This fabulous dress was made in Charleston by African American dressmaker, Pauline Seba, in 1890 for Charlestonian Sara C. Simonds. The styling is quite fashionable, the fabrics – rose satin and black lace – very bold. Mrs. Seba must have been rather successful in her dressmaking, since she is one of few dressmakers at that time that actually labeled their garments. Our example has her stamped label inside on the inner waistband. It reads: “Mme. Seba / Robes / Charleston, S.C.” This gown was part of Miss Simonds’ trousseau, along with dresses made by J. Vauney of New York and Mme Ludinart of Paris.
Pauline Seba was listed in the Charleston City Directory as a dressmaker as early as 1887, working out of her home at 94 Anson Street. By 1893, she was listed at 122 Smith Street and was still at that address in the 1910 directory. Her husband, Charles, was listed as a postal carrier from 1873-1881, then a few other jobs such as fireman, cotton weigher, keeper at the Old Folks Home, fruiterer, wheelwright and finally a blacksmith by 1896.
Born around 1862, Pauline was very active in the community, being the president of the Union Millinery & Notion Company in 1915 and in 1916, a charter member of the Phyllis Wheatley Society, a social and literary group of African American women. She was also a charter member of the Charleston Chapter of the NAACP in 1919. And, she was obviously a very talented dressmaker!
This dress will be on exhibit March 10 - November 4, 2012 in Charleston Couture.
TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection. Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our new Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday