Archive for May 11th, 2008

Colonial silk gown donated to Smithsonian

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

It’s actually been on loan at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for almost a hundred years, but the descendants of Eliza Lucas Pinckney have now donated it to the museum.

Pinckney’s dress is an excellent example of a typical sack-back dress from the period, and it is only one of two in the Smithsonian collection that has both the original matching stomacher and petticoat. A sack, or robe à la française, has flowing pleats that fall from the shoulders, making the gown appear to be unfitted in the back. A stomacher is a decorative piece that covers the front of the corset, where the gown’s bodice edges were intentionally separated.

The dress is notable not just for its beauty and rarity, but also because its original wearer, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was an immensely successful business woman who ran her father’s plantations from the age of 16 and pretty much single-handedly provided South Carolina with the cash crop that sustained it in the decades between the decline of rice and the advent of cotton: indigo.

The silk threads woven into the golden gown were spun from silk worms she herself bred, in fact, in one of her many successful agricultural experiments.

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