In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1830-1850

From Eastport, and connected to the Leavitt family, a wadded mulberry colored plain taffeta silk coat-dress with very full gigot sleeves presents a good example of day fashions straddling the 1830 to 1835 period. The natural waist level belt encircling the coat and long pelerine (cape) tails emphasizes the skirt's spreading hemline. A selection of three dresses serve to illustrate the gigot sleeve’s rise and fall from outsize balloon puffs at the shoulder, followed by mid-arm puffs, and final deflation into a gathered puffed lower arm detail. The lower arm puff lingered for a time, competing with the new 1840s straight sleeve. The same three gowns also illustrate 1830s bodice pleat and gather detailing, and the fuller skirts, that in combination with the return of the natural waist placed new emphasis on small waists and made lacing corsets important.

In this age of cotton industry growth, attractive 1840s printed cottons were affordable and readily available, yet they are scarcely in evidence in this section of the current collection. A cotton dress’s chances of survival were reduced by use for daily wear, dyeing for mourning, and cutting down for children. Two, well-worn and faded, thin cotton print dresses span the 1830s-1840s. One is a white flower sprig design with gathered horizontal strips across the wide neck, puff, off-shoulder sleeves and a pelerine; and the other, dating towards the end of the era, a specked beige with a red check oval motif, front closure, gathered skirt, inset waist and long cap sleeves.

Silk dresses in subdued colors of plain and woven patterns predominate the 1840s examples. A not very skillfully sewn, gold woven leafy stripe silk dress with an almost-bloused bodice, shallow pointed waist, gathered skirt and long straight sleeves contrasts with a finely dressmaker-made putty colored silk dress from the McMahon family of Falmouth. It features a smart fitted late 1840s boned bodice, pointed waist, and dome shaped skirt. The frilled trimming may be a 1850s update.

With its pointed waist and piped edge front closure, a white damask dress provides a fine example of the 1840s into 1850s bodice. Elongated, boned, and close fitting, it is perfectly smooth over the chest to waist, an appearance achieved by inserting batting between lining and outer fabric. With layers of heavy quilted petticoats—of which there is a selection in the collection—the attached densely gathered skirt would have filled out into the fashionable dome shape. Skirt circumferences expanded in the 1850s.