Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Dinner Dress for the Holidays, c1824-26

Sunday, December 11, 2016
Susan reporting,

I recently visited the Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion exhibition currently on display in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They're not kidding about that title, either: every garment truly is a masterwork, and in exquisite condition. It's an amazing exhibition, and if you're fortunate enough to be in New York, it's definitely worth a trip to the Met.

With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, this dress from the exhibition seems particularly appropriate to share. This dress is simply fun, and it made everyone who came around the gallery corner smile.

It's also wonderful to see a dress like this in person. As Loretta has pointed out in other blogs featuring fashion plates from this era (here, here, and here), imagining exactly how the elaborate trimmings must have looked isn't easy. The detailed embellishments of this dress - poufs, red silk stuffed cording, and polychrome wool embroidery - add wonderful color and dimension to an otherwise plain white dress. (Loretta and I also marveled at how the wearer managed to keep a snow-white dinner dress so perfectly clean, without a single spot of gravy or spilled claret-cup - though that may be revealing more about us at Christmas parties than the unknown wearer.)

The museum's information is worth repeating here:

"Fashionable British dress from the early decades of the nineteenth century reveals a fascination with historical styles. Drawing inspiration from literature, theater costumes and history paintings of medieval and Renaissance subjects, dressmakers incorporated stylistic details from twelfth-through seventeenth-century dress into contemporary fashions. The decoratively slashed sleeves of the sixteenth century, through which linen undershirts were loosely drawn, inspired puffed trimmings such as the bouillons of fine white lawn that encircle the hem of this 1820s dress. Historicized elements such as these reflect a nostalgia for Britain's past, evoking romantic notions of the chivalry or patriotism of earlier eras. The wool crewel-embroidered holly boughs at the hem indicate that the dress was worn in winter, when the plant's berries and foliage provided welcome color and featured prominently in Christmas decorations."

When I shared this dress on Instagram, readers wondered how the wearer could have kept warm, wearing a short-sleeved cotton dress in December in houses without central heating. The answer: a luxurious cashmere shawl (see here and here.)

Above: Dinner Dress, maker unknown, British, 1824-26. White cotton lawn embroidered with holly motifs in red and green wool, trimmed with red silk taffeta. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photographs ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.


Unknown said...

The detail work is absolutely amazing! What fun (and hard work) it must have been to be the person designing such a dress and then having it brought to life by the sewers and wearer.

Would the wearer also have long gloves to help keep her warm, especially at a social gathering?

Thanks for another fascinating and informative post!


Lil Marek said...

This has the feel of a "worn only once" dress—a bit of conspicuous consumption. It's so unusual in its embroidery, so fragile in its fabric and trimmings, that it would have been immediately recognizable if it were worn a second time.
It's a dress that deserves its own story. Who's going to write it?

Karen Anne said...

I wonder if that dress was ever worn, it's so immaculate.

Aria Clements said...

I replicated this gown for my daughter earlier this year!!

At the time, the only pictures I had to go on were the two on that page. May I add your photos as well? Thanks!

Maureen said...

We keep our house at 65. A cashmere shall would not be enough!

Unknown said...

Regarding being cold wearing this dress, I wonder if perhaps this dress was from a more southern climate? Or perhaps some dancing was involved - that would certainly help you keep warm.
Or perhaps since heating wasn't what is it today, everyone was used to lower temperatures and it would not be a big deal to be so exposed in the cold weather?

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