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1890s Cream Day Dress

After the bustle had been abandoned, the simple underskirt shed its over-drape, with the only remnant of the bustle silhouette retained in an area of fullness tightly gathered in the center back. Martha Innis Young, pictured here in an October 1890 photograph, is wearing the lovely silk dress that clearly reflects this change. The element of the standing collar, however, was retained and women have often borne discomfort to be fashionable.  Looking back on the clothing she wore in her youth, Cynthia Asquith, in her book Remember and Be Glad, recalled them as, “choking collars with boned supports that dug dints in my neck”. The newest silhouette emphasized a vertical line and small waist. The matching sash with long hanging ties and fabric rosette, along with the boned bodice help achieve these lines on Martha’s dress. A second, less-fitted sleeve layer on the upper arm forecasts the growing emphasis on sleeve size that would develop during the last decade of the 19th century.

Martha Innis Young lived with her family at the Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie from 1901 until her death in 1946; the dress may well have been an afternoon ensemble to receive visitors or make social calls on Poughkeepsie neighbors. She was 34 years old in this photograph, had been married to William Hopkins Young for six years, and was the mother of two young children.  Although there is no label in the garment, archives at Locust Grove include many receipts from several New York City dressmakers, with train fare to Poughkeepsie in the list of charges.  Surviving correspondence indicates that Martha communicated in French with some of them, including “M. Harris New York and Paris” as well as “Rouyer & Co. New York and Paris”.


Visiting Dress of Empress Maria Fyodorovna

House of Charles Worth- France, Paris, 1880s

State Hermitage Museum  St. Petersburg, ЭРТ-8643

Martha’s dress appears to reflect a description given in The Ladies Magazine of 1891, “these charming models which possess the simplicity of cut acknowledged to be the scene of elegance now”.  At first glance, the cream silk satin fabric with a delicate floral pattern seems to be rather understated as well, but upon close examination, the silk weave contains a subtle internal cream-on-cream narrow textured pencil striping.  One of the unique and fashionable features of the dress is the use of decorative ball fringe trim in colors to match the fabric itself. Seen as an adornment on many fashions throughout the 19th century, particularly those of the mid-century crinoline style, ball fringe continued to be used later in the century on some beautiful gowns. One example, illustrated here was designed by Charles Frederick Worth, often considered to be the “father of haute couture”.

The Locust Grove collection contains a large number of fans belonging to the Young family.  Although very popular during the 18th century, the use of folding fans had declined by the beginning of the 19th century.  The resurgence in their use during the second half of the century is often attributed to the Empress Eugenie of France, who had a large collection and used the accessory to accompany many of her fashionable costumes.  Fans were frequently created to be part of an ensemble.  An 1890 article in the journal Women’s World stated, “Fans are…made in the softest gossamer material to match the dress worn at the time and only serve to finish the toilette and make it complete”.  A piece of fabric used for the garment could be taken to a milliner to make a matching fan, as seen here in the floral silk companion to the dress, with subtle designs on the sticks as well.