Mary Holden Illingworth’s Dress

We recently helped Leeds Museums to purchase, at auction, a collection of clothes worn my Mary Holden Illingworth.

Mary Holden Illingworth (1838 – 1908) was part of an important Yorkshire family and the daughter of a self made man, Isaac Holden (1807 – 1897). Her Father Isaac Holden was originally from Glasgow and came to Yorkshire where he made his fortune in the weaving industry. He successfully set up mills in Bradford and also in Paris, where the Holden family also resided for some time. Isaac Holden, having come from a humble background wanted the best for his children and this included a good education and also the best that money could buy, including clothes.

Mary had a great interest in fashion and this can be read in the diaries that she kept and also through the clothes that have survived. This can be seen in particular in the one of the dresses that the Friends helped us to purchase. In 1881 Mary’s eldest daughter was due to marry and for this occasion she chose to have a dress made by her favourite designer Charles Frederick Worth. Also know as the father of couture, Charles Frederick Worth was an Englishman who set up an extremely successful design house in Paris. His clients including many European royals and other women of great wealth and influence.


This dress was not Mary’s first Worth dress and later Mary was to recount to her granddaughter, Elsie, how ‘fittings were of dubious delight, as Monsieur Worth was of the habit of taking a cup of warm fresh blood straight from the local abattoir at 11am.’