This one, which was made at the Colonial Williamsburg Milliner’s Shop, is a copy of a dress worn to a congressional party about 1813-1817 by a Virginia congressman’s wife. Since I often need to dress and undress my heroines, the clothing fastenings are endlessly fascinating to me. The back fastenings are tapes as well as metal hooks which hook onto threaded loops.
Making the red cotton dress, we were told, took 10-12 hours. The white cotton embroidery took 13 weeks. One interesting thing we learned was that fancy embroidery work was often done by the customer, rather than the milliner. Embroidery, after all, was an occupation for ladies. Furthermore, it would add considerably to the expense of the dress.
I believe this would be the case for gentlewomen in England as well, but it would depend on their rank and wealth. While Jane Austen and her relatives might embroider their own dresses, I strongly doubt that stupendously wealthy aristocratic women in London would. Would it be work for one or more of their maids? Maybe. I’m not sure. Even the wealthiest Americans did not, so far as I can determine, begin to approach the income levels of England’s noblemen until the time of the robber barons, later in the 19th C. For many aristocratic ladies in early 19th C England, money was no object, and I can easily imagine the embroidery being left to the modiste and her assistants.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.