Once upon a time, not very long ago, when I worked in a historic house museum, I was asked to present at a conference in Worcester. I chose to talk about these fragments, and I still like to think about them. The delicate fabric was saved as a pair of sleeves, a bodice with a tiny peplum, a skirt.
The pieces appear to have been part of a pieced-back closed-front gown with a matching petticoat circa 1785. I think someone decided (quite rightly) that the style was too passé for 1795, and altered the gown significantly.
Not only is there evidence of new sleeves being fitted into the gown’s armscyes, we have the sleeves-that-used-to-be. And my dear! No one is wearing sleeves like that this season!
I find these garments in limbo really fascinating. Was that bodice finished and worn with a matching petticoat? (Yes, there’s a panel of that left, too; what a lovely hem!)
Who wore the gown? Was it Sally Brown, born in 1773? And did she alter it, or did her sister’s mantua maker, Nancy Smith? We can only guess at this point, as so many documents remain in private hands. The alterations are not as finely done as the original gown, so I think there are two hands at work here– whose were those hands? There’s always more to think about and learn.
In case you’re wondering, thanks to the Met, we can see what the gown probably looked like in its first incarnation, and then what the alterations were meant to achieve. (Link to the gown on the left; link to the gown on the right.)