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Evening dress, Australia, 1860-1865

Made in Australia, Oceania, c 1855.
This garment is an exceptional example of the early use of aniline dyes. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, almost all dyes were made from natural sources, such as plants, animals, and minerals. In 1856, however, young chemist William Henry Perkin manufactured the first mass produced synthetic dye, mauveine. Mauveine was a combination of aniline (a common extract of coal tar) and other compounds which created a brilliant purple. The colour purple was popularised by French Empress Eugenie and a little later, Queen Victoria, who wore a lilac dress to the wedding of her daughter in 1858.

Although a precise date alludes us, Marion Fletcher insists that aniline dyes were not used for dress materials in England before 1860. She does note, however, that the bold and brilliant colours achieved with the dyes ?caught on' quickly in Australia: ?silks and velvets in purples, fuchsias, garish greens and blues were all the rage, with the rage lasting for most of the decade, and with the colours combined together with little regard for taste.' This dress accentuates the colours further, by using a shot silk comprising a blue and purple warp and weft weave.

The cut is typical of the mid-1860s dresses. Although introduced as a style in the early 1850s, the puffed, gathered bodice found popularity a decade later. The sleeves during this period were wide and flounced with either a lace or fringed trim. This evening dress represents an era in Australian colonial dress, when bright colours in a wide range of hues were in vogue.

Marion Fletcher, ?Costume in Australia 1788-1901.'
Nancy Bradfield, ?Costume in Detail 1730-1930.'


Object No.


Object Statement

Dress, shot silk taffetta, Australia, 1860-1865

Physical Description

Evening dress of blue/brown shot silk taffeta with pagoda sleeves, fitted back fastening bodice, gathering at front anchored by ruching above waist. Full skirt gathered from cartridge pleats below waist. The gathering of the bodice and the two tiered, flounced sleeves have been trimmed with a deep blue silk fringing.



470 mm


1430 mm



Australia, Oceania c 1855


Maker unknown. Hand made.

The skirt has been constructed out of seven outer silk panels and four internal lining panels, designed so that the seams do not meet up. Additionally, a centimetre width fold has been sewn on the inside of the front of the skirt (about 1480mm in length), probably to either lift the front of the skirt or to protect it for outdoor wear.

The thread is not uniform throughout, varying from a thick golden thread on the skirt, to a bright blue on the bodice. The hand stitching, for the most part, is very neat and precise.

The gathering on the front of the bodice is made from two panels. The underside of these folds are lined with cream cotton, and not the shot silk taffeta. As this area is not visible when worn, it was probably a conscious cost saving device. The bodice has also been let out with two very minor, centimetre sized slits appearing on either side under the arms.

The garment also features the use of aniline dye. This synthetic dye was first produced by chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856, and were applied to dress materials after 1860.





Donated to the museum by Mrs. K. Dwyer and Mrs. L. Mackley of South Hurtsville in 1985.

Owned by Mrs Emery from Tumut.

The owner received it from her aunt.


Credit Line

Gift of K Dwyer and L Mackey, 1985

Acquisition Date

6 September 1985

Cite this Object


Evening dress, Australia, 1860-1865 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 9 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Evening dress, Australia, 1860-1865 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=9 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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