One type, certainly the most common of the two, is undeniably early in the period. The ones on p.42-45 (dress 1) and p. 46-49 (dress 2) of Regency Women's Dress are excellent examples, as is the famous one on p. 48-49 (dress 3) of Patterns of Fashion I. These three share some characteristics that pin them to the early years, roughly contemporary with the gowns that fasten on drawstrings in the front. For example, they all have very narrow, trapezoidal center back pieces, with the rest of the bodice functioning as front and sides, just as in 18th century dress construction. Dresses 2 and 3 both have short over sleeves, with the cotton cut on the bias and the lining on grain, and detachable undersleeves. Dresses 1 and 3 have sizable trains, while 2 and 3 are both cut without any flare in the skirt. 1 and 3 also have the bibs cut on the bias. All are made of printed cotton, 1 and 2 in a dense, early period print, and all have the skirt gathering concentrated in the center back.
|Bib-front gown, ca. 1800?; MMA 2009.300.2314 (OASC)|
But then there's another style of bib-front gown, sometimes varied with a crossover neckline. It's not really as common as the early-period version, when it comes to extants, but is more frequently recreated.
How does it differ from the others? For one thing, the back - it's much wider, the side back seams sometimes coming almost to the sides. The waistline is also sometimes ever-so-slightly lower , and the skirt, instead of being gathered at the center back, is more loosely gathered or regularly knife-pleated all the way across from side to side.
|Dress owned by Ann Pidsley Deane ca. 1812; National Museum of Australia|
The movement of the side-back seams is in line with changes in fashion around the beginning of the literal Regency (though generally more exaggerated), and gathering across the entire back is also seen at that time, which gives us a rationale for dating these gowns later than the first category. However, the slightly lowered waist - at the level of the bottom of the modern bra - is more of a holdover from earlier years, and knife pleats all across the back are rare outside of this category.
These unfashionable aspects remind me to an extent of several gowns with apron-front skirts (the bodices closing edge to edge in front) and known Quaker provenance. Here is one from the Missouri Historical Association; this is another at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and there is a third (are you surprised?) in Regency Women's Dress on p.66-69. These all have raised-but-not-high waistlines, front closures, and very even knife pleats across the back. They also have long sleeves, which is another key point that all or most of the second type of bib-front seem to have in common.
|Quaker day dress, early 19th century, from the Shallcross family; Boston Museum of Fine Arts 52.1769|