As a lover of all things Victorian and Edwardian, I deem most petticoated, crinolined, or bustled ensembles dreamworthy. If a piece requires a ridiculous number of undergarments or an obscene degree of beading and embroidering, I will almost certainly adore it. Visions of long-line evening gowns fill my daydreams, and I fantasize endlessly about the delicate muslins of Regency wardrobes. But perhaps no nineteenth century style is dreamier than that of the early 1840s. Gracefully flowing skirts, romantically pointed bodices, and demurely sloping shoulders all mingle to create an alluring reverie.
It is only fitting that such a gown caught my fancy. My own imagination and a lovely sartorial muse united to produce the 1840s Rose Garden Gown. Though thoroughly researched and authentic to the period, this garment falls under the category of “loose interpretation” rather than that of “scrupulous copy.” One beautiful striped evening gown from 1840* was my primary source of inspiration, suggesting the basic features of the frock I had in mind. I loved its pairing of a sumptuous, full skirt with playful short sleeves, and my appreciation is evident in Rose Garden’s design. The evening dress’s effortless use of a pink-and-cream stripe also determined Rose Garden’s pattern and palette.
However, while evening gowns are wonderful, I wanted to create something more suited to an afternoon picnic or a stroll around the garden. So the first order of business was adapting my inspiration piece according to day dress standards. Instead of silk, I therefore chose a light-weight cotton print. While the shoulders still slope in classic 1840s style, the neckline is less open than an evening gown’s. Similarly, the hemline came up a touch in order to accommodate rougher walking conditions, and the skirt and bodice became two separate pieces. After losing some of my muse’s elegance but gaining some whimsy, I decided to introduce some playful details. Thus the shortened bodice developed a sharper point at the waist, and the striping pattern became more energetic. The final alteration was the tab-and-button detail on the bodice’s front, added to fully emphasize the stripe play.
Rose Garden had now taken on a life of its own and was beginning to look worthy of an 1840s portrait. Authentic details completed the illusion. To master the correct fit and lines of the time, the bodice follows accurate sectioning patterns. The dress is painstakingly hand-finished, incorporating ample amounts of pleat detailing on the sleeves. The sleeves and bodice pay homage to the era’s love of piping, while antique hand-painted glass buttons allude to the 1840s obsession with pretty buttons. Of course, these are merely decorative. The dress would not be complete without dozens of hook-and-eye closures in the back (which seemingly every historical costuming project in the history of the world requires!)
And so it was that with some authentic inspiration, a bit of alteration, and a heap of daydreaming, the Rose Garden Gown came to be! Fitted over a corset and a pile of petticoats, it’s ready to step out of an 1840s portrait.
* [copyright image possibly from the New Brunswick Museum, currently down for maintenance - Ed.]