Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Many Tradespeople Does It Take to Dress an 18th C. Lady?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Fashion is often dismissed as a frivolous non-necessity, but in 18th c. Paris and London, it was big, big business. Even simple clothing employed literally dozens of skilled tradespeople to create a single garment.

On my recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I sat down with Janea Whitacre, mantua-maker in the Historic Trades Program and mistress of the Margaret Hunter millinery shop, and together we came up with this list of all the different trades necessary to dress a fashionable lady c. 1770.

Trades were highly specialized, requiring different skills – the maker of straight pins didn't also make needles - and each one supported a tiered system of workers that ranged from apprentices to journeymen to masters. We're sure there are probably many more trades, too, but this does give you an indication of why fashion was so important to the 18th c. economy.

The tool-making trades:
  • Pin maker
  • Needle maker
  • Thimble maker
  • Scissors maker
  • Pinking-iron maker
  • Pressing iron-smith
  • Spectacle-maker

The haberdashery trades that made the "ingredients" for garments:
  • Thread spinner
  • Tape weaver
  • Cord weaver
  • Baleen processor (for whalebone stays)
  • Ribbon weaver
  • Artificial flower maker
  • Lace maker
  • Linen spinner & linen weaver
  • Silk processor, silk designer, & silk weaver
  • Cloth fuller & dyer
  • Gauze weaver
  • Foil ornament & sequin maker
  • French floss trimming knotter
  • Bead maker
  • Carved button makers
  • Wrapped-thread button makers (which, as Janea noted, could simply be called "children.")

The construction trades that assembled the garments:
  • Stay-maker
  • Milliner (who made shifts and other undergarments)
  • Embroiderer
  • Mantua-maker (the master dressmaker who designed, cut, & fitted gowns)
  • Seamstresses (lesser skilled stitchers)

The trades that created accessories:
  • Jeweler, silversmith, goldsmith, & paste (faux stones) maker
  • Stocking weaver
  • Watchmaker
  • Ivory worker
  • Fan mount-maker, fan printer, & fan painter
  • Glover
  • Furrier
  • Shoemaker, shoe heel carver, & shoe last maker
  • Garter weaver
  • Buckle maker
  • Milliner, straw plaiter, straw stitcher, & plume maker (all for hats)
  • Wig maker

Above: Robe à la française in white & pink plaid silk taffeta; double flounced pagoda sleeves; stomacher with échelle of ribbon; engageantes; quilles and lappets of Argentan lace.  All French, c. 1760s. The Kyoto Costume Institute. Click here for the KCI's zoomable image - the details of the handwork are incredible.

10 comments:

Julie said...

Wonderful stuff! And a great way of looking at dress in terms of consumerism. Very helpful, indeed!

Sarah said...

Brings it home, doesn't it? I think you may have left a couple out though - an orpherer who specialised in gold thread, the goldsmith who drew the wire to wrap the silk, the gold thread makers. [this more important to the coats of m'lady's Lord of course]
If she wore fine linen underwear there would also be the humble walker who retted the flax, the flaxspinner and linen weaver. Lace was usually made of linen too, and as well as the familiar pillow lace maker there were other types of lace too such as embroidered net [so a net weaver is needed] and needle lace, this latter not as fine as the best Valenciennes or Honiton but perhaps used by some ladies.
I believe I am correct in recalling that you did a post on the cord weaver a little earlier this year, and that they made their own decorative tassels too? I wonder if there might too be piece-worker tassel makers?

Jacqueline said...

Thank you so much for compiling this list with Jean! (She is fantastic!) This list is so complete and will be really helpful for anyone researching the 18th century.

Ana said...

Can one enjoy reading a list?

Well, I certainly did :) .

Ana said...

Sarah's contribution included!

Kat Vander Wende said...

You've spent so much time in Colonial Williamsburg, and I've enjoyed the posts about your visits tremendously! Will you ever write a historical romance novel or historical fiction novel set in Colonial Williamsburg? I know it's not trendy at the moment, but I'd love to read it!

Jacqueline said...

Oi, typing fast and autocorrect messed up Janea's name in my comment. Very sorry about that!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks for the additional trades, Sarah! Janea and I knew there were likely many more, but we finally had to stop after about half an hour (and if we'd kept going, this post would have been even loooonger than it is already.)

Ana, after seeing how many times this post was RT'd on Twitter, I've concluded that Nerdy History People must be Nerdy List-Making People, too. :)

Kat, I recognize that brick "window" in your profile picture from the garden of the Governor's Palace! Clearly you're a CW fan, too. I'd love, love, love to write a book set there. I'd love to write something set in 18th c. America, period. But whenever I mention it to my agent or editors, their eyes roll back in their heads. It's just not considered popular enough with readers right now, and I have to bow down to that. But some day ---!

Julia said...

I love this little glimpse behind the magic, smoke and mirrors. It triggers two connections with me:

1 - Mineko Iwasaki's "Geisha. A Life" (100 times better than the fictional "Geisha"!) describes all the craftsmen with their decades of experience who are necessary to make the perfect, elegant, accomplished Geisha (makers of shoes, fans, musical instruments, hair ornaments, wigs, the gorgeous kimonos, make-up, hair stylists, someone to dress the geisha into her many layers of kimonos, ...) and whose are is kept alive by the Geishas: a big part of the Geisha's fees flow into the hands of these craftsmen.

2 - The most awesome Terry Pratchett wrote: "It takes ten men with their feet on the ground to keep one man with his head in the clouds." A hundred is probably more likely for every fine gentleman and lady of what is called the modern times!

Julia said...

I love this little glimpse behind the magic, smoke and mirrors. It triggers two connections with me:

1 - Mineko Iwasaki's "Geisha. A Life" (100 times better than the fictional "Geisha"!) describes all the craftsmen with their decades of experience who are necessary to make the perfect, elegant, accomplished Geisha (makers of shoes, fans, musical instruments, hair ornaments, wigs, the gorgeous kimonos, make-up, hair stylists, someone to dress the geisha into her many layers of kimonos, ...) and whose are is kept alive by the Geishas: a big part of the Geisha's fees flow into the hands of these craftsmen.

2 - The most awesome Terry Pratchett wrote: "It takes ten men with their feet on the ground to keep one man with his head in the clouds." A hundred is probably more likely for every fine gentleman and lady of what is called the modern times!

 
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