Monday, October 15, 2012

Museum Find of the Day - One Dress, Two Brides

While searching around online today I came across this beautiful gown in the collections of the New York Historical Society.

What struck me first about this gown was the amazing gold fabric. I've been keeping a list of 18th century gold/yellow gowns in museum collections and in period portraits. It's always exciting to come across something new!

New York Historical Society 1949.115a
 The second thing that struck me was the odd looking front. Where was the traditional stomacher? And what was up with the white "modesty piece?" Upon reading the museum's description, my questions were answered. Sort of. 

New York Historical Society 1949.115a
"Medium - Silk brocade, needlepoint lace; silk chiffon
Dimensions - Overall: 55 x 70 in. ( 139.7 x 177.8 cm ) Part (waist ): 31 1/2 in. (80 cm)
Description - Yellow and cream silk brocade dress a` l' Anglaise of English "lace" period textile design, possibly Anna Maria Garthwaite; fitted bodice cut separately from skirt with pleat from back of shoulder continuing down front (originally it would have been a robe and been known as "robe a`l'Anglaise"; originally worn pinned to sides of matching stomacher (no longer extant, but possibly made into front waist fitting); yellow brocade piece turned to cross grain and made into front waist fitting attached below a silk chiffon modesty piece creating a low square neckline (all alteration - sub index letter e); three-quarter length fitted sleeves with large turned-back cuff and needlepoint lace ruffles with a floral pattern at the edge; full round skirt and matching petticoat with pleats at sides; needlepoint net and lace engageantes not original to dress."

Ah yes! The gown had in fact been altered and was worn by Mrs. Arthur T. Sutcliffe for her wedding on April 30, 1908. This is often the case when a garment is worn again by a later generation. For some reason, the large embroidered silks of the early/mid 18th century became extremely popular in the 1830s. (see this example) And we all know those later Victorians like to remake things.

Here's what I find a bit confusing with the museum's description. The date for this gown is listed as "1730-50 with several alterations into the 20th century." However, is also says that the gown was originally worn by Cornelia de Peyster for her wedding on October 12, 1712. How can that be? I think there may be a typo. Either way it's a beautiful gown that has survived the ages!


  1. The date weirdness seems to be that the first wedding provenance was given by the donor, and the 1730-50 is how it's been dated by the museum. They don't want to say that the provenance is definitely wrong, but they want to make it clear that their opinion is that it's from the 1730s/40s.

    It's great that it's survived so well! I mean, the changes to the front are rather unfortunate, but for the most part it still looks pretty good.

  2. Hi Cassidy,
    I believe you may be right. I haven't done much research on textiles from the very early 1700s, but the fabric of this gown looks very similar to those I've seen from the 1720s/30s.


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