats in back and have a brown silk satin asymmetrical band with two buttons. Both skirts are heavily decorated with elaborate appliqué, piping, bound edges, pleating, and ruching in a variety of combinations. Professionally made. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.


Bust: 86.4 cm / 34 in.
Waist: 62.2 cm / 24.5 in.
Shoulder: 14 cm / 5.5 in.
Sleeve: 51.4 cm / 20.25 in.
Hem (underskirt): 321.3 cm / 126.5 in.
Length (underskirt front): 94 cm / 37 in.
Length (underskirt back): 134.6 cm / 53 in.

Museum Number



University of New Hampshire Library


Silk taffeta and silk satin, cotton


Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator

Date Digitized


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International 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.

Asymmetrical_Brown_Silk_Natural_Form_Extended_Description.pdf (72 kB)
Asymmetrical brown silk dress

Frugal_Fashion_in_the_19th_Century.pdf (1588 kB)
Frugal Fashion in the 19th Century


Dresses, c. 1880, Two-piece dresses, Princess line, Natural form, Silk taffeta, Satin, Sheath overdress, Front-buttoning, Shell buttons, Darts, Boned darts, Bustle, Asymmetrical, Three-quarter length sleeves, Underskirt, Floor-length skirt, Tiered skirt, Trains (costume components), Cotton, Brown (color), Cloth-covered buttons, Bustle pad, Ruffles, Cotton lining, Waist stay, Hooks and eyes, Polished cotton lining, Dark brown, Standing band collar, Yoke, Appliqué, Piping, Bound edges, Pleating, Ruching, Professionally made, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn