The Fashion of Adelicia Acklen

The 19th century was a time of great change in women's fashion. The century began with high waistlines and straight skirts, and by the 1850s, the style had evolved into a more natural waistline and full skirt. Adelicia Acklen's clothing choices showcase the most fashionable trends from Europe and North America during that time. Follow Belmont Mansion as we embark on a nine part series showcasing the dresses, jewelry, and fashion choices of Adelicia Acklen.


There is no doubt that Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham was known in Nashville, if not in American society, for her fashion choices. She made quite the domineering impression in 1866 when she and her French driver, dressed in full livery, arrived at church in her cockade hat “appearing as a duchess.” On another occasion, her fashionable taste was featured in Queens of American Society.[1] William Acklen, Adelicia’s son, wrote in his account, “In memory I often see my mother in her beautiful gowns which came from Paris, (one of which I particularly remember with rows of beads crossing and recrossing.)” Unfortunately, Adelicia’s fashionable dress collection chiefly exists only in the photographs and portraits Belmont Mansion possesses today and there is still much mystery surrounding her undoubtedly designer clothing. A few newspaper articles describing various balls and events at Belmont also give insight into Adelicia’s fashion sense. One dress is described in particular in several sources on two different occasions as being the dress that she was presented in at the court of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. It is described as a pearl or white silk dress which was trimmed with point d’alencon lace, worn with a brussels point lace veil, a diamond necklace, bracelet, diamond clasped girdle, and of course her diamond tiara, which was a gift from the Emperor and Empress for her marriage to Dr. William Cheatham.[2] This dress description is consistent with the color that a woman would have worn to be presented in at the French or English court. Another dress is described in the Daily American in its description of a dinner party given at Belmont. Adelicia wore a black silk dress trimmed in point d’alencon lace with diamonds.[3]

Despite that the exact contents of Adelicia’s