I have a ROM membership, so I visit often. I ventured to the fourth floor for their Riotous Color exhibit, and took some photos of their 19th century gowns for the world to see and study. Since this is all so image rich, I will post each gown individually.
The ROM describes this patterned silk dress as being semi-formal. I would guess they came to that conclusion for the following reasons:
1. It’s made out of silk, which is a formal fabric.
2. It’s not decorated heavily, which would suggest that it is not a super formal dress.
3. It is long-sleeved. Many of the ballgowns of the period were short sleeved.
4. It has a train, which would suggest that it is formal. However, in the first half of the decade, almost all dresses had trains, regardless of their formality and purpose. There were many complaints made during the day about how women of all classes would be gathering up their long, dirties trains. But throwing the train over one’s elbow allowed a woman an opportunity to show off her legs.
5. I am no expert on printed fabrics, but I am guessing that a printed silk would be expensive. Dyes on silk do like to run, and a multi-colored wood-blocked print would probably be pretty difficult. Yet, the long sleeves and lack of decoration suggest the gown is not meant for very formal wear.
I would guess that a printed-silk, trained gown would be worn at home by a relatively affluent woman.
Here’s the photos:
The gown is made of printed silk with a straight front. Long sleeves that cover the wrists, straight line across the neckline. The female figure is columnar, yet active. The architecture of the gown does not create the body, unlike the previous era. This is a reflection of the chaotic social mobility of the era.
Pleated, high waisted back with train. Straight front. Very typical of early Empire. The train becomes an extension of the neck, the whole thing culminating in a head crowned in soft curls.
Closer shot of the back. The back of the bodice falls on the body as though the neckline were bell-shaped, though of course it’s not cut like that. This nice effect broadens the shoulders and emphasizes the curve of the neck.
Close up of the pattern on the silk. It was printed with wood blocks. Amazing how they did that stuff!
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