Gwendolyn Lilliette Garland had been fascinated by her grandmother’s coin collection as a young girl. Seeing coins from all different time periods was very interesting for her. After revisiting her grandmother’s collection years later, she started to wonder, “What was going on in that time period?”
Garland began researching the time periods the coins were from. What she saw was women in extravagant gowns, with the most precise details, living in a period of Victorian beauty that in the modern day has been mostly forgotten.
She quickly fell in love and decided to purchase herself one of these gowns from an online auction. Instead of letting the gown sit in a display, she decided to make a decision that some disagree with – to wear it for a photo shoot.
Victorian and Edwardian gowns are extremely delicate in the present day due to age. Their historical value is high and many view them as works of art, including Garland. Because of these reasons, Garland has faced many disagreements over her decision to restore and wear the gowns she purchases. She views her decision as a way to capture a moment in time in which she was able to temporarily live in her “Victorian life.”
“I wanted to document every time I bought an outfit,” said Garland. “I wanted to document how I would look in it.”
She works with her aunt, who does her hair, to get herself picture-perfect for her photo shoots. This process can take upwards of two hours, 45 minutes alone dedicated to just getting Garland into her gowns.
Garland took her documentation to the next step by creating a Facebook page where she shares photos of herself in her gowns, as well as Victorian pieces she has collected over the years.
Lady Gwendolyn Lilliette Garland of the Edwardian Era currently has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook.
Today, she has more than 30 gowns in her Saugus home. Her oldest is one from 1890 with the original owner’s name still on the tag.
Garland’s gowns vary from ones she can wear and restore, to those that are too delicate that she can’t.
“I have gowns that it’s a one-time thing,” said Garland. “I put it on, I do my photos, and I know I’ll never be able to wear it again.”
She displays her gowns in her home in a way that many of her friends say resembles “a mini museum.” Some even joke that she should charge admission.
However, before the wearable gowns can reach a point of display, they must be restored, worn and then posted on Facebook.
Garland’s restoration process is very thorough as to not damage these gowns.
“I must have spent at least eight hours straight on one gown,” said Garland.
She said that despite many people urging her to not wash the gowns, dirt is the No. 1 killer of these gowns. She delicately soaks the dirt off before making any additional seamstress work to the gowns.
This work includes putting backing in the gowns, stitching up any torn areas and repairing beading. All the work has to be done by hand.
“You can’t use a sewing machine on any of these pieces,” said Garland. “Any repairs have to be done by hand.”
Despite Garland’s repairs, nothing is a match for the original work that went into these gowns.
“I’ve had friends that are seamstresses come over to look at the dresses and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine how to do that right now,’” said Garland.
With every gown Garland adds to her collection and puts on her body, she escapes more into her own Victorian and Edwardian world — a place she feels truly at peace:
“I always joke that I have my Victorian Edwardian life, it’s like going into a different time and place. It just takes me away.”