Emily Dickinson’s White Dress

I’m excited to announce my latest project! I’ve been commissioned to make the costume for the one-woman-show, “The Belle of Amherst” taking place in Amherst (Virginia) in November. Find out more about it here: http://www.amherstglebeartsresponse.org/the-big-read.html

The costume the lovely Sally Southall will be wearing is going to be a recreation of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the dress itself, or to the two official replicas. So, I’m going to put my research skills to use. If any of you followed my Polly’s Dress blog, you will recognize my methods!

There is a wonderful little write-up about the dress on the Emily Dickinson Museum’s website. To summarize, Dickinson wore the dress in her 40s and 50s (1870s and 80s). It was a cotton “wrapper”, which is a kind of house dress women wore during this time period for casual use. The buttons are mother-of pearl and the stitching is primarily by machine.

I can tell from photos what the outside of the dress looks like. However, I don’t know if it was lined fully or partially, or not at all. I want to know how long the machine stitches were and how the edges were finished. For this information, I will turn to what, as far as I can discover, was done in that time period.

The Valentine Richmond History Center has four wrappers from the 1860s, and they’ve agreed to show them to me . Hopefully I’ll get some answers there!

The FIDM Museum blog has wonderful information about the wrapper they own, from ca. 1865. I didn’t find it useful to this project since it focuses on shape and fabric (both of which I already know specific to Dickinson’s dress), but give it a look if you’re interested in wrappers generally. Another source worth looking at is The Gatherings’ article, with pictures and descriptions of an 1890s wrapper.

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