Woman’s aesthetic dress

Woman’s aesthetic or reform dress and bodice in wool with a ribbed weave, Great Britain, 1892-1895. Photograph © the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Portrait of Hannah Rushton Roberts, later Lady Mervyn Clwyd by Sir George Clausen, 1895.

It delights me when clothing depicted in a portrait turns up online because I love comparing reality with the artist’s representation. Today’s object falls into this category. The dress, a brown pinafore made of wool “with a heavily, ribbed weave,” (think corduroy) worn over a silk satin blouse, is an example of a woman’s aesthetic or reform movement dress of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Reformers believed fashionable clothing and undergarments (such as tight corsets, hoop skirts, and bustles) were harmful to women’s health and advocated changes. Artistic reformers created more comfortable gowns made with empire waists and soft drapable fabrics, which gradually gained acceptance and became fashionable.

While he is better known as an impressionistic artist who used a soft pastel palette for his landscapes, Sir George Clausen did create a few more traditional portraits. Compare today’s dress with this Portrait of Hannah Rushton Roberts, later Lady Mervyn Clwyd, which he painted in 1895. It’s interesting to note how much brighter the braid on the bodice looks in the painting. After almost 120 years, has it faded or did the painter deliberately change the color to better match the tapestry behind the sitter?

If you’d like more details about the fabrics and construction of the dress go here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sir George Clausen go here.

Today’s Music Selection: Watermark by Enya

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