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Woman's Evening Dress: Bodice and Skirt

Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, English (active Paris), 1825 - 1895. Worn by Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa.

Made in Paris, France, Europe

c. 1886-1887

Silk satin, faille, and brocade with lace and rhinestones

Bodice Waist: 20 inches (50.8 cm) Center Back Length: 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) Center Front Length: 38 3/8 inches (97.5 cm) Circumference: 13 feet 1 1/4 inches (399.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Biddle, 1978

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This elegant evening dress was worn by Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, first wife of the eminent professor and art historian of Japanese art, who with her husband lived in Tokyo for twelve years. The gown was worn about the time her husband became the director of Japan's Imperial Museum in Tokyo, possibly for her presentation at the Imperial court. The layering of texture, color, and pattern in this gown with its distinctive floral brocade, satin, faille, and lace pays homage to France's unrivaled textile industry. The designer's special relationship with the silk mills of Lyon allowed him to dictate the colors, patterns, and weaves that he required. During the Fenollosas' time in Tokyo, the Empress of Japan adopted Western dress for public appearances beginning in 1886.

Additional information:
  • PublicationBest Dressed: Fashion from the Birth of Couture to Today

    The House of Worth continued to dominate fashion in the 1880s, catering to a large international clientele who understood and coveted the cachet of a Worth gown. With his name a household word, Charles Frederick Worth was known not only by those who could patronize his Paris maison--and pay the extravagant sums he charged--but also by those who bought the models he exported across the world. This opulent brocade evening dress belonged to an American, Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, wife of an eminent professor and art historian, who lived in Tokyo for twelve years. Mrs. Fenollosa probably purchased the gown on a trip to Paris in 1887, and it is obvious that, like many other women of the time, she greatly prized a garment from Worth. She owned another dress, of white and gold silk brocade, that is identical in cut to this one but without a label, indicating that she may have had a dressmaker copy her Worth creation line for line. Such was the fame of Worth that, with the new openness of Japan to Western culture, his gowns were even ordered for the empress herself. Dilys E. Blum and H. Kristina Haugland, from Best Dressed: Fashion from the Birth of Couture to Today (1997) pp. 12-13.

  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This evening dress was designed by the first great Parisian couturier, Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman whose creative genius and promotional skills won him the credit for having elevated fashion to an art form. Worth's "compositions" featured distinctive textiles, such as the floral-brocade from Lyons, here combined with satin, faille, and lace, and from the mid-1860s elicited veneration--as well as extravagant sums--from aristocratic and nouveaux-riches clients around the world. This gown, probably purchased in Paris in 1887, belonged to an American, Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, who lived in Tokyo for twelve years and may have worn it for presentation at the Japanese imperial court. Its décolleté boned bodice, convoluted bustled and trained skirt, and myriad trimmings exemplify the late nineteenth-century concept of feminity. Strongly differentiated from the period's masculine aesthetic, this fashionable toilette--restrictive, impractical, and ornamental--was defined by Victorian society as an elegant enhancement of a woman's status and beauty. H. Kristina Haugland, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 94.