The Mystery of Mainbocher’s Tiny Dress Form
From the time that Main R. Bocher (Mainbocher} offered his atelier mascot - this tiny mid-1860s dress form produced by Stockman, Paris - to the Museum of the City of New York’s Costume Collection in 1971, there were questions raised about the story behind the object. The gift stated simply that "tiny Mrs. Tom Thumb's dress form" had been acquired 15 years earlier and that it had always been a source of delight and inspiration to him. During the course of research for this Worth & Mainbocher on-line project, we verified that all of the dress forms maintained by the House of Worth for its clients were produced by Stockman. In addition, we learned that although her 1863 wedding dress was made to measure by New York dressmaker Mme. Demorest, Mrs. Tom Thumb had become a devoted client of the legendary couturier Charles Frederick Worth following her travels with her new husband to the court of Eugenie and Napoleon III in 1864. The authenticity of the form's measurements (bust: 18"; waist: 10 11/16"; hips: 18") has been confirmed from period accounts of Mrs. Thumb’s "perfectly proportioned" miniature figure. One remaining puzzle - How did Mainbocher acquire Worth's house dress form? - was resolved by counting backward from the date of the bestowal of the gift to that of Maison Worth’s final Paris closing in 1956 - exactly 15 years. Indeed, Eugenia Sheppard’s New York Post "Inside Fashion" column, published June 16, 1971, a wistful farewell to Mainbocher, specifically describes a "miniature, very shapely little dress dummy modeled from Mrs. Tom Thumb, a customer of the first famous Paris designer Worth who passed it on to Mainbocher."
The Stockman dress form remains the sole known artifact which directly links these two masters of the Haute Couture. Two celebrated couturiers, whose careers and clientele so closely paralleled one another's, are thus here united through their common ownership of a single object.
Mrs. Tom Thumb (Lavinia Warren, née Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump (1841-1919)), attained her adult height of two feet, eight inches at the age of ten. This dress form, produced by Stockman in Paris, is reputed to have been made for and used by the House of Worth and mirrors the proportions of her diminutive figure - a waistline measuring 10 11/16 inches with a full height of only 27 ¾ inches. In 1863, at the age of 22, Lavinia married General Tom Thumb, who was under contract with showman Phineas T. Barnum, billed as "the world's most distinguished midget." Their highly publicized New York "fairy wedding" was followed by Lavinia's signing with Barnum as well and embarking upon an international tour that brought the couple to the French court of Napoleon III for presentation in 1864. In keeping with court protocol Lavinia commissioned gowns from the Empress Eugenie’s preferred couturier, Charles Fredrick Worth. She remained a loyal client throughout the prosperous years of her life.
Dress Form, 1865-67
Glazed cotton twill over cotton batting-covered papiér maché
Stamped: STOCKMAN/PARIS/Breveté S.G.D.G
Gift of Mainbocher, Inc.
Height: 27 ¾"
Shoulders: 7 7/8"
Center Back: 14 9/16"
Waist: 10 11/16"
Conservation provided through the generosity of the Textile Conservation Workshop, Inc., South Salem, New York.