Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

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Dress, 2-Piece

Catalogue number: CS*047101

Date: 1908-1912

Maker: Unknown


Black; BODICE-black satin foundation covered with black crepe, lace, and net; high stand collar, with stays, covered with lace and net; center back opening closed by 22 metal hooks-and-eyes, hooking in alternating pattern; panels of crepe, trimmed with braid, run from near center front, over shoulder, and down back to waist; lightly gathered at center front waist; center front covered with alternating bands of crepe and lace; center back covered with black lace; long narrow sleeves of chiffon, covered in alternating bands of crepe and lace; wrist opening closed with five thread loops and thread-covered buttons; boned on either side of center front, at sides and center back; SKIRT-gored black taffeta; center back opening; closed on waistband with two large hooks-and-eyes; upper portion of skirt covered with crepe panel, trimmed at bottom with band of net and jet; foldover hem; hem interlined with buckram; pinked dust ruffle sewn to inside at hem.


This mourning dress presents a tantalizing mystery. The dress was worn by Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson (1861-1948) and was donated by her sons in 1950. At the time, they informed the museum that this dress, along with some others, belonged to their mother. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor was the daughter of William Backhouse Astor Jr. and his wife, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn, both from wealthy, prominent New York families. Caroline married Marshall Orme Wilson in 1884 in New York. Since the dress was a mourning dress, we wondered for which death in the family it might have been made. Her husband did not die until 1926. Her mother died in 1908 and her brother, John Jacob Astor IV, died in 1912. He went down with the Titanic in the North Atlantic. Both the 1908 and 1912 dates are possible, but without written or pictorial documentation to link this dress to a particular death, even possibly one we do not know about, we will never know for certain if there is a link between this dress and the Titanic. Exhibited at the Renwick Gallery in the early 1980s.

Credit: Gift of Orme Wilson and R. Thornton Wilson