The Costume Collection

Many of you already know about the fabulous collection of gowns and accessories belonging to Bessie Van Wickle McKee that came home to Blithewold last year.  Forty-one dresses with accessories, coats, and hats, had been given to the Colonial Dames in Boston in 1955 by Bessie’s daughter, Marjorie Lyon.  We imagine that Marjorie wanted to make sure the valuable collection was preserved in perpetuity, and occasionally exhibited at their headquarters on Beacon Hill.  When Blithewold found itself in a position to offer state-of-the-art storage, professional assessment, conservation, and interpretation, negotiations began to have the collection returned to Blithewold.  Most of the collection was brought back last spring, and a special committee began the conservation and restoration work immediately.

Imagine our joy when we had an email from the Colonial Dames last November announcing that still more of the Van Wickle/McKee collected pieces had been discovered!  Gioia and I made the trip to Boston, excited to know what further delights awaited us.  We were not disappointed….



Revealing itself to us, with perfect timing, was a burgundy velvet jacket dating to 1882   which would have been part of Bessie’s wedding trousseau.  It will now be conserved, and exhibited next spring along with the wedding gown and other trousseau dresses.  The style is double-breasted, and has carved shell buttons with the image of a windmill on each one (remember, Bessie was marrying into a family of proud Dutch heritage.)  It could easily be worn today, and our conservators are considering having patterns made for sale to Blithewold members.

Two more silk evening gowns, and a gold lame opera coat, complete the collection.  They have all been measured and assessed, and carefully packed in acid-free boxes.

Anyone interested in donating to a fund to restore and conserve these important pieces can email me at [email protected]    I can show you the Costume Collection storage facility, and all the assessment and interpretation documentation.  If you would like to see individual gowns, and see impressive examples of ‘before and after’ work, we can do that too.

Margaret Whitehead, Curator