Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 2-Piece

Catalogue number: CS*266284.001

Date: 1879-1884

Maker: Unknown


Dark gray taffeta with darker gray velvet trim; BODICE-gray taffeta; narrow velvet stand collar; center front opening with 16 gray stone buttons and worked buttonholes; bodice front and back extends down to form peplum; side seams; four pieces on either side of center back; the piece on either side of center back of velvet; center back pieces extend beyond waist to form separate piece tacked down near bottom of peplum; velvet and taffeta bow at bottom of peplum; center back, side seams, and one dart boned; velvet sleeves trimmed with double box-pleated gray taffeta at wrist opening, faced at top with velvet that is folded over to create elaborate trim; additional small taffeta and velvet bow attached above pleating; lined with brown cotton; wide cotton tab at either side of opening at inside waist which fasten with hooks-and-eyes; SKIRT-bustle style; left side back opening; fitted at front; front and sides trimmed with wide horizontal band of velvet; deep double box-pleated ruffle faced with velvet echoes sleeve trim, near hem; elaborate construction at back, with pleats that extend to hem and velvet trim; trained with large taffeta bow at center back near hem; lined with brown cotton; gauze and white lace dust ruffle.


When this dress was given to the museum in 1966 the donors believed that it was worn by their grandmother, Sarah Arnold Ellis Munn of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Mrs. Munn was born in 1845 and married in 1878. She died in 1919. The date of the dress, based on style, would place it as a dress that she obtained soon after her marriage. The dress is very fashionable and its elaborate construction indicates that it was made by a skilled dressmaker. The dressmaker most likely used one of the commercially available drafting systems in order to create a good fit. The dress might have been made in Fitchburg or in Boston. Unfortunately, there is no label in the dress, so we shall never know the name of this talented woman. Many dressmakers in the 19th century sewed custom-woven or stamped inner waistbands into the inside of the bodice.

Credit: Gift of Eugene E. Munn, Jr. and James O. Munn