Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1907-09 Blue Wool Visiting Dress

"2-piece Hyacinth Blue Suit and Blouse. Worn in Kearny by Florence Parisen Kennealy who was a milliner and made the blue plume hat. Circa 1900. Gifts of the Autenrieth Family."

This once hyacinth-blue wool visiting gown has since faded to rather pleasant purple. I believe it was one of the earliest donated to the museum, as there is mention of it in the commemorative pamphlet of the museum's 10th anniversary, in 1987. The dress is dated c. 1900, but since 1900-1905 the pigeon breast look was in full swing, I think this ensemble is a bit later, from 1907-09.

The visiting gown consists of a bolero, velvet cummerbund, shirtwaist, and skirt. The shirtwaist is made of silk and decorated all over with small pintucks. The sleeves gather into wide cuffs that each close with two eyes and thread hooks. There is gathering on the front and back of the shirtwaist, anchored onto a piece of bias tape. The back of the shirtwaist fastens with hooks and eyes. The high collar is missing the hook and eye closure.

"Shirtwaist" was a generic term in the Edwardian period for garments of this nature.

Center back closure.
Interior of the front gathering. Rust stains from pins on the bias tape. A small stain on the lower right hand side that is residue from masking tape that was on the mannequin.
Evidence that the bias tape was once part of a waist stay (a length of bias tape fastened around the waist to prevent the garment from shifting out of place).
This garment is actually rare in that it is a "plus sized" garment--the waist measurement of the skirt is 38", which would be the waist measurement when corseted. Often, people think that women of the past were all petite and small waisted, but that is not always the case. This skirt would fit a size 10-12 woman by today's standards. The mannequin was obviously too small for the skirt, so whoever had displayed it had folded the excess fabric inwards and pinned it down--thus reducing the creative effect of the decorative pleats along the hem. The 9-gored skirt is made of the small wool as the bodice. It features an interesting pleat and button detail around the hem, and has a small godet in the back which provides a bit of flare. The waist is simply bound in coordinating twill tape, folded over and stitched down. The center back placket fastens with hooks and eyes. All of the interior seams are bound with bias tape. Curiously, some tears in the skirt had been covered from the inside with a sort of wide blue adhesive tape. This appears to be original, as in one place it was attached beneath the twill tape waistband.

Visible fading within the pleats of the skirt.
The excess material of the skirt that was folded under and pinned.
One of the blue adhesive tape "mends."
The rich blue velvet cummerbund remarkably seems to have very little to no shaping; it is cut straight as a rectangle. The underside is lined in ivory silk. The cummerbund fastens with four large, sturdy hooks and eyes.

The bolero is the most decorated piece of the ensemble. The sleeves are wide and curved, and end in large cuffs that imitate the decoration on the bodice. The sleeve caps are gathered, and the seam is hidden beneath the shoulder portion of the bodice.  The front of the bolero is decorated with a faded blue velvet inset featuring machine-made embroidery and more of the velvet-covered buttons that are featured throughout this ensemble. The velvet decoration goes all the way around the neck, too. Between the velvet and wool is decorative trimming made of pleated silk. It closes with numerous small hooks and eyes along the front.

From here, you can see how wonky the folded up skirt looks.
The embroidered decoration and the pleated trim is all in pretty bad shape; every time I touched the velvet, I was greeted with a shower of blue dust.
On the left, you can see where a piece of the pleated silk trim has broken.
The interior of the bolero is lined in the same ivory silk as the cummerbund.
At the neck, the silk has been reduced to fibers. Might this be because of exposure to sunlight? The blue threads holding down the embroidery are all that is keeping these silk threads in place.
A random tape attached to one of the armscythes.

The bolero was stuffed with crumpled up yellow paper towels.
I wanted to display the dress how it should be displayed, showing the full-figured shape of the wearer. To achieve this, I used a method I discussed here and I padded up the mannequin with almost all of the cotton batting I had on hand. I had to clean the mannequin first, but I didn't realize how dirty it was when I sprayed some Windex on it and a few moments later had a foamy brown sludge all over the mannequin. Naturally, weird methods were originally employed in displaying this ensemble: the bolero was stuffed with yellow paper towels and the skirt was stuffed with the newspaper from the 80s (the pages devoted to weddings and related advertisements, actually). The padding on the mannequin eliminated the need for paper towels, and to help fashionable fluff out the skirt I used large rolled up wads of archival tissue paper.

D :
I also added "shoulders" out of the batting to keep in with the proportions of the figure.

Finally, what you've all been waiting for, the spruced up version!

Complemented with a mink fur muff (lined in brown cotton) and an 1890's silk and tulle parasol with a curved bamboo handle, silk tassel, and ivory tip.
Quite a buxom madame!


  1. What a beautiful suit! And I love that it shows a dress for a slightly fuller figure, so glad you fixed it up! Oh and got rid of that necklace!

  2. The button decorations are so beautiful, then I get to the embroidery and it's even more so. What an amazing ensemble. I've been just loving your series on these pieces, all of them. It's fascinating and very educational, thank you so much for sharing all this (and for the work you are doing to preserve these garments!).

  3. The lining is so beautiful! If only my finished garments were as neat as that. Every time you post a "resurrection," I feel so bubbly inside! Keep up the amazing work!