Pretty in purple

I have been volunteering at Brighton Museum in the costume collection for a couple of months now and having a really good time.  My favourite part is when we need to get something out of the storage cases.  It always seems to take longer than it should, as I get a little bit distracted by another beautiful garment.
One outfit in particular always grabs me.  Dating back to the early 1870s, this silk bodice, skirt and overskirt is trimmed with Maltese lace.  For many this outfit is just a dress from the Victorian era.  It is in fact so much more. The most striking thing about this outfit is the colour, as it is a bold royal purple.  It wasn’t until 1850 that it was possible to create such a vibrant colour as this.  Like many great inventions, this break through in dyeing technology came by accident.  Aniline dyes allowed purple to be made brighter.  Later brighter tones of green and magenta were also created with this technology.

The cut of the dress is a fashionable silhouette for the time.  With the decorative overskirt and the fichu (the shawl-like neckline) and further decoration added with the lace trimming and the fabric bows on the bodice, this outfit is little more than conspicuous consumption, which was a common way for Victorian people to show off how much money they had.


For me this dress represents a time of luncheons and afternoon tea, when women’s main occupation was to look beautiful.  Women’s fashion had to be practical for them to entertain or visit friends.  If that was what my life consisted of now, I am sure that you would see me walking along the seafront dressed in a similar fashion.
Volunteer with the costume collection

Leave a Reply