Replicating a Keckly Dress

Influencing Lincoln asset

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Here’s more of the story. Hello, my name is Megan Smith and I am the Conservation Lab Manager here at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. And I’m going to talk about the reproduction dresses you see before you that were worn by Sally Field in the film Lincoln, and they are replicas of dresses that were designed and made by Elizabeth Keckley. So in about 2010, I was working as the Collections Manager for Costumes and Textiles at the Chicago History Museum, which also has an extensive collection of Lincoln items, including several pieces of clothing that were worn by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. We were contacted by Joanna Johnston and her team. Joanna was working as the costume designer for the upcoming film, Lincoln, by Steven Spielberg. They were interested in learning just more about how the Lincoln’s dressed, you know, what they wore even just around the house because they wanted to reproduce those items as faithfully as possible. One of the items in the Chicago History Museum’s collection is a buffalo check traveling dress worn by Mary Todd and it was made by Elizabeth Keckley and they wanted to reproduce it absolutely perfectly for the film. So I worked with them to measure the prints make sure that the checks were exactly the same size and measure the waist so that Sally Field had a target to aim for. Although that I know that they use some padding to build her out a little bit. They had me measure the buttons, the belt, everything, the collar, so that it was exactly as it was when Mary Todd Lincoln wore it. And they did such a beautiful job. We also gave him information about other pieces of clothing the Lincoln’s wore, including the fact that Abraham frequently wore a shawl when he was working. And you can see Daniel Day Lewis wearing that often in the film. As a historian, it’s always exciting when you see a detail that is true and correct. So being able to help in even a very small way, was a really great experience. 

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