Most period mannequins for period costumes at the Museum of the City of New York have a waist size between 20 and 22 inches. We needed a bigger period mannequin for plus size dresses from the 19th century. We needed to fit those dresses on a mannequin for the assessment and photo shoots. Needless to say, there was demand for plus size clothes even in the old days.
One dress had a 30-inch waist and 42-inch bust (which may or may not be considered plus size today). We had a contemporary mannequin with approximately the same size waist and bust as the dress. However, the bone structures of the contemporary mannequin and the period mannequin were totally different. To fit period costumes, period mannequins come with an extremely pushed up bust, a narrow rib cage, and squeezed shoulder blades which cause the armholes to be positioned further back. Contemporary mannequins have a wide rib cage, relaxed shoulders and relatively curved back. Because of this, the bodice of the period dress did not fit the contemporary mannequin at all.
The only option we had was to make the 22-inch waist period mannequin into a 30-inch waist period mannequin. I was asked to work on this project with the supplies in the Costumes and Textiles department. Please see below slideshow to see how I made this happen step by step.
The first dress to be put on this adjusted period mannequin was a russet brown dinner dress with beads and pearl ornaments. Since I already revealed the measurements of the dress, I cannot reveal who this dress belonged to. I don’t think any lady would allow me to do that even if she is deceased. All I can say is that this dress belonged to the wife of one of the American consumer products companies that was founded in the beginning of nineteenth century.
According to Billy DeGregorio, a PhD candidate who works at the Museum, this dress was donated to the Museum by the daughter of the wearer in 1944. The dress was made by a designer named Mrs. C. Tracy in the late 1880s. Like many other dresses that survived for more than 100 years, it is possible that this dress had been altered from its original design to apply fashion trends of each era along the way.