I was making an inventory of a vintage costume collection for a friend, trying not to spend too much time on items with little resale value. I found a section of bustle dresses, or parts of them, that were clearly “the real thing.”
I never had time to photograph that one on a mannequin. The front with long, low gathering is very distinctive.
All those crisp fabrics — and then I reached into the “bustle era” hanging storage and put my hand on this one:
But, no, it’s a masquerade costume — meant to be 18th century — from a period that favored soft, droopy fabrics, no boning, and a skirt less full than the 1780’s.
The front of the costume was never photographed on a mannequin, but you can see, as it hangs on a coat hanger (that’s how I found it) that the sheer ruffles on each side of the front are long enough to be worn crossed like the “Martha Washington” costume’s fichu:
It has an interior bodice made of netting — a practice I have seen in dresses of the nineteen-teens.
All the sewing is a bit sloppy — and why not, for a costume that might be worn only once?
At the time when I found it, I wondered why my friend had collected something so clearly not “the real thing.”
But, many years afterward, I remembered it when I realized that pattern companies have been making “colonial lady” and “Marie Antoinette” patterns for costume parties, Halloween parties, centennials and local history pageants, 4th of July parties, and amateur theatricals for a very long time.
Click here for another Butterick “Martha Washington” pattern, circa 1941, No. 1695. The dress my friend collected does a better job of interpreting the back of an 18th century dress than either of the Butterick patterns.