Sunday, March 27, 2011

Incredible Dress from 1888

Several of the blogs I read have posted about this dress.  I wanted to post about it as well in case you, my friends, have not seen or heard about it.  
This dress was made for and worn by Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) in 1888 for her role of Lady Macbeth.  She was one of England's great actresses.  Below is a photo of her wearing the gown.
Obviously the sepia tone does nothing to inspire me, but the color photos have enthralled me.  Why you ask?  Because it is covered in jewel beetle wings that are iridescent green/blue.  
1300 hours of restoration taking 7 years has gone into this gown.  Many of the original beetle wings were broken and had to be painstakingly repaired before sewing them back on.  A box full was also donated by an antiques dealer.  This gown was not in good condition either, there was structural repairs to be made as well because Ellen Terry wore this for many performances both in England and here in the US.
I can only imagine what a sight she was in  a theater lit by gas lamps.  According to one article she loved this dress as she did not have to wear a corset.  
At the first performance in 1888, John Singer Sargent was struck by Terry's appearance and persuaded her to sit for a portrait. He invented her dramatic pose, which did not occur in the production. 
Oscar Wilde, who saw Terry's arrival at Sargent's Chelsea studio, remarked, 'The street that on a wet and dreary morning has vouchsafed the vision of Lady Macbeth in full regalia magnificently seated in a four-wheeler can never again be as other streets: it must always be full of wonderful possibilities.'

And lest you think beetle wings were only used on costumes...
This lovely ball gown from the same era shows their use also.  And nearly every article mentions that the beetles shed these wings naturally, one supposes so that we don't have anyone crying out 'Save the Beetles'.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!...I know Lord Wellbourne will.


Mac n' Janet said...

What an incredible dress!

Lord Wellbourne said...

And don't you know it! I have always loved that particular Sargent portrait but had no idea that the sparkly bits were beetle wings! I wish I could have been in on that restoration. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the world revert to dazzling wardrobes of by-gone (sniff) eras!

Branlaadee said...

That dress is beautiful. I would have never guessed that's what it looked like from the sepia picture.

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