Ada Lovelace

I realized, if I want a costume for Halloween, I actually do need to start plotting now.

Introducing (drum roll)…

Ada Lovelace!

Portrait by Alfred Chalon, 1838

For the extremely short bio – Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron. She worked closely with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, and wrote an algorithm for it. As such, she is described as the first computer programmer!

Ding ding ding nerd alert going off! I am all about the nerdy costumes, and isn’t it convenient when it overlaps with historical costuming?

Now, what the heck is going on in that portrait? It’s watercolor, so the details are unfortunately limited. I see:

  • An off the shoulder ballgown in some shade of purple. Maybe a changeable silk? Because there are a whole lot of colors  of purple in that picture.
  • Elbow length sleeves with black lace on the bottom. I think there is a poof in the middle, and tight at the top (very standard 1830s construction). The top is somehow gold? Maybe gold ribbon? That is some serious contrast going on.
  • There is a lace shawl (practically a mantilla) attached to her hair? Why would you attach a shawl to your hair?
  • Plus some accessories – yellow hair ribbon and flowers, white gloves, gold fan.

1838 was a time for transitional dress (which technically is a useless description, because all dress can be described as transitional but whatever); coming off the hilarious dresses of the 1830s Romantic era, before the more sedate dresses of the 1840s.

Let’s check out some other 1830s dresses for details, since the Lovelace portrait ain’t giving it up:

1837 February La Mode. This seems really similar to what I'm going for.

This is a great reference. Off the shoulder, longer sleeves, silly hair. A split skirt adds some extra interest. Maybe I could do something like this to incorporate more gold into the dress.

Practically a boat neck! Look how narrow the skirt still is. If you took away the lower half of the sleeves, the top half is similar to what I want. I think there is some precedent for detachable lower sleeves, to turn a day dress into an evening dress.

Very simple silhouette, although the fabric makes up for that.

Alexina Nesbit Sandford and Catherine Hepburne Lindsay by Andrew Geddes, ca 1838, the National Portrait Gallery, London. This feels a little earlier, with the narrowness of the skirts, the slightly higher waist, and the straight-across bodice.

October fashions, 1837 France, Journal des Dames et des Modes

A comparatively simple bodice, without the pleatings and ruchings that are exceedingly common.

Lady’s Magazine, January 1837. The skirt trim is kinda fun. So many (presumed) pearls!

From 1835, this is too early (especially those sleeves!) But it gives a decent idea of the hair, which seems to still be in style in the Lovelace portrait.

From 1835, this is too early (especially those sleeves!) But it gives a decent idea of the hair, which seems to still be in style in the Lovelace portrait.

Plus even more on my pinterest board for late 1830s (this project made me split my boards into early 1830s, mid 1830s, and late 1830s, as the styles change so dramatically throughout the decade).

None of these dresses have black lace, or the odd one-off pop of color like the yellow of my portrait. I’d really like to do something more than a plain bodice and skirt, but none of these designs are quite calling out to me as a plausible recreation. Thoughts from the readers?

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2 Responses to Ada Lovelace

  1. Veronica says:

    Lovely lass Ada Lovelace. She should be as well known as any other Victorian lady. Florence Nightingale-Bah!

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