The business of dressmaking.

Bessie Pettit Douglas

Bessie Tabitha Pettit Douglas enjoyed her social life and had an extensive wardrobe that supported it. She published an account of her varied social life before she married in 1899. In her book, Call Back Yesterday, she recalled the events that made up Minneapolis' social season as the young people in her circle entertained, courted and married.

Her parents, Deborah McBride Williams and Curtis H. Pettit, were married in Minneapolis in 1857. Bessie was their only child to survive to adulthood. She died in 1955, just short of her 85th birthday. Her residence at 2424 Park Avenue was filled with custom-made clothing from Minneapolis and St. Paul's elite dressmakers as well as European fashion houses, examples of which came to the collection. Though her book is filled with images and descriptions of the dresses she wore engaged in social activities before her marriage in 1899, she often notes with regret that she didn’t save them. Most of the garments in this collection date from about 1900-1920.

These photos from Call Back Yesterday show some of her favorite party dresses from her debutante years. She was educated at Bennett Seminary for Girls and though she decided not to attend college, she continued to take classes at local universities.Bessie Tabitha Pettit, Oct. 22, 1896.

During the depression of the 1890s, Bessie's father was strained for money. Bessie described a gown that she made for herself of yellow silk brocade: "I hand-tucked the full skirt around the hips into a yoke with deep points and trimmed the surplice bodice with a notched lapel of green taffeta, finishing the short puffed sleeves where they gathered into a band around the arms with a knot of the same taffeta. It turned out beautifully and was one of the dresses that passed for a Boyd gown."

Bessie Tabitha Pettit, Oct. 22, 1891.

"...A dress I had remade myself from one I had the preceding winter and always had such good times in that I became positively superstitious about it and wore it for good luck to any party I feared might not turn out to be a 'good' one. It was a black crepe de chine, the skirt straight and plain in front, full in the back and slightly sweeping the floor in a short train, as was the fashion.The waist crossed in a surplice in front, forming a low V-neck, with an irregular wide band of black velvet chenille flowers bordering the side that crossed over. My hair was done low on the nape of the neck and on it I wore a black velvet bandeau with a perky little bow in front."

Bessie Tabitha Pettit, Oct. 22, 1888.

Bessie quotes from her diary of May 13th, 1888, "My graduating dress came home last night. It is white, of course. The skirt is made of fine allover embroidery, full all around with no drapery whatever, back or front. The waist is made of alternate strips of real torchon lace and embroidery insertion each about an inch and a quarter wide. The neck is V-shaped in front, not low, and high in the back, finished with a lace pleating all around. The sleeves are short puffs made of lace and embroidery and I am to wear long white kid gloves up to meet them... I am going to have its picture taken with me inside it..."

See images of Mrs. Douglas's clothing

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For an analysis of Bessie Douglas's wardrobe, see Minneapolis dressmaker Madame Rose Boyd: "Sizing up" the client by Julieanne Trautmann

For an account of life in 1890s, see Call back yesterday by Bessie P. Douglas