Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 1-Piece - click to enlarge

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Dress, 1-Piece

Catalogue number: CS*254216.009

Date: 1934

Maker: Unknown


Bodice of red/orange chenille-like fabric; surplice bodice front; V neck at front; shawl collar; round neck at back with six radiating darts at neck to control fullness; set-in sleeves with no fullness, resembling kimono sleeves; sleeves tapered with tucks at wrist to control fullness; three self-fabric covered buttons and fabric loops at wrist for closure; back waist inset of wine-colored crepe that drapes slightly at bottom; skirt of wine-colored crepe; skirt front cut with insets at sides; back skirt cut in one piece; narrow foldover hem with tape; right side closure of metal snaps; closure covered by wide sash belt on front, stitched into side seams, with two worked holes on one side and self-covered buckle with metal prong on other side.


The donor, Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, wore this dress for informal dinners and sherry parties in Washington, D.C., at the time she was becoming a well-known photographer. Mrs. Patterson was born in 1905 in New York City, both of her parents coming from wealthy and prominent families. After graduating from Vassar College in 1927, her interest in photography grew. In 1930 she produced her first professional film, The Forgotten Frontier about the Frontier Nursing Service, founded by her cousin Mary Breckinridge. As a freelance photographer, she returned to Appalachia in 1937 and photographed the Nursing Service and living conditions there. Her account was published in Life on June 19, 1937. She was in London in 1939 and photographed the first pictures of an air raid shelter. Subsequently her friend, Edward R. Murrow, hired her as the first female staff broadcaster in Europe for CBS. She covered the War in Europe until her marriage to diplomat Jefferson Patterson in 1940, when she had to give up her career as Mr. Patterson was stationed in Berlin. Exhibited in the Hall of American Costume from 1964 to 1973.

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Jefferson Patterson