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Manitoba History: Silhouettes in Style

Manitoba History, Number 17, Spring 1989

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

“Silhouettes in Style” is the name of the 1989 exhibition at the Dugald Costume Museum which will display mannequins in period settings from 1780 to 1970. During these three centuries the shapes and dimensions of sleeves, bodices, skirts and their related accessories went through many dramatic transformations. The highlight of this exhibition will be a 1780 blue and silver brocaded gown with matching petticoat and shoes.

Blue and silver brocaded silk gown, 1780.
Source: Dugald Costume Museum

This gown was committed to the care of the Dugald Costume Museum in 1983. Because the staff of the Costume Museum did not have the capacity to restore it, they applied in 1986 to have the dress conserved at the Canadian Conservation Institute, National Museums of Canada. The restored gown was returned to Dugald in November 1988.

The 18th century blue silk brocade open-robe, with matching petticoat, originally belonged to the Tucker family. It is believed that the garment was worn by a member of this family who travelled from England to Bermuda with the early English settlers in the late 18th century. The dress was donated to Dugald by Mrs. Mary Tucker, a Winnipeg resident, before she moved to Agincourt, Ontario in 1983.

She explained that in 1920 she married Major Park Benjamin Riddell Tucker (b. 1876). Park Tucker’s father had been a doctor in Bermuda. In 1890, when Park’s parents died, he was sent at age 14 to school in Canada. The dress and shoes came with him as his inheritance and remained with the Tucker family until 1983.

Various experts were consulted for information regarding the dating of the fabric and the costume itself. The Canadian Conservation Institute was fortunate to have Dr. A. Ribeiro, Head of Costume Courtauld Institute, London, and an expert in 18th century costumes, come and examine the article. In preparation for her visit, photos and documentation were sent ahead to England. With this information Dr. Ribeiro was able to consult with Natalie Rothstein of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a specialist in the identity of 18th century silks. They agreed that the fabric was probably woven in France, circa 1720, while the gown was made in England, circa 1780. The discrepancy in the dates may be accounted for by the fact that often silks were stored in warehouses for decades before being sold, or stored in chests until being made up for special occasions.

The blue brocade fabric is silk with metallic threads. The pattern is of large chrysanthemum-like flowers and fern-like leaves. The gown would have been worn for formal occasions of lavish evening entertainment.

Since the Dugald Costume Museum is dedicated to the interpretation of the history of Canadian dress, we are pleased to have a garment of this period featured in a Manitoban facility. For Western Canadians especially, it provides a rare opportunity to view a costume of such vintage.

“Silhouettes in Style” will run from April 1 through November 19, 1989.

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