Sunday, June 3, 2012

Another 18th c Gown Make-Over - With the Scraps to Prove it

Sunday, June 3, 2012
Isabella/Susan reports:

I find recycled and remade clothes fascinating. As a "handwork" person myself, I'm in complete sympathy with the desire to make something new and usable from an older garment that's just too beautiful to toss. I've shared several such dresses before - here and here and here - but this one has an unusual twist.

Most of the examples in museums are 19th c dresses refashioned from 18th c silks, and the one shown here, upper left,  falls into that category, too. The silk is a lovely mushroom-colored damask from c 1760-70 (here's a similar damask, used in a gown from 1770), an elegantly subdued color that was once again in fashion in the mid-19th c. Consider these two silk dresses c. 1850, right. With the addition of a small lace collar, ruffled lace sleeve-cuffs, and a full hoop petticoat, the remodeled gown must have been quite stylish.

In most cases, it's far more difficult to guess at the appearance of the original gown. But this recycled dress comes with a bonus: all the pieces and scraps of fabric that were removed were carefully saved in a bag, lower left.

In the middle of the photograph is the original gown's compere stomacher, a kind of false-front with buttons like this (from one of our new Pinterest boards.) Lying on either side are the original elbow-length sleeves - too narrow to have been remodeled - with their gathered, serpentine trim (like this) on the outside of the flaring cuffs (like this.) Without examining the pieces, it's difficult to guess the rest of the 18th c gown, but I'm sure that with the pieces spread out like a jigsaw puzzle, a costume historian could do exactly that.

And, perhaps, a costume historian soon will. The recycled gown and the "extras" will be sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions later this month, with an estimated price of around £400-£600 - though I wouldn't be surprised if it runs higher. If one of you is the lucky buyer, I hope you'll let us know!

Above & lower left: Mid-19th c dress, made of 18th c silk damask. Photographs courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.
Right: A pair of silk day gowns, c 1850. Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Anonymous said...

Lovely as usual. How in the world do you search for these?
I have often wondered if the ladies took all those gowns from the 18th century and used them in the 19th. Some of the material would have made lovely Spencers and pelisses even if the material had gone out of fashion for dresses.
I am not talented enough to remake garments and most today don't have enough material . However, I , along with Scarlet, have seen the potential in window hangings.

SusannahC said...

Excellent article, Susan! Like you, I'm intrigued by the idea of remaking old gowns, and the ways different people chose to "re-invent" them into something fashionable.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anonymous, I don't search for these recycled dresses. I wouldn't know what kind of search term to use, since usually the fact that the dresses are remade isn't in the description heading. I've just stumbled over them while looking for something else. Evidently there are far more of them out there than I realized at first!

SusannahC, glad you enjoyed the post! The fact that the pieces were still with this dress was particularly fascinating, and raises all sorts of questions that we'll never know. Did the customer demand the pieces back so she wouldn't feel somehow cheated? Or did she have some other plans for the scraps, some sort of other project? Or was it the dressmaker who simply returned them as a matter of course? Mysteries in old clothes...!

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