Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part III)

This one has a lot of progress images!

When I cut out the sleeves, I figured that because the pattern (Regency Women's Dress, p.98) appeared to fit me at the wrist, I could just cut out the sleeve exactly as drawn.

Not so! I sewed the seam on one and it was far too tight in the forearm, so I pieced in a tapered strip under the arm, which I did not bother to match as it cannot be seen.

The next step after that was to hem the part of the seam left open near the wrist and pin the trim into place - note that the trim pieces are not symmetrical and must be matched with the proper sleeve.

The cuffs were then piped all the way around, and sewn down on one long and two short sides.

The remaining side was put right-side-to-right-side over the trim and end of the sleeve and sewn down through all layers. The corners were snipped to allow the allowances to be turned in.

Then I turned to the armscyes. These needed to be cut into, mostly in front, to be big enough for my arms, and then the piping was basted on. The ends of the piping don't have to be handled too neatly, since they're completely hidden under the trim at the neckline.

The sleeve was pleated to fit, not very precisely, with the pleats pointing backward, and sewn in with a spaced backstitch.

One of the last steps was to sew the lining into the neckband and cuffs. This is counterintuitive to the modern seamstress, but while it requires more steps, it also makes it easier to handle so many layers coming together. Both the cuff and neckband linings are rectangles - while the neckband is made of smaller, overlapping pieces, the lining is just one long piece.

Sewing in the hooks at wrist, neckline, and waistband was the actual last step. (I haven't yet put eyes on; I'm very bad about that. Right now small safety pins are filling in.) As you can see above, even with the piecing in the seam, the sleeve is fairly tight.

Now for the event photos! I've always been hesitant about trying to do historical hairstyles because I have a mental block: I know that I Can't Do Hair, so I only try half-heartedly and then it looks terrible. But I had my hair cut into a middy in March, and got very used to doing pin curls, so it was not a big deal to do some in the front. The back I put up in a high ponytail and was just able to twist that around into a bun and pin it in place.

While I don't fully love how it looks (I part my hair on the side IRL for a reason), I'm generally happy with it - much better than Plan A, which was to wear a very anachronistic bonnet! But I think that I should have started the pin curls higher up on my head, so that they would come out like so:

"Blouse à la Ferronière ...", Petit Courrier des Dames, 1822; NYPL 802042
(Note the term "blouse" in that fashion plate - this gown would very likely have also been considered a blouse, as it's entirely fitted with gathering in the bodice.)

Another option would be to figure out how to do the very big wave/curls also fashionable in the 1820s, which would allow a side part:

Miniature, Anson Dickinson, 1824; Royal Ontario Museum 991.158.2

In my Hartfields, on the steps of the museum!
So, what did I learn from this that might help you if you want to use this pattern yourself?

The proper underpinnings are very key. This is true in all periods of historical recreation, but it's especially true of 1800-1830. I'm using an old Regency "wearable mockup" corset that doesn't fit quite right and you can tell in the picture right above. With the waistband drawing the eye, a slightly-too-low bust looks even lower.

The bodice length is also key. That doesn't exactly set the pattern apart from many others, but because it's cut with a waved lower edge - being longer below each breast than it is in the middle - you really have to think about the proportions more.

Increase the armscye from the top. That is, don't cut into the side of the front, but make sure that the bodice is cut high enough at the sides to fit around your arm. If you have a larger arm, make it several inches higher than the original. In the 1810s and 1820s, the effect for the shoulders should be wide. The armscye should be out on the point of your shoulder and on the side of the bodice.

That's it for now! I plan to take out the sleeves and repleat them (too much fabric ended up in front) and to make that flat, piped flounce ... but not for a while, as a new project is now on my plate.

I hope this was helpful and interesting! If you enjoyed it, please consider checking out my Patreon page.

Friday, June 9, 2017

What are you doing, girl?

A few days ago, I introduced you to my new Patreon page, but I wanted to give you more background about why I decided to do this and so on.

With this blog, I try to bridge the gap between costuming/reenactment and academia. I do post about sewing projects, when I do them (unless I'm just following the directions from a pattern packet, there's not much scope for research there), but what I really like to do is read primary and secondary sources, take something fresh from them, and share it with everyone else.

This is the kind of research you normally do for publication or a conference paper, but I don't really want to write for journals or conferences - I want to write for you, the public. It's not pure theory that I find intriguing, but the mixture of academic research with practical application, which leads to posts on fashions in petticoats and stomachers, or early nineteenth-century corsets. Or even more esoteric topics that might not be relevant to your sewing, but can still be interesting if you're into fashion history, like a re-evaluation of Worth's innovations.

At every level of monthly patronage, you get the ability to vote in polls to determine what I'll write about - which might not be for every single post, but should be a pretty regular feature - and at higher levels, there are more benefits (being thanked in finished works, contributing to the poll choices themselves, and so on). The first patron poll I hold will likely have these choices:
  1. the history of white in weddings, likely two posts
  2. fashion in the late 1840s and early 1850s, possibly two posts
  3. several more late 1780s Cabinet des Modes translations
Patreon also has a goal system for patronage milestones. When I hit my first one, which I'm almost halfway to, I'm going to start a podcast on fashion history! A lot of the topics I'm trying to make accessible would be even more accessible if I were talking through them informally, although I'd still accompany them with a blog post as both semi-transcript and liner notes. Higher goals will allow me to self-publish some of the work I've translated over the years, such as Garsault's text on the art of sewing body linens, or eventually the Galerie des Modes (there are a lot of images to license there - even with a volume discount, it's expensive).

Please let me know what you think about this! I really want to know if you think I'm asking for too much for certain goals or if there's something else I haven't thought to offer that you'd like better. For a while, I was considering running a serialized historical novel that could also be directed by voting, but I wasn't sure there'd be interest in that - if there is, I could always add that back into the mix ...

Interested in getting in on this? Become a Patron!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part Two)

So, after getting the bodice mostly ready to go, I turned to the skirt. The pieces were easy enough to cut out: if you look at the pattern (Regency Women's Dress, p.98), you can see that there are mostly rectangles, plus one gore on each side.

It was fairly simple - I used the same proportional method that I did on the bodice. If the front panel on the original was (for example) 150% of the waist before pleating, I made mine 150% of my waist; if the pleated width was 50% of the waist, I pleated it down to 50%. For the gore, I increased the top this way and then ran the slanted seam down at the same angle as in the original. The back panels ended up at about 26", so I just used the full width of the fabric (60") and cut a slit in it for the opening, which I turned and sewed with underhand hem stitch (more frequently known by its French name, point à rabattre sous le main), whipping over the unturnable bit at the bottom.

All of the seams were sewn with a small running stitch. This is a pretty safe option for most skirts, and is actually an accurate choice even at the beginning of the sewing machine era.

After sewing up the seams, I took up the tuck. Historically, we often see the lower edge of a skirt treated in a very deliberate way - completely straight across on the grain, for instance, the way the front and back of this one is - because instead of making the whole thing and then hemming the bottom to fit the body, the adjustments would be done at the top. In these cases, it can be simpler to do all the skirt-sewing before the bodice is put on, so that's what I did.

It's pretty simple - 3/4" folded, 4" above the bottom of the skirt. I also did that in a running stitch, about as small as I could make the stitches. (On top, anyway.) This tuck isn't visible in the museum's photograph, because it's covered by a flat ruffle/flounce - more on that later.

If you have the book, you can see that the bottom of the gore is not level - it curves up so that the skirt is "round" or "walking length", rather than trained. This makes the tuck, which has to curve along with it, a little tricky - but if you're sewing by hand, it's fairly easy to massage the underside of the curve into place in that one little spot on each side.

After the tuck, I did the piping and facing. As you can see from the picture below, I used the same Sugar'n'Cream crochet cotton for the hem piping; really, I should have used something much thicker, with more body, but I was in a rush and so did not take the time to order a heavier cord. This step was actually more like modern sewing than you might expect: I put the wrong side of the facing to the wrong side of the plaid, with the piping in between, and sewed it (with a running stitch, if I recall correctly). Then I turned everything right side out, turned in the top of the facing, and running-stitched it down from the right side. This stitching is hidden under the tuck, and the piping looks like it's just floating there!

I did not make the flounce yet. This fabric was purchased as an end-of-bolt lot, 5 or 5.5 yards, and I knew that there would never be enough left to cut on the bias; I think now that there would be enough to cut it across the breadth, with piecing. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do it before the parade (that piping will take quite a while), so that will have to come later ... and, again unfortunately, be less striking than the original. I'm not sure when I'll have the time to do that, though.

The waistband went on the bodice next. I had to do a similar proportion comparison to figure out exactly how tight to pull the gathering stitches on the bottom of the bodice, but you could probably eyeball it and end up in roughly the same place. Ah well!

It's helpful to iron down the seam allowances on both the top and bottom of the waistband and its lining, since you sandwich the bodice between the layers and topstitch it down. I used a small spaced backstitch.

The top of the skirt was pleated, folded down, and then whipped into place. I didn't leave very much of a turn-down because I was confident that the length was correct, but if you're not, you should really aim for more and then cut it off.

The original raw edges were overcast, which is on my list of things to do later, when I have some more time. (Another project needs to be started immediately.)

Okay, that's pretty much it for the skirt! Next time, the sleeves and fastenings, and the first wearing.

Before I end this post, I'd like to talk to you a bit about Patreon, a website that a lot of content creators use - artists, cartoonists, podcasters, writers, and so on. Basically, it allows fans to chip in a little money per month, and get a little more content at the same time.

In the case of my Patreon, you can vote in and suggest choices for polls determining what I research! When I hit certain goals for monthly income, I can and will do some more projects that benefit everyone: for instance, when I reach $30, I'm going to start a podcast (which I am SO excited about), and at higher levels I'll be publishing some of my translation work.

So please take a look at my page! I love sharing fashion history with the world, and I'd love to be able to share more of it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part One)

I like giving my projects names - in this case, it's the "Clarissa dress" because I made it to portray Clarissa Moody Wright (1804-1871) in Canton's Dairy Festival Parade. It was difficult to figure out exactly what date to aim for: Clarissa was ten years younger than her husband, but the man who was going to portray Silas* is ... well, there's a larger age difference; I also look young for my age by modern standards and very young by early nineteenth century standards. So should I dress as Clarissa would have as a long-married woman, or as the age that I look? In the end, I decided that a) it's not much of an educational event, as I won't be doing any actual interpreting, b) nobody in the crowd bar three or four people is going to have any idea that I'm representing a real person, let alone who she is and when she was alive, and c) I really wanted to sew the green checked dress from the mid-1820s from Regency Women's Dress. That seems fair to me.

* We're not quite up to the event yet, but he's found that he can't do it due to a lack of appropriate clothing, so that point is moot now!

The original dress - OSV 26.33.63

Making this dress also gives me the opportunity of explaining a few things. Not everything in Regency Women's Dress was as well-explained or as thoroughly illustrated as I would have liked, and I've been meaning to write up some kind of errata page for this blog - this is a good place to start, since this is the most complicated of all the garments in the book.

Because - as you can see - there's a picture of this dress on a mannequin, I should probably address one of the most frequent topics of conversation that's come up about RWD. There are only four garments in the book that had already been photographed by the museums that owned them: this one on p.98, the red bib-front dress on p.46 (both from Old Sturbridge Village, photos from some time ago), the ball dress on p.94 (from Historic Cherry Hill, although it was photographed long ago and might have only been available in black and white) and the gold evening dress on p. 78 (from the Albany Institute of History & Art).

There was no question of dressing the others and photographing them: most museums, especially the small ones, do not have a studio space set up to take pictures of items this large, or the space to set up a temporary paper roll, lighting, etc. (which they don't own, so I would have had to buy my own), or even appropriate mannequins or dress forms in the first place. Even laying them out on a sizable table covered with white cloth under good lighting was not a possibility, in some cases because the lighting was very bad or the table was small or the sheet was hideous, and in all cases because I didn't have a scaffold to use to take pictures from above and lights to angle in to prevent my shadow from falling on them. After having done RWD, I understand why the pattern books being done now are in-house, like Costume Close-Up and Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns, because you really need all the resources of a big institution, entire workdays, and a measure of control in order to do it right.

Moving on!

Pattern mistakes

I regret to say that there are a few straight-up mistakes in the pattern. The bodice side seam - and it boggles me how I managed to do this - is depicted as much longer on one piece than the other. There was a certain amount of easing, but not that much. I increased the shorter piece to about 5".

The cuffs are basically rectangles, with a slight curve on the ends. Due to the 1/8 scale in my sketches this curve got exaggerated in my drawing and then exaggerated again in redrawing for publication into quite a steep curve/point.

I also somehow neglected to pattern the larger triangles that go over the shoulders. For this project, I just added another inch in length to the ones that are patterned.

The relative sizes on the original piece

Now to sewing - starting at the top

There's a lot of room for an individual seamstress to vary the order of operations with this dress, so I'll explain my own and if you like, you can follow it.

While the original was a very sheer cross-barred/checked silk, I used a semi-sheer madras cotton check. It's not a perfect substitution, but the fabric was a good price and it's still got a very light hand, so I don't think it's inappropriate to combine with a lightweight silk for piping/binding.

The first thing I did was cut out the bodice and sew the side seams.

A running stitch sufficed, since this would be reinforced later. Yes, I did sew this entirely by hand!

After that, I made the triangular trim pieces for the neckline, as well as the cuff trim. These are just flat pieces cut off the grain to varying degrees, bound with straight pieces of a lightweight silk - yes, straight. I'm fairly sure that the original used bands cut in the straight grain, although it's possible, based on the photos, that they're on the bias instead; it looks different at different angles. It was a little tricky going down the inner corners of the cuff pieces, but there's only a few of those, and mostly I was just folding around the corners. (I could have and probably should have mitered them, but ...)

I bound these with a blind/slip stitch (visible as a running stitch on the back), and my stitches were a bit too long, but there's no stress on them at all, so it's not worth too much bother, especially if you have a deadline. As you can see, I did all the pinning first and then went through and sewed them all - it's faster to do one thing for a while and then the other, rather than switching back and forth.

On this gown, the bodice is gathered in front and back and sewn to a separate, piped neckband, which is itself made of separate front and back pieces. While I scaled the bodice and skirt up proportionally (probably too much, to be honest - I thought it would be simpler to make this as it's all gathered, but for the same reason it was a lot less straightforward than dealing with a fitted bodice), I left the neckline the same dimensions as the original, reasoning that I have somewhat narrow shoulders and so this shouldn't need to change. At this point in time, I think I should have made the bands just a little longer ... but I haven't 100% finished this gown yet, so we'll see.

The piping is Sugar'n'Cream - I'd prefer something a little smaller, like kitchen twine, but my twine has disappeared and with my slow sewing pace, I needed to get working.

As you can see, I piped the top edge of each piece (again with straight-grain bands), overlapped them at the shoulder, and then basted a row of piping over the whole thing. I followed that by basting the triangles on, pleating the larger ones a little. Basically, this is going to involve sewing a lot of layers together, and you want to make sure not to lose the definition of the piping or have things slipping around, so basting is your friend.

Around this time, I tested how large the armscye would be by pinning the bodice to the band and realized that it was way too small, so I pieced in a bit to the top of the bodice to give it a steeper curve from the center front and back up to the shoulders. After that, I cut out the side lining pieces that really just strengthen the armscyes, and backstitched the bodice to them down the side seams.

It was fairly simple to run gathering stitches in the top edges of the bodice pieces - excluding the side linings - gather them to the required lengths (remember, the neckline is the same size as the original pattern, so the bodice needed to be gathered to the same measurements as the original, rather than a proportional amount), and backstitch all of these layers together.

This is where hand-sewing is very preferable, I think. You need to feel the piping that's sandwiched between all these layers, and I can't imagine I could have done this on the machine without ending up needing to unpick and resew parts of it. That said, I'm an extraordinarily sloppy machine-sewer.

Then I turned to the skirt. (Part two!)

You can probably tell by the square, edited photos that I'm hotlinking from Instagram! Feel free to follow me at mimicofmodes. I post progress pics, as well as views around Canton when the weather's good and detail shots of garments I'm accessioning, reboxing, etc. at work.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Petticoat (and Stomacher) Situations

The Facebook discussion on my last blog post was really helpful - it made me realize that I should have been much more explicit about what I was discussing regarding timeframe and class level, and I plan to update the other post to reflect that in a bit. But I also thought it would be worthwhile to talk about the situations where my suggestion is not useful, for balance (and because it lets me talk about the early 18th century, i.e. the best part of the 18th century).

To recap and clarify: my point was that portraits and images of fine clothes from the 1750s, 1760s, and early 1770s (in the Anglo-American, British, and French contexts) generally show women with gown, petticoat, and stomacher made of one fabric, and that when they are not all the same, you are more likely to see the stomacher not match the other two than a petticoat that contrasts with a matching gown and stomacher, and that the stomacher and petticoat matching each other and contrasting with the gown is an even rarer look.

Less-Fine Dress

The most obvious group to which the previous post doesn't apply is the one that couldn't afford to buy enough fabric to make an entire ensemble in the same material, or perhaps even to buy anything but disparate secondhand items! Let's hear it for the female bruiser on the ground, the tavern maid, the prostitute's servant (as well as the prostitutes themselves, often), and all the women in "The Recruiting Sargeant". While they don't show the specific matching stomacher/petticoat combinations, they ignore the fashionable fully matching "suit".

John Collet, 1767; Hackney Museum CH 1996.6
The people between rich and poor are harder to define in art during this period. One reason for this is that the concept of the middle class/middling sort is itself at this time pretty much defined as just being between the rich and the poor! This could range from the British landed gentry to prosperous Massachusetts farmers, from an artist catering to the upper classes to a shopkeeper's family. Kirsten Olsen defines the range of incomes of the class in Daily Life in Eighteenth Century England as £300-400 to £40-50, while noting that even businessmen who exceeded that would be considered "middle" by many of their contemporaries due to their connections with trade. According to her figures, the label can theoretically include anything from 16% to 42% of all British families. James and Dorothy Volo describe the American middle classes as consisting of mostly farmers, plus "tradesmen, artisans, and craftsmen", in Family Life in 17th and 18th Century America. ("Quite the opposite to the thinking of some today, farming in colonial America was a generally profitable enterprise insuring a roof over a man's head, sufficient food for his family, and a modicum of personal independence.")

"The Artist's Wife, Margaret Lindsay of Evelick", Allan Ramsay, ca. 1759; National Gallery of Scotland NG 430 - technically, this woman is middle-class
So I don't think there's any "rule of thumb" when it comes to the middle classes except that those who could afford the higher-status fashion of a fully matching outfit likely would, and those who couldn't, likely wouldn't.

Quilted Petticoats

Quilted petticoats, for rich and poor, overwhelmingly did not match the gown they were worn with. There was an entire quilted petticoat industry - while ready-made clothing was not as widespread as it would later become, this was an early entry into the field. (See Dress, Culture, and Commerce: The English Clothing Trade Before the Factory, 1660-1800, by Beverly Lemire.) It might theoretically be possible to have a gown made in a similar color as a quilted petticoat one owned or to find a quilted petticoat that matched a gown one already had, but judging by the artwork, this was not considered necessary - at any level of society. The central female figure in "The Recruiting Sargeant", a poor woman, is wearing a red quilted petticoat with a yellow and pink gown; in Clarissa (1748), the villain Lovelace advertises for the escaped Clarissa as dressed in:
... a brown lustring night gown, fresh, and looking like new, as every thing she wears, does whether new or not, from an elegance natural to her. A beaver hat, a black ribband about her neck, and blue knots on her breast. A quilted petticoat of carnation coloured satten; a rose diamond ring, supposed on her finger; and in her whole person and appearance, as I shall express it, a dignity, as well as beauty, that commands the repeated attention of every one who sees her.
"The Bradshaw Family", Johann Zoffany,1769; Tate Collection N06261

A number of eighteenth century portraits, especially women's portraits, were done in clothing that they would not have worn on the street or in a drawing room. Anne Buck notes in the introduction to Dress in Eighteenth -Century England that "evidence of eighteenth-century dress from its portraits is confused by fashion in painting itself. From the 1730s fashionable people were often painted in a version of seventeenth-century dress, after the much-admired Vandyke. From the 1760s they submitted to the convention of being painted in a compromise between the contemporary style and the dignified ambiguity of classical draperies. Some artists imposed a dress, which though fashionable could be peculiar to the portrait and not the usual wear of the sitter"; later in the book she points out that "sitters who were from the beginning antique could never look merely out-of-date. Even the unsophisticated wife and daughters of the Vicar of Wakefield are made to have ambitions of being portrayed in this way."

I've previously written about "antique costume" here, and have a Pinterest board for hoarding more images.

Anne Parsons, Daughter of Alderman Humphrey Parsons, Brewer and Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Hudson, 1753; University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education 6
While it can reflect notions of what is currently attractive, it can also reflect what's seen as interesting, unusual, or historical. The "exotic costume" based on Turkish women's dress very frequently made use of over- and undergowns that can also give the impression of gowns with contrasting petticoats and stomachers.


Now we get to the real meat, and also turn back to fashion. Despite liking the first half of the century possibly more than the second, I left it out of my earlier analysis because, in the costuming world, "18th century" in effect means "after 1755": rounded hoops broad stomachers (or post-1775 closed-front bodices), stripes, flounced sleeves, larger and often powdered hair. But there are a lot of different things going on in the earlier part of it. For now, I'll just be concentrating on the situation with stomachers and petticoats.

At the turn the century, there are a number of things happening - mantuas worn open over (what appear to be) stays, mantuas that closed at the center front, full suits with everything of the same fabric. A lot of images from this time are heavily classicized, but of the less classicized portraits and genre scenes, the matching gown and petticoat with contrasting stomacher seems to prevail.

"The Du Cane and Boehm Family Group", Gawen Hamilton, ca. 1734; Tate Collection T07505 (note the contrasting quilted petticoat on Mrs. Boehm in the center)
In the mid-1720s, a round gown - round in at least the skirt - begins to take over fashion, and its reign lasts through the 1730s and into the 1740s. Open skirts do exist at the same time, but they're surprisingly uncommon when considering how much they are part of the stereotype of the entire century! Contrasting petticoats cannot be seen when worn under a round gown; quilted, and therefore not matching, petticoats are most commonly seen under open gowns. Stomachers across the board tend to be either depicted as a shade of white or completely hidden under the neck handkerchief; in many of the cases of apparently hidden stomachers, they may not have even been worn, the handkerchief or tippet being directly on top of the stays.

Detail of "Mrs. Wardle", Thomas Frye, 1742; Yale Center for British Art YSBA/lido-TMS-1243
In the 1740s, though, the round gown subsides to be on par with and then overtaken by the ordinary open mantua, and petticoat choice is important again. At this point, contrast - sometimes through quilted petticoats, sometimes not - is fashionable, although the stomacher still is white or hidden (or non-existent). By the 1750s, the fully-matching suit which usually includes a visible, broad stomacher is in fashion, as discussed in the previous post.

"Samuel Richardson, the Novelist, Seated, Surrounded by his Second Family", Francis Lyman, 1740-41; TC 12221
Post-Stomacher Period

And now let us skip up to the late 1770s, when stomachers begin to fade out of use. This means that we've completely left the almost-nonexistence of the stomacher/petticoat pairing behind, and are only considering the commonness of the matched or unmatched gown and petticoat.

A great many extant ensembles, fashion plates, and portraits attest to the continuance of the matching ensemble; satirical prints, on the other hand, mainly show well-dressed prostitutes in unmatching gowns and petticoats. In fashion, the contrasting pieces show up first in the robes de fantaisie (turques, levites, polonaises, and so on) - enough out of the ordinary for women of means that the first one appearing in the (French) Galerie des Modes has to explain the vocabulary for the style: a coupé petticoat, "cut".

Over the course of the early 1780s, the coupé style goes from being almost entirely associated with robes de fantaisie (especially the levite) to being commonly shown with ordinary fitted gowns. I suspect that this might be due to the fashion of the period's fascination with idealized "country dress"; there might also be a parallel with men's dress, which was generally a bit less matchy throughout the century, and which was another influence on women's clothing at the time.

Woman in a blue redingote with white/pink petticoat, 1786; Cabinet des Modes, 19e Cahier. 1ere Figure (2)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Some (Unasked-For) Advice

So, there's a stylistic issue that's started to stand out to me in 18th century costuming. And you can feel free to disregard this post if you want to; I'm not the reenactment police.

The issue is: stomachers and petticoats that match each other while contrasting with the gown.

Outlander here serves as a great example, since so many 18th century films are either set in the 1780s or have anachronistic stomacher-less bodices in earlier decades. But others do it too!

The look of a stomacher that matches the petticoat seems to have been really attractive to people through the nineteenth century, and continues to be so up to today! For starters, this illustration dates to only a couple of generations after stomacher'd gowns were being regularly worn:

Image of marriage from The Stages of Man, ca. 1815; the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection
Many museums have dressed mannequins like this through the years, matching up a gown they own with a lone petticoat, then making a stomacher to match the petticoat - which unfortunately is taken by many as evidence of practice.

There are a few period images that show this kind of styling. For instance, Zoffany's 1769 portrait of the Bradshaw family (Tate Collection N06261) shows Elizabeth Wilson Bradshaw in a green gown with a dark pink quilted petticoat and light pink stomacher, sleeve ribbons, and neck frill. Susanna Gale was painted by Reynolds in a costume-looking pink gown with what seems to be a vertically-ruched white petticoat ca. 1763. There are also a few portraits by Francis Cotes, such as this portrait of an unknown lady in 1768:

Tate Collection N04689
This is very similar to the outfit in which Cotes had painted Princess Caroline in 1767, though that has a white petticoat, and in which an unknown artist painted a Mrs. Cadoux ca. 1770. (I think it's a possibility that this was a studio outfit and that the latter portrait is also by Cotes; obviously there would have to have been certain liberties taken, removing trim for the unknown lady and such, but it seems rather a strange coincidence to me that three portraits would happen to make use of such similar gowns in this very striking combination of pieces and colors that doesn't turn up that frequently otherwise. The princesses and Mrs. Cadoux have faces that look like they could have been done by the same person, don't you think?)

But apart from a handful of examples, the majority of French, British, and American artwork pre-late 1770s - from portraits to genre prints - shows women of any means matching their petticoats to their gowns (if not also the stomacher, but if there's contrast, that's where it is most of the time). It's a simple detail, but it makes a great deal of difference when someone looks at your reenactment kit or the costume you've designed. Or at least ... it's started to make a great deal of difference to me!

Mrs. Bowles and her Child, Thomas Hudson, ca. 1755; Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum 1956.96

Mrs. Matthew Michell and her children, Matthew and Anne, Thomas Hudson, 1757-58; LAMS L.F9.1938.0.0
(an example of the contrasting stomacher effect)

Mrs. Mary Martyn, Allan Ramsay, 1761; Birmingham Museums Trust 1957P27
Sacque, petticoat, and stomacher, ca. 1760; LACMA M.56.6a-b

Madame Sophie, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, ca. 1773; Rheims Museum of Fine Arts

Hannah Choate Lathrop, attr. John Durand, ca. 1775; Historic New England 1991.166.2

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Invention of the Fashion Label

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about re-evaluating the many claims made about Charles Frederick Worth's innovations in the couture industry. It included a paragraph on how there aren't any labels in dresses that predate Worth's career (or, technically, the existence of Worth & Bobergh, 1858-1871) and on the existence of labels in other items of clothing from the late 18th century, but ultimately didn't come to a conclusion on the matter. A recent discussion on a fashion history board brought the issue to mind again.

Lacking documentary evidence for sewing brand labels inside gowns - even Ingrid Mida says in The Dress Detective that Worth is only "said to have been the first", and The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet, and Pingat, which might be one of the best sources on late 19th century haute couture, says that "whether this house was the first dressmaking establishment to identify its creations is not known ..." - I thought to go looking into extant garments with labels. We have a fairly solid baseline to look earlier from, given that the labeled Pingat evening gown in the Albany Institute of History and Art was purchased on an 1867 trip to Paris.

The earliest I thought that I'd found was this wedding dress from the Chicago History Museum, dated to 1861. However, reading the description made it clear that there's no label inside - the gown is only attributed to Worth & Bobergh (perhaps because of family lore or historic correspondence). There is also a dress that appeared in the Worth and Mainbocher exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York which looks to date to the very early years of Worth & Bobergh (39.26a-b; it's placed at about 1896 in the timeline for some reason), but it likewise is not labeled, per correspondence with the museum. So, one moves on.

The earliest Worth & Bobergh piece with a label, according to museum dating, seems to be this gown with evening and day bodice from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Day and evening dress, Worth et Bobergh; MMA 2009.300.1372a–d
It is there dated to 1862-1865. However, with apologies to the team that catalogued the Brooklyn Museum collection, this just doesn't feel right to me. Sleeves this narrow came into fashion in late 1864; the skirt also seems to fit over the more elliptical hoop of the middle of the decade. I cannot find any fashion plates to compare the skirt trim to, but the overall size and direction of the ruffles is somewhat reminiscent of a style of overskirt fashionable in 1865. The evening bodice is also cut straight across at the waistline (and adorned with long, narrow tabs) rather than being pointed, which inclines the date to 1865.

Day and evening dress, Marguerite; MMA C.I.69.33.9a–e
This robe à transformation from a dressmaker known as Marguerite bears the hallmarks of the same time period, and I would be reluctant to say that either was definitely made before the other.

Evening dress, Pingat et cie; MMA C.I.69.33.12a–c
This evening dress by Pingat & Co. is also likely from 1864-1865. These seem to be the last years in which an evening waist with a pointed lower edge was worn (for a while), and we also start to see long vertical skirt trims in 1864 turning up more frequently in early-to-mid 1865.

One last example dated early:

Evening dress, Pingat et cie; MMA C.I.69.33.1a-b
This Pingat gown is a little tricky to date. The label reads "Pingat & Cie", which puts it after 1863 or 1864 and, since labels from the late 1860s and beyond usually just have "Pingat", probably before 1867 or so. With the elliptical skirt and peplum/overskirt emphasizing the back, it appears to be from the very late 1860s or early 1870s, and the pointed waistline is an infrequent but actual design element in the early 1870s. However, the pointed waistline is also a design element very common to the early 1860s, as described above. The museum dates it to ca. 1860, but the skirt simply seems too long in the back to be worn over a round hoop; The Opulent Era dates it to 1864, but also dresses the skirt over more fluff, and it really looks ca. 1872 there. So I'm not sure what to make of this one, but I think it does not represent the earliest known labeled gown.

Anyway, what's the verdict? To me, lacking the smoking gun of a noticeably early labeled gown or a document of the period mentioning the labels, it seems very uncertain that Worth was necessarily the first to use a dress label - or at least, if he was, it was not the case that he was the only one doing it for very long. Perhaps it's time to insert some doubt into the usually definite statement that the House of Worth invented the fashion label.