Dress A Day Research Challenge

So here's the mystery: this type of dress (worn by Queen Victoria here) is supposedly (according to ) known in America as a "Boston dress."

However, I can't find any other confirmation (other than that book of paper dolls linked above) of this term. Anyone want to take a shot at seeing if it's in any of the full-text newspaper databases? Or JSTOR? Or Making of America?

The person with the oldest printed citation/example will get a copy of the book (not a copy of the Winterhalter portrait, sadly).

Have fun looking!

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0 thoughts on “Dress A Day Research Challenge

  1. Don’t really have much time to research, but from what I remember, Charles Worth’s dresses of that time are mentioned in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.

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  2. Does this link count? Page 23 of a script of Dr Quinn?!? MUST be other sources… will continue scouring…Only this other script from Dr Quinn: – page 15-17 (mentioned twice!!)One success – will start a new post with its brilliance…

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  3. The Girl in the Boston DressI have been to Boston, o’er its sights I made a fuss, But it seems all things have changedand Boston’s come to usWe meet it everywhere we goWherever we walk or rideAnd very of ten too we see some pretty things insideWhile promenading Regent St, about three long weeks agoI saw a thing so very strangeIt made me cry out, Oh!Stars and Garters! Look at that!Oh, isn’t it divine?It moves! It breathes! It lives by Jove! I wish that it were mine!That girl, that girl, So beautiful, young and fairThat girl, that girlWith wonderous golden hair!Frizzled and friedBanged down besideOh it was lovely and rare!That girl, that girl,I loved her I confessBut long as I live I can never forget The wonderful Boston dress!That dress, that dress!That wonderful Boston dress!Being inflated with nothing but airIt puzzled me nevertheless!

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  4. From “Suburban Sketches” published in 1871. William Dean Howells. Part 3: The crowds filled the decorous streets,and the trim pathways of the Common and the Public Garden, and flowed inan orderly course towards the vast edifice on the Back Bay, presenting theinteresting points which always distinguish a crowd come to town from acity crowd. You get so used to the Boston face and the Boston dress, thata coat from New York or a visage from Chicago is at once conspicuous toyou; and in these people there was not only this strangeness, but thedifferent oddities that lurk in out-of-way corners of society everywherehad started suddenly into notice. (Jill: So what WAS so odd about Chicago folk visage in 1871?)Hope I win…I love paper dolls!Jill Spriggs World of Research, Reaction and Millinery

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  5. By the by…the Boston dress was the creation of Charles Worth, founder of the House of Worth.Check another look at the Boston style at

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  6. What makes this a “Boston” dress (i.e., distinguishes a Boston dress, besides being worn in Boston), does anyone know?

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  7. I don’t think there is such a term. First, Charles Worth didn’t even go to Paris until 1845 and his big royal client was Empress Eugenie, not Victoria (). Second, I looked all over: Fairchild’s dictionary of fashion; A dictionary of English costume; History of American costume, 1607-1870; and Royal dress : the image and the reality 1580 to the present day (to name a few). None of these books list a “Boston dress”.The only place that did was Reforming women’s fashion, 1850-1920, which listed a “Boston Reform Dress”. The dress, obviously enough, was part of the dress reform movement in the latter half of the 19th century and certainly nothing Victoria would have been a part of, even if the dates had been correct.So I think the paper doll book is mistaken. Yes, I do work in a library. Why do you ask? 😉

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  8. I also came up empty on the term “Boston dress” but that neckline is called a “bertha neckline”. From this web page (includes illustration of similar neckline dress):“The cut of the low shoulder line filled in to the neckline by day followed through to evening dresses. Evening dresses totally exposed a woman’s shoulders in a style called the ‘bertha’. Sometimes the bertha neckline was trimmed over with a 3 to 6 inch deep lace flounce or the bodice neckline was draped with several horizontal bands of fabric pleats.”CMC

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  9. The date of this Winterhalter portrait is 1842, which does seem to rule out Worth as the designer of the dress she wears in the portrait. The paper doll book seems to be incorrect on 2, if not 3 points – dating the portrait at 1846, the dress by Worth, and calling it a Boston dress – the metmuseum link noted above does not mention “Boston dress” – but does give House of Worth dates 1858-1956.

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  10. Also – the publication date of the song “The Girl in the Boston Dress” is 1882 – the illustration is a very different, late Victorian style.

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  11. I’ve never heard of it called a “Boston gown.” It’s very typical of a mid-19th century ball gown. CMC is absolutely correct that it’s a bertha top.I do Civil War Reenacting and have a ball gown that is similar here. My friends are in this picture and the dresses on each end have berthas as well. And, to bring it all back to the Royal Family, in this picture the man and the woman in the stripped dress were portraying Prince Albert (later King Edward) and Princess Alexandra.

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  12. It looks like an 1840s summer ball dress. I have never heard of the term “Boston dress” or seen it in my fashion history books. Charles Worth may have been the initial designer of a dress in this cut (similar to those of the 1830s sans the gigot sleeves) that influenced a trend among upper class women in the east coast (where European fashions usually arrived during that era) and perhaps that term was used briefly during that time…maybe used in letters or personal correspondence?

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  13. In the book Worth : father of haute couture / Diana De Marlythere is a chapter on Worth’s invention of the cage crinoline, basically hoops, that for the first time allowed for the wide skirt without layers of petticoats. There was much comment on that structure in papers, comics, and letters of the time, as it allowed women to walk without the heavy confining pile of underskirts. I think “the cage” is the reason for the lines “inflated with nothing but air” in the song “Girl in the Boston Dress”.”Boston Dress” must have been a common phrase in order to warrant song title usage.The book also cites the Worth fashion collection owned by the Boston Museum of Art (History?)Wisconsin was the only other musuem cited as having a noted Worth collection.Worth was creating earlier, in the 1840’s, his “House of Worth” came as his identity rose. He was scandalous at the time, as a “male milliner” (AKA dressmaker), he touched women and saw them in their undergarments as he measured them. Shocking.

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  14. Worth was still working in Swan & Edgars in London in 1842 (and was only 18) so fairly unlikely that Queen Victoria would be purchasing her dresses from him… (I doubt she’d be seen in a department store)I wonder if Worth somehow got connected to the name ‘Boston Dress’ because he came from Lincolnshire? (Boston Lincs rather than Boston Mass?)

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