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Women's dresses underwent dramatic changes in silhouette and ornamentation between the 1750s and 1830s. This exhibition will highlight their stylish evolution, from an elaborate Rococo gown worn over wide panniers to a slim, high-waisted Neoclassical frock to a romantic creation with large leg-of-mutton sleeves.
The dresses that will be on view follow the dictates of fashion in choice of fabric and decoration. A court gown from the late 1750s is of lustrous floral silk trimmed with serpentine ruchings and fly fringe, while a sparkling example from 1817 is of translucent gauze decorated with three-dimensional embroidery, sequins, and beads. A striped cotton dress from the late 1770s or 1780s shows the simplicity of garments suitable for informal occasions, while another dress of the same date is constructed according to the latest vogue with a false waistcoat or "zone" front.
The exhibition will also feature rare examples of stays and corsets. Using baleen and wood, these molded the feminine torso into the ideal form, either the eighteenth-century conical shape or the nineteenth-century hourglass figure. Those on display will range in size from a tiny example—only eighteen inches around—that corrected a toddler's posture to a pair with a forty-eight inch bust.
In addition, the fashionable accessories on view will include a selection of the finest and most unusual pieces from the Museum's collection. Some of these accessories were worn under other garments, either to give support, as in the case of down-filled sleeve puffs that held out the large sleeves of the late 1820s and 1830s, or for practical reasons, as shown by garters "elasticized" with metal springs and by an embroidered pocket (in this period a separate garment that was tied around the waist). Other accessories, such as an exquisitely embroidered stomacher, printed kid gloves, and delicate fans, were definitely worn to be seen.