Thursday, October 29, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
While I was in Boston last week, I visited the Bostonian Society at the Old State House to see an old friend - if an 18thc wedding dress can be considered a friend! I've previously written two other blog posts (here and here, with many more photos) about this extraordinary wedding dress, embroidered by Boston bride Elizabeth Bull Price in the 1730s.
At that time, I'd only seen the dress flat on its back in its storage box. Now, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the dress has been conserved for exhibition and a custom mannequin and display case provided, and it can currently be seen in the Council Chamber of the Old State House. In that historic and very male space, the dress is a decidedly feminine interloper, standing there across from the life-sized portrait of King Charles I.
But history affected the women of Boston as well as the men, and Elizabeth Bull Price (1717-1780) saw the small colonial town of her childhood grow into one of the most important cities of a new country. Her dress is a reminder that while the heated politics of 18thc. Massachusetts may dominate the history books, men and women were still falling in love and marrying, with all the usual dreams for shared and happy futures.
With the dress on the mannequin, it's now possible to see Elizabeth's skillful embroidery, right, from all sides; the back, above left, is particularly striking. (It was a very sunny morning, so my apologies for the slanting sunlight in these photos.) Although nearly 300 years old, the colored silk threads are vibrant, the floral designs elaborate and lively. It's also easier to see the alterations that transformed the 1730s dress into an 1830s one, to be worn by a later Price family member. This is the version of the dress that survives today.
That young woman was tiny. According to the measurements of the mannequin, she was about 5'2", and her corseted figure would today wear a J.Crew size 000. The now-unknown 19thc seamstress who updated the dress fortunately was respectful of Elizabeth's handiwork, and it's fascinating to see how she made deep pleats in the skirts to avoid cutting. Alas, the bodice and the puffy sleeves are decidedly 1830s additions, but I'm guessing that the little embroidered "wings" , lower left, over the puffed sleeves are the sleeve flounces from the original dress.
The dress is on display until early November, to be followed by the dress's original petticoat - also beautifully embroidered. If you're on the Freedom Trail, it's well worth a visit. For more about Elizabeth Bull Price and more photos, see here for an excellent article by Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator of the Bostonian Society.
All photographs ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.