There are a number of objects here at Rutland County Museum which leave us sometimes with more questions than answers. This lovely gold silk day dress is one of them. I have only seen this dress in photographs so I haven’t been able to examine it up close (or seen the inside) which is an interesting challenge in itself!
The dress has a high neck and the silk is accented with a patterned brown velvet. There is cream lace at cuffs and neck and a fabulous fringe which would have added movement when worn. We can draw a number of conclusions from the look and construction of the dress itself – it was probably made c1870-1890 when the ‘princess line’ style was popular.
Named after the highly fashionably Alexandra, Princess of Wales, the princess line style meant that instead of having a separate bodice and skirt, the dress was cut all in one, usually fastening with buttons or hooks and eyes (both in this case), and made to hug the figure. This dress has the typical fringes, ruffles, gathers and velvet accents of the time and room for a bustle in the back. The lace at cuffs and collar would have been detachable for ease of cleaning and are sewn on by hand whereas the rest of the dress is machine sewn. The dress has a tiny pocket in the left hand side near the waist – perhaps for a watch? So far so probable.
But we know almost nothing about the owner or the connection the dress has to Rutland. There is a note in the register that the dress is associated with a town in Lincolnshire not far north of Bourne. How did it end up in our collection? Perhaps the owner of the dress lived in Rutland but the dress went to relatives in Lincolnshire before being donated to the museum? Having an item with an unknown provenance isn’t unusual among older items in museum collections. It is something most museums are careful about when they collect these days as space in storage or on display is at a premium – particularly with textile objects which cannot spend long periods on display without their condition worsening and will inevitably spend most of their time in the store.
Something that has intrigued me is the pattern on the velvet – we’d love to know what you think it is. We’ve thought of lots of ideas amongst ourselves including chestnuts and damsons.
By Margaret Barratt – Visitor Assistant