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Historic Clothing Collection


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Cuirasse silhoutte, ca. 1880
Cuirasse silhoutte, ca. 1880Maine Historical Society

Between the mid-1870s and early 1880s, the bulky overskirt 'polonaise' styling gave way to the unusually slim silhouette called cuirasse (a French word meaning close fitting, like armor), of which the collection includes a very fine example. Made of lightweight camel colored wool, it’s below knee length basque fits closely over a flat front skirt edged with a wide band of pleating. The back of the basque divides to accommodate a modest low draped bustle. The garment is trimmed throughout with colorful hand embroidered floral sprays and a deep chenille bobble fringe edges the sleeves and basque. Some 1880s basques (seen in some of the collection's wedding dresses) are long, but not as long as the example just described, and sweep back over the hips with folds forming paniers that merged with back bustle drapery.

Cut velvet two-piece dress, ca. 1885
Cut velvet two-piece dress, ca. 1885Maine Historical Society
Ida Bowles' wedding dress, ca.1886
Ida Bowles' wedding dress, ca.1886Maine Historical Society

In August 1882, Peterson’s Magazine reported: “Velvet-figured goods will also be extensively worn next season. In solid colors the ground will be a dead, rep-like fabric, and the velvet figure will be quite large.” This fashion for contrasting plain and figured cut velvet fabric is seen in the collection’s solid brown two-piece bustle dress with plain sleeves and basque, plain bustle, with a large cut velvet floral motif on the bodice and skirt. Dated about 1886, Ida M. Bowles wedding dress, a two-piece brown faille (ribbed appearance fabric) ensemble, is notable for iridescent hexagonal glass bead buttons and edge trimming, large looped up bustle, and skirt front with an asymmetrically draped swag. Tapes used to hold bustles in shape survive inside both of the described brown dresses.