Friday, April 27, 2012

What the 18th c Housewife Wore Whilst Sweeping

Friday, April 27, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

While it's usually the clothes of the rich and famous that survive in museums, those of the "middling sort" in the 18th c took care with their dress, too. Here Sarah Woodyard (an apprentice mantua-maker in the historic trades program at Colonial Williamsburg) shows what an English or colonial American housewife would have worn for work-a-day dress.

She is wearing an English night-gown with a fitted back, made from a printed calico. The small figure and dark print would have held up to wear, but this kind of printed calico was also less fashionable than printed cotton chintzes with more white space in the printed design (like this one here.)

The gown is worn over a cream colored loom-quilted petticoat with a cotton muslin apron. Of course she is wearing boned stays (corset), which not only give her a fashionable shape, but help support her back as she goes about her tasks. Her ruffled cap - for no respectable 18th c woman ever goes without a cap, even indoors - is also cotton muslin, with a silk ribbon.

Tucked into the bodice of her gown is a triangular kerchief of Irish linen, and around her throat is a small strand of red coral beads. The stuffed red heart hanging by a ribbon from her waist is a pincushion, and also hanging is a pair of scissors (ribbons tied to the apron strings like this would have constituted an average woman's chatelaine.) She's wearing white cotton thread stockings, and a pair of men's flat mules - perhaps borrowed from her husband?

All clothes are replicas, but stitched entirely by hand by Sarah herself, in the same way as an 18th c seamstress would have done.

*Why the double name? Here's the reason.


Vintage Maison said...

Very interesting posting - love the detail. Strange how the red heart is now back in fashion, although these days it is more likely to be stuffed with lavender and hanging on a door handle.

Lovely blog by the way - I have only just discovered you both.

Giselle La Pompe-Moore said...

Wouldn't mind wearing this ensemble for a spot of sweeping. Great post!

Historical Ken said...

Another enjoyable posting. Although "my time" is more mid-19th century, my second favorite era is mid-to-late 18th century. I only wish Michigan had more opportunities to reenact that period.
I wrote a posting on the colonial era last fall you might enjoy:

QNPoohBear said...

For more on cleaning and what women wore, the Rhode Island Historical Society had a cleaning program last weekend at their federal era mansion. The curator and registrar made their own clothing (including corsets.)
read about it on their blog

Jo Ann Butler said...

You never know when you are going to need a pin, so keep them close! Nice post, and now I need to check out the rest of your blog. Thanks, Jo Ann Butler

Anonymous said...

The outfit looks good, the broom not so much! Nice post, btw.

Louise C said...

She wouldn't need to borrow her husband's mules - they were made for ladies in the 18th C.! I would venture a guess that these repros were made by Burnley and Trowbridge, a local sutler who offers these wonderful shoes in three colors and two heel heights. I have three pair of these, and they regularly move between centuries, being the most comfortable footware in ANY century.

Kathleen said...

This posting has been especially helpful for me. I'm writing an historical novel set in the 18th century in SW Pennsylvania and the Ohio River valley during the Revolution and after until the Treaty of Ft. Greenville in 1795.

This post helped me add information to one of my character boards.

Thank you :)

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