Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the Archives: An 18thc Dress Makeover - With the Scraps to Prove It

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Susan reports:

As anyone who reads this blog knows, by now, 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, some costume historian is doing exactly that. The recycled gown and the "extras" were sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions back in 2012, and I've always wondered what became of it. If one of you were the lucky buyer or knows where the dress landed, 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.


Beth Trissel said...

I love this dress and post. Thanks so much!

Rosalie said...

So fascinating, but how were they able to keep the bottoms of the gowns and underarms clean enough to be constantly worn and re-used? Thank you, Rosalie

Katie F. said...

Hi Rosalie, I won't claim to be an expert, but here's part of the answer, anyway. The underarm area of the dress usually stays fairly clean because all the sweat and odor ends up on the washable shift or chemise worn underneath the gown. By some point in the Victorian period, ladies also sometimes used "dress shields"--little removable ovals of cloth placed or pinned into the bottom of the armhole to further shield the dress from moisture. The bottom of the gown could be pinned up when going out on dirty streets, or the owner might wear pattens on her feet to raise her above the mud (though that ends by, oh, sometime early 1800s). The bottom of the skirt was probably also lined with a reinforcing fabric, and failing all else, they could flip the skirt upside down when they refashioned the dress so the worn spots were hidden in the gathers. Hope that helps! 😊

Katie F. said...

It's so neat to see the dress _and_ the pieces that were removed--thank you guys so much for sharing it!

accessoryqueen1 said...

This looks very similar to Period Impressions 1859 Modified Fan front pattern with the pleats laid on facing inward.

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