Preservation Society of Newport County Costume Exhibit Traces Victorian

The Preservation Society of Newport County’s
annual costume exhibition at Rosecliff (1902) this year features
highlights from its collection of historic clothing, several of them
never-before-displayed. The Victorian Wardrobe Revealed: 1840-1900
exemplifies the best of the Preservation Society’s collection-fine
materials, expert craftsmanship, and a wealth of interesting stories
about the societies in which they were created and worn.

Arranged chronologically, each garment reveals a story
about fashion history and production. For example, visitors can trace
the changes in women’s dress silhouettes through the 19th century, from
the low shoulders and full skirts of the 1840s and ’50s, to the nipped
waists and bustles of the 1880s. Women achieved each of these shapes by
a combination of the construction of their dress and an ever-changing
array of undergarments beneath it. These understructures – including
crinolines, hoop skirts, and corsets – existed well before the 19th
century, but became integral components of the Victorian woman’s

The exhibition also traces developments in the way
clothing was manufactured and purchased. In the early 1800s women often
made their own clothing or commissioned it from a seamstress.
Department stores emerged by the middle of the century, offering broad
inventories of fashionable ready-made clothing at affordable prices.
For the luxury consumer, the couture industry developed in Paris during
the 1860s, with high-end workshops providing a glamorous alternative to
small-scale local dressmakers. The textiles on display encompass the
full spectrum of this progression, including skillfully handmade 1840s
day dresses, a tea gown by the Providence dressmaker Jennie Carr, and
capes from both the Liberty department store in London and the Parisian
couturier P. Barrion.

Another highlight is a black and white striped gown by
the couture house of Charles Frederick Worth, donated to the
Preservation Society by Alice Brayton of Green Animals. It required over
300 hours of conservation work to prepare it for display. This gown is
an excellent example of the bold fabrics used by high-end couturiers,
and hints at the fashion-forwardness of women who patronized these
designers. Other noteworthy examples include a simple Quaker dress
handmade from a luxurious but understated brown silk, and a
uniquely-draped example of Victorian mourning fashion.

Co-curated by Jessica Urick and Rebecca Kelly, the
exhibit is on display in the Lesley Bogert Crawford costume galleries on
the 2nd floor of Rosecliff, 548 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, through
November 16. Admission to the exhibit is included with any Rosecliff
tour ticket, including multi-house tickets. Rosecliff is open daily for
tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16, except when it is
closed for the Newport Flower Show June 21-24. Newport Mansions tickets
can be purchased online at, or in person at any
Preservation Society property.

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island
is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Association of
Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic
architecture, landscapes and decorative arts. Its 11 historic
properties-seven of them National Historic Landmarks-span more than 250
years of American architectural and social development.

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