A Peek Inside an 1880 Bodice

While considering this ensemble from 1880 for inclusion in our Fashion Timeline exhibition we were impressed by the exquisite workmanship inside the bodice. The finishing on the interior is exceptional.

1995.49.1.Sm

This bodice (KSUM 1995.49.1a) is just as beautiful inside as out.

The interior also reveals the woman’s secrets as it is generously padded around the chest. While dress shields from this period are usually soiled and unsightly, these are nearly pristine and are carefully attached.

The underarms are carefully shielded to protect from perspiration, but this bodice also has discrete padding in the chest.

The underarms are carefully shielded to protect from perspiration, but this bodice also has discrete padding in the chest.

The label in the bodice indicates that it was made by Mrs. E. Donigan of New York. This is not a dressmaker that I was familiar with but her skills are evident in her work.

1995.49.1.LabelSm

The label indicates this dress was made by Mrs. E. Donigan of New York

Unfortunately while the bodice is in excellent condition, the skirt seemed to be missing a layer. Skirts from this period would have abundantly draped sections; however, this skirt seemed to lack its overskirt. We decided not to include this ensemble in the exhibition, but we still wanted to share the exceptional craftsmanship of the bodice.

Postscript: In response to a request for photos of the outside of the bodice, I did a little digging and discovered we have a photograph of the whole ensemble dressed. For some reason the photograph had never been entered into our catalogue and I hadn’t thought to look through our other files.

Here is the complete outfit showing the outside of the bodice and the incomplete skirt.

Here is the complete outfit showing the outside of the bodice and the incomplete skirt.

You can judge for yourself whether you think the skirt is missing something.

Sara Hume, Curator

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6 responses to “A Peek Inside an 1880 Bodice

  1. I have just joined up this week and am very plesently surprised to see you show detailed photos of the inside of garments!! The inside is as interesting as the outside. Do you plan to have an ‘Inside Out’ exhibition Sara????

    • I have to say I hadn’t really thought about an ‘Inside Out’ exhibition, but I have considered mounting pieces to show the inside. This is definitely an idea we will keep in mind going forward. I am happy by the enthusiastic response to the post!

  2. Love this peak inside. Such beautiful craftsmanship hidden that few are able to see!

    Could we please get a shot of the outside of the bodice too?

    • I am so glad you asked, jacqueline. I thought we didn’t have any photos of the piece and I was about to reply to that effect, but I went back and double checked and we actually have an old photograph of the whole thing mounted. I am going to add the photo to the post!

  3. As beautiful as this is, I tend to agree with the decision not to put it on display. It looks as if it might be missing more than just its overskirt. I’m betting this beauty also had a second bodice meant for evening wear. Is it possible to make this dress available to any local schools that teach costuming, historical recreation, theater or design? I can’t imagine anything more inspiring than a close-up view of the construction combined with a verbal explanation for the students. It seems that it would be more instructional than just looking at dresses on static display (although, heaven know I love doing that too!)

  4. DannyJane, I had just been thinking the opposite, that this was the evening bodice. A day bodice likely would not be so low cut. We may never know. Interesting that the full picture features gathered lace at the neckline, wonder where it went. The front bodice at the hem looks belled out. I was asking myself if she were pregnant when this was made.

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