Dating the Green 1820s Dress

Mar 10, 2017 11 comments
Hey Everyone!

Abby here- 

So last week I posted about the awesome green dress my mom found in a little antique store in my hometown, and when I shared the photos here and told the story of the dress, I dated the gown c. 1825. Today, I thought I would go through why I think the dress is from around that time period. Then, hopefully next week, I'll post all about the construction details, interior photos, the yummy guts of all this. But first, let's talk about the dating of this gown.

Here she is again, in case you're new to the party.
Now, to be perfectly honest, this is not a time period where I feel particularly confident, I mean, let's be honest not a lot of us seem to pay that much attention to the 1820s. We usually focus on earlier decades or we get completely blindsided by the crazy 1830s. The 1820s seems to sometimes get lost in the mix, even though 1820s is just as crazy as the 30s and has some really lovely aspects about her that make it sometimes prettier than the 1810s. So let's look at the dress on Frankenlily and look at some of the construction and design details that I used to help me get an idea of her date and what I looked for when I compared her to other original gowns and images from the period.

Ok, so those were the immediate things I picked up on when I looked at the dress. Next, I started digging around on pinterest to see what I could find in the realm of imagery of portraits, prints, and other original gowns. I have to admit...this was tricky. There doesn't seem to be a lot that survives from the 1820s that is simple. Most gowns in collections seem to be on the much more fashionable side of things, but I was able to find a few. Challenges were also faced for the prints and portraiture, because event though I can see some of the gown in Ackermann's - these women are being rightly depicted as fully dressed with gowns covered in trim, and they're wearing  belts, pelerines, bonnets, etc, and so it can be hard to see the neckline, shoulder slope, etc. So, with that in mind, some of the images were picked because the sleeve size and shape looks the same, the waist sits at a similar place, there is fullness in the skirts, etc. 

Morning Dress, Mid- 1820s, Met Museum, 1977.197.3

Morning Dress, 1827-30, Met Museum, 1981.13.1

Quaker Dress, c. 1825, MFA Boston, 53.1770

So all of these gowns seem to have at least a couple of similarities to the green dress - skirt fullness, sleeve shape and construction, sloped shoulder, and if I could - neckline. The neckline is the hardest thing to compare the green dress to others. This time of neckline does not seem to be common in original gowns in museums. As for fashion prints, like Ackermann's below, some gowns do look like they could have a very high neckline like my dress, and others seem to have a more open neckline, in keeping with the cotton dress in the Met. 

Morning Dress, May 1825, Ackermann's Repository (Neckline similar to the cotton Met Dress)
Morning Dress, November 1827, Ackermann's Repository (It looks like it might have a high neck like my gown.)

Promenade Dress, August 1827, Ackermann's Repository  (Neckline unclear)

So, after obsessively trolling everything I could find on Pinterest to help figure out the dating of this gown, I also contacted a curator friend and picked her brain about it, and she agrees that the gown appears to be from the mid to late 1820s. Since the provenance of this gown is a mystery - all we know from the dealer is that it came from an estate sale "out west", and when you're located east of the Mississippi river, that's a pretty broad placement. It is always possible that this is some weird anomaly dress that might be 1830s, and it's kept the hallmarks of earlier fashions. However, there seem to be some really good matches with the gown that are within this 3-5 year time frame. 

Next up, we'll go through the gown's construction details and photos. It might manage to fit all in one post, or I might break it up into "Bodice" and "Skirt"...this will depend on how much I find in the skirt and if it will warrant its own post. 

If you are a fan of the 1820s, and you know of any original images or gowns that look similar to the green dress - I would love to see them! 

Until then - have a great weekend everyone! 

<3 <3 


  1. These sort of bottle colored dresses become common in the late 1830s into the 40s, there are examples of brown/copper ones at the Met. Your dress is magnificent! and your dating sound.

    Here is one thing one needs to remember: dresses that often get saved are not everyday dresses, the saved everyday dress is a true rare commodity, and as such an important piece historically. And collections in art museums are much more interested in the "pretty" dress. Dating is also fluid, which is why with a historical piece one often uses the "circa" - a dress can have elements from multiple fashion plates/years but it is the prominent one that provides the date. This makes me wish that local historical museums had the funds to put images of their collection on-line, as it would offer people a "truer" view of what everyday people wore. (I once tried to convince a museum director that their rare, c. 1825 cotton gown was a more historically important piece than a silk gown from the same, or later time period, but he didn't care and the entire collection was de-accessioned. Very very sad, all that lost history).

    I am still agog at the amazing find. Imagine the story it could tell - and which you are trying to decipher.

  2. I literally almost squealed with delight for you when you first posted about this dress.
    Sounds like you've done a great job dating it as well.
    I agree with ema2boys about every day dresses not getting seen..):
    I also can help but wonder, wouldn't every dress and gown have its own uniqueness? It has only been in more recent years that factory mass clothing is being made. Clothes where often made to order from a tailor or by the wearer them self.
    Every women would have her own tastes along with the latest fashions right?
    You pointed out the neckline was different, could it be that, that's due to the wears preference?
    Thanks for sharing this dress! Can't wait for the construction details!!!

  3. LOVE this dress! That color is gorgeous and it looks to be in fantastic shape. When you first posted about it, I immediately thought of the Quaker dress that you show in this post. These 'simple' day wear dresses are infinitely more interesting to me because we don't often see them. What a great find and I'm looking forward to the other posts.

  4. Bear in mind guys that this is silk taffeta. It may be plain and dark but it was clearly someone's very best dress. The way it was looked after and not hacked up. It may have been worn with a lace fichu or wide collar, or with a pretty bonnet or shawl that set it off more.

    1. oh so true. The plainness and darkness may have contributed to it being in a pile ... but now I have visions of it with a wide collar edged with lace perhaps ... and wish it could talk.

  5. Nice job dating! I think there's a possibility that it's Quaker, like your last example, and a bit later (dark color, no trim and no figuring/patterning in the silk, slightly odd construction), but it could also just have been owned by someone on the conservative side. The one thing that seems really strange to me is that very low armscye: typically for this period, it should be just at the point of the shoulder, but this is more like a ca. 1840 level, even on someone with broad shoulders. Curious!

    It reminds me a lot of the dark gowns you see in a lot of folk portraiture, with several prominent pieces of jewelry and sheer embroidered cap and pelerine. Like Nancy Gardner Brown, Anne Jane Carlisle, and Postmistress Rose.

    1. Hey Cassidy! I had the "I wonder if it's Quaker" thought too, but since there's no way to tell....who knows. :/ I don't fully agree with the color observation....I kept seeing a lot of greens pop up in fashion plates for the mid to late 20s - they were just too different design wise to warrant sharing them within this post, and it's a bottle green that was always seems to have been around...for eons..ya know?'s also impossible to photograph. ugh. Though I really enjoyed the portraits you shared - thank you! :D

    2. Oh, I'm not saying it's not a fashionable color! It's all of the aspects together that remind me of the few extant Quaker gowns I've seen. Quakers were fine with fashionable colors, as long as they were on the "sadder" side.

  6. I agree with your dating entirely, and it's consistent with what I've found in my researches in the archives at the MoL. I also think there's a good possibility that (since it's been saved) it'd be an earlier dress that's been reworked (and possibly re-dyed). I'd love to see interior photos when you've got a chance. My one quibble is that the hem guard appears on a *lot* of silk and finer woolen dresses (even earlier, columnar ones), and it's not necessarily a stiffening - more a way to protect a tender textile from the ground/floor/fireplace/your shoes, etc. These still get applied to some theatrical costumes!

    One last thing - I'd love to see it with a proper belt and buckle! These transitional styles always look so strange without that one extra piece.

    1. Hi Laura! Do you have pictures or links to gowns that have a wool hem guard? I would love to see some examples, since most of the ones that museums have online/I've found are silk. I would love to be able to compare this gown to some other examples!

  7. So interesting to see how you dated this. I'm really enjoying following along with your posts!
    The Artyologist


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