The Peacock dress is reputed to have been made of silk chiffon, but in fact, examination of the original dress quickly reveals that the embroidery was created on champagne coloured silk taffeta, backed with a layer of densely woven cotton muslin – presumably to add extra strength and stop the silk from stretching.
The embroidery itself is composed of gold and silver plated threads and wires, with a section of a beetle elytra (wing cover) forming each peacock feather eye.
The dress is often described as being made of “cloth of gold”, a term that has two meanings. It can mean a fabric literally woven using gold and silver threads, but in this case the second meaning is accurate: a fabric heavily embellished in goldwork embroidery.
The hem is accented with almost a hundred white silk roses. The original roses were replaced in the 1950s, according to records at the Museum of London.
A dinner given by Lady Cynthia Blanche Mosley, “Cimmie” on May 28, 1928.
(While the Peacock Dress isn’t specifically mentioned in the passage below,
you can see Cecil Beaton wearing it in your mind’s eye.)
“ The following evening the house party was joined by the poet
Stephen Spender, who “arrived from London looking beautiful.” Cim-
mie served cocktails as her guests unpacked the dresses her mother had
worn as Vicereine of India before she had died, twenty-two years earlier.
They were “gorgeous beyond words being Edwardian, being for the
Indian court, being for a Vicereine, & being for Lord Curzon’s wife.
Yards of brocade, gold tissue, embroidery, tulle & every exquisite mate-
Cimmie had planned that her guests should wear them at dinner
that night. The waists were, however, only nineteen inches around.
Georgia Sitwell alone managed to do one up properly: “It was torture
but well worth it.” The rest of the guests, men included, each chose a
dress and clambered into it as they could. Cecil Beaton and Stephen
Spender were “at their best in these fantastic dresses. Stephen had a
wreath of artificial flowers in his hair & Cecil had picked every blossom
from Cimmie’s lilac walk & stuck it either in his ‘bosom’ or on his head.”
pages 185 and 186 from:
“The Bolter – the story of the wild, beautiful, fearless IDINA SACKVILLE,
descendant of one of England’s oldest families,
who went off to KENYA in search of adventure and
became known as the high priestess of the
scandalous “HAPPY VALLEY SET”
Alfred A. Knopf
New York 2009
Good luck with your Peacock Dress project! I will be eager to see the progress! Just amazing!!