Skip links

Clothing and Textiles: Pink Silk Ball Gown with Large Puff Sleeves, c.1890s



This exquisite pink silk ball gown was donated by Elizabeth Philipse Iselin, wife of Ogden Curtis Noel (1935-2019). The two lived on Silvermine Road in New Canaan with their family. The dress belonged to Elizabeth’s great grandmother, Carolyn Lydia Goodridge (Mrs. John H. Iselin Jr.) who was married in 1899. Carolyn wore the gown at the Bradley Martin Costume Ball at the Waldorf Astoria on February 11, 1897- a social event rating two full pages in the New York Herald. It was labeled by Kentucky newspaper Lexington Leader at the time as “the most splendid fancy dress ball ever given in America”. The interior label of the dress reads “Mme A. Donova, 280 Madison Avenue.” 

This dress is a striking example of ball gowns in the 1890s. Women’s daywear was characterized by stiff, high collars and tight sleeves extending to the wrist. Bodices also featured large puffed sleeves at the shoulder, and skirts lacked the large bustle of previous decades. Eveningwear, however, was often much more revealing. Ball gowns such as the pink silk dress had low, wide necklines- a stark contrast to the conservative attire worn just hours before. Sleeves were shortened to show off bare arms, and skirts extended outwards in a trumpet shape, often with a short train.