Silk Taffeta Dress

1857 - 1860

This “afternoon” dress of plaid silk taffeta was worn when receiving visitors or by a lady making “morning calls” – afternoon visits to her friends. It consists of two parts: a bodice decorated with an elaborate silk fringe and a skirt.

The style, colour and fabric of the dress date from the time of BC’s Gold Rush, between 1857 and 1860. But who made it and where; who wore it and where are questions unanswered. Was it the work of a professional seamstress or a skilled home sewer? Was it part of an extensive wardrobe or a hard won “best dress”? It came to the Royal BC Museum from a local collector who referred to it as “the Pemberton dress”, but its original wearer is unknown.

Many years after its fashionable use, the dress was modified. Extensive wear as a costume had soiled and damaged the fabric; synthetic fabrics, sometimes machine sewn in place, were added to repair and cover deteriorated areas. Conservation by the Royal BC Museum’s textile conservators has taken countless hours. The stained and weakened silks have been washed and reinforced. Backing silks have been dyed to blend with the original colours before being meticulously hand stitched in place. A sheer silk lining has been created to protect the interior of the bodice, while leaving its construction visible to researchers.

A reproduction hoop crinoline and cotton petticoat give the skirt its fashionable shape; the bodice has a reproduction collar and the wide bell sleeves are filled with fine cotton “engageantes” from the Museum’s collection.