Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Student Project: 1880s dress bodice analysis & re-design, by Kateryna Dippolito


Student Bio: Kateryna Dippolito
I’m currently a junior studying fashion design. In addition to studying, I work a part time job at Retrospect Vintage. I first began collecting vintage in middle school, and later started selling clothes to my peers. Through restoring my vintage finds I discovered that I wanted to create clothing for myself, igniting my passion for design. Today many of my designs still heavily pull inspiration from my appreciation of early American vintage.

Analysis: Object 1986.1.9, 1880s bodice

The garment examined is a boned bodice from the Textile and Costume Collection at Thomas Jefferson University assigned the accession number 1986.1.9. Dated between the 1880-1890’s, this bodice is one part of a two-piece gown constructed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is identifiable due to the tag displayed on the center back of a woven twill waist tape within the garment. Some notable features are the intricate hand-stitching, boning, hidden closures, and other ornamental details such as ostrich feathers. Some of the physical details regarding the garment’s construction are understood by the Textile and Costume Collection at Jefferson, yet there are missing elements regarding donors, wear, and possible alterations that leave much room for further investigation. The bodice was observed on two separate dates: first during class time on October 25th, 2021, and later during a private session on November 3rd, 2021.


The sleeves of the bodice are made from a pale-yellow silk damask and the torso is constructed of a sage green taffeta with iridescent qualities, suggesting that warp and weft were woven with different color yarns. While the boned bodice appears to be in good condition, it must be handled with care as the fabric seems very delicate. Any closures used to get into the garment are obscured by the heavy ornamentation seen throughout the bodice. The largest section of surface design is along center front of the garment, where embroidery sprawls from the neckline down to the natural waist creating a plastron. The embroidery consists of both round and geometric shapes. Most of the stitching is a beige tone and is likely created from linen. There is a line of embroidery extending down center front that has a silver appearance and it is assumed that section is created from metal.


The bodice seems to be of the highest degree of luxury for its time. It was made by specialty dress makers in the late 19th century and consists of two very high-quality fabrics. While machine stitches were used to create the overall construction of the dress, there is still an immense amount of handwork done in the seaming, embroidery, beading, and feather details. This is a carefully thought-out design that must have taken an immense number of hours to create, so surely the price was hefty.

The key detail that expressed that this dress was likely constructed between 1880-1890 is the presence of a small, vertical puff at the shoulder. This was the initial step towards large leg-o-mutton sleeves seen in the later 1890’s, (Franklin, Harper). Additionally, the boning was heavily concentrated towards the hem of the bodice, creating the illusion of a large bust and tiny waist. This is yet another characteristic associated with the 1880’s, as fashion from the 1890’s and early 1900’s began to shift towards more comfortable silhouettes that better facilitated movement.

The maker’s mark on the inner waist band reveals that the bodice was designed by two female dressmakers of the late 19th century. The Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: Illustrated book from 1898 (see page 131 entry for Misses Pence & Erwin) gives a bit of insight as to who these women were, and what types of gowns they created. At the time of the book’s release, Misses Pence & Erwin’s dressmaking practice had been open for 18 years, meaning that they had begun business in 1880. Both women are described as being well traveled, sourcing the finest textiles from overseas to craft luxury gowns for their customers. Their typical customer is described as, “educated, refined ladies well acquainted in the fashionable world” (Allegheny, 173).

Object Re-design

Kateryna was inspired to modernize the late 19th century bodice by translating many of its aspects into two present-day mini dress designs.

Original designs by Kateryna Dippolito

For more information about this object and Misses Pence & Erwin,
see this archived post by Jade Papa.

Works Cited

Allegheny County Pennsylvania: Illustrated. Consolidated Illustrating Company, 1996.

Franklin, Harper. “1890-1899.” Fashion History Timeline, 18 Aug. 2020,

University, Thomas Jefferson. Dress.

Images of objects in our collection are copyrighted by Thomas Jefferson University. For inquiries regarding permissions and use fees, please contact: