This full-skirted dress with crinoline and wide pagoda sleeves epitomises the feminine fashions of the mid-1850s. Made before the sewing machine became widely available, Dress has been completely hand-stitched and would have been made by an accomplished dressmaker. Although the identity of the maker is unknown, important information recorded at the time of donation in 1983 reveals that the dress once belonged to Anne Lavinia Grice, who married Richard Grice, a prominent Melbourne businessman, in 1844. Founded in 1835, Melbourne had become a burgeoning metropolitan centre by the mid-1850s. The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851contributed to the city’s growth and diversity and by the time this dress was made, dressmakers, haberdashers and department stores were found dotted around Melbourne’s main streets.
In preparation for display in the exhibition Australian Made: 100 Years of Fashion at the NGV in 2010, the appropriate support structures and period shapes were made for this dress by a technical specialist in the textile conservation department at the NGV. A crinoline and petticoat were constructed, as well as a small rounded collar and wide sleeves known as engageantes. For an object which is over 150 years old, Dress is in excellent condition and needed relatively little in the way of remedial conservation.
Preparing works for exhibition is only one part of the story. Once on display, visitor responses can often elicit further valuable information. When Dress was displayed in 2010, the curators at the NGV were delighted to hear from descendants of Anne Lavinia Grice who have a small painting of her dating from the 1840s. Happily, now a face can be put to the wearer.