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December 21, 2007

Trailing Lilies

Posted in: Dresses

Court Gown and Train

Charles Frederick Worth (French, born England, 1826–1895). Court Gown and Train, 1888. Pink silk satin with matching silk tulle and lace applied trim, metallic sequin and purple stone embroidery, and applied white ostrich plumes with court train of printed ivory, pink, and olive green devoré silk velvet. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2007 (2007.385a–m).

The Englishman Charles Frederick Worth is considered the inventor of the modern fashion system, with its seasonal menu of constantly evolving styles. The couture house he established in the mid-nineteenth century was considered the preeminent Parisian fashion establishment of its day. Its reputation was enhanced in no small way by its association with many of the aristocratic ladies of the French court. The influence of the house extended to all the royal courts of Europe, as far as Russia, and was particularly favored by privileged American socialites.

This particular gown was worn by Esther Chapin, whose great-great-granduncle was George Washington. Ordered with three bodices, it can be transformed into a dinner dress, a ballgown, and here, with the extraordinary train, into a court presentation gown.

The spectacular voided velvet, woven in Lyons, is distinctive for its Aesthetic Movement palette. The pale, faintly mauve, pink satin ground contrasts with the “greenery-yallery” lilies rendered in cisele, or cut and uncut, silk velvet loops. Worth thus incorporated the advanced “artistic” taste of the period into the most formal and sartorially prescriptive dress available to a nonroyal, the court presentation gown, thereby transforming the retardataire into the fashionably avant-garde.

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