Chinese silk dress

Chinese silk dress, 1760s
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dating from about 1760, the dress pictured is made from very expensive Chinese export silk. The material was woven and embroidered in China, and the dress was made in England. It’s decorative motifs include  butterflies, birds and vases in coloured silk threads.

The dress echoes the formal style of the period and like fashionable women’s dresses of the time would have been worn over tight stays and voluminous petticoats. However, the dress fastens at the back, which at this time meant that the garment had been made for a child.

The silk’s luxurious finish and the dressmaker’s skill actually disguise the fact that there was not quite enough fabric to make the dress. Although the bodice and sleeves maximise the decorative effects of the colourful motifs, the full skirt actually consists of leftover pieces of fabric stitched together.