Monday, November 12, 2018

I Know it Exists, but Where? (Finding the Original 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown)

Finally, I had all my materials gathered and I had my excuse to make this pink and lace dream of an 1865 ball gown. I could actually get started on it! I could really, truly, begin making it!

Click on the picture to go to the museum database listing of the dress
Hallwyl House

Before I cut into my fabric, however, there was one thing I wanted to do. I knew this dress was in a museum somewhere, so I wanted to find it in that museum database, look at all the available pictures of the dress, and read the description of it. There's always something to be learned from reading museum or auction house descriptions of historical clothing! Before I began my recreation of this dress, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the original. 
Also, there are an awful lot of pictures of pretty dresses out there on the internet labeled as "Original 1800's" (or whatever) that are actually modern-made movie costumes or something similar. By finding the dress I wanted to recreate in a museum database (or on an action site, or this blog, or another similar site), I could be sure I was recreating an actual period piece, primary source material, not someone else's historically-themed artistic work.

There are millions of pins of the pink and lace ball gown on Pinterest - I know I've personally pinned multiple different pictures of it myself. Every time I've come across a picture of it from another angle, or a close-up picture of it I've saved that picture to my "Historical Clothing to Re-Create" board. Then, when I was ready to make the dress, I realized that none of my several pins actually linked back to a museum database or an auction listing. They all linked to random sites commenting on how pretty the dress was - and none of those sites linked back to a museum database, or auction listing, or any reputable website about extant historical clothing.  Gahhhhhh!

In an ideal world, all pictures of historical clothing on Pinterest would link back to museum or auction sites, like this 1880's dress pin does:

If you click on this pin, you can go right to the Met Museum's page about this bustle dress. It's fabulous! Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Pinterest is full of pins that do not link back to their primary source. And my beloved 1865 pink and lace ball gown appeared to have missed the memo that I needed to know where it came from. Thus, I had to take matters into my own hands to find out where the pink dress resided.

I started by reverse google searching for the image.

For just about any picture on the internet, you can right-click on the image and this menu will come up. Click on "Search Google for image" and another tab will open in your internet browser listing almost all the places on the internet you can find the picture. (Unfortunately I do not know how to do this on a smartphone or tablet, only a computer.)

When the results come up, a ton of them will link right back to Pinterest, but the goal here is to find a source that's not Pinterest. So I begin by ignoring those results and just look for results that link elsewhere. In the past, when I've been tracking down extant historical garments this way, I've only had to scroll through a page or two of results before I find a museum or auction listing of the item. This dress, however, was playing hardball. Page after page of results, and not one linked to the museum database I was hoping to find.

Eventually, on page 5 or 6, I found this blog post, featuring a picture of the dress. In the blog post, I not only found pictures of the dress, I also learned all about the woman who wore the dress, Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyland I discovered where the dress was - the Hallwyl House Museum in Sweden.

Thus, much to my relief, it was ascertained the dress was an extant 1860's piece, not a modern make. However, helpful as the blog post was, it did not link to the museum database. I still wanted to find that and read the museum's description of the dress to (hopefully) learn some key information about the construction of the original dress.

Even knowing the name of the museum, the database was hard to find. I found a webpage for the museum, but it had no database. I was almost ready to give up, thinking that perhaps this small Swedish museum just might not have an online public database. Then I stumbled across another pin of the dress - and this one linked to a site called "E Museum Plus" - and it looked promising.

So I followed the link, and found myself here:

The website explained it was the database for the Royal Armory, Skokloster Castle and the Hallwyl Museum Collections. Finally I had found the database I'd been searching for. Now I just had to find the dress. 

The database actually has a decent search feature, allowing you to search through all three collections at once, or each collection individually. You can do a keyword search, or search a specific year span. It took a few tries, with different year spans and keywords, before I finally found the pink and lace ball gown I'd been looking for.

And the description accompanying the pictures of the dress was well worth finding! At the bottom of the page, under the "Description" tab, there are two paragraphs of information about the dress and it's construction! By reading the description, I discovered things about the dress I couldn't have learned by just looking at it - such as the exact skirt dimensions and back closure method. (Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the back of the dress as I'd hoped there would be, but the lengthy description pretty much made up for that.

Once I found the dress, of course I wanted to save it so I could come back and reference the description later. That's when I discovered that if I just copied the url from the address box at the top of the window, and saved that link for later, it wouldn't actually get me back to the dress listing. If I used that link later it would take me to a page saying "your session has timed out" then redirect me to the database home page, and I'd have to search the entire database again to find the dress - rather inconvenient.

To save a link that would take me back to the dress listing, I actually needed to copy and save the "Bookmarkable URL" found on the page itself. So that is the URL I've copied, and saved, and used every time I've needed to link back to the dress on this blog, Pinterest, and Facebook. After as long as it took me to find the darned dress in a museum database, I am not sharing anymore pictures of it without sharing that link as well! (That means whenever I share a picture of the of the original dress, as I did at the beginning of this post, you can click on the picture or photo caption, and it will take you right to the database listing.)

Thus, after hours online, I finally found exactly what I was looking for - the Museum database listing of my dream 1865 ball gown. And I pinned the dress to my Pinterest board yet again - and this pin links to the museum database listing, just as it should.


  1. What is the link to the dress?

    1. At the top of the post, click on the picture of the dress :)

  2. never mind, i saw it!

  3. The English translation is pretty funny. Apparently bodice translates as life. Elephant leg skirt? Just what I want to be seen in!

  4. Haha! In my ideal Pinterest world there would be no links to ready made items on Etsy, but only links to patterns ; P
    Thanks for sharing the info gained in your research adventure. It also made an amusing post.

  5. You probably already know this too, but usually you can edit old pins to correct the link that they go to. Perhaps not ones that are just from other pins, but ones you've pinned from outside sites. If this works on your pins, you could link them all to the museum site instead of repinning all views. If it helps, of course. :)

    1. Yes, I discovered I could do that with my own pins, which has been helpful!