This dress represents the femininity that Gene's mother wants her to have. Gene does not wear a lot of dresses, she prefers dressing as a boy. Gene's mother wants her to be the perfect woman to find a suitable husband and to help her family move up from their current social class. The dress represents who Gene's mother wants her to be, "Mother had forced me to wear a horrible confection of a dress, with froths of white lace and a wide pale-pink sash high around my corseted waist" (Lam, 79).
By 1842, Victoria would have been, 23, and trying to appear very grown up. The skirts are widening (as are the hips and bust line after bearing two children), and do so even more in 1847 when she would have already had five children.