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A10073 Dress with additional fabric samples (39), navy blue with white checks, silk / lace / velvet / cotton, maker unknown, Australia, 1850-1855. Click to enlarge.

Girls blue silk dress with additional fabric samples

Made 1850-1855
This girls dress, made from the fabric of another dress, is an exceptional example of how children's clothing followed adult fashion during the early to mid-nineteenth century (1820-1860). Additionally, it illustrates the conservation of clothing in the colony and the common practice of recycling older garments to create something new and in style and at little monetary cost. Evidence of this practice is rare, making this costume a particularly interesting example of colonial dress.

By the mid-1840s girl's fashion had become more restrictive and oppressive than ever. In weight, suitability to climate, evenness in covering, consideration for activity and healthy development, Mrs Merrifield (author of ?Dress as a fine art,' 1854) found girl's clothing totally deficient: ?the dress of children, especially, appears to be exceedingly fantastic in its character and with regard to that of girls, is ill-adapted to ensure the enjoyment of health and the perfect development of the figure.' Clothing for children in this period restrained healthy growth of the child, a Victorian status symbol with scant regard to comfort.

This pattern of dress continued through into the 1860s, with variations in fabric rather than shape or construction. Long, fitted bodices were set off by long sleeves for day or by short, puffed or ?butterfly' sleeves for evening. The fabric of the dress is a check silk, which became almost universal in the 1840s and remained popular until the late 1860s. It was not the most practical material for children's clothing and was unsuited to active play. Well-off girls were expected to keep clean because their rich silk dresses would not have been regularly washed. Only undergarments received a weekly wash.

Well-to-do young girls were dressed in miniature versions of their mothers' clothes, only with shorter skHirts and visible broderie anglaise drawers or cambric trousers peeping out from underneath. This practice reflected prevailing attitudes to childhood. Children were in some ways still regarded as small adults. They ate adult food, played adult games and wore clothes that followed the ever-changing vagaries of adult fashion.

Jade Kanas, curatorial intern, December 2015.

Elizabeth Ewing, ?History of Children's Costume.'
Anne Buck, ?Clothes and the Child.'
Clare Rose, ?Children's Clothes.'
Marion Fletcher, ?Costume in Australia.'


Object No.


Object Statement

Dress with additional fabric samples (39), navy blue with white checks, silk / lace / velvet / cotton, maker unknown, Australia, 1850-1855

Physical Description

Girl's blue silk dress with white checks. The bodice is fitted with a high scoop neckline edged with lace. The sleeves are puffed and edged with lace. The flounce skirt gathers at a natural waistband and fastens with a hook and eye closure at the centre back. A pocket is sewn onto the right side of the skirt. The neck ties up with a black ribbon. Applied blue velvet ribbon lace and self trim at bodice from V outline at front and back. Skirt trimmed with 3 bands of blue velvet above hem. Piping at shoulders, waist, and neck. Lined with polished cotton. All handsewn.





This hand-sewn dress was remade from a larger dress, with additional fabric scraps showing evidence of the former costume, including the back bodice

Outfits from this period would either be made by professional dressmakers or in the home. There was a plentiful supply of dressmakers as it was the one of the few areas open to the many women forced to support themselves. Many women and children worked long hours for low wages - a plight not dissimilar to that of outworkers today.

By the 1850s a solution to the problem of obtaining a new cut emerged from the growing women's periodical press. Women's magazines began to complement their fashion prints and information with simple diagrams to help the readers sew the dresses illustrated. At first there were no insturctions for laying out, cutting, sizing, fitting or construction of the garment but by the 1870s full-size paper patterns with instructions were being offered in magazines.



This dress is one of a collection of children's dresses donated to the Museum in 1984. Stylistically the dress dates from around 1850-1855, however shows signs of being remade from a larger dress. Additional fabric scraps show evidence of this former costume

The fashionable women's dresses provided plenty of fabric for recycling into their children's clothes. Skirts, when plain, which was often the case during the 1840s, were made up of four widths of material drawn into the waist by means of organ pleating and when unpicked these unbroken, straight lengths were ideal for remaking.


Credit Line

Gift of D E Gibbney, 1984

Acquisition Date

29 March 1984

Cite this Object


Girls blue silk dress with additional fabric samples 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 May 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Girls blue silk dress with additional fabric samples |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=28 May 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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