In honor of Charleston Fashion Week, we take a look at an interesting, and very fashionable, 1870s dress. This gold silk two-piece dress is embroidered all-over with turquoise stars. Slim-fitting in front, the skirt pulls back to accommodate the popular bustle, dwindling a bit by 1876 after rather extravagant fullness in the earlier ‘70s. Throughout this period, trimmings abounded on dresses, this one having contrasting turquoise collar, puffed oversleeves and wide sashing down the front, culminating with a wide belt and mother-of-pearl buckle. The skirt is ornamented with a wide satin band around the hem and two lines of corded lacing, ending in glorious tassels.
This lovely dress was worn in Charleston by Frances Olmsted Marshall (1845-1929). She was the daughter of Episcopal minister, Aaron F. Olmsted and Caroline C. Cook. Frances married Richard Maynard Marshall of Charleston in 1872 and had five children. The dress came to the Museum from her granddaughter, Alida Dana Canfield Sinkler in 1957.
The dress was given with a second bodice, much plainer but with delightful star covered buttons down the front. Studying this bodice, one sees that the sleeves have been cut off as has the bottom of the bodice, raw edges still showing. The style of this bodice appears to date to the 1860s rather than 1870s – the jewel neckline, the double vertical darts in front and the center front fastening from neck to waist. What if Frances had a much plainer dress in the 1860s, complete with very full skirt (and lots of beautiful starry fabric) and had it remade into a more stylish gown for the 1870s? The sleeves could have been re-used, with any problems or shortness concealed by the blue silk oversleeves, and a new bodice constructed using some of the bountiful skirt fabric. The addition of the dazzling blue silk, lacing and bustle rendered the garment totally new – and in style – years later.
On exhibit in Fashion in Fiction, October 19, 2013 to April 6, 2014
TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from the Charleston Museum’s textile collection. Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our 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