In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1850-1870

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"Ordinary" dress, ca. 1845Maine Historical Society

Examples of 'ordinary' dresses from the 1850s within the MHS collection include a brown cotton calico dress with yellow floral sprigs, and another with pink roses on a brown ground. Because they were cared for and preserved, silk garments are more prevalent in the collection.

Gold damask dress, ca. 1855
Gold damask dress, ca. 1855Maine Historical Society

Silk was imported from Europe and expensive. For many women, a silk dress was an investment, a best dress for Sunday, or for special occasions. Looked after, often stored away as they moved past updating, this type of garment often survives to become part of a historic collection.

Up to, and about the mid- 19th century there was no broad silk industry in the United States. Limited Chinese imports of that time included black dyed textured tussah, sometimes called senshaw. In 1859, Miss Leslies Behaviour Book recommended senshaw for travel dresses. The collection’s 1850s dress of gold silk damask with an elongated leafy tree motif (quite distinct from imported European designs) is a reminder that, probably thanks to local sea captains, some Maine ladies received lengths of the Chinese silks made for the Western market.