Worn by Helen Levack Mowat (1791–1873)
Re-Worn by Rowena Whey
Day Dress, Europe or North America, c. 1827–1832, roller printed cotton lawn with a woven stripe. Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston. Gift of the Macdonald Family, 1948 (C48-469.1)
Rowena Whey’s Day Dress, Kingston, 2023, synthetic sateen. Made by Jessica Dykins
The long sleeves point to the dress being worn as day rather than evening wear and the lightweight fabric and unlined bodice suggest it was made for warmer weather. However, the dress would still have had several undergarments and accessories: a linen or cotton shift (like a smock) worn against the body with a soft, likely un-boned corset over top; calf-length drawers or pantaloons on the lower body; and several petticoats, including at least one “corded” petticoat with numerous rows of cotton cording sewn into it horizontally to stiffen it. Together, these would create the fashionable full, bell-shaped skirt silhouette.
The dress features full, puffed upper sleeves typical of the period, pulled close around the arm just above the elbow with a band and edged with a scalloped flounce overtop the closely fitted lower sleeves. Although the dress sleeves are lined with a stiffer cotton open-weave fabric similar to tarlatan or crinoline, additional sleeve supports, called “plumpers,” may have been attached to the corset’s shoulder straps and worn inside the puffed upper sleeves to hold them out.
A belt with a large, rectangular buckle may have been worn around the waist and a wide handkerchief or fichu, often called a “pelerine,” around the neck, extending out over the shoulders and puffed sleeves. The hair would likely have been pulled up into loops and/or knots on the top of the head—the most well-known of which was called an “Apollo knot” —with additional bunches of curls clustered at the temples, and further adorned with braids of false hair, flowers and ribbons. Indoors, heads often remained bare but outdoors bonnets were typically worn. Bonnets in this period featured tall, tapered crowns set towards the back of the head with very large, open brims framing the face. Fashionable examples were lavishly trimmed with ribbons, flowers, feathers and other accessories.
Stockings and square-toed flat-soled shoes or slippers resembling modern ballet shoes adorned the legs and feet.
Carolyn Dowdell, Dress Historian
The diagonally (bias) cut bodice is fitted to the body with darts in the front and contour seams in the back and reaches to just above the natural waistline with a waistband lined with cream coloured plainweave cotton. The bodice is unlined, the current “lining” is a conservation textile to assist in supporting and stabilizing the fragile dress fabric.
The full, bell-shaped skirt is made in two parts. The upper portion is cut and edged with piping into points (dagged) with the attached lower portion comprising a deep flounce cut in sections on the bias to change the direction of the stripes. The upper edge of the flounce is gathered at intervals corresponding to the corners between the points of the upper skirt.
Most of the dress’s seams and edges are finished with 1/16” (1.5mm) cream coloured piping. The skirt hem is folded around and stitched to a line of this piping and a thicker cotton cord to help stiffen it and hold it away from the body.
Carolyn Dowdell, Dress Historian
The Day Dress has been re-interpreted and re-worn by Rowena Whey.
Rowena Whey is one of Kingston’s premiere drag entertainers, and performs all across Canada. With talents including singing, comedy, dancing, fashion, hosting, makeup, and lip-syncing, she does it all. Rowena’s accolades include being the first drag queen ever pictured on a piece of alcohol sold in the LCBO, with her beer partnership Queen of Wheat with Spearhead Brewing, and the title of “Best Theatre in Kingston” in 2021 and 2022.
Rowena is also responsible for multiple large-scale drag productions and events in Kingston, Ontario. Her shows have entertained thousands, and enlisted stars from such television shows as Rupaul’s Drag Race, Canada’s Drag Race, and Call Me Mother, plus many local and visiting drag performers. Rowena is actively involved in the Kingston community and with 2SLGBTQIA* organizations across Canada. She has organized multiple Drag Queen storytime events in Southeastern Ontario, to teach children and families about acceptance and equality. Rowena has also spearheaded events for various charities/non-profits including Kingston Pride, Dawn House, Rainbow Railroad, SPCA, the ISCWR, Trellis HIV & Community Care, and the CCGSD.
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