Fun Fact Friday: Dolley Madison’s famed gown

Dr. Lynn Uzzell is the official Dolley Madison at the Dolley Madison House.  She is shown here in a hand-sewn replica of the silk gown, commissioned from Aria Couture.

Even in the regency era, gowns may have been make from repurposed fabric, and there is no better potential example than Dolley Madison’s favorite gown.  In last week’s post, I mentioned a fire the original White House suffered.  Before the fire, Madame Madison managed to save some pricey red silk velvet drapes.  She loved those drapes so much that they were one of the few things she ordered saved before the fire destroyed her home.  Through time, the curtains are not known to have survived intact.  However, she did have a rather lovely red silk velvet gown that she cherished so dearly that she kept it until the end of her life, even though she was so poor near the end that her former servants loaned her money to survive.

Dolley Madison
The faded original gown during its final display.

As no known verified piece of the drapes have survived, it’s difficult to state conclusively that her gown is made from those drapes.  However, it would be highly coincidental for her to have had such affection for both drapes as well as a gown both made from red silk velvet when this was quite an expensive fabric, and there’s a complete lack of receipts showing fabric purchased for the gown.  A highly unusual thing to lack in the records….

My dears, if you repurpose fabric to make your gowns, rest assured that you are going what our former First Lady very most likely did for her most beloved gown.


Lady Antoinette


(aka Aria Clements)

Fun Fact Friday: The Dolley Series

Yes, this week’s post is going up on a Saturday.  We here at the ORS have bee extremely busy.

When we think of the regency era, most of us think of Jane Austen’s England of fashion-setting France.  How many of us give thought to the regency era in American?

Meet Dolley Madison.


Why yes, she DOES look familiar.  We’re all seen her portrait before, but may not have given more than a passing thought as to who that woman in gold-trimmed white may be.

From 1809 through 1817, Dolley reigned the White House.  Well, specifically until 1814, George Washington.jpgwhen the British burned the building.

Your fun fact for this week:

Our own regency First Lady, Dolley herself, is credited with saving the famous 1797 portrait of President George Washington (itself a copy by the artist, Gilbert Stuart, of one of his own earlier full-bodied pieces of Washington).  While she did not personally remove the portrait, she ordered it removed, and a group of servants, including some who were slaves, under the direction of her assistant Jean Pierre Sioussat, broke it free from the screwed-to-the-wall frame.  If not for the decision by this lady, the portrait would have been destroyed.

Please enjoy this upcoming series on Dolley Madison during her time as our own regency First Lady.

Lady Antoinette


(aka Aria Clements)

Fun Fact Friday

Coronets at the top of the spines of first editions of Emma and Mansfield Park

Jane Austen’s works experienced a resurgence in popularity during WWII.  According to novelist Rebecca West, Ms. Austen’s works  showed an“underlying faith that the survival of society was more essential to the moral purpose of the universe than the survival of the individual,” and faith that society would somehow survive was vital when war was waged on the home front, in British readers’ own very literal yards.  The fears that history may repeat itself, or that it already is, is something so many of us around the world are experiencing right now, and Ms. West’s statement about Ms Austen’s books demonstrating survival of society is something many cling to today.

One of her fans who remains well-known to this day is Winston Churchill.  According to Brian Southam in Jane Austen and the Navy, Mr. Churchill had stated, “What calm lives they had. . . . No worries about the French Revolution, or the crushing struggles of the Napoleonic wars. Only manners controlling natural passions as far as they could. . . .”  He is further rumored to have said, “antibiotics and Jane Austen got me through the war,” while others claim he stated, “antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice have cured me.”  I have not found a reputable source to back up either over the other.  However, it’s not hard to believe that something that could give one a mental reprieve would play a role in helping carry one through times of great stress.  Ms. Austen’s books were popular in the trenches of the world wars for helping transport soldiers back to simpler, more innocent times when such folderol was the height of drama.  One only had one’s heart to break, and a chance at love to lose, rather than far worse.

Perhaps these can help explain some of her enduring popularity for many of us today.  We can choose to ignore the societal issues of the regency era a lot easier than we can ignore the societal issues that pose real threats today, and in doing so, reading Ms. Austen’s works can take us to a sort of fantasy land of frolics and parties where can can consort with the busybodies or imagine being the strong lady waiting to be woo’d, while also having many peers in our modern regency societies with whom to bond over shared ideas and thoughts.  Her works have, and will continue to to be, a brief time of suspending concerns while we listen in to the gossip of another era.

Fun Fact Friday

In the 18th century through the early 19th century, ice cream was a beloved dessert made from large blocks ice saved from winter and stored in ice houses, or from imported ice.  All right, all right, ice cream is still a popular dessert.  However, a popular favorite from the regency era brings to mind modern fish ice cream…

If you want a taste of history, try your hand at making parmesan cheese ice cream.  Yes, parmesan cheese!

Enjoy this video about how to make it.  If you decide to give it a try, please share a comment about your thoughts on this unusual flavor.