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Day dress

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (possibly, made)
    France (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1873 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk and ruching

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Marchioness of Bristol

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The ruched skirt and draperies on this dress reverberate with intense colour, revealing the fashion for bright new synthetic dyes. Their inception owes much to the work of Sir William Henry Perkin (1838-1907), who discovered the first famous artificial colour by accident in 1856 when he was a student at the Royal College of Chemistry in London. While experimenting with a synthetic formula to replace the natural anti-malarial drug quinine, he produced a reddish powder instead of the colourless quinine. To better understand the reaction he tested the procedure using aniline and created a crude black product that ‘when purified, dried and digested with spirits of wine gave a mauve dye’. This dye created a beautiful lustrous colour that Perkin patented and which became known as ‘aniline violet’ or ‘mauveine’.

Perkin’s discovery led to a revolution in synthetic colour from the late 1850s onwards. Textile manufacturers soon turned to his aniline process and the resulting fabrics were characterised by an unprecedented brilliance and intensity that delighted the consumer. Women’s dresses acted as a perfect advertisement for these rich hues, especially as trimmings usually matched the colour of the gown. In August 1859 the satirical journal ‘Punch’ described the craze for purple as ‘Mauve Measles’, a disease which erupted in a ‘measly rash of ribbons’ and ended with the entire body covered in mauve. Soon other synthetic dyes were being produced with evocative names such as ‘acid magenta’, ‘aldehyde green’, ‘Verguin’s fuchine’, ‘Martius yellow’ and Magdela red’ to match their gaudy appearance. Dye analysis of this dress showed that the silk was coloured with synthetic dyes belonging to the methyl violet and aniline blue families of dyes.

Physical description

Dress (bodice and skirt) of ribbed purple silk fastened with buttons needlewoven in silk over a wooden mould. The skirt is ruched with a bustle and flounces. The jacket bodice has a revered coat lapel front and bow detail and is lined with silk and whalebone strips.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (possibly, made)
France (possibly, made)


1873 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silk and ruching


Height: 1600 mm, Width: 700 mm, Depth: 1000 mm

Object history note

RF number is 1922/730.

This dress, and 4 others (sequence T.49 to 53&A-1922) were donated by the then Marchioness of Bristol, Geraldine Georgiana Mary Hervey (née Anson) (1843-25/1/1927), as coming from her mother's wedding trousseau of 1873. However, there may be a misunderstanding where this provenance is concerned, as Geraldine Hervey's own wedding was 4 March 1862; her mothers' was 30 November 1830. The information is from a letter of the donor to the Museum. While the dresses certainly could have been part of a family trousseau, it would not have been that of the Marchioness nor her mother's.

Descriptive line

Silk dress (bodice and skirt) coloured with synthetic dyes belonging to the methyl violet and aniline blue families of dyes, Britain, about 1873


Silk (textile); Baleen


Aniline process


Fashion; Clothing; Day wear; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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