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.'