Monday, May 2, 2011

Three Generations of Family Gowns

At the Mother-Daughter Tea held on April 30 at the museum, dresses representing three generations of the family were on display to the delight of visitors.

The oldest piece was worn by Nancy (Bayard) Macbeth, Frances Glessner’s mother, and dates to the period 1865-1870.  The one-piece black silk gown features the typical silhouette of the 1860s which emphasized width rather than height.  The shoulders and hips are broadened to give the illusion of a small waist.  The shoulder seams are dropped about an inch below where they are placed today and yards of fabric were tightly gathered to the waistband, allowing the skirt to spread away from the body.  The voluminous skirt would have been supported by a hoop, or steel cage crinoline, that allowed Mrs. Macbeth to have the look of fullness without several layers of heavy cumbersome petticoats.  The dress is trimmed in silk velvet down the front of the bodice and features a decorative velvet bow at the waist.  Fine lace cuffs accent the piece, which is fully lined with linen and polished cotton.   Accenting the dress is a lace fishu or wrap that was a common accessory of the day.  Ladies often accessorized dark clothing with light lace items that would provide a little something extra to an otherwise simple dress.  Completing the ensemble is Mrs. Macbeth’s lace day cap, dating to the same period.  Such caps were favored by mature, married women and were worn low on the head and provided a finishing touch to the hairstyle of the period which was parted down the middle and swept back to a bun at the nape of the neck.  The cap has buckram or starched cloth and a wire foundation to which the lace and silk ribbon are sewn.

Representing Frances (Macbeth) Glessner was a striped silk day dress dating to the early 1890s.  The one-piece dress is lightweight and would have been worn in late spring or early summer.  The high neckline represents the changing fashion of the 1880s.  The skirt, post-bustle era, is much narrower than that of her mother’s dress, as the emphasis by this time was on height rather than width.  Undergarments would have included a corset and just a few petticoats.  The vertically striped gown features a lovely lace collar, known as a bib, and long lace cuffs that button closed.  As assistant curator Becky Young noted, the gown perfectly reflects Frances Glessner herself “fashionable, yet unpretentious.”

The most elaborate dress on display was worn by the Glessners’ daughter Fanny and dates to the mid-1890s when she would have been in her late teens.  The silhouette of the cream-colored silk dress is typical of the period with exaggerated puffed sleeves.  It is beautifully trimmed with silk ribbon, lace and beading.  The bodice is transitional with slight blousing at the front anticipating the pigeon-breast look of the early 1900s.  The sleeves have a rouched overlay of gauzy silk and feature fine lace cuffs.  The bodice and skirt are separate and require assistance to put on, as the fasteners are at the back of the neck and waist.

Frances Glessner’s grandmother and great-grandmother were also represented with a lovely 1885 handkerchief safe crafted of fragments of their silk dresses.  That piece was featured in the blog posting of March 21, 2011. 

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