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Mary Van Riper (1789-1867)

Unfortunately we do not know much about Mary Van Riper. However, we can make some informed guesses about her life based on information we know about her husband, and what we have gleaned from public records. As far as we can tell, Mary Van Riper's maiden name was the same as her married name. She was born in 1789 to a different Van Riper family, of whom we have sparse information for. In 1810, Mary married into the Uriah Van Riper family through Uriah's son, Jacob. Jacob appears to have enlisted into the Second Regiment of the New Jersey militia during War of 1812--in his absence, Mary may have had more responsibilities in running the family farm, in addition to caring for their newborn son (named Uriah, born Sept 1812). Mary is noted to have once owned her own property, and to have had her own money separate from her husband's--in fact, in 1846 she donated five dollars (a large sum at the time) for the construction of the parsonage house at the Preakness Reformed Church. As an older woman in the 1840s, she would have worn a dress similar to the ca. 1845 gown below at formal evening events in Wayne.

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While the sewing machine was invented in 1846, clothing in the 1840s was almost exclusively handsewn, usually by women at home or by a professional seamstress. Overall, the fashion of the decade was characterized by "demure restraint" in its appearance (Fashion History Timelime). In contrast to the decade before, fashionable dresses of the 1840s were comparatively plain, with few trims and accessories. Fabrics tended to be dyed in muted colors, with emphasis placed on the pattern of the fabric. Day dresses consisted of long, fitted sleeves, high necklines, and full skirts; for formal occasions, women could wear plunging necklines and off-the-shoulder short sleeves. Bodices were long and "severe" in shape, with wide, flat busts and narrow waists that often ended in a deep point at the front. This had a lengthening effect on the wearer. To achieve the desired bell-shaped skirt, fashionably-minded women would normally wear many petticoats under their dresses.  Additionally, skirts were sewn in series of tiny pleats along the waist, to create extra volume as the fabric fell to the floor.

1840s day wear.jpg

The fitted sleeves, full skirt, and severe shape of the bodice combined to create the desirable "modest" look of the 1840s, as these ca. 1843 designs show.

1840s evening wear.jpg

Our ca. 1845 evening gown above displays many fashionable features of the decade. Its long, pointed bodice is reinforced with five steel bones along the front, to maintain the severe silhouette of the period. Its neckline is low and wide, characteristic of evening wear from the latter half of the decade. It also has short sleeves decorated with two rows of ruffled trim, another indication of its having been created for a formal occasion. The large, repeating pleats along the skirt near the waist create deep drapes within the silk as it falls to the floor. Unusual for this period, the dress closes via hooks and eyes up the back of the bodice--a sign the dress may have been altered in later years.

The rigid silhouette and bell-shaped skirt remained popular through the end of the decade, as shown here in a pair of ca. 1850 eveningwear designs.

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