Historical information

This dress, which was made around 1820, was passed down through five generations of a single family before its donation to Brighton Historical Society in 2007.

It originally belonged to a great-grandmother of Margaret Reynolds (1881-1958) of Hertfordshire, England, who herself came into possession of the dress around the early twentieth century. Having no daughters of her own, in 1945 the 64-year-old Margaret sent the dress as a Christmas gift to her niece, Margaret Willoughby Reynolds (1907-1996).

In the letter accompanying the parcel, donated to the Society with the dress, the elder Margaret writes that she loves the dress very much but has now outgrown it. She makes reference to her own mother Mary Reynolds (nee Lloyd)'s pleasure at seeing the dress worn, indicating that it may originally have belonged to one of Mary's grandparents. She had two requests of her niece: first, that the younger Margaret wear the dress on Christmas Eve as a treat for her Mary (the letter includes styling advice on how the dress should be worn and accessorised), and second, that she one day pass the dress on to her own daughter or niece.

In March 1968, the younger Margaret gifted the dress to her Australian-born niece, Dorothy May England (nee Reynolds, 1924-2013), along with a letter of her own.

Dorothy, a Bayside resident, donated the dress and both letters to the Society in 2007. The letters paint a picture of the significance of the dress within the Reynolds family and its journey from England to Australia.

Physical description

A white, mauve, purple, red, and green paisley / floral printed cotton day dress from circa 1820.

The day dress features a wide scooped neckline, with a dropped shoulder line. At the head of the sleeve is has three lines of gathering creating a narrow arm hole around the shoulder, flaring out into a leg of mutton sleeve. The sleeve finishes neatly at the wrist with a cuff that secures with two brass hook and eye closures. The dress bodice is open at the centre front and secures with six hook and eye closures to the empire line waist. Over the breast on either side of the opening are six diagonal pleats, pressed and secured facing towards the neck. This pleated detail is on a facing that extends from shoulder to shoulder and finishes with a bound edge. The remainder of the front bodice is plain and secures to the skirt at the empire waistline. The skirt pleats onto a binding, wrapping around the torso and securing to the bodice with eight hook closures. At approximately knee, height the skirt has an additional gathered flounce with the dress finishing at approximately ankle length. From the back, the bodice is plain and the skirt is gathered and sewn to the bodice at Empire line.

Alterations to the garment have been made with the addition of hooks and eyes. The garment is generally in good condition although the skirt at the front shows evidence of damage and subsequent repair.