Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another Recycled Gown, from 1770 to 1827

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

As we reported here last week, we Nerdy History Girls are now on Pinterest. I suspected it would be fun, and to my image-magpie-brain, it is. But I've been surprised by how the process of collecting things to pin has led me down all sorts of fresh and fascinating internet rabbit-holes. Among my discoveries has been this dress, left (which is pinned on our Stripes! board).

It's a charming evening gown, made in England c 1827-29. Thanks to Loretta, we've seen this romantic style before, with the balloon-shaped sleeves, sloping shoulders, and raised waistline. But what fascinated me is that it's another example of a "recycled" gown, made over and refashioned from an earlier garment, much like this one here.

The fabric is a striped silk tobine, a kind of taffeta dating from the 1770s. After a long period – nearly forty years, an eternity in fashion! - of soft muslins and pale monochromes, the new styles for the late 1820s had swung back to the light, crisp silks that could hold the shapes of burgeoning sleeves and skirts, and float gracefully away from the body. Old gowns that had been put aside from grandmother's day were retrieved, and carefully picked apart, recut, and sewn into the new styles.

It's impossible now to know exactly what the earlier 18th c gown looked like, though the robes a la Francaise, right, are likely a good guess. Even though the full pleats of the sacque backs would have offered plenty of yardage, the 19th c seamstress had to be inventive to create an entirely different silhouette. She made skillful use of the fabric by cutting the bodice, sleeves, and scalloped trim on the bias (diagonal), neatly matching her stripes into symmetry, and she introduced a solid, darker shade of silk as a dramatic accent, too.

But the placement of that scallop trim strikes me as a bit odd, dividing the skirt awkwardly in two around the knees. Did the seamstress make that choice because it pleased her or her customer, or did she run short of her recycled fabric, with too little remaining yardage to run the scallops more conventionally around the hem of the skirt?

Above left: Evening gown, Britain, 1827-1829 (made), c 1770-1780 (weaving). Woven silk tobine, trimmed with silk satin, lined with cotton. Victoria & Albert Museum.
Below right: Robes a la Francaise, France, c 1750-75, silk. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

4 comments:

Sarah said...

although the stripes appear to continue down unabated that's no big deal to a decent seamstress, my guess is that the fabric of the skirt was worn at knee level and was either cut and joined or possibly just reinforced and covered by the trim. It's about the place strain would be put on a sitting figure and silk is so prone to damage.

Anonymous said...

I found a dress of 1817 with flatter longer points around the knees that I hpe to some what copy . The material I have has a fring but isn't wide enough to go from hem to waist line. A fringe at knee level looks better than just a seam joining two pieces of material. We do not know exactly what style dress the material came from nor where the dress might have been damaged or shown signs of strain. Still, I would think that the older dresses would have enough fabric for 2 of the later fashions.;p
Another great blog.

Isobel Carr said...

This is one of the gowns featured in Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston. I’ve always loved it, just because it’s so unexpected.

MrsC said...

Deep hem decorations, such as van dyking and scallops, were de rigeur in the late 1820's, so it looks right to my eye to see that scalloping there. Generally one would expect more stuff going on below that point, and maybe the lack of it is there not being enough fabric left over?

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