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fashion

Bostonian Society displays Colonial wedding dress

Elizabeth Bull was 18th-century Boston’s own Vera Wang.

The Colonial-era schoolgirl started stitching herself a China silk gown years before she met her future husband, a church pastor named Roger Price whom she married in 1735.

“There’s something about her talent that really shines through,” said Patricia Gilrein, collections manager of the Bostonian Society, which will display the dress Tuesday night at the Old State House. “I always refer to this as American haute couture.”

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Bull’s pouf of a gown is decorated with bright chrysanthemums and peonies. It’s historically important as a fashion-forward garment that highlights the influences of European silhouettes and Eastern embroidery design in pre-Revolutionary times, Gilrein said.

A look at the embroidery.
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“It was very much this exotic look that was coveted,” she noted. “She was taking all of these styles and saying, ‘I’m going to get married and I’m going to look good.’ ”

Bull was a daughter of privilege whose father owned a tavern where South Station stands today. She began making the dress at 14, most likely learning the embroidery stitches with the help of private tutors, Gilrein said.

“We have a practice bodice she made. You can tell she really cared about this endeavor,” she said.

The bridal gown was passed down through several generations, and altered along the way for other family brides. With a private grant, the Bostonian Society, which inherited the historical textile in 1910, completed the long-awaited conservation of the dress. It will celebrate the delicate achievement Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. with a viewing that is open to the public. The Bostonian Society hopes to secure funding to display the dress in a long-term exhibition.

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Tickets are available at elizabethbull.eventbrite.com.

Jill Radsken can be reached at jill.radsken@gmail.com.