As we reported here last week, we Nerdy History Girls are now on Pinterest. I suspected it would be fun, and to my image-magpie-brain, it is. But I've been surprised by how the process of collecting things to pin has led me down all sorts of fresh and fascinating internet rabbit-holes. Among my discoveries has been this dress, left (which is pinned on our Stripes! board).
It's a charming evening gown, made in England c 1827-29. Thanks to Loretta, we've seen this romantic style before, with the balloon-shaped sleeves, sloping shoulders, and raised waistline. But what fascinated me is that it's another example of a "recycled" gown, made over and refashioned from an earlier garment, much like this one here.
The fabric is a striped silk tobine, a kind of taffeta dating from the 1770s. After a long period – nearly forty years, an eternity in fashion! - of soft muslins and pale monochromes, the new styles for the late 1820s had swung back to the light, crisp silks that could hold the shapes of burgeoning sleeves and skirts, and float gracefully away from the body. Old gowns that had been put aside from grandmother's day were retrieved, and carefully picked apart, recut, and sewn into the new styles.
It's impossible now to know exactly what the earlier 18th c gown looked like, though the robes a la Francaise, right, are likely a good guess. Even though the full pleats of the sacque backs would have offered plenty of yardage, the 19th c seamstress had to be inventive to create an entirely different silhouette. She made skillful use of the fabric by cutting the bodice, sleeves, and scalloped trim on the bias (diagonal), neatly matching her stripes into symmetry, and she introduced a solid, darker shade of silk as a dramatic accent, too.
But the placement of that scallop trim strikes me as a bit odd, dividing the skirt awkwardly in two around the knees. Did the seamstress make that choice because it pleased her or her customer, or did she run short of her recycled fabric, with too little remaining yardage to run the scallops more conventionally around the hem of the skirt?
Above left: Evening gown, Britain, 1827-1829 (made), c 1770-1780 (weaving). Woven silk tobine, trimmed with silk satin, lined with cotton. Victoria & Albert Museum. Below right: Robes a la Francaise, France, c 1750-75, silk. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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.