American manufacture (label “J. Davies Spooner / New York”)
This house dress belonged to Charlotte Fearing Taylor (who died in New York in 1899) and her daughter Harriet, who married Count Giuseppe della Gherardesca of Florence in 1903. The dress is part of a large nucleus of clothes and accessories carefully preserved by Harriet in two large trunks in memory of her mother, most of which can be traced back to prestigious American and French tailor shops, dated to the end of the 19th century.
As the name suggests, the Robe d'intérieur, or house dress, was a garment used exclusively at home. Very much in vogue at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, it combined the comfort of a loose-fitting dress, which could be worn without a corset and easily put on without help, with the elegance of a dress that was suitable - if not for going out of the house - for receiving guests, or even for attending dinner when only family members were present.
The domestic use of these dresses did not preclude their preciousness, as they were often fitted with a train and made with fine materials and careful details. In this case, the dress, which is made in purple wool-silk, opens up 'like a robe’ to show a pleated front panel in silk taffeta. Collar, lapels and cuffs are embellished with black and ivory machine-made lace, and the dress is tied at the waist by a satin belt. The volume of the sleeves, which is still concentrated on the shoulders despite abandoning the excesses of that period, allows to date the garment to the late 1890s.
The dress has come down to us enlarged at the waist due to the insertion of gussets and the opening of the front pleat, certainly for its use during pregnancy, a period in which women used to spend their days almost exclusively at home. During restoration, the dress was brought back to its original shape.
Donation by Carlotta Antinori della Gherardesca, Florence
La Galleria del Costume/3, Centro Di, Firenze, 1988, p 14; La Galleria del Costume/4, Centro Di, Firenze, 1990, pp 70-71.