This gown looks quite pretty when displayed in a glass case on a mannequin but up close it is utterly exquisite
I had expected it to be a simple fine cotton lawn ,very like liberty’s Lawns,In reality the fabric is crisp and fresh but gossamer fine and as light as spiders silk,If you look carefully at the photo below you can just see the tape measure showing through the fabric.
The whole dress weights barely anything .It’s also beautifully sewn and constructed and in beautiful condition with no hemlines scuffing or pin marks etc.I think its possible it was professionally made but if not it speaks well for Charlotte’s sewing skills
I find it hard to belive it’s ever been worn and wonder if it was an unworn part of Charlotte’s trousseau or perhaps worn as an afternoon gown briefly on one of Charlotte’s stays at the homes of rich friends or in London. I think it must have been bought after Charlotte’s income improved ,There is a lot of fabric and that fabric does not seem to be a cheap one as besides being printed with a wide range of coloured dyes it also has a woven pattern of almost invisible stripes
Its quite wide necked and must have attractively skimmed and highlighted Charlotte’s petite neck and shoulders.The bodice is beautifully cut dipping flatteringly at the front waist though the back is cut in the high late 1840s style.
Its also a decent size the waist is around 25 ins (giving an uncorseted waist of at least 26 ins)and the bust around 30 /32 so it couldn’t have been worn with the corset also in the museum’s collection and hopefully marks a happier healthier period in Charlotte’s life than the black mourning gowns worn by the sparrow thin Charlotte described by those who first met her in London .This is a gown for sunny days and times and must have been a joy to wear.
I think this is an important gown for understanding how to read those comments on dress in Charlotte’s novels.While Jane Eyre wears plain simple dark clothes that is what would be expected of a governess and while she later refuses very bright silks and dislikes any unneccessary ornament on her gowns this is inline with her character and her wish to not appear to have suddenly become “above herself” ,likewise Caroline in Shirly wears plain colours but this is again in keeping with her temperament which is quite retiring ,yer Shirley who Charlotte modeled on Emily and must have therefore likedwears bright silks , Lucy Snowe may be somewhat dismayed at wearing a pink evening gown but Lucy Snowe was not Charlotte and Charlotte did not particularly like Lucy Snow.
This is not the dress of someone who hated bright light colours or prefered simple plain high-necked governess style gowns ,its the dress of femine fashion aware lady who liked pretty femine fashions and floaty fabrics.
Though I do not have images This is not the only light and floaty gown Charlotte owned ,there are fragments of what looks like a similar gown which I was allowed to look at but didnt photograph .The pieces were part of a trousseau gown now long gone (not suprisingly as it must have been quite fragile even when new )It was a pale cafe au lait gauze type silk fabric with a quite bright apple green polka dot design which seemed to be embroidered but could have been printed as I didn’t want to handle the fabric. The fabric was in two parts a lower sleeve and a bodice panel and was so fine it was transparent and the bodice fragment I saw was sewn onto a lining fabri. which was likely to be the lining of the orginal bodice rather than a later addition as most dresses made from similar fabrics were double layered .I also think this green spotted gown must have been proffesional made ,its not impossible Charlotte made it but I think it unlikely ,it would take a long time to sew and was made at a time when Charlotte was extreemly busy.The gown below is of very similare fabric though the style is more elaborate and the background colour a little too light.
the background colour of the Bronte gown was more like this gown .
(more photos of this gown can be found on the blog link given,the dress is coincidently the same approx size as the paisley gown)
The skirt of the cafe au lait gown must have been extremely light and airy and the floaty fabric of both gowns must have given Mr Bronte some worries as the least contact with flames would have been enough to set it on fire.I confess I would not be personally brave enough to wear a gown of either fabric if there was the least likelihood of my being near any form of flame or heat source.