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*058383

Date: 1842-1850

Maker: Unknown


Cream, brown, yellow, gold, and red plaid cotton; round neck, slightly lowered in front; center front closure; bodice lined with white cotton; lining closes with 15 metal hooks-and-eyes; plaid fabric on bodice front is loose from lining at closure and has no visible means of closure; deep V at center front bodice, with shirring at lower waist to form fan front; bodice fabric is gathered into shoulder seam, which is placed on back of shoulder; waist edged with piping; back cut in one piece, which is shirred at center back waist; long narrow sleeves cut on bias and lined with white cotton; wrist opening edged with piping; underarm seam at wrist open and closes with three metal hooks and thread loops; three pleats on sleeve overcap trimmed with buttons and brown silk fringe; skirt top folded over and gauged; small watch pocket at left center front in skirt; skirt trimmed with six self-ruffles; wide foldover hem.


No background history accompanied this dress about who wore it. However, it is a classic example of day dresses of the period. Before the introduction of hoops as underpinnings, several petticoats would have been worn to create the bell shape of the skirt. In contrast to hoops that would keep the fabric from falling in, the skirts in these dresses gently fold in and out. Women reformers criticized the weight of the numbers of petticoats required to create this look (as well as the dragging skirts) as unhealthy and suggested alternative forms of dress, including the Bloomer Costume. They were not successful, partly because the introduction of the hoop lessened the weight. Exhibited in Men and Women: A History of Costume, Gender and Power in America from 1989 to 1991.

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Scott Adams