Friday, March 19, 2010

Williamsburg Gowns: The Reverse View

Friday, March 19, 2010














































Susan reports:

I love the backs of 18th c. gowns. The drapery, the pleats, the tapered, tailored waists above extravagant poufs of gleaming silk: can there be any more graceful or figure-flattering style? Seeing these gowns on the ladies of Colonial Williamsburg shows how just as much care was lavished on the back of gown as on the front – a viewpoint not often seen in portraits or fashion plates of the time. Also interesting, too, is how clearly the stiff, conical shape of a lady's stays shows through the bodice of the gowns.

The orange and green gown, lower left, is a mantua in the style of the late 17th-early 18th c., while the other three are all fashionable for the 1770s. The two gowns to the right have their skirts caught up with buttoned loops a la Polonaise.

The grey silk sack gown with the flowing pleats, upper left, is now often called a Watteau gown, because of being so frequently painted by the French painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The CW lady, standing here in the milliner's shop, does remind me very much of another lady shopping in Watteau's painting, lower right, of the gallery of the Parisian art dealer Gersaint. (Here's a link, since blogger is being testy, and refusing to enlarge the picture today. )Even off in the provincial backwater/tidewater of 18th c. Virginia, Paris set the fashion.

14 comments:

ILoveVersailles said...

Just beautiful, especially the blue-grey silk.

nightsmusic said...

That sage gown on the lower left is just gorgeous! I'm so envious of the women who get to wear those on a daily basis for a job of all things! The woman in the linked picture who is 'lounging' against the counter is also in a beautiful dress. I'd have loved to see that pastel stripe silk in person.

ChristyEnglish said...

These are all beautiful. The Watteau gown is my favorite...does that mean I have fancy tastes? :)

Victoria said...

Beautiful! Looking at lovely dresses is such a nice way to start the day!

Rowenna said...

When I make my gowns for living history stuff, draping the back is always my favorite part--even plain linen gowns look special with a polonaise :) Add silk like these gowns and it's breathtaking!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I love these gowns (in case you haven't guessed.) Glad that everyone else does, too. But then how can you go wrong with masses of silk?

Theo, I have always loved that striped gown in the Watteau painting. No one painted the shimmer of light on silk quite like Watteau -- no wonder he gets his name linked to the style.

Rowenna, draping the back always improves a gown. (I love the red gown on your own blog!) I know that, in most cases, the skirts could be worn down as well, but who would ever want to do that?

Penny said...

Thank you for these lovely pictures. They remind me of my visit to Colonial Williamsburg last summer. Pure magic!

Le Loup said...

Note the young chap to the left, he is wearing a short weskit, too short for the period. Any ideas why? Could it be a weskit meant for a shorter person perhaps, but if so why is it shown in this painting? Why not just dress him in period? Or was this common at the time, hand-me-downs or second hand clothing use?
Regards, Le Loup.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

You are observant, Le Loup! Let me try to muster all my old art history chops to answer...

This painting is not so much an actual representation of M. Gersaint's shop, as it is an escapist ideal of the beauty to be found in fine art, and the exclusive affluence of those who buy and appreciate it. Step inside the shop, as the lady in pink is doing, and everything is elegantly beautiful, from the Old Master paintings in gold frames to the expensively dressed patrons.

Beyond that step, however, is the street and seedy, everyday Paris, represented by the mongrel dog to the right and the idler that you noticed on the left.

Instead of the fashionable dress of the gentlemen in the shop, this man is wearing clothes that are shabby and too small. Not only is his waistcoat too short (as you noticed), but his coat looks like a hand-me-down, too, and the knees of his breeches are worn. He's dressed in plain, drab fabrics as opposed to all the shimmering silk of the ladies and gentlemen. He wears his hat pushed back on his head instead of gracefully tucked beneath his arm, and --horrors! -- his own cropped hair instead of a wig.

He is definitely outside the shop, and the magical world of art appreciation that's within it -- an outsider in every sense. :)

Le Loup said...

Swot I thought. Which is interesting, because it means that if you are in say 1720, you can still wear your 1760s weskit providing you are emulating a commoner.
Regards.

LaDonna said...

So refreshing to see Georgian gowns like these on live models. Thank you for sharing your images!

Margaret Evans Porter said...

Very very happy to see a late 17th/early 18th C gown among this lovely group.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Margaret, there's a story there. The CW mantua makers are supposed to wear only clothes historically correct for the 1770s, but on their own time they try their hands at making clothes for other eras as well. I had seen this mantua in pieces, and when it was done I begged to see it on. There's so much draping and pinning to a mantua that it doesn't look like much on the counter. During a slow, rainy afternoon, the mantua's owner and maker, Doris Warren, obliged me by putting it on, though she had to make sure she didn't turn up in any tourist pictures.

The back of the mantua has a long train that's folded and tucked up to create the folds and volume. Like origami in silk.

sinnlighet said...

Your blog ..... it's amazing and soooo inspiring. Nice to find you!

A small footprint from Agneta & Sweden

Ps. I have an ongoing jewelry contest on my blog. Welcome! Ds

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