Sunday, 15 July 2012

Historical Costume - the final dress

 As we visited Mum and Dad yesterday (to support their village fete - more of that another time), I had the opportunity to photograph the last costume from Mum's hoard.  Above is the bodice front with lots of lace at the neckline and around the sleeves.  It is made from a rather gorgeous brocade with flowers on it and really must have looked quite spectacular. We are really lucky that it has been kept out of the light as the colours are still bright and beautiful.
The photos don't give any idea of how small the person who wore it was - it would only fit a small child these days.  Probably a size 6 or 8 at the most.  Of course, women were smaller in the past, and there would have been a corset under the dress to cinch the waist in even more, and a bustle.
The back of the bodice with red ribbons at the shoulders.
 A close up of the lace edging and material.
 Another view of the bodice, closed at the front showing the square neckline.
 The little bustle top which went round the waist and sat on the bustle.
 The back of the skirt which would have had another skirt underneath as it is cut away.  We don't have the original underskirt.
 The front of the skirt, which has a line of red bows down the centre and is short at the front, going down at the sides. Some stiffener has been used on the edge of the skirt.
 Chris held the skirt up to show the front.
 The maker's label.  As luck would have it, we did some research using trade directories of the day and census information and managed to find some information about 'Bevern'. 
1881 Census - Isabella Bevern
Born: 1836
Place of Birth: Farrington, Lancashire
Age: 45
Occupation: Dressmaker employing about 10 hands
Marital Status: Unmarried
Address: 33 Sackville Street

Also at above address on census day:
Charles Bevern
Age: 51

Business Directory of London 1884
Bevern, Isabella
Court Milliner
33 Sackville Street

However, she was not in the Post Offfice Directory of 1895 as either milliner or dressmaker and in the same directory, 33 Sackville Street has other occupants.  In 1895, 32 Sackville Street was described as "Milliners and Dressmakers Provident and Benevolent Institution".  I wonder what happened to her and where she went. She may have retired and moved back to Lancashire, or moved somewhere else in London.

So after all this, it is probably time to show you what the dress might have looked like around the 1870s, which is when we think it was made - just looking at it without a body inside requires a good deal of imagination!

 Teresa Thompson made this doll as well, and scanned in the material which she then printed onto the cotton that she used to make up the costume.  You can see the front of the skirt much more clearly, and how it showed the underskirt.
 In the side view, you can see the bustle top.
The bustle top can be seen here too and the red bows on the shoulders, so that the back of the dress was as impressive as the front.
I wonder what occasion the dress was made for and why Isabella Bevern's establishment was chosen for the commission?  It would be fascinating to know.


  1. Goodness, what a lot of effort went into one dress! I think my favourite part of your post is the details about "Bevern", the dressmaker, a little peek into the past. Were people really that slim back then?? As a size 12-14 they would think me huge!

    1. Dear Gillian
      Thank you so much for your comment and welcome! It was really exciting to be able to unearth the small amount of information about Isabella Bevern. It does bring the past to life a little bit more, doesn't it? When I posted about the Regency dress (back in June), I said that 20 years ago I had fitted in it (and we have photos to prove it), however, not a hope now. As for this one - I wouldn't even try because it is so small. My eldest sister once wore it when she was 11 or 12, to play The Duchess in Alice in Wonderland.
      I think people were much smaller then. I remember seeing Charlotte Bronte's dress in Haworth Parsonage Museum and it is tiny, not just in height but in stature too. Most of us now would seem huge to them!
      Best wishes

  2. What an enchanting glimpse of the past! Such a beautiful dress and fascinating to read your research into the dressmaker. I love your juxtaposition of photos of the original with the doll dressed to show how it would have looked. Such a dainty and ethereal costume - one wonders how the Victorians ever kept their clothing clean and undamaged. Thank you so much for sharing this precious window into another world. E x

    1. Dear E
      Thank you so much for your comment. Considering this dress is the age it is, it is remarkably clean - I wonder whether it was worn much, or whether it was just a 'special occasion' dress? If that was the case, i am surprised it wasn't cut up and used to make something else, as the wedding dress was. The lace hasn't worn so well and there is a large piece that has come away and you can see some wear and tear in the photos, but I suppose that is to be expected. It does give us a fascinating glimpse into the past and if I had the time and resources, I would love to do some more detective work on Isabella Bevern. It has been lovely to share photos and information about these dresses.
      Best wishes

  3. Fascinating. Great post.

    I bet that was someone's Sunday best once, or maybe it was kept in remembrance of something especially significant. I actually rather like that we can never know.

    1. Dear Annie
      Thank you very much for your comment. What I would really love to find is a photograph of a family member wearing the dress, but I don't think there is such a thing. Part of me likes not knowing any more about the owner of the dress or the maker but part of me wants to know more. I feel very lucky to have found out what I have and to actually have the dress in the family too. It gives such a tangible link to the past.
      Best wishes