Tuesday, October 9, 2018

An 1880s Bustle Gown, Intriguingly Unfinished

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Susan reporting,

Here's another fascinating garment from the Fashion Unraveled exhibition currently at the Museum at FIT in New York through November 17, 2018 (The first I shared was this 18thc gentleman's waistcoat that was remade for a woman in the 1950s). As the Museum's notes explain, this exhibition isn't about perfectly preserved, pristine garments. Instead, it "highlights the aberrant beauty in flawed objects, giving precedence to garments that have been altered, left unfinished, or deconstructed."

As a fiction writer, I'd add one more to that list: garments that survive in such an interesting state that they beg to tell their story.

This white bustle gown from the 1880s is instantly intriguing. Even an untrained eye would see that there's something not quite right about it. Instead of the usual crisp, almost architectural lines characteristic of fashion of the period, this gown seems almost droopy. There's a reason for this, of course: it was never finished. The brown silk taffeta trim is only basted into place (the long white running stitches are quite visible), the raw-edged trim is still tentatively arranged in some places, and the gathers that arrange the bustle and overskirt are decidedly lopsided. The cream-colored wool was never steamed and pressed, leaving the seams soft and bulky, almost rumpled.

And yet this was clearly going to be a stylish gown, and likely a costly one, too. Even if a customer changed her mind in the middle of the process, why wasn't it remodeled to fit another wearer? Why wasn't all that brown taffeta and raw-edge, fringed trim removed to use in another way? Why was it simply abandoned in this tantalizing state?

No one today has the answers. But it could certainly inspire a wealth of fictional explanations, couldn't it?

Dress, c1880, USA. Museum at FIT.
Photographs ©2018 by Susan Holloway Scott.


Regencyresearcher said...

It doesn't look white. I would guess the seamstress's apprentice developed carpal tunnel from sewing that dress.
The dress is lovely.
A less prosaic reason: the bride who had ordered it for her honey moon cancelled the wedding or ran away with the best man, or was jilted.
I prefer any of those scenarios to having her die or her father lose everything and the groom to be backed out.

Donna Hatch said...

This does pose an unlimited number of possibilities, doesn't it? Thanks for the fun post!

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

If the sewists of that time are anything like us, it probably got chucked into the naughty corner in disgust over something that was SO hard to fix, and stayed there!!

Lucy said...

I think I've read too many Grace Livingston Hill novels, but my first thought was: it was part of a trousseau, and the groom died before the wedding--grieving bride keeps all her treasures, won't allow anyone to touch them. Although, now that I recall, Frances Hodgson Burnett used that plot too, in "Theo".

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