The Peacock Dress today

The Peacock Dress, detail, photo (c) by Cathy Hay

The original dress is carefully preserved in a glass case at the Curzon family home, Kedleston Hall near Derby in England, and is well worth a visit to fully appreciate its fragile, magical beauty.

So what happened to dresses like these after the ball? Well, they were often preserved by the family for posterity; after Lady Curzon’s untimely death just three years later, when she was just 36, the Peacock dress was passed down to her three daughters and used by artist William Logsdail to help him complete a posthumous portrait of Mary.

Sometimes dresses like these were altered and worn again, perhaps for fancy dress; the Peacock Dress was altered significantly by inserting a piece of fabric in the centre front of the bodice, whilst the skirt was removed from the waistband and reattached with the fullness distributed more evenly around the waist, rather than concentrated at the back with a flat front, as the fashion would have been in 1902. Since the alteration seems visible in the 1909 portrait, it is possible that the alteration was initially made for Mary herself, but since the gold fabric occupying the bodice front gap was reported in a 1950s conservation report to be a 1930s gold brocade, the alteration could alternatively have been done later for one of her daughters, who inherited the dress. Perhaps it was altered on both of these occasions, being let out for Mary and then a little more for her daughter.

The dress was later loaned to the Museum of London, and in the late 1930s Mary’s eldest daughter arranged for it to be sent to New York and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum as part of an exhibition of ceremonial clothes. It returned safely and was stored securely by the Museum during the Second World War.

On its first display after the War, Mary’s eldest daughter Lady Ravensdale wrote an angry letter to the Museum accusing them of neglect. The dress was looking tired and damaged after its long period in storage, and the Museum director could do nothing but assure her that this deterioration was natural for a metallic embroidered dress of the Peacock Dress’ advancing age. Discussions between the pair resulted in conservation work being undertaken in the 1950s to preserve the condition of the gown as best as the conservator could, including the replacement of the white silk roses at the hem. Further conservation work was completed in 1979, also at the Museum of London.

The Peacock Dress was given to the UK Government in lieu of inheritance taxes in the 1990s, at which time it also returned to the Curzon family’s historic home at Kedleston Hall, where it is on display to the public today.


Posted on

June 27, 2014


  1. Leslie Chung

    I have figure about 6” tall of the Lady Curzon Worth 1903 Dress. I couldn’t find this piece anywhere online. Any idea of its value? Or could you point me in the right direction of where I could find out any info on this piece?

    • Kim M Westenfeld

      I know your goal would be to recreate this dress to wear yourself…but what if you recreate the peacock design on a gown of YOUR design for Kate Middleton Windsor…then a hundred years from now your creation would be sitting in a glass enclosure with another artisan wondering how you created this?

  2. Monica Guerra

    Dear Cathy:
    My Name is Monica Guerra, I`m a fashion designer from Guayaquil – Ecuador, I just saw the video that Bernadette post about your project, first of all please don´t give up, second since you just called my atention I started wondering about the question that you had in the video of how the dress was actually made, first answer that come to my head it´s they embroidered every peace and then they put it together but then I heard you say that you can see any striching or unions of any form.. sooo I remembered my dear teacher of embroidery class who had study at LESAGE (a embrodery school in paris, they make all the embroidery for chanel and other haute couture brands) and how he explained to us how real haute couture was made… so after analysing the peacock dress I come to find that the skirt must have been embroidered as a one piece job.. since is a ball gown basically its pattern is like a donut shape.. round with a hole in the center.. the corset its another story, since we only have access to the already altered dress I can only think the embroidered every piece separated living a seam allowance then put together and then embroidered over, this is a technique that is often used in wedding dresses and haute couture.. I´m here thinking what a fool of me, you probably already now all this but since it doesn´t hurt I´m telling you just in case you didn´t know. I hope you accomplish your dream of making this dress.. A hug from Ecuador.

    • Shamelessly curious

      I believe you’re exactly right judging by how a linga is made. . I’m a novice seamstress, but it seems to me. The bottom was a lehenga.

  3. Claire

    I am planning a visit to see this beautiful dress. I live I South Yorkshire so it isn’t far for me. I know that you plan to wear this dress and possibly only once.
    Wouldn’t it be best placed next to the origional, to show the difference in how it once looked and how it looks tiday

  4. Janet

    Dear Cathy,
    I know your hesitant to fund raising for this effort but I would be so happy to donate!! your video’s make me so happy. the dress will be beautiful.

    With love from Boston,

  5. Melanie DANIELLS

    I just watched the YouTube about this dress and your goal of redoing rather than restoring…I think that there are so many fashion history lovers out here that you could raise the money – especially if you had a non-profit for the cause…or is the goal for you to make it, wear it, sell it? I wasn’t quite sure from your You Tube, but interested enough to share with people that I know and offer the ‘widow’s might’ for your project.

  6. Laura

    I would love to donate to your dress. How exciting it will be to see it finished and to know I helped make it a reality.

    • Pat Bosiger

      Please do continue to make the peacock dress ( including crowd funding). You’ll be recreating a dress for historical value. Let’s face it, the original is not going to stop deteriorating. I also suggest this process is well documented, so future generations can again recreate the dress. (So they don’t face all of the same over whelming struggle’s you faced.).
      I only wish I personally had the funds to get you to the finish line.
      Maybe national geographic’s or Smithsonian would be interested, they fund all I need of stuff.
      I wish you well on your journey.

  7. Shay L Jansen

    I found your video today and I am not a seamstress fashionista or anything like that but I love this idea and I would be happy to donate to get this dress up and going. I applaud you for such a momentous task to undertake but believe the pride and satisfaction of having it completed will be worth the blood sweat and tears!

    • Alphonse Johnston

      I saw the video and I am just amazed by the passion you have for this beautiful piece of history. I never even knew something so beautiful even existed and I’m blown away by all the work you’ve already put in. I would love to donate to your project! I don’t have much, but I would love to contribute to something so wonderful.

  8. Michelle

    Hi Cathy,

    I have only just discovered (my sister told me actually:) the story of the peacock dress dilemma and honestly it is too beautiful a project to not be able to go forward with. So I was thinking…thinking…thinking…Dior, and I am sure other fashion houses make replica miniatures of their gowns, is this something you could do to get this beautiful dress made? I don’t know if you have seen them but they are exquisite miniature replica gowns. Perhaps your miniature could do a tour.
    Anyway…please be encouraged, the world is really quite dark at the moment and this is such a lovely, beautiful and enchanting project…who doesn’t want that:)

    Kindest regards,

    PS: As you don’t feel to do a fundraiser, in lieu of that could people donate actual materials so as to be a small part of the working project? Would that be a way forward?

  9. Lou Meyers (Weatherall)

    I wish my hands could still bead. I’d love to help you with the peacock dress but, alas, arthritis makes threading a needle almost impossible these days.

    In the 1970s I worked in the costume department of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Back then, when we first got a serger in the department it was a great wonder!

    Many of the costumes were painstakingly researched and some were recreated based on paintings and hands-on museum inspection.

    Somewhere in my attic are old programmes. I’m sure if you contacted the RSC they could tell you if/how to contact Frances (Head of Wardrobe); Maurice (Head Cutter); Julian (Boots & Footwear); and Dot (Dye). There were also milliners and armorers who carefully reproduced items. Brenda Leedham made the hand-knotted human hair wigs and headed Wigs & Makeup.

    All these amazing people had a pretty good idea of how the original items were made in antiquity so they could reproduce them. Of course, we used some modern fabrics when necessary due to the wear and tear of hundreds of performances. The leather was leather and the satin was satin and the silk was silk and there was a lot of hand beading, frog-making, and embroidery.

    Frances or Maurice could probably tell you how the Peacock Dress was made. They knew a lot about Worth.

    You are in the UK; interview these amazing people while/if they are still alive and glean their skills to pass along to another generation!

    • Martha B.

      What great information to pass along about the people with wonderful knowledge and talents! We value our craftspeople so little, it’s truly a shame.

  10. C. Porter

    I watched the most recent video about your concern about finishing the peacock gown due to the history of how the people in India were treated in the making of the original gown.
    I understand your concern with wanting to do the right this ending inviting people to learn the history of how countries and people were robbed of their skills and ideas. I always heard that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.
    This time making the dress give credit to the people in Indi that are using their skills and please recreate it.
    I think your search over the years actually lead you to the answer. You could not do the dress on your own because you did not have the skills that these extraordinary embroiders had that made the original?
    Maybe history was waiting for a time when you and the world could recreate this and right the wrongs but still produce a masterpiece that needs to be saved.
    Can you imagine someone going into the Sistine Chapel and saying I can recreate that today in the same way Michelangelo did? But these Paintings, gowns by Worth and others, Cathedrals are looked at and admired by people all over the world.
    One of my favorite artists is Vincent Van Gogh. He made no money alive, suffered for his art and today people still stand in awe of his talents. His paintings sell for millions. Something I can’t afford but I do have an inexpensive print of my favorite.
    The money should have went to Vincent while he was alive but it didnt. So I think it we want to keep the skills of geniuses of all forms of art we must promote their genius talents and gifts. Or they will be lost like the library at Alexandria forever gone secrets to the geniuses that built the Pyramids and other wonders of the world.
    Let’s not ignore the past, let’s celebrate the people that created works of art and give credit to them and learn to appreciate their contribution to society.
    Please do finish the dress. I started a project 23 years ago to dress dolls in movie costumes and book costumes with an educational components to raise money for cancer research. I have had many stumbles along the way, most recently being diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t know if I will see it finished but I do hope I live to see this peacock dress done and how you incorporate the history with it.
    I will be following this online and hope to see it, probably not in person but just to see it come alive after a 100 years would be amazing. Maybe have some of the embroiders come to a ball wearing other dresses they have made to showcase their magnificent talents?
    Good luck.

  11. Kathryn Gauci

    Fabulous. I wondered if Hand and Lock in London could have helped. They also have embroidery connections in India

  12. dave wilson

    ms hay…greetings and salutations…would you perchance remember me from costume college?…i am a fan of yours ever since you wore the oak leaf dress at costume college in van nuys at the airtel hotel. we also like manobier castle….i saw the work being done on some panels for the peacock dress that you brought to l.a….for a brief moment i thought about volunteering to add a few beads but reviewing my skill level the wiser choice was to appreciate from a distance….have you completed the gown yet? will it go to the v & a?…will you be at costume college 2021? best wishes good lady

  13. Al

    Dear Cathy,
    As an Indian, I request you to ensure that due credits are given to the artisans of this dress. Whilst it is your idea to rebuild this masterpiece, the artisans of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh still remains as the only source who can build this up.

    This dress is an sensitive issue. Even though the dress was celebrated and noted for its beauty, I wonder if there is even a log of people who worked on this dress, and the remuneration that was paid for it. Lord Curzon is well known for his divisive politics, as was the British empire of the time. He was a racist who believed that Indian’s were sub class citizens and it would not be far from reality to perceive this dress as the result of subjugation of the artisans of India. While the dress was a success and there has been many artisans who has been commended and appreciated for their work, the artisanal community of the country was left with little to survive on during this dark period.

    It is with the above contentions in mind, that I suggest that due credit be given, sensitive approach be taken while showcasing your recreation. And you should consider it very delicately as to who will wear the dress once its recreated.

    This dress was once a symbol of celebration of the subjugation of Indian community and not just their artisans.


    • Cathy Hay

      This website is rather outdated and needs work. This year I have been making more informed and sensitive efforts to address the uncomfortable backstory that this dress symbolises, and I hope that will help satisfy your discomfort with my coverage of this story. I apologise for any offense.

      Please see these two most recent videos in which I firstly address the issue of the story behind the dress and the British occupation of India:

      …and then go on to research, find and credit both the original Delhi artisans and the gentleman who has worked on the initial sample for the new dress.


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