As promised! Here is the completed 1770s style ball gown for Charlotte Murray, Countess of Dunmore, made by the mantua makers of Colonial Williamsburg: Janea Whitacre, Doris Warren, and Sarah Woodyard, who is wearing the gown above. Many thanks to them for letting me watch their creation.
A few facts:
• Nearly nine yards of 54" wide silk was used for the gown. Eighteenth century silk would have been woven at about half that width, meaning that a comparable gown made in the 1770s would have used about seventeen yards of fabric. In London, this silk brocade would have cost about five shillings a yard.
• About eight yards of plain, pale yellow silk were used to line the gown; the pleated back of the gown was left unlined to give it a more airy feel.
• Approximately forty yards of lace was used to trim the gown, at an 18th c. cost of about two shillings a yard.
• Approximately eighteen yards of narrow gold braid was also used in the trimming. In the 18th c., this braid would have been made of metallic thread, at a cost of about five pounds sterling.
• With labor, the total cost of this gown in London in the 1770s would have been around twenty-five pounds sterling. This would have been a very costly gown, the equivalent to a designer couture dress today. To put this into perspective, the pink silk gown in the case behind Sarah would have cost about seven pounds sterling.
• Or, to make an even more sobering comparison: the narrow lace trim on this gown cost about two shillings a yard, while the wages for a common seamstress (who might well have been hired to stitch that edging into place) would have been one and a half-shillings for a twelve-hour workday, from seven a.m to seven p.m.
This particular ball gown has yet to have its "official" first wearing. Instead it was used this weekend as a prop in a performance of Lady Dunmore Prepares for the Ball (right), featuring visiting artist in residence Mamie Gummer.
Just for fun, I've attached a short video clip from my iPod, below, with Ms. Gummer as Lady Dunmore, arriving at the Governor's Palace in her carriage. Her footmen and driver are wearing the Dunmore livery, powder blue with silver lace; following her carriage are two gentlemen attendants on horseback, and behind them, two modern security officers on bicycles.
These days even a countess can't be too careful....*g*