To (let it) be or not to (let it) be?

That’s always the question.

I have had a second tea gown hanging in storage for a few months now. It’s a little older than my first, and a little larger, too. It’s also been remade more times than my first one. I think it was made around 1900, remade in the early teens, and then re-remade sometime in the last few decades.

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I am hoping to get some better pictures this weekend, so stay tuned, I guess.

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The first incarnation had a longer, flared skirt (I can tell because the seams inside have been re-sewn, and the selvages show the original taper was much wider), and puffier sleeves (the insides of the arms have three ingenious horizontal tucks that persuade the puff to be larger and fuller to the back of the arm). The second incarnation had a narrower skirt, then, and the sleeves were a little longer and less poofy. The third incarnation just added snaps down the back and an ugly black ribbon through the lace at the neckline, creating a drawstring. 

I really do like that this dress has so much to tell. It’s been worn by two or three people in the last 100+ years, each leaving a mark. I would love to retain all that information, but then again, I’d love to repair the dress as well.

So to what point do I restore it? Do I even try? I’ve already removed the drawstring and I’m considering taking the snaps out. I can’t re-flare and lengthen the skirt, so it’s not going back to 1900. I could put the tucks back in the sleeves, but it won’t be complete without the longer skirt. 

Without a provenance, all this dress has is the story of alteration after alteration, owner after owner, for a hundred years. I may just wash it, repair the damage at the front (there’s a large tear, but it doesn’t show because it’s inside a pleat) and see how I feel about it. 

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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