Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The curious mourning dress

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loretta reports:

When researching Don’t Tempt Me, I finally made the connection between the number of mourning dresses in fashion plates in late 1817 and early 1818 and the fact that Princess Charlotte had died in November 1817. The court didn’t come out of mourning until late February 1818. We 21st century people tend to forget that there was a time when mourning followed a lengthy, prescribed pattern, and there was a system of dress for its various stages.

I’ve seen quite a few Regency era mourning dresses in fashion plates, but never anything like the one I was shown at Colonial Williamsburg’s Millinery Shop.

The black design, which seems to be a cypher (C-Y-E) is not embroidery. As the photos show, it’s done in ink. This dress is a copy of an existing one, c 1817-1820, though no one is sure whether the original was English or American.

I’d be interested to learn whether any of you have ever seen this sort of hand-drawn pen and ink decoration on a dress. It was a first for me.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Loretta, these pictures are great! I'm glad you took them, because the other NHG was so busy oohing-and-ahhing over this gown that, uh, no photos were taken. Like you, I'd never seen anything like it.

While my first thought was that drawing the design would be easier than embroidering it, I can't imagine how hard it would be to keep this so perfectly regular without any splotches -- and with a sputter-prone 19th c. pen, too. That border not only edges the neckline, bust, and sleeves, but runs down the front and around the hem. A misplaced stitch can be ripped out, but one slip of the pen...argh!

My hat's off again to Janea Whitacre for sharing her amazing work with us. :)

Vanessa Kelly said...

Loretta, would the cypher be the initials of the person who died?

It's actually an incredibly lovely gown.

LorettaChase said...

Susan, mistakes were the first thing I thought of--for both the original & the copy. The creator's concentration had to be formidable. And imagine taking on the challenge in the 21st C. Vanessa, I agree that it's beautiful, and yes, we think the cypher represents the person who died.

theo said...

Fascinating! At first glance, it reminded me of the stamped embroidery patterns I'd see on napkins and tablecloths when I was very young. Closer inspection shows it's not 'perfect', but I wonder if they didn't draw the design on paper and use the material to trace it. Just a curiosity.

I cannot imagine though the concentration and focus required to do that.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Fascinating Loretta. I know about Victorian mourning, but know little about Regency customs.

Loretta Chase said...

Theo, I agree that they would have drawn and traced a pattern rather than do the entire dress freehand. As Susan says, the design is quite extensive. Elizabeth, thank you. I'll be doing a bit more about Regency-era mourning tomorrow.

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