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Evening dress

Category

Costume

Date

circa 1907

Materials

Silk, satin, lace and metal

Measurements

1400 mm (L); 1690 mm (L)

Place of origin

Italy

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Collection

Attingham Park, Shropshire

NT 609790

Summary

This beautiful evening dress was made cira 1907. It was worn by Teresa Hulton, later the 8th Lady Berwick of Attingham Park (1890-1972) when she was 17. The main body of the dress is pale green silk warp faced satin weave covered with shell pink silk open mesh plain weave, or 'organdie'. These fabrics were extremely popular in the 1900s when the vogue for sweeping, Art-Nouveau inspired fashions with soft, fluid fabrics and sinuous lines was at its height. A handwritten note by Lady Berwick describes the gown as a 'Ball Dress of pale green satin covered with pink chiffon and trimmed with gold lace embroidered in emerald green scarabs (app 1907 (?), (time of Lily Elsie in Merry Widow) A very characteristic evening dress of the time. In good condition'. The dress is hand and machine sewn with a round low neckline, short sleeves, a trimmed over bodice above a fitted bodice and a skirt with a train. The front of the skirt features a radiating embroidered panel to the hem. Like many evening dresses of the period, the skirts of Teresa’s evening dress flare out gracefully towards the hem with the fullness of the skirt gathered at the back into a train. A diaphanous over-dress over a coloured dress was a popular feature of evening dress at the time. The evening dress would have been worn with long gloves and a fan would have been carried. The dress is decorated with scarab beetle shells. These have a metallic sheen that must have looked amazing in candlelight at an evening event. Microscopic prisms in the scarab shells reflect the light. The colour the shells appear can alter in different angles of light from blue to green. Scarab shells were used on many theatrical costumes of the time, including for Ellen Terry’s costume in her famous portrayal of Lady Macbeth. It would usually be the job of children to collect scarab beetles from forests in South Asia. As the larvae develop in wood they couldn’t easily be farmed. The beetle wings would be cut down to size, which was a difficult and painful job as they are incredibly sharp. The embroidered decoration on the dress is made of gilt metal thread on a yellow core thread and must have been extremely time-consuming to do, increasing the value of the dress. Other elements of the dress include cream cotton machine lace in a design of flowers and leaves with a raised outline, embroidered cotton machine net, gold beads and bugle beads, self fabric piping, green satin ribbon, cream silk plain weave taffeta, pale green silk crepe open mesh plain weave, cream silk ribbons (measuring 13 mm and 30 mm), cream silk twill weave braid (measuring 14 mm) and pink silk ribbon (measuring 14 mm). The bodice has 11 bones for support and fastens at the back with metal hooks and eyes and buttonholed eyes.

Marks and inscriptions

Handwritten note by Lady Berwick (1890-1972)-see below. Handwritten note by Lady Berwick states: 'Ball Dress of pale green satin covered with pink chiffon and trimmed with gold lace embroidered in emerald green scarabs (app 1907 (?), (time of Lily Elsie in Merry Widow) A very characteristic evening dress of the time. In good condition'. Made in Italy circa 1907.

References

Barratt 2011: Siobhan Barratt, "Thousands of Iridescent Beetle Wings - Conserving Ellen Terry's iconic and celebrated Lady Macbeth costume", National Trust Arts/Buildings/Collections Bulletin, Summer Issue, July 2011, p.3

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