There are many misconceptions flying around the internet about how many clothes an 18th c. woman owned. Between the two (false) extremes of "average women only had two outfits because they had to process and spin the fiber, weave the fabric, and make everything by hand" and "aristocratic women only wore a dress once" is the much more reasonable truth: women of every rank had their clothes made by professional seamstresses, and remodeled and refurbished older garments to keep up with the fashions. Much like today, the size of the wardrobe depended on the size of the budget.
And then, of course, there are the women of every age who just plain love clothes. Into this category I'd have to place Mrs. Ann Bamford.
This fascinating document, above, was recently posted on Twitter by the Lewis Walpole Library of Yale University. It's an "Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford," carefully itemized by a now-unknown clerk with very neat penmanship. Inventories such as this were made as part of settling the deceased person's estate.
This is only the first page of three, which I'm assuming means only one-third of her belongings are shown on this page. Even with just this first page to consider (and how I'd like to see the rest!), and that it likely represents a lifetime of clothes, it's clear that Mrs. Bamford must have been a stylish lady who enjoyed looking her best.
The variety of the items here is fascinating. Women's clothing at this time was complicated and full of detail, as the fashion plate form 1781, lower right, shows. To cut a fashionable figure, Mrs. Bamford owned at least a dozen gowns listed (a "night gown" is a style of dress at this time, not a garment meant for bed), ranging from brocaded silk to sprigged muslin. There's a "Goldlaced Jacket and Petticoat [of] Silk Grosgrain" which sounds very elegant, and an equally stylish "Goldlaced blue Sattin Cloak." In fact there are quite a few cloaks listed, including five white silk cloaks, a "Green Sattin Cloak", a "Black Sattin Cloak", and a "Gauze Cloak."
There are what we'd call accessories, "5 Handkerchiefs of different sorts for Wearing," "a Printed Muslin Shawle," and "A Black Velvet Bonnot," plus more personal garments, including "Three Pair of Stays" (corsets) and "A Pair of Pocket hoops." I'm also intrigued by "A Parcel of black Netting in a paper," which I'm guessing was how the netting was being kept from snagging.
There are also items that reflect how all 18th c. clothes were made to order: "One Brocaded Silk
I can't help but wonder what became of Mrs. Bamford's clothes after this inventory was done. Were they given to a sister, a daughter, or other relative? Was her lady's maid permitted to choose a few pieces as a memento of her mistress? Were they packed away and given to the poor, or sold into the thriving second-hand clothing market? I wonder....
To read the inventory more easily for yourself, click here to go to the Walpole's blog, and click again on the image to enlarge it.
Above left: Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford, manuscript, c. 1780? Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Lower right: Robe blanche de Mousseline unie, fashion plate, c. 1781. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.