Throughout history, some things never change. No matter the time, place, or circumstance, most new babies are welcomed into the world with love and indulgence. While baby showers are a modern invention, women have always enjoyed preparing for their baby's arrival.
Mothers in the 18th c. were no different. Obviously babies were outfitted according to the family's means, with poorer mothers re-cutting and recycling worn garments for the newcomer. The basic baby wardrobe consisted of a clout or napkin (a diaper to us, and like all 18th c. clothing, these were kept in place with straight pins), a shirt, waistcoat, cap, and gown.
From there the industry and creativity of the mother, her friends, and sisters and the purse of the father were the only limits. Baby clothes could be exquisite examples of the most refined handwork, featuring fine linen, embroidery, and lace trimmings. For mothers whose tastes exceeded their needlework skills, milliners' shops supplied baby things as well.
Shown here is a selection of things for some special 18th c. baby, recreated by the mantua-makers from the Margaret Hunter Shop of Colonial Williamsburg. Above left is a small silk pillow, c. 1770, with the happy message spelled out in glass beads. This would have hung on the door as a birth announcement to the neighborhood.
The open-front christening gown, right, c. 1765, is made from heavy silk satin, lined with more silk. For everyday wear, gowns were more commonly made from linen or cotton. But for this indulged baby, a silk gown is only the beginning. The baby shoes are embroidered over a woven striped fabric (in the detail, left, the zigzag stitches can be seen between the stripes) with leather soles.
Belowright is an elegant hooded baby cape, cut in a similar style to capes worn by ladies. The peach-colored outer fabric is silk, while the lining is a soft, warm, brushed wool flannel.
Finishing off the fashionable baby ensemble would be these tiny fingerless mitts, below left. Again mimicking adult dress, the mitts are made from linen with a lace edging. Given how often babies put their hands in their mouths, I'm guessing that these often had a short life - but how stylish the baby must have looked for that first ten minutes!
And while all this silk and lace may seem impractical and formal for babies, it was comfortable ease compared with what was to come. Advertisement of the time show a ready market for tiny stays, or corsets, for both boys and girls, to begin to train the proper genteel posture. The age when these stays were first worn? Three months.
As always, please click on the photos for a larger version.
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.