Charlotte Brontes Paisley Gown

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.


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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9 Responses to Charlotte Brontes Paisley Gown

  1. paper doll says:

    Wonderful post! Thank you! Exquisite Indeed!

      • paper doll says:

        Being able to see these items so close informs one on many levles. One is not just looking and experiencing them with the brain. But it’s great to have an expert like yourself go over them in such detail and report your findings

        Whenever i see such Bronte items, I say ” Thank you, Arthur Bell Nicholls .” Because mostly we have them thanks to his cherishing Charlotte’s possessions for 50 years .

      • Hi ,thank you again,It was a great oportunity and I did try to be as through as possible when studying them and writing the posts as you can never be sure what people might find helpful and perhaps there were some things about the gowns that I missed but other Bronte scholars might find useful ,I think your right about Mr Bell Nicholls ,he must have loved Charlotte very much to take the trouble to carry so many of her possesions all the way to Ireland and perhaps thats how we have the Paisley dress and Honeymoon dress,,though I dont know wether if Mr Bell Nichols had owned the going away dress we would still have it as he arranged to have the wedding dress burned,,,,The corset certainly seems to have been kept localy as it was on display(though not at the parsonage) while Mr Nichols was alive ,,Ellen Nussy was very upset about it but we dont have any record of what Mr Nichols thought ,,hopefuly he never found out as I suspect he would have found it very upsetting.The corsets not displayed at the Parsonage now as they felt it would be inappropriate.

      • paper doll says:

        Yes, it’s my understanding Mr. Nicholls kept Charlotte’s wedding dress for many years and then gave it to a female relative with the instruction that it be burned
        upon his death. It’s often hard to grasp that what for us are historic items , were to him, intensely personal . The mind set is completely diffrent . But at least a copy of the dress was made before hand. Before he went back to Ireland, Mr.Nicholls allowed the servants thier pick of items , so indeed such items could have remained in Haworth.

        When Mrs Gaskill’s bio of Charlotte was published, Mr.Nicholls very ably defended in the press her portait ( and Charlotte ‘s) of the school Charlotte attend as a child . But mostly when storms broke over one thing or another during those 50 years , he did not enter the public fray. He could not or world not externalize his thoughts and feelings to that decree. The few times he wrote about her in private letters, even in 1890’s, it was like he was speaking of events that happened a week before. At the time it was said ” his heart was buried with her”….and of course Arthur’s final words in 1906 were, ” Charlotte, Charlotte” .

        Really I think only this type of love would capture a Bronte! lol

        The corsets not displayed at the Parsonage now as they felt it would be inappropriate.

        I agree with this move by the Parsonage…and in a way one can begin to see Mr. N’s point of view.

        I found your excellent blog via Bronte Sisters

      • Hi
        I keep thinking I should do a request for details on provenance to see what was around in Haworth and what was in the sale from the Parsonage,I know a few locals who own or have owned Bronte items but I also think a lot of everyday items must have disapeared into local familyswithout anyone knowing they have any Bronte links ,,theres probably cooper pans adorning local walls that were theirs or crockery or lots of everyday items still floating around in Haworth without people knowing.
        Thank you for all the background on Mr Nicholls I only know the brief outline of his life ,I did know he was very devoted to Charlotte until his dying day ,I like Arthur Bell Nichols a lot he behaved with a great deal of dignity and in lots of respects he was right I remeber reading that he warned Charlotte about writing too openly to Ellen Nussy and I think (I may be wrong )he had reservations about Mrs Gaskel and I think both show a great deal of sensitivty to character,I know some Bronte followers dont like him esp for destroying some Bronte artifacts but I agree with you ,he had every right ,I think he was within his rights to burn the wedding dress ,truthfuly I kind of agree with him in a lot of respects,,I was hesitant myself about posts on the corset and the Going away gown at first ,,but I thought about it and as long as it was after I had died I wouldnt be bothered about my clothes or what people said but I would want my husband or family to have a purge of anything that refered to friends or familys private lives or might be hurtful for them to see publicaly displayed.As th you say though to Mr Nichols the wedding dress wasnt an artifact it was the reminder of a preciouse day,,I think your right too about the corset being on general display though I was very thrilled to be allowed to study it as I think it helps imensely to understand Charlotte .I did think its was entirely inappropriate to think of opening the Bronte crypt for people to gawp at ,,I have a post underway about artifacts as I have been looking at Eva Perons life ,I will try to get it finished today.

  2. paper doll says:

    Yes a good many items remained local due to the sale and you wrote wonderfully about where they may be now in your reply ! I believe there is a list of what was in the sale . But I’m sure the corset was not put out among the pots and pans lol. It was perhaps was given away and very likely among a group of clothing …and perhaps worn for a time as well! Hard to know.

    But about Mr. N. ,I agree with Charlotte. I too find Mr. Nicholls does not lose with greater acquaintance. Instead of emphasizing about what comparatively little he destroyed ( in this case in an attempt to keep his wife’s wedding dress to himself ) I feel one should remember all he kept . It’s staggering. I would think at least 90% in the way of Bronte manuscripts, artwork and other items, such as Charlotte’s clothes that we have today is thanks to Mr. Nicholls. He was not only Charlotte’s heir, but Mr. Bronte’s as well. As of 1861, all such things rested with him.

    I believe Mr. Nicholls and Mrs Gaskill actually liked each on a personal level ,but they where in very diffrent camps. Mrs G’s was said to” fear” him, but that imo was guilt due to the fact she needed to fool him about the use of Charlotte’s letters to Ellen Nussy in CB’s bio. The letters may have been written to Ellen and in her hands, but they could not be published without Mr. Nicholls permission as he held all of Charlotte’s copyrights ( which include personal letters).

    He made it clear to MrsG. she could only use the letters as background. But once she got permission, she simply published them. This was very difficult for him that these were made public , particularly the letters about his struggles during the courtship etc just two years after CB’s death. Yet this man vigorously defended Mrs Gaskill when the storm of criticisms began upon publication . Plus after CB’s death, when her publisher finally wanted to bring out “The Professor “.Mrs G and another wanted to change the “coarse” things in it . Mr. N. reread it , said he found nothing offensive in it and said it comes out as Charlotte wrote it or not at all. You gotta love a guy like that. imo CB choose very well.

    The funny part about Mrs.G bio was it came about in part because of Ellen Nussy’s alarm over an article that appeared shortly after CB’s death…she was appalled at all the mistakes etc. Mr.N felt to raise an alarm would just call attention to the article, but was over ruled in this by Mr. Bronte. Mr.N could have made it very difficult. But he while he disagreed, he would not oppose Charlotte’s father in his wish for a bio and Mrs G was appealed to write about writing of Charlotte’s life..the funny part was, unknown to them, MrsG had written that article with the mistakes. lol The portait of Mr. Bronte as a crazed tyrant was there from the start. Mr. N wrote to Ellen that when he read that first article to Mr. B, he laughed more over his own portrait than he had for some time . An Amazing generosity of sprite there. He never blamed Mrs. G for that picture of him, which only recently is moderating.

    Charlotte so filled Mr. N’s heart, he felt no need for the public to associate him with her. She was emotionally current for him, so what did it matter what other’s thought about him? His 2nd wife understood CB came first. But he was caring for her as well. He stopped seeing CB’s fans who traveled to his Irish home for a time because they rudely ignored his 2nd wife !

    Martha Brown was devoted to him until her own passing …and really when the help feel like that about someone , it speaks volumes .

    That we have the corset is wonderful and it should be available upon request for people like yourself who approach it in terms of study and history. But there is no need to have it on every day display for the casual viewer and I’m glad they withdrew it


    I did think its was entirely inappropriate to think of opening the Bronte crypt for people to gawk at

    Haworth already attracts more people than any literary site in England besides Shakespeare’s home. Great crowds come already….will that many more come when we can look at what’s left of them? Perhaps for a time, but something like this reminds me of the saying ” . It was worse than a crime, it was a mistake. ” Are they determined to remove all mystique ? In any case , let it be clear the purpose is for money and at least put aside the falsehood it’s about” enhancing the Bronte enthusiasts experience.” For the Bronte enthusiast it is more than enough to walk were they walked and can even walk over where they sleep .

    • Hi
      Sorry for the late relpy I have had a bad cold and not been online much the past couple of days .I am hoping to ask a couple of locals whose family had Bronte items to be availible for questions on my talks and its interesting to see the route the items travelled,I am hoping to track down the clothing provenances in the next few months ,I agree about the Crypt and I also agree about Mr Nicholls behavoir towards Mrs Gaskell.I think the repuations of all the Bronte family might have been different and probably better without Mrs Gaskell,,though Haworth might not have got as many tourists ,as its mostly Mrs Gaskells Brontes and Haworth almost everyone comes to see.

      • paper doll says:

        Hope you are feeling better soon! Indeed, it’s a double edged sword. Because as you point out ,it’s Mrs G ‘s creation people know. Mrs Gaskill’s book has been the great engine of interest that has over these last 153 years, created what we have today.

        I do believe she and Mr.Nicholls, while naturally at logger heads, still respected each other a good deal because what each of them meant to Charlotte. By the time of her passing, Mrs.G was Charlotte’s greatest literary friend. She was doing what she thought was right , but I believe she over stepped and let the novelist take over.

        Mrs G. set out to gain sympathy for Charlotte Bronte . She wanted to explain and therefore gain an excuse for Charlotte’s ” coarseness ” as an author … which sadly meant Mrs. G believed the old charge herself . So there is a fault line in the book from the start.

        It’s also unfortunate Mrs Gaskill meet Mr. Bronte just when he and Charlotte were at odds over Mr. N. That coloured how Mrs. G saw him and he was not at his best….the novelist and village gossip took over from there.

        Mrs. G represented Charlotte’s London life , while Mr. N represented her Haworth life. When Charlotte finally finished the tortuous writing of ” Villette” in late 1852 , she was at a cross road. London or Haworth? That was the question before her. Her publisher, George Smith was marrying and her father was failing . Mr.N’s starling proposal in Dec of that year, eventually forced the issue . When she finally agreed to marry Mr Nicholls , it meant Charlotte had chosen Haworth.

        However I believe she would have eventual kept writing, had she more time. To say Mr. N would have stopped her from writing is unjust to him and more, misleading. Charlotte herself wished to withdraw from her Currer Bell life at least for a time or she would not have fought her father to become Mrs Nicholls .We go on about Mr. N’s persistence, and it was very laudable indeed, but only she could change her father’s mind .

        Over the half century after Charlotte’s passing, imo Mr. N arrived at positions about her affairs I believe Charlotte herself would have taken had she lived. But instead of coming to such conclusions by intellect, as she did, he did so by instinct. I believe once Charlotte realized his method and that the road one travels to a place is not as significant as the arrival, it helped her to decide in Mr. N’s favor. Sadly thier happiness was so short lived.

        I am hoping to ask a couple of locals whose family had Bronte items to be available for questions on my talks and its interesting to see the route the items travelled,I am hoping to track down the clothing provenances in the next few months

        That would be marvelous…great stories in themselves ! Shows the interconnections etc. We think of them as reclusive, but as the parson’s family for over 40 years, the Brontes knew many people in the area of all social strata .There’s any numbers of ways the items could have traveled .

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