Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 1-Piece

Catalogue number: CS*291451.001

Date: 1812-1816

Maker: Unknown


Empire style; red creped silk woven with small sprigs; additional woven decorative floral border at hem; bias cut bodice, high-waisted with two small bust darts at either side center front; bodice extends over shoulders onto back along sides into back; bodice front applied to back piece; neck bound with self-binding; neck round and slightly dropped in front; decorative trim of eight dome shaped satin thread buttons with decorative thread trim; center back opening has additional three buttons; back bodice gathered into waist seam near center back; long narrow sleeves with angled cuff; cuff is slashed and has contrasting plain silk "poufs" inserted through slashing; edges of slashes and cuff bound with plain silk; sleeve overcap slashed with graduated sized "poufs"; cap opening bound with plain silk; band of plain silk covers armscye (armhole) seam; skirt slightly A-line; skirt heavily gauged near center back waist; sleeve cap and cuff lined with ribbed off-white silk; linen tape at waist seam on interior; white cotton lining at underarm that extends into waist seam; linen tape also on inside armscye (armhole) seam.


Judith Throckmorton Ball Singleton wore this dress in Winchester, Virginia. She was born March 14, 1775. Her father, William Ball, owned a plantation the family called "Chapel Green" on the Shenandoah River in what is now Clarke County. She was related to many prominent Virginia families. Judith's gradfather, George Ball, was George Washington's second cousin. Her mother died when she was an adolescent, and her father remarried. In 1797 Judith married James Singleton, an ambitious local man. She and her husband were appointed as guardians of her two younger siblings when her father died. She and James had eight children, three of whom died as children. Their son, James Washington Singleton, became a successful Illinois lawyer, businessman, and prize stock farmer. His military and political service included two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the years they increased the amount of land they owned. Besides their house in Winchester, they built a house on their farm "Paxton," just outside Winchester. They also had another farm called "River Farm," previously owned by Judith's father. The years 1810 to 1815 were the most prosperous years of their lives. The 1810 Census shows that they owned 35 slaves, both field hands and household servants. James Singleton also served in the Virginia House of Delegates for several terms and was an officer in the Virginia militia, rising to the rank of general. He died suddenly in 1815 when an epidemic swept the area. She wore this dress during this prosperous period. She lived until 1852, living most of the time with her daughter and son-in-law. The dress itself is deceptively simple in its construction. A careful examination shows that it was probably made by a skilled dressmaker. The bodice was cut on the bias so it would stretch over the bust; the creation and insertion of the "poufs" required considerable sewing skills.

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Detlow Marthinson