The Victoria & Albert Museum
This smart dress is indicative of women’s fashions of the mid-to-late-1840s. Why tartan? Well, by this point, not only had Queen Victoria and Prince Albert become enchanted with Scotland, they had, in 1848, purchased a Royal residence in Aberdeenshire. By 1853, work had commenced on a new castle at Balmoral and fashionable London Society had turned their attention to all things Scottish in order to emulate the Queen and Prince Consort. This interest turned to a passion for plaid, and women and men alike draped themselves in colorful tartans. Furthermore, Walter Scott’s popular novels added fuel to the fire of Scotch love, helping to keep the fashion alive well into the 1850s.
This dress, made around 1845, features long, tight sleeves, a high, round neck and the long, pointed waistline which defined the 40s. A bold silk-satin in a tartan pattern dominates the garment which is accentuated with a front lace fastening.
Relying on the textile for color, the only trimmings on the gown are its handsome agate stud buttons mounted on black velvet bows above the wrists. Agate was considered a wholly Scottish stone and, at the time, the majority of Scottish jewels included agate on silver. The dress’ bodice is piped on all the main seams and is entirely lined with cotton. The bodice is boned and the skirt is lined with yellow and white fabric. The lining could be removed for washing. The present lining may actually not be original. Yellow chamois dress preservers, original to the gown, were installed in the armpits to absorb perspiration and to protect the silk-satin from staining.