Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

Browse the Collection


Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 1-Piece

Catalogue number: 1989.0055.002

Date: 1860-1865

Maker: Unknown


Wool challis of alternating vertical stripe pattern; one stripe with greenish-blue ground with brown ivy vine and honeycomb white and brown flowers; other stripe with dark brown ground with variegated brown leaves; narrow red and tan stripe separate the two larger stripes; each pattern repeat is 6-1/2" wide; round neckline, piped; later addition of band at neck edge; center front hidden closure of 12 brass hooks-and-eyes; seven black velvet-covered buttons trim center front opening; two boned darts on either side of center front; side piece with triangular expansion insert; back bodice cut in one; two-part, shaped sleeve, trimmed with black velvet ribbon in chevron pattern at shoulder and wrist; armscye (armhole) piped; piped waist; irregularly gathered skirt; hem faced with brown cotton; hem bound with brown wool braid.


Sarah Jane Thompson Dynes wore this dress in Owosso, Michigan, in the early 1860s. Census records are unclear as to whether she was born in Ireland or Canada; the most likely explanation is that she was born in Ireland (her parents were from Ireland) and immigrated to the United States through Canada. On October 13, 1858, she was married by a justice of the peace to Pierce Dynes, a farmer who had immigrated from Ireland in 1850. They had twelve children, two of whom died in infancy. The family seems to have increased its fortune over the years, owning a prosperous farm outside of Owosso. In 1883 she was traveling into town in a horse-drawn wagon with her son and a niece; they encountered a "self-propelling steamer" that let off steam as they passed. The horse ran at the noise and Mrs. Dynes was thrown from the wagon and run over by one of the wheels. She died a few hours later, leaving many small children.

This dress itself is interesting as it demonstrates how individual choice influences the making of clothing. The fabric in the dress is typical of the 1860s with its strong color contrasts and the oak leaf motif. The sleeve cut and the trim are also very fashionable. However, the cut of the bodice, with its very long, boned line, would have been fashionable several years earlier. Usually we associate this using of earlier styles with older women, but Mrs. Dynes was only 17 when she married in 1858. Perhaps it was a style that she felt comfortable in. The skirt was taken off at some point and reattached by someone who was not familiar with sewing techniques of the period. From what can be seen, it was originally gauged (gathered) instead of pleated in the latest style. When the skirt was redone, the person doing it did not understand how to get so much fabric into so little space uniformly, so they ended up bunching it together in any way possible to make it fit.

Credit: Gift of Margaret Grimes