One of the most interesting things about studying historic dress is realizing how, in fashion, there's really nothing new under the sun. If you're currently reading the spring fashion magazines or catalogues (because no matter how much snow there is on my driveway right now, spring will eventually come), you will have doubtless seen that this summer is going to be a season of skirts with gathers and poufs and little pleats ("geometry" and "origami pleating" seem to be big buzz words), all shown to best advantage in fabric that's striped or plaid. Here's one example, and another.
Very trendy, very 2010. But also very 1775.
Here Janea Whitacre, master mantua-maker of Colonial Williamsburg, models a replica gown that's the height of English and French style, and yet could be the inspiration for this
summer's most fashionable skirts. Pastel plaid silk displays the intricate pleating of the border trim and the cuffs as well as the flowing pleats down the back that are the mark of the inelegantly named but very graceful sack gown. The skirts of the gown are gathered up with ribbon bows in a style called polonaise. The gown is worn over a green glazed petticoat, quilted in a diagonal pattern (more geometry) that plays against the gathered folds of the gown.
Eighteenth century ladies understood the importance of accessorizing just as modern fashionistas do today. The silk flowers pinned to the front of Janea's bodice soften the sharp edges of the plaid, as does the sheer lawn used for her cap and for the ruffles at her cuffs. The final touch comes from the red buckled shoe, because every outfit is always improved with red shoes, no matter what the time period.
I'm ready for spring!