Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting Warmer, 18th Century Style

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Susan reports:

It's December, almost winter. As temperatures begin to drop in earnest, most of us fight the urge to tweak the thermostat up another notch, and add one more layer of fleece or flannel instead.  

But despite what L.L.Bean may tell us, layering is hardly new. Quilted clothing has been used for warmth and comfort since ancient times.  Few examples, however, achieve the style of this gentleman's silk and wool waistcoat with sleeves, replicated by the tailors of Colonial Williamsburg.

Such a waistcoat would have been worn over a white linen shirt by an 18th c. English gentleman relaxing before his fire, or informally receiving friends at home.  On a cold day, he might also wear it layered beneath another,
more structured coat for an extra bit of warmth.  There's a certain cavalier nonchalance to the waistcoat: what's more impractical (and therefore, more insanely fashionable) around a dish of tea or a glass of Madeira than pure white silk?
I love the double-breasted piece at the throat that can be buttoned against the chill, or folded into a stylish lapel. The cuffs, too, could be buttoned back, and there are deep pockets with flaps for tucking away a letter or snuff-box.  As with so much bespoke clothing, the details are amazing: all that diamond-patterned quilting is entirely stitched by hand, and the matching "death's head" buttons (thirty-two, by my rough count) are wrapped thread over a shaped wooden core. 

Can you imagine a more elegant alternative to a sweatshirt?


Mme.Tresbeau said...

What a beautiful garment! I'd wear this myself in a heartbeat.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Oh, man!! I want that jacket!

Susan, what did the ladies do for warmth? Just wrap themselves in shawls? I've always read that during the Regency era, especially, women were not to make unfashionable concessions to the weather. I hope that didn't apply to days at home.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I know, I wanted the waistcoat, too. Which was probably why they kept it hanging behind the counter, away from covetous NHG hands.

Vanessa, I was going to include the 18th c. women's quilted clothing (petticoat and jumps), but I rhapsodized on so much about the waistcoat that I decided to save the ladies for another day. *g*

Loretta can better address regency dress, but I do know that at the same time as the diaphanous gowns came into fashion, so did enormous fine wool shawls -- the pashminas of their time. Those must have helped keep the chill away, plus draping with much more grace than a Slanket. I'm also guessing that at home in the country, fashion probably took second place to warm woolens.

It's useful to remember that just because Hollywood starlets are walking about in micro-minis without stockings in the winter doesn't mean the rest of the country does, nor did all English ladies follow the styles set by a handful of super-fashionable ones in London.

At least I, for one, am not currently dressing like Lindsey Lohan....*g*

nightsmusic said...

Okay, I've changed my mind. I don't want to just work there, I want to live there! All the time. :)

Have you heard of or visited Greenfield Village. It's only 20 minutes from me. It's a living village as well and absolutely gorgeous at Christmastime. To see the ladies in the different houses, each dressed in the appropriate era's clothing (which is also all made there) is such a delight. All year round it is, but especially in the holiday season.

I could live there too. *sigh*

When is your 'another day' for the ladies garb? *hint*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Theo, is Greenfield Village the Henry Ford Museum? I've heard of it, but alas, never visited. Yet.

I'll be in CW over Christmas, a very nice time to be there, and plan to be posting lots o' holiday pictures. I don't know why the past is so alluring at Christmas --esp. considering that as holidays go it was much less of a "big deal" as it is now -- but it is.

The quilted ladies-wear will come soon, I promise! :)

nightsmusic said...

Yes, it's an extension of The Henry Ford. I have a membership and go all year round, but Christmas is my favorite time.

I do have to say though, the Cotswold Cottage in summer, when the garden is in profuse bloom, is a joy to visit. They serve tea and cakes, all...what's the word I'm looking for...genuine (not it, but close) to the original era as well. Such fun!

If you ever come this way, I'll gladly be your guide :)

Vanessa Kelly said...

CW at Christmas! Sigh. Sounds wonderful. I'll look forward to those pictures.

That's interesting about the big wool shawls being the pashminas of their time. I bet they were beautiful.

What is it with the Slanket thing, these days? They even have them for dogs, I think.

Anonymous said...

Here are links to two quilted petticoats at the Costume Institute in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are many more on their site. No other quilted waistcoats, tho. That one from Colonial Williamsburg is quite lovely.



Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Theo, high tea in a summer garden sounds pretty dandy on this grey December day. :)

Vanessa, you've given me the idea to write about the early 19th c. shawls. They're usually patterned, and absolutely gorgeous. Stay tuned. As for the Slankets -- yep, I've seen the ones on dogs in the TV commercials, too. Too weird.

Anonymous, thank you for the links! The Met does have such a fabulous collection that I bet that somewhere in it there must be a quilted waistcoat.....:)

Vanessa Kelly said...

Great, Susan - can't wait to see the shawls!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa, shawls are up today! :)

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket