M982.20.1 | Dress

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About 1810, 19th century
Fibre: silk (sarcenet, embroidery); Sewn (hand)
Gift of Mrs. H. S. LeMoyne
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Dress (85)
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The most striking new feature of this dress silhouette is the slightly flared skirt which features gores, slanting backwards, at the sides. The skirt is set smoothly to the waist in front, but softly gathered to it in back. At the neckline the shallow bodice is gathered to casings with draw-tapes both front and back; another tape controls the high waist at the back closure. The front of the bodice and the short, slightly puffed, sleeves are embellished with hand-made bobbin lace of a blonde type and chenille embroidery of running small floral motifs in an undulating line in stern stitch and leaf stitch ornamented with pearls. The lace is applied by the French insertion method. There is a small appliquéd leaf motif in matching pearls at the back of each sleeve. A narrow band of handmade bobbin lace torchon type, possibly a later addition, embellished with the same pearls, borders the hemline. Some skirts began to flare, in a manner similar to our example, around 1813,and this line became more common two years later. In dresses in fashion plates from about 1815, there was a substantial increase in dress ornamentation, especialy near the hemline. But there were still some dresses shown which had minimal embellishment. On the whole, sleeves began to expand from 1820 onwards. During the seconde decade of the century, colours were often striking; a bright yellow was particularly popular. (Excerpt from: BEAUDOIN-ROSS, Jacqueline. Form and Fashion : Nineteenth-Century Montreal Dress, McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1992, p. 18.)

Keys to History

This dress dates from about 1810, but was worn by Miss Barnard as fancy dress almost 90 years later. Miss Barnard's dress was described in the papers as being of "yellow levantine silk, trimmed with pearls and English thread lace; antique necklace and ornaments of seed pearls and topaz, which articles are nearly a hundred years old and had been worn by an ancestor, Mrs. Barnard, at the time of the Empire, 1812."

The silk twill fabric, once known as "levantine silk," in this dress and the lace and pearl trim match Miss Barnard's description. A silk ribbon dating from the 1890s was donated along with the dress; a back view of Miss Barnard shows her wearing it at the waistline.

  • What

    This dress exemplifies fashion from the first decade of the 19th century, with very high waistline, low neckline and puffed sleeves.

  • Where

    The Barnard family were descendants of Loyalists who arrived in Quebec in 1774.

  • When

    This dress was not known to have been used as fancy dress until the photograph was found in the 1990s.

  • Who

    Elise Barber, who married James Barnard, may have been the original owner of the dress.