This lovely robe à la française is from the Think Pink exhibition (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) that I've written about previously here and here. Made of silk taffeta with lace, the gown features the serpentine self-trim, stomacher with bows and lace, and the deeply flounced petticoat and sleeve ruffles that all were the height of Parisian fashion c. 1760-70. Any European or colonial American lady would have loved to have worn such a gown – except that there's a slight problem with the size.
The gown is only about 15" tall.
While it's possible that the gown belonged to the treasured plaything of a wealthy child, it's far more likely that the gown was worn by a different kind of doll. Pandoras were doll-sized mannequins dressed in the latest fashions from Paris and London, and sent to shops and mantua-makers to show customers the new styles from the big cities. Unlike a printed fashion plate, a pandora could demonstrate fabrics and techniques as well as accessories like caps and mitts, and could also show the gown from all sides.
The rare surviving pandora, left, from the Victoria & Albert Museum is approximately the same age as the pink gown. Carved from wood, painted, and complete with a head of human hair, she wears not only an embroidered gown, but also the appropriate undergarments, mitts, stockings, shoes, and cap for a stylish Georgian lady. What's most amazing for a doll that's nearly 350 years old is that she is has worn these things the entire time; the dressmaker's original pins securing the clothes remain exactly where they were placed centuries ago.
Did pandoras actually influence women's decisions with their dressmakers? The MFA makes a good case for it by showing this portrait, right, from their collection near the miniature pink gown. Dorothy Quincy - married to wealthy Bostonian and patriot John Hancock - is shown wearing a similar pink silk gown with pinked bows. There is, of course, absolutely no documented connection between the portrait and the pandora's pink gown - but it is fun to imagine Dorothy with her mantua-maker and a pandora, discussing what the ladies in London were currently wearing....
Above: Doll's dress robe à la française, c.1750-1790, Europe, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Above left: Fashion doll, c. 1755-1760, England, V&A Museum. Below right:Dorothy Quincy (Mrs. John Hancock), by John Singleton Copley, c. 1772. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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.