Dressing Up, Dressing Down

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1868-1870 purple dress sleeve (1955.26)
1868-1870 purple dress (1955.26)
1868-1870 purple dress topless (1955.26)
1868-1870 purple dress back (1955.26)
1868-1870 purple dress detail (1955.26)

Comprising a very complicated design which would have been difficult to manufacture, the silk from which this dress is made would have been exceptionally expensive. Almost certainly woven in France, it is printed with roses and "trompe l'oeil" ribbons on a watered or moire ground. So that she could use this outfit for both informal daytime events, and also on more formal evening occasions, the owner commissioned her dressmaker to provide two alternate bodices. sleeved and sleeveless, which she could then wear with the same skirt. Thus a costly fabric could be shown off on a maximum number of occasions.

The matching skirt is cut in seven gored panels, using far more fabric, so the two contrasting bodices provide an economical way to maximise the potential of this outfit. As is typified in this outfit, day bodices in the middle of the nineteenth century always had long sleeves, and usually a high round neckline; whilst evening ones had low plunging necks or decolletage, with short sleeves or fully sleeveless.

Full item descriptions:

"dress" [1955.26]

Related Themes:

Materials and Making
Victorian Photographs: Men & Women
Victorian Photographs: Family Groups