Behind the Scenes: Delicate work of displaying 1880s dress

Behind the Scenes: Delicate work of displaying 1880s dress
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Historic Arkansas Museum
Tuesday, May 02nd 2023
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Have you been in our Conspicuous Consumption exhibit lately? We have a beautiful 1880s wedding dress on display, currently, and Victoria Chandler, curator of collections, takes you through the process of safely displaying historic textiles like clothing.

This dress was owned by a woman names Lilly Miller Carter, she went by Lulu, but this was her wedding dress. She met Hardy Carter, who was a judge in Dardanelle, Arkansas, in her hometown of Ripley, Mississippi and they were smitten with each other, and apparently on Christmas Day in 1882 he was so taken with her they had to get married that day! The dress on display is what shew as wearing. HAM considers itself lucky that the dress was in such good condition so it can be on display longer.

The process of putting a historical dress on display is a delicate one. First, the dress must be pulled out of storage and then measured so that a mannequin can be created to fit the dress exactly. Donna Uptigrove with HAM created the structure that the dress would be displayed on by starting with a Styrofoam mold, then adding buckram to create the bust shape. Also created were detachable arms to fill out the sleeves.

Not only was it difficult to get dressed in the 1880s, it was difficult to get the mannequin dressed as well. A custom-made backside piece was ordered to fill out the backside of the dress to complete the desired silhouette of a flat front and a pronounced backside. The skirt was pinned very delicately to the mannequin, then fluffed to fill out.

Next step was adding the top to the bust, and was then filled out with stuffing to give the top its shape.

Victoria added, “You know when we’re dealing with textiles we really want minimal touching so we’re not constantly trying it on the mannequin to see if it fits.”

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