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Civil War Era: Circa 1840-1860

'Harriet Lane' Dress - $38.95

This bright and vibrant outfit includes a dress and a necklace. It features:

  • A vibrant fuschia brocade* dress with a scattered pattern of gold and light pink flowers
  • A ‘bertha’ collar made of a double layer of shimmering gold Venise lace
  • A pointed waistline so popular in the 1850’s, and a billowing skirt large enough to cover a hoopskirt
  • A row of light pink twisted ribbon fastened with glass pearls decorate the neckline
  • A light pink ribbon choker with a fushia and gold brooch finish the look

This dress is shown with the ‘Unmentionables’ Set, sold separately

*Note: since this dress is made of brocade, it is not intended for rough play

Who was Harriet Lane?

Harriet Lane was a First Lady of the United States, but was not married to a President. Instead, she was the niece and ward of President James Buchanan. Orphaned at the age of 11, Harriet was raised and cared for by her uncle. Since James Buchanan never married, Harriet was given the honor and responsibility of a First Lady at the young age of 25.

James Buchanan’s presidency was filled with tension as the United States of America began to divide between North and South. Harriet and her uncle did their best to smooth the tensions between national leaders. Harriet took on the role of hostess in the White House, and held many parties and dinners for important politicians. She became very popular with the American public, as she artfully managed these social events and filled the White House with laughter and life.

Even with all Harriet’s efforts, the divide between the States could not be avoided. By the end of James Buchanan’s presidency seven states had seceded from the Union. After her term as First Lady, Harriet acquired a large art collection, and bequeathed it to the Smithsonian Institution upon her death.

This dress is very similar to what would have been worn by a wealthy or important lady during the early Victorian period. Although most women preferred to wear white colored ball gowns, bright pink has been a popular color since the Regency period.

It was also common for dresses to be heavily embroidered and laces to be made out of precious metals. Some queens during this period had whole dresses made of silver thread!

What is a ‘Bertha’?

A 'Bertha' in the 1850's was a type of collar that stretched around a lady's shoulders. It was acceptable for a lady's shoulders to be exposed in evening dresses, and this collar was a way of accentuating that style. The style of this collar originated in the 1830's, and was usually formed of pleated fabric or gathered lace.

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