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.
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.