Curator’s Cache: Burgundy Velvet Visiting Costume

Burgundy visiting costume, c. 1883. Velvet, silk faille, taffeta and voided velvet; ornamented with glass beads and a small amount of chiffon ruffle at the cuff. Found in Collection.



For November’s Curator’s Cache we feature this exquisite deep burgundy velvet suit, c. 1883. It was selected as a companion to Silhouette: An Intimate History of Undergarments because it features a great deal of superstructure in order to create the outline.


A calling card from our collection, 1877.

This would have been considered a visiting costume and would have been worn by a wealthy lady when she paid her afternoon calls. The label inside reads “Marshall Field, Chicago.” The bodice is heavily boned and would have been custom fitted by the excellent dressmakers at Field’s. A very tightly laced corset would have been worn under the bodice. A “bum pad” is built into the back of the skirt. The skirt also has a complicated inner structure which creates the bustle so that a separate bustle would not have to be worn.

Marshall Field label

Marshall Field label

The bodice is velvet lined with brown silk faille and has glass bead ornamentation. The skirt is voided velvet and silk taffeta, though the taffeta does not show when the costume is being worn. A careful arrangement of buttons and loops links the paniers of the bodice to the skirt so that none of the plain brown taffeta fabric shows as the lady moves, or if a gust of wind should be rude enough to ruffle her ensemble.


This dress is lovely in photographs, but looks even better in person. Stop by the Museum to see this month’s Curator’s Cache artifact on display in the Carol and Jim Hansen Gallery, through November 30, 2016, and visit Silhouette: An Intimate History of Undergarments through Spring 2017.

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