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Textile Tuesday: Silk Dress

Dress, United States of America, 1940-1949, silk, 58”x36”

Corinn Ebelis a student in the School of Human Ecology, majoring in Textiles and Fashion Design.

This dress, a gift in honor of Milwaukee’s Pabst family, is a beautiful memoir of custom dressmaking and embroidery. It shows superior craftsmanship of its time, and pride in the industry’s slow fashion period. Additionally, this dress belonged to Louise Lemp Pabst, a descendant of the Pabst founder, giving the artifact a story.

On the surface it is a long-sleeved, peach-colored, silk organza gown, complete with a peach silk slip held up by thin straps. It has flowering embroidery around the neckline and waistin colors matching the gown. The beading is made up of cylindrical peach glass, less than a quarter inch long. The dress is gathered at the waist with a peplum overlay. The true waist is belted, coming together as a bow that is a false closure (a hook and eye are hidden behind). The neckline is a V-neck, embellished with flowering peach applique. The sleeves are billowing ,and button delicately.

Going deeper in order tounderstand the purpose and mood behind thistextile is important. This gown is attributed asthe property of Louise Lemp Pabst. An artistic woman, Lemp Pabst’s work has been collected bymuseums across the United States, highlighting her talent in portraiture. She was a highly regarded artist, winning the Beaux Arts Society’s silver medal for her workin 1935. Lemp Pabst was borninto a high society lifestyle due to the union of her parents, both from wealthy families of brewing companies. She was born in Milwaukee, but lived in Paris on and off throughout her life. She had specific taste in clothing, such that her gown was easily identified by a Pabst expert, John Eastwood of the Pabst Mansion. She wore high quality beautiful pieces, and she attended events with her family as a socialite.

This gown has beenwell preserved and was beautifully constructed. It can be inferred that this two-piece dress was made for special occasions, fit for spring or summer events, and customized to fit Lemp Pabst. It marks the significance of the relationship between the dressmaker and the customer, Louise Lemp Pabst, as well as the expected quality of clothing in the early twentieth century. This addition to Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection gives us a small insight into Lemp Pabst’s lifestyle, and her family’s place in society.

Discover more about this piece here.

#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.