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

Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 1-Piece

Catalogue number: CS*013618

Date: 1770-1785

Maker: Unknown


Blue silk woven in tone-on-tone woven small diamond pattern, brocaded with pastel flowers in pink, yellow, white, and green; polonaise style; bodice center front edge-to-edge closure; back cut and seamed; bodice lined with natural-colored linen; sleeves slightly longer than elbow and shaped by pleating on inside of elbow bend; back seam of the sleeve is open 3.5" at end; skirt pleated to separate bodice; two sets of three woven tape loops sewn inside of skirt on either side to accomodate the string used to create the polonaise draping; bottom faced with white silk; white silk ribbon trim on skirt front opening.


According to family tradition, Martha Kerby King wore this gown when she danced with Revolutionary War hero Lafayette in 1824. Martha Kerby married Miles King in 1782 in Elizabeth City, Virginia. Miles King had served in the Revolution and later became mayor of Norfolk, Virginia.

General Lafayette toured the United States in 1824 and visited each of the states. Many social events were held in his honor. This dress's style dates to a much earlier period, around the Revolutionary War or just afterwards. It is likely that many women wore dresses from the period of the Revolution to these social events as a way to honor Lafayette's contributions to the Revolution. In this case, the fabric is of a much earlier date, about 1727. It was probably made into a dress near that time and then remade during the Revolution when fabrics were difficult to obtain. Exhibited in the Hall of American Costume from 1964 to 1973 with a reproduction petticoat (shown here).

Credit: From Mrs. Claude M. Bain and Mrs. Hugh M. North, Jr.