Thursday, December 1, 2011

Recycling a Silk Gown, from 1740 to 1840

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Susan reporting:

Recycling is a hot trend in fashion right now, and we're all urged to make-over and make-do for the sake of the planet and our wallets. It's hardly a new idea, of course. Stylish (and thrifty) folk of the past were as conscious of changing trends as we are today, and they often took older clothes to their mantua-makers and tailors to follow the latest looks from London and Paris.

But sometimes the remodeling created an entirely new garment. In a time when the largest cost of clothing production was in the material, not the labor, older clothing was often picked apart so that the fabric could be reused. One of the reasons that banyans like this one are so rare today is that they contained considerable tempting yardage for re-cutting, and with their wide, pleated petticoats and bodices, 18th c. gowns often met the same fate.

The Victorian ballgown, above left, was made around 1840. While the sloping shoulders, v-shaped bodice, and bell-shaped skirt are all in the latest fashion, the over-sized floral pattern of the silk damask and its brilliant red were popular a hundred years before (as in these silk designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite.)

Most likely the Victorian gown began its life as a Georgian gown like this one, lower right. No one now knows if the older gown's silk was reused a hundred years later because the wearer was economizing, or if the damask was a sentimental choice from a treasured family gown, or simply a color she liked. Whatever the reason, the results are beautiful.

Above: Dress (Ball Gown), British, c. 1842. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009.
Below: Gown, British, c. 1740s, Costume Collection, Leeds Museum.

13 comments:

Julianne Donaldson said...

Great illustration of the recycling practice! Thanks for posting this.

Ana said...

I love stumbling onto a recycled gown, but it always leaves me wondering, wanting to know how the original one looked.

MrsC said...

Tht's impressive, given the state silk gowns from 1911 can be in these days, too fragile to wear let alone consider remodelling. But then I have seen and handled a silk dress over 150 years old that was still in great condition! Is it possible that it just happens to be a traditional jacquard print still in production 100 years on? But the idea of it being a true remake is so delicious!!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about recycled gowns - part of me thinks they're ingenious, a great use of the fabric, but I also lament the lost original gown. I guess I feel better when the new gown is "real" clothing - so many 18th c clothes were destroyed when they were used for later Victorian fancy-dress-up costumes. THAT definitely makes me sad.

Over at one of my fav historic sewing blogs, At the Sign of the Golden Scissors, Hallie Larkin just wrote an excellent post about an 18th c gown that was updated, likely by the original owner: http://thegoldenscissors.blogspot.com/2011/11/remodel-take-two.html

MrsC, the recycled gown comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if their curators say it's made from 18th c silk damask, then I believe them. :) And yes, it's amazing that the fabric was sturdy enough to be remade & reworn, esp. considering it wouldn't have had the benefit of any high-tech textile conservation.

Hallie Larkin said...

It often absolutely amazes me how crisp and strong so many 18th century silk fabrics remain to this day, which has to be a result of the original processing/dyeing of the silk itself. This is a wonderful example of a gown that was remade to be worn to a ball, and not hacked up into a pseudo "colonial" costume!.

Jenny Girl said...

I love both of these gowns! The color is the big reason, but I like both styles as well. Just beautiful :)

Susan Bailey said...

I love the second gown, it's softer in the lines and so elegant. I remember reading about recycling gowns in An Old-Fashioned Girl by LM Alcott - Polly helped Fanny recycle a dress because Fan's family had lost all their money and she couldn't buy anything new.

Isobel Carr said...

Over at The Sign of the Golden Scissors they’ve been highlighting remodeling gowns for the past week. It’s fascinating stuff. I think one of the reasons we have so many gowns from the 1780s is that the fabric wasn’t suitable for the fashions of the Regency/Empire era and they got packed away and forgotten. Lucky for us!

http://thegoldenscissors.blogspot.com/

gio said...

Both gowns are absolutely gorgeous! I like the idea of recycling gowns, but it's a shame the originals are lost to us forever. Would have been fascinating to see what they looked like.

Debra Brown said...

I love the v-shaped waistline, off the shoulder and billowing sleeves of 1840. But the sleeves of the older gown you have pictured are amazing! How do we get current designers to bring this old stuff back in? :)

Maggi Andersen said...

Beautiful. Such great workmanship and material went into them.

Cozy in Texas said...

Interesting post. I often wonder how they cleaned these dresses. They were so bulky.
Ann

Julia said...

What a wonderful post in a promising blog! I'm so glad I stumbled over this.

I love old dresses, and history, and recycling, and creativity, so of course this is a post that just grabs me. What beautiful images! Dreamy. And the story about the remade dresses to me just proves that recycling is little else but common sense. I'm tempted to go soap-box about it, but I'll just cruise your blog instead. Thanks for this!

 
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