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Presentation at the Court of Queen Victoria 1888 Bustle Evening Dress

Presentation Dress

In 2004 I was asked to give a lecture at the Costume & Textile Fair held by the Costume & Textile Association for Norfolk Museums. I have participated in this event since its start and so was pleased to be back at the venue, Wolterton Park, speaking to the public both informally and formally about my work.

I chose to talk about Presentation at the Court of Queen Victoria having acquired a bound copy of 'The Queen', covering six months of 1888.

Queen Victoria held her jubilee in 1887/88 to celebrate fifty years on the throne. 'The Queen' is full of information on who attended court for Presentation, what was worn and the etiquette involved in the process. Orders were issued annually about what was acceptable for a Lady to wear to a Drawing Room, as the ceremony of Presentation was known.

Basically this involved wearing evening dress of the latest fashion but with the addition of certain compulsory items. Attendance at Court required the wearing of a court train, which by 1888 had reached a length of three and a half yards or approximately 3.20 metres long. Since the early 1870's there were several ways this could be fashionable worn - hanging from each shoulder, attached to one shoulder and at the waist on one side, or in the old manner: attached to the waist only. The lady also had to wear long gloves of regulation length, feathers and veil or lappets in the hair.

Presentation Dress

Traditionally in the 19th century a married lady would wear three feathers to show her married status while a miss would wear only two. By the 1880's it was no longer fashionable to wear lappets (streamers of lace) attached to the feathers and falling down the back. Instead a veil of un-hemmed tulle, a yard or yard and a half long was worn.

A commentator in 'The Queen' advises young ladies attending court to only wear veils of a yard's length because of the danger of a longer veil catching on sword pommels or other debutantes' outfits and being ripped.

A fan or a bouquet of fresh flowers completed the outfit.

Presentation Dress

The replica dress I made was to be worn by an older lady who was to present a young lady selected from the audience as debutante. Ladies doing this were known as Sponsors and it was not unknown for aristocratic ladies to accept money to present socially inferior debutantes.

In 1888 it was still fashionable to wear a large bustle although this would go out of fashion in less than two years time. The bustle could either be a separate garment tied around the waist as here, or be built into the skirt of the gown as in my replica.