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Wedding dress, England, 1865, worn at the wedding of Eliza Penelope Clay and Joseph Bright, St James's Church, Piccadilly, London, 16 February 1865, silk-satin dress trimmed with Honiton appliqué lace, machine-net and bobbin lace. Museum no. T.43-1947, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Wedding dress, England, 1865, worn at the wedding of Eliza Penelope Clay and Joseph Bright, St James's Church, Piccadilly, London, 16 February 1865, silk-satin dress trimmed with Honiton appliqué lace, machine-net and bobbin lace. Museum no. T.43-1947, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This wedding dress was worn by Eliza Penelope Clay at her marriage to Joseph Bright, in St. James's Church Piccadilly, London, 1865. Before its display in the British Galleries it had previously been exhibited at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. During this time the dress was displayed on a mannequin without a crinoline, its only underpinnings being calico petticoats. This gave the dress a narrow profile with the sides of the skirt touching the ground and the fullness at the back forming a train.

When the display of the dress was reviewed for the British Galleries the curator questioned the profile previously attributed to it. It was considered unlikely that having spent a large sum on the length of Honiton lace around the shirt hem, it would have been desirable for it to drag on the ground. It also seemed unlikely that the sides of the skirt were designed to touch the ground, as this caused the silk hem to lie at an uncomfortable angle.

Research into the profiles of wedding dresses during this period showed rapid, though sometimes subtle, changes but one thing was certain and that was that a crinoline would have been worn under the petticoats.

The dress was brought into the Textile Conservation Studio where it was cleaned and conserved. It was then mounted on a temporary mannequin. The skirt of the dress was then padded out giving various different profiles. A point was reached where the entire hem was off the ground and a very full shape attained. The result coincided with the up-to-date style for that year - it seems Miss Clay was a very fashionable young woman.

Cotton tape was then draped around the skirt to work out the size and shape of the reproduction crinoline. The combined weight of the dress, petticoats and crinoline would be considerable and to help support this an exaggerated 'bustle' was made and very firmly affixed to the mannequin. The next stage was to make this crinoline to the desired shape using calico and traditional metal steels. The mannequins used in the British Galleries have all been custom made for the individual costumes, thus giving maximum support for long term display.

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