Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Working Clothes for 1800

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Isabella reporting,

While our mantua-making friends from the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg spend their working days recreating clothes from the 1770s, on their own time they turn their accomplished scholarship and seamstress-skills to other time periods as well. They've shared their work with us before, including this gorgeous white muslin gown with the purple silk turban c. 1800.

The clothes shown here are also from around 1800, but represent everyday wear, a kind of fashion-conscious working clothes. Think sensible Elinor Dashwood, out to get things done. The jacket (also called a short gown) is cut from printed cotton fabric. A drawstring adds shaping under the bust, and helps create the newly-stylish high-waisted silhouette.

The back of the jacket, right, has a small pleat for ease. The linear pattern of the cotton is carefully matched to make a flattering V shape that emphasises the high waist.

But that same silhouette created a challenge with the linen petticoat (skirt). Separates are hardly a modern invention. Jackets and petticoats had been the mainstays of English women's clothing for generations, with the petticoat gathered and tied to sit at the natural waist. The new fashion for a raised waist, however, meant the petticoat had no place to settle securely.

Ingenuity prevailed, and now woven shoulder straps (acting like suspenders) held the petticoat comfortably in place, lower left, over the woman's shift and corset and beneath her jacket. The side slits made the petticoat adjustable both for ease of movement and to adjust to match a woman's changing figure. If she still chose to wear a now-old-fashioned pocket around her waist, she'd have convenient access to that through the slits as well. This petticoat is a replica of one in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, but similar petticoats would have been worn by both English and American women.

The white muslin cap would have worn to protect the hair and to cover it modestly, again continuing the style for women to cover their heads that had lasted for hundreds of years. But the small, neat caps and coifs of the past were giving way to the extravagant, ruffled excess of the early 19th c., with puffed crowns and trailing lappets, and more to do with fashion than modesty.

Many thanks to apprentice mantua-maker Sarah Woodyard for once again being our ever-patient model.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.


vintagevisions27 said...

Do you know if that jacket is based on one in the CW collections or from another museum?

Debbie Watley said...

I love how the women of the past mixed fashion, convenience, and comfort! Thanks for all the clothing photos you show!

Ginger said...

Can you let me know which pattern you used for the short gown please? It appears to have a center back seam but I can't make out many other details. My daughter and I do 1800's living history and am looking to have different short gowns in our collection of clothing. Thanks for the post. A friend told me about you, I plan to follow now. (Please respond same email but @yahoo.com instead.)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ginger ~ These clothes were made by the mantua-makers in the Historic Trades program of Colonial Williamsburg. They were drafted on the body without a pattern, and are one-of-a-kind and not for sale.

However, our friends over at Burnley & Trowbridge appear to have a pattern for a similar shortgown:


Good luck to you and your daughter - we love living history and re-enacting!


Unknown said...

This post has been very helpfull, but I still feel I missed somethig. Under the corset I'll need a chemise, long or short? With the ball gown I wear pantallets under the chemise, for the working clothes what do I need?

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