In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

Eighteenth Century

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Revolutionary-era styled gown
Revolutionary-era styled gownMaine Historical Society

As of the year 2020, the earliest garments in the MHS collection reach back into the eighteenth century. Two gowns are made of imported, probably English, woven floral silks. Such textiles were the product of highly skilled, intensive hand labor, and an extreme luxury afforded by only the wealthiest individuals. One of the dresses likely originated in the 1740s. Updated to an 1760-1775 style, it features a square neckline, fitted cone shaped bodice, straight at the front waist forming a curved point at the back, three quarter sleeves frilled at the elbow, and a full skirt. The textile’s darkish color and heavy figured pattern are characteristic of the earlier part of the century. The dress' provenance is complicated by its backstory. The dress is said to have been created (updated) for an 1825 ball in Portland, in honor of Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette. By 1825, the dress was altered and re-constructed, perhaps as a costume (known at the time as "fancy dress") in homage to the Marquis, or as an early example of the colonial revival movement.

Another gown, also the subject of front bodice alteration, is made of a mid-century imported silk with the newer, lighter style of design, an off-white ground, with dainty blue and white leafy serpentine stripes, and scattered floral sprays. The gown features a sack back with pleats falling from the shoulders into a train, a style still worn for dress occasions as late as 1770-1785.

Olive Gray's dress
Olive Gray's dressMaine Historical Society

Contrasting with these two luxurious and fashionable gowns, a modest small child’s dress in the collection is a rare eighteenth century survivor. With a square neck, pin tucked bodice, and short frilled edge sleeves, this worn and simple little dress is made of a coarse cotton, block printed with a brown background, with a red (madder) and blue (indigo) floral pattern. It bears a label, stating "1779. Worn by Miss Olive Gray, born in North Yarmouth, Maine."