Summer Dress Slipcovers
Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Gallier House, New Orleans, La, photo tulsatinystuff.blogspot.com
I am originally from the New Orleans, Louisiana area where I began my business in 1992.
In the late 1990's I received a phone call and an elderly lady asked, " Do you do Summer Dress?"
I replied, " Yes ma'am, what pieces of furniture do you need slipcovered?"
She replied, " You're hired. No one else knows what Summer Dress is anymore."
She had two large sofas to be covered so I went over to her house to cut and reverse pin. She must have been around 75 years old and while I worked she spoke of her memories of growing up in New Orleans in the early 1900's.
One story was particularly relevant to me. She told me that there was a slipcover seamstress who brought her sewing machine with her to sew slipcovers for the whole house. She stayed at the house till she finished all of the slipcovers.
So you ask why were slipcovers called Summer Dress?
New Orleans is not only 14 feet below sea level but is also between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. To add even more moisture to the mix, Southeast Louisiana juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. When you are in the French Quarter you can actually look up at the Mississippi River and watch boats going up and down the river. With all of that water it is no wonder that the humidity is so high!
In the 1800's, with the invention of air conditioning still decades away, the summers were very hot and sticky, not only outdoors but inside as well. Architecture was designed to pull in any cool breeze available. Ceilings were high - 12 to 14 foot ceilings were common - and rooms were positioned to take advantage of cross ventilation with tall windows that could be opened wide.
The good furniture throughout the house was upholstered in heavy velvet and upholstery fabrics. Rugs were wool. In the summer months the heavy wool rugs were picked up and homes were transformed from winter warmth to summer cool.
To protect the good furniture, muslin or cotton slipcovers were sewn to keep the expensive fabrics from being damaged from perspiration during the hot and humid summers. The lighter color fabrics also looked much cooler than the darker upholstery fabrics.
Hence the name Summer Dress.
Gallier House was designed and built in 1857 by prominent father and son architects, James Gallier and James Gallier Jr. It is located at 1132 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116 and tours are available.