Thursday, April 16, 2015

Modern Style: Simplicity 3673

Modern Style is the title I gave to my Pinterest board intended to help me build up my wardrobe, which is kind of funny as most of the patterns are either vintage reprints or designed in a retro look. But the board is for everyday 21st century life, so.

I started the board and the plan to revamp my dress in a retro style at a time when I thought I was going to have the perfect job for my skills and interests, and when that fell through I dropped the revamping. My part-time job didn't pay enough, and anyway you don't care too much about looking nice when you're icing cakes and bagging bread as quickly as possible - skirts, tights, and decent shoes are not what you want to wear in that situation. I did most of Simplicity 3673 while waiting to hear back on the job: I found out that I didn't get it before hemming it or putting in the zipper, so ... that's how it stayed for over a month. It wasn't until I got settled in and set up my sewing area and then worked for a couple of weeks so that I was a bit tired of the pieces I've been wearing for years that I went back to it.

Now that's a Photoshopped waist
I picked up the pattern in Joanns during one of those sales and went, "Ha, they're really trying to get the Mad Men fans with this one" - and then took it, because a high waistline is flattering for me. The dress is also plain enough that I was able to see myself both sewing and wearing it, even though this was before my realization that I wanted a vintage-inspired work wardrobe.

Here's my version, bathroom-style:

A friend on Facebook remarked that I looked like Belle, which I think is awesome
The fabric is a vintage wool suiting I picked up in the local sewing shop, lined in the bodice with light blue cotton lawn. The selvage is woven with "100% WOOL MADE IN ENGLAND" in yellow, which you only see inside the kick pleat.

The only changes I made were to change the gathering under the bust to pleats, since the wool is pretty heavy. For fit, I left the darts alone and took it in at the side seams of the skirt just a bit. I always cut out a 14 despite being between 16 and 18 by pattern company standards, which generally takes care of the ease issues.

The original pattern, ca. 1960, from PatternGate
Back when I was planning to overhaul my look, I decided that I needed proper underclothing to get a really authentic appearance. And while I often fail, I always want to get the most authentic appearance. So I bought a Rago girdle (I haaaaate the word girdle) from Secrets in Lace and two pairs of stockings, the Jana in grey and the Dana in black. It's all been sitting in the dresser because it's been too cold for sheer stockings and I found out the hard way that you don't want to wear tights over boned shapewear, but when I was fitting this dress, I made it to go over the Rago, and it doesn't look well at all without it. Not to sound too impressed with myself, but it does look pretty good with it, yeah?

(It lowers my waist to a borderline normal level, which I find really wonderful.)

I wore it with the Dana stockings, which are unshaped and pretty stretchy. Not as authentic as the shaped ones, but those are really baggy around my ankles. Even I must make allowances for looks over authenticity sometimes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

War & Peace; or, What Happened During the Napoleonic Wars? (HSM #4)

The idea that English and French dress diverged because communications were disturbed due to the conflict between the two countries is very common. In actual fact, the fashion of this period did see lines drawn along national lines, but not out of necessity. Let's start at the beginning.

Was there a distinct difference between English and French fashions during the period of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)? A qualified yes.

That there was a difference in women's styles is fairly apparent with a close look, whether it's through fashion plates:

the French Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1807; the English La Belle Assemblée, 1807
or portraiture:

"Félicité-Louise-Julie-Constance de Durfort", 1808; "Princess Amelia", ca. 1807
or extant garments.

Evening dress, French, ca. 1805; wedding dress, English, ca. 1807
French (and American) fashion left the purely Neoclassical influence behind in the first few years of the new century. The train was dropped in morning dress, then in evening dress; full sleeves became common from 1804; slightly shorter skirts were cut to gather at the center of the back and stand away from the body at the ankle. More strictly-regimented curls imitated Renaissance and Baroque styles, not to mention Chinese ones.


Meanwhile, English art and extant pieces show that the Greek sensibility persisted for some time, with fitted sleeves and long skirts. The train persisted in full and half dress until about 1814, but its impracticality made it disappear from ordinary dress around the same time that it did everywhere else. The trained skirts were often gored, but overall the desired silhouette in England had a narrow, clinging skirt with little or no flare at the hem: the morning dress shown in Patterns of Fashion I is a good example, with the center back closure that indicates its making in 1804 or later, but a straight-cut skirt with the fullness evenly distributed around it. Another, later evening dress in The Cut of Women's Clothes has only the slightest amount of shaping in the skirt, although the gathering is concentrated in the back panels. By 1812-1813, though, the two different traditions had mostly merged, or rather - English fashion plates, portraits, and actual dress bowed to pressure and began to conform to the styles that French and American women had been wearing, despite the continuing hostilities.

This difference was not due to disturbed communications. Throughout the period of the wars, the British fashion press was well able to get hold of copies of French magazines like the Journal des Dames et des Modes. French plates would be reproduced, sometimes as "Parisian Evening Dress", "Parisian Walking Dress", etc., and while some were reprinted in Britain almost a year later, others were shown just months after having been first printed in Paris.

Cashmere evening dress, JDM, 1809; "evening shawl dress", LBA, 1810
(You can generally tell when an English plate is a copy by the poses, if you don't know the original. The artists for Journal des Dames et des Modes made frequent use of croquis to allow the figure to be more easily drawn beneath the gown, and the poses are not ones that appear in the English magazines otherwise.)

The difference was also limited. While the anti-French-fashion rhetoric detailed in The Failed Blockade: Sartorial Interchange during the Napoleonic Wars was very likely exaggerated in its outrage, it was also likely inspired by actual importation of fuller sleeves, shorter skirts, and Renaissance-inspired elements into Englishwomen's dress. Both La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann's Repository were in agreement on the matter, as were portraits of wealthy and influential women - retaining the styles internationally popular before war broke out was not only acceptable but preferable - but the actual fashion texts referenced France repeatedly (even in the title of La Belle Assemblée!) because that country was still seen as the home of fashion. Patriotism could be a persuasive force, but it couldn't completely overwhelm decades of tradition that France was to be looked to for fashion leadership.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 5e Figure

Boston MFA 44.1530
Coiffure called "à la Lévite": the front frizzed, with rolled curls all around and four baton-curls behind; loose curls on the side. (1781)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 4e Figure

Boston MFA 44.1529
Coiffure in a straight toque, a Coque protruding over the forehead; four rolled curls forming a crest on the toque and three rolled curls on each side, going straight from under the ear, continuing in the same way to behind the toque; loose chignon tied only in the middle; two curls hanging in back. (1781)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 3e Figure

Boston MFA 44.1528
Coiffure called à la Princesse: a low toque in front, the Coque a little protruding, a frizzed area raised over the whole, edged with a row of little curls in hair roses, separated from the toque by a ribbon bandeau. Three curls on the sides, two hanging baton curls at the height of the loose Chignon. A gauze Pouf artistically placed at the top of the head; a panache on the left side of the front, composed of two aigrette plumes, a Heron feather, and a very supple one called a Follette, because it plays with grace. If you want, flowers may be added to this Coiffure, as shown here. (1781)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Nightgown (and the Negligee) (HSM #3)

(My version of "stashbusting" - the Historical Sew Monthly challenge for March - means finishing a post that had been languishing in my drafts for some time.)

The term "nightgown"/"night gown", as used in the 18th century, is somewhat confusing. J. P. Ryan defines an English nightgown as synonymous to robe à l'anglaise, a fitted gown. The Dictionary of Fashion History defines it as "an unboned, loose dress worn for comfort and usually informally." These definitions are polar opposites!

The latter appears to be drawn from period dictionaries, which refer to a man's garment and/or an older usage, based on the examples they use. In reference to women's daily dress rather than nightclothes, the term appears as early as the 17th century:

From the Trial of Ford Lord Grey of Werk, et al. 1682, published 1712.
"Woman of quality, in summer dress", Nicolas Arnoult, 1687; LACMA M.2002.57.67
At this point, women's gowns were divided into two types: the older and more formal gown with a boned bodice that laced in the back, worn with a separate but matching petticoat, and the mantua, a bodice with attached skirt worn over a matching or contrasting petticoat. The mantua was derived from a loose and extremely informal garment, essentially a dressing gown, which is likely where the connection came in. (Although "nightgown" was still used for a woman's wrapper worn over a shift even well into the 18th century.)

The History of Tom Jones, Henry Fielding, 1745
But then the question was - is every mantua/fitted gown/robe à l'anglaise a nightgown, or are there more criteria? Sometimes (well, for the most part) it seems like "nightgown" = "gown" in opposition to sacks/sacques/robes à la française. This led me to some other situations in which the terminology became interestingly muddled.

For example, Barbara Johnson's album of fabrics contains notes on what the fabric was used for, and she refers to long and short sacks, gowns, night gowns, and negligees. Fabric widths varied then as now, but it seems in the 1750s and 1760s that a nightgown took the least amount of fabric (without petticoat: 7 yards of ell-wide silk, 8 or 9 yards of three-quarter width silk, or 12-14.5 yards of half-ell silk), while both short* and long sacks took more (14 yards, unknown width - the notes for sacks do not usually include length or width), as did negligees (with petticoat: 16 yards of ell-wide silk, 18 yards of three-quarter width silk, or 22-25 yards of half-ell silk; based on extant garments, about 6 yards of a half-ell wide fabric would do for a petticoat, meaning that the negligee itself took about 17 yards).

* Pets en l'air

list of accounts from 1765 listed a dressmaker as making "a blue satin negligee and [petti]coat" for 7 shillings/sixpence, a "black stuff gown and stomacher" for 2/-, "a blue and white striped nightgown and stomacher" for 3/-, and "a bombazeen full trimmed sack and coat" for 16/-. A later list from a milliner shows the making of a white lustring sack with "pinkt" trim and of a pink sack trimmed with silver, each costing 15/-, while she charged 3/- for the making of a green lustring nightgown. Another lists a nightgown at 2/6 and a sack and petticoat at 14/-; another a negligee and flounced petticoat at 8/-, and a stuff gown and stomacher, cotton sack, and linen sack all at 3/-, and a checked sack at 2/-. So in these accounts, a nightgown runs from two to three shillings, sacks from two or three shillings to fourteen or sixteen shillings, and negligees with petticoats seven to eight shillings.

This all brings up a couple of different questions to me.

What is a negligee, then?

There are some references in which a negligee is worn after rising, where it's clearly something to throw on. Then others where it's considered "undress".* But then there are others where women are traveling in a negligee, getting married in a negligee, looking at a half-negligee, describing a trained negligeewalking outside in a negligee, sitting out a ball in a negligee. They were usually made of very fine fabrics.
From the Trial of Frederick Calvert, Esq. for the rape of Sarah Woodcock, 1768
From the comparison of yardage (ellage?) for various types of gowns above, it seems most likely that a negligee is a sack. It takes far too much fabric to be a type of nightgown, even allowing for a self-fabric trim. It also seems most likely from the references in Barbara Johnson's album and in the accounts that negligees are generally made with matching petticoats - flounced, much of the time, if not most. Perhaps the dressmaker in the above quote could not make a negligee in one day because they had a great deal of self-fabric trim.

* From a modern perspective, "undress" is a fairly extreme word, but in the 18th century it means simply "not in formal dress". And formality at this point depended on several different factors:
Account of a Russian Christening, Wedding, and Funeral, Gentleman's Intelligencer, 1775
A nightgown was not full dress, no matter what it was made of.

Why are sacks so expensive? (And why are they sometimes not?)

At this time, the customer would purchase her own fabric from a draper or mercer and take the cloth to the mantua maker or milliner to be made up into clothing. The material's cost should not be relevant to the price of the labor.
"The Benevolent Society", London Magazine, 1771
nb - it was common to refer to the amount of fabric needed for
a garment as "a [garment]" prior to its making-up
The first possibility that opens up is that sacks were much more difficult to make than nightgowns. The first historical sewing I ever did on my own was a française out of Janet Arnold, as a senior in college. It was much easier than the subsequent fitted gowns I made with more experience and skills, but then, it may have been terrible. Still, I don't think this interpretation works. A sack gown requires much less fitting than a nightgown - the silk can be cut to a very rough geometric shape and be pleated into place.

The second possibility is a vicious cycle. If rich women buy sacks, they can afford to be charged more. If sacks cost more, then they are a status symbol even beyond the obvious (that they take more fabric, and that they're impractical for housework). They would be an advertisement that the wearer had the money to buy a high-status gown, bearing in mind that at this point the nightgown was not high fashion, even if it were made in lustring or muslin. This is similar to what I found while researching the polonaise some time ago - "poloneses" could cost 12/-, close to the price of a sack, despite requiring less fitting and fewer seams than a gown. The price reflects social value rather than a strict hourly rate.

This has an implication for the negligee. If the negligee is a robe à la française, and the sack is also a robe à la française, why does the sack nearly always cost more than the negligee? My interpretation is that "sack" is a basic description of the form of the garment (pleated back), but the negligee specifically is relatively informal. And most of the time a sack was understood as the formal version, so that writers could refer to "sacks and negligees".

"Mary, Lady Cunliffe", Francis Cotes, 1768; National Museums Liverpool WAG 1514
Lady Cunliffe is probably wearing a negligee and matching petticoat. It's obviously an expensive outfit, made of silk, heavily decorated with self-fabric trim - but it's not the most formal (hence "undress"), with no lace nor metallic braid, equivalent to a man's everyday suit in one or two colors. Appropriate for a wedding in a time when women did not usually have a specific wedding dress, but also appropriate for a quiet morning. This brings the earlier reference of a negligee at a ball into context - the negligee-wearing former "toad-eater", who was dismissed from employment because she imitated her mistress too well, is noted as cooling her heels at a racetrack ball where the rest of the company was as "well-dressed ... as the most brilliant company in London": this is supposed to be a woman who's dressed beyond her station, but not as well as she should be in order to fit with this grand company.

You forgot about the cheap sacks, didn't you?

I didn't! I just had to ignore them for a bit.

The cheap sacks were only in one account: they were a flowered cotton sack, a flowered linen sack, and a checked sack, for 3/-, 3/-, and 2/-, the same amounts that it cost to make a nightgown.
Henrietta, by Charlotte Lennox, 1761
I've been under the impression for some time now that the concept of "morning dress" was a nineteenth century invention, but I no longer believe that to be the case. It seems fairly clear that for men, morning dress consisted of a wrapping gown, soft cap, and slippers, but women's was not usually described except as "loose". A sack with lacing or ties in the back could be worn just after rising, without stays, as well as later in the day, but perhaps a less affluent woman would want a untrimmed version in a cheaper fabric - and perhaps only a less affluent woman would want this, making a higher price point for such a sack impractical. Barbara Johnson owned only one (flowered) linen sack, but numerous silk ones, as well as her wool ones for mourning.

Any other conclusions?

I was hoping to support the idea that a negligees specifically had an adjustable lining, but from a statistical analysis of available française patterns - Arnold, Waugh, Baumgarten, and my own - there is not a strong correlation between unfitted (laced or tied) linings and informality in fabric or trim. However, this could also be a reflection of the small number of sacks which have been patterned compared to the number of extant ones, or choices made by the patterners, and I would note that there is a correlation between more formally trimmed sacks and fitted linings. (But there are more sacks with fitted linings in this small sample, period.)

In Barbara Johnson's album, there are a number of samples from negligees and sacks: six sacks (plus four short sacks) and fourteen negligees. The long and short sacks range from flowered linen and chintz to plain wool or silk to damasks and brocades; there are three brocaded negligees, one dotted lustring, one taffeta with a fly fringe, and nine are plain-woven and unfringed. Again, there is no clear conclusion, but if Barbara Johnson is a representative woman of her time it seems likely that negligees were usually made from plain-woven silk, whether solid-colored or striped.

Taken all together, this adds some more nuance to the picture of fashion (English fashion, at least) during the eighteenth century. It introduces a new level in the scale of dress formality, a high-end casual fashion highly linked to domestic settings but also appropriate for public situations. And it makes a few more references in novels and newspapers clear!