We can examine the fabric that made up Mary Lincoln's purple dress to explore the history behind its manufacture. The expensive silk velvet of the dress was almost certainly imported from France or Italy, centers of production for broadloom luxury fabrics at mid-century. Textile manufacture was also an important industry within the Northern U.S., but it centered on the more common fabrics of cotton--the key product of the Southern economy--woolens, and linens. The velvet dress was the product of an international economic system.This image illustrates a textile mill in New Jersey in the 1880s.
Photocopy of Lithograph-ca. 1880-1889; Barbour's Flax Thread Works: Paterson, NJ; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, Reproduction Number (HAER NJ,16-PAT,7-A-1)