In 1884 Cliffe Castle’s owner Henry Isaac Butterfield held a grand ball at his home. The event was described in several newspapers at the time. Guests were expected to wear white at the event. It was described in the French style as a Bal Blanc.
These two dresses belonged to the Clapham sisters. The sisters lived with their family at Eastwood House, another grand Keighley mansion.
The dresses are made from silk brocade and ivory lace. As the dress code stipulated white or cream, the style of the dress or the texture of its material became more important; both have a floral pattern. The lace used at the collar and cuffs echoes the material of the skirt.
These dresses are good examples of the fashion for slim fitting, slightly trained evening wear that briefly became popular in the mid 1880s. The bodices of the dresses are called cuirasse, named after the piece of the armour the shape resembles.
They are very similar in style. One dress has a much lower neckline – we think that this may have belonged to the elder of the two sisters as it was generally expected that younger women should dress more demurely.
The act of wearing an item of clothing can sometimes cause damage– perspiration can stain or its acidic nature begins to weaken the material. Fabric also grows more fragile and brittle with age. Conservation of these dresses is soon to take place thanks to support from the Regional Museums Hub.