Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lilly Belle's Going Away Dress, late 1870s

"…Avoid, as intensely vulgar, any display of your position as a bride
whilst traveling.”
--The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette…by Florence Hartley

The dress in collections prior to proper display with bustle & appropriate underpinnings
Lily Belle – her name seems the personification of this frothy, embellished “going away” dress, with detachable train and silk fringed wrap. At present, we know little about Lily Belle Folsom Ayres.  Indeed, were it not for the garment’s survival in the textile collection at Strawbery Banke Museum (, her life might not have surfaced, being submerged “beneath the footnote.” It is likely that she was a descendant of the Folsom family of Exeter, New Hampshire. Dripping with fringe, tassels, cording and passementerie, the lavish layers of pleats and ruching, and exquisite tailoring, combine to create a sumptuous dress that was surely a sight to behold as the newly wed Mrs. Ayres, began her wedding trip. Where did the couple travel and in what manner of conveyance, we do not know. Whether by rail car, steamship or carriage, one suspects she was prepared for perambulations, bridal visits, receptions and teas, if the dress is any indication.

Detachable train
It was stylish for the mid- 1870s, appropriately luxurious for a “going away” dress.  Lily Belle's garment was also versatile – the train was detachable via buttons so the dress could easily be transformed for walking or a promenade. It is likely that the dress came with an additional bodice or jacket to complete the ensemble and, once again, add to flexibility.

The patterned gold silk of the bodice, as well as accents of gold on the cuffs and skirt were eye catching. The bodice emphasized her form, with a shimmering sensuality, interplaying with the rustle…swish… glide of the skirt and train. Indeed, it is interesting to note that despite the dark taupe - a color deemed appropriate for travel- accented with baby blue fringe, the sparkle of gold might have been perceived by some as too ostentatious.  One wonders if it would have met with the approval of Florence Hartley, for example, that purveyor of Victorian etiquette when she notes If you are going to travel, have a neat dress and cloak of some plain color, and a close bonnet and veil. Avoid, as intensely vulgar, any display of your position as a bride, whilst traveling.”
(The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette…by Florence Hartley, courtesy Project Gutenberg:

Enjoy the details of this fabulous going away dress, housed at Strawbery Banke; photos courtesy Bridget Swift.


  1. I adore that little band of turquoise on the train. It really gives the yellow/grey colorscheme a little pop. Funny, wasn't grey-yellow-turquoise a trendy colorscheme last year in mainstream fashion?

    1. I believe it was, Lauren! And the turquoise - a subtle but effective touch...The dress is much more in person. Cheers!

  2. I believe she is this person:

    Belle Folsom Ayers
    Birth Date: 27 Jan 1860 or 1861 [the 1900 census gives 1860 and her death certificate gives 1861], Manchester, New Hampshire
    Death Date: 5 Sep 1940, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Father: John S Folsom
    Mother: Martha Seaward

    Spouse: Mark Wentworth Ayers
    Birth Date: Oct 1847, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
    Death Date: 29 Sep 1907, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

    Father: Oliver Ayers
    Mother: Martha Cotton

    1. Thank you for this information Ann- it is tremendously helpful! Will incorporate the biographical data next week. Cheers!

  3. And to think that every stitch was probably done by hand. The buttonholes are amazing!


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