Silk Gown for a Society Wedding

by Noël Grabow, Collections Assistant
May 25, 2021

When plans for A Storied Past: History That Made Morris County were first discussed, prominent Morristonian Lucy Fitz Randolph’s elegant, opulent 1889 wedding gown by NYC dressmaker Mme. Lambele de St. Omer was one of the treasures we most wanted to be able to share. We also knew that due to its age and condition the dress would need conservation before it could be displayed.

Silk bengaline (left) with signs of deterioration vs. pristine silk brocade (right)

The gown is composed of three types of silk: floral-patterned brocade, bengaline (corded silk), and silk lining. While the silk brocade portions have barely aged, the bengaline and lining, weakened especially in the waist and hips of the skirt, required stabilization. The lining, made from weighted silk, was particularly deteriorated.

Waistband pre-conservation.

Conserving the dress was arduous, requiring months of careful hand stitching and the pressure was on to make each stitch perfect! Great care was taken to make sure all work was both invisible on the exterior and easily reversible for any future conservator. First, precisely measured panels of conservation silk crepeline were applied to stabilize the skirt waist and hips. A removable cotton muslin waistband was then added to take all the abuse of pins and the weight of the skirt during display, sparing the dress’s weakened original. Finally, twill tape strips attached to the new waistband were sewn down the length of the skirt, further distributing the weight.

Hints of tulle near one of the seams.

Months of upclose work on the gown also led to new revelations: it shows greater signs of alteration and wear than would be expected of a wedding gown. The neckline has been cleverly converted from a high square (indicative of the time) to a deep V, although the buttonholes were left intact. There are also some hidden traces of tulle hinting at a swag that may have festooned the front of the gown.

Conservation was completed in March and this remarkable piece of Morris County history will be on exhibit for the duration of 2021.