Thursday, February 11, 2010

1790s Fashion: A Transition from the Enlightenment to Regency, Part 1

Have you ever looked at a fashion history book -- the kind with lots of illustrations of the changing silhouettes -- and wondered why on earth the eighteenth century dandy and his furbelow-decked lady suddenly would drop their silken finery for clinging muslins and tight, shrunken suits?

Photo: Typical 1780s chemise ensemble. Auguste Wilhelmine Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt and children. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written, and was even at that period, about how 1790s fashion reflected the decade's social turbulence by shifting more rapidly than at any recorded time previous. The French revolution had quite an effect on what women wore, of course, as did ever-increasing international trade with India and the Far East, import bans and taxes. So did the passion for Classicism so apparent in all of the arts, and Enlightenment philosophy and its result, and what one article (Wikipedia) calls the "triumph of informality".

Still, when I pick up a random fashion history book, more than likely the author has chosen to slice and dice this period into sharply delineated sections. Poor 1790s: so often split up, your history divided by politics or ethos! Fashion's short-shrift decade.

Photo: A Regency ensemble, 1798. Louise von Preussen. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

(Oh yes, I hear you, those of you who love Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail: Women's Dress 1730-1930. She keeps the decade whole, and I love her too, relying on her superb drawings perhaps more than those of any other book. However, perhaps because she wasn't able to examine extant garments of these types, her book doesn't feature two garment styles that were important in marking the transition from Enlightenment to Regency. Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes does to some degree too, but many of us find that book exceedingly expensive, and interlibrary loan isn't available to all of us Finally, there is a terrific costume exhibit at the Kent State University Museum, curated by Anne Bissonnette, titled "The Age of Nudity", that ran in 2006-2007. The exhibit website is still up, the text concise and authoritative, and the images marvelous, but such a brief view, and no book produced! Alas.)

Let's do something different this time.

In this post, I've collected an unscientific, convenience sampling of paintings and engravings and fashion plates from Wikimedia Commons, from the 1780s through about 1800. As you scan them, you will see something fascinating. The 1780s chemise dress will morph into the Regency gown, the 1780s open robe and redingote styles will open up and travel towards the back of the body until the resulting overgarment feels more like a sort of long jacket or long vest than a gown. To keep things moving along, I have focused mostly on these garments rather than on the wider breadth of styles in that were in favor, so that we can watch them grow and change, much as we watch caterpillars morph into butterflies.

By the way, all this examination relates to a project. I have five months to complete an ensemble for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, and have chosen to dress for the years 1795-1797.

Given that the months are slipping by fast, I've forgone the much of the research I usually do, so sad to say, I haven't read literature of the period or looked for period magazine texts or other sources for help.

As always, please click on the images to see larger versions. I've also included links to the Wikimedia Commons originals, some of which are very large files with good detail.

Here We Go...

Here is a portrait of Princess Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy, called "Madame", the future wife of Louis XVIII of France. Her painter, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, made this painting in 1782.



Le Brun has painted Madame in a chemise dress of the time, an informal style worn for "undress" occasions. As Norah Waugh has it, the style was popularized by stylemaker Marie Antoinette, and was dubbed the chemise a la reine, after a portrait by Vigee le Brun that appeared at the 1783 Paris Salon (Waugh, p. 73).

I wonder whether the style was already on the rise, since other women wear versions of it in paintings of slightly earlier date -- like the portrait above. After all, children had been wearing chemise dresses for some years (look at the little child in the top photo and Miss Willoughby, at right, 1781-1783, by George Romney), and fashionable people had been tiring of heavy or trim-encrusted, stiff-bodiced formal dress that had proclaimed wealth and status for centuries. Those of you who have studied the philosophy and social history of this period, do you have details or pointers to add?

This dress is likely of muslin. The collar is trimmed with lace, which I imagine may be whipped on right to the edge of the muslin so that the lace forms a smooth extension of the collar edge.  Like so many of these dresses,  drawstrings likely are used to close it at neck and waist, and more drawstrings and ribbons to create the puffs on the arms.

Also like so many chemise dresses, the waist -- at natural level -- is defined by a silk sash. Often you see them in blue or pink, sometimes in green. Yet in the photo at the top of this post, Auguste Wilhelmine Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt is wearing not a silk sash, but a shaped flat belt.

Yes, let's have a look at a detail from the top photo again. That belt -- isn't it handsome? It appears to be embroidered, with a "buckle" being perhaps a portrait. It is hard to see and I do not have a larger version of this painting to hand.

This painting also makes clear that not all chemise dresses were as loose as those worn a little later. This dress is loose only at the bust, while the lower section of the bodice is quite shaped, and the bodice is long. The dress has a sheen too, which makes me wonder it it might be made of a soft silk, perhaps a gauze?

Let's move on to another example or two.

Here's a painting of Elizabeth Foster, by Joshua Reynolds. Ms. Foster is quite fluffed out, no? Have a look at her dress. Here the chemise collar is worn high up, and the waistline is a little raised, courtesy that very wide, colorful sash, and see the ribbons that tie around her sleeves? They're pink and do not match the sash.


One last example. This is Sarah Villiers, Viscountess of Jersey, by Ozias Humphrey, and painted in 1786. In this case, the chemise dress has a wide falling collar that spreads out over the shoulders, and a far narrower sash. Look at her sleeves: how long they are! Regency sleeves would often do this: be very long and pushed back to wrinkle up on the lower arm. Note how she wears her bracelet: over the sleeve.

As you can see, just this limited sampling of dresses shows the variety that the chemise dress could take.

Now, let's have a look at a few other examples of late 1780s dress, and look for items that would carry on into the next decade.

Here is a 1780s sample, a portrait of Frederika Sophia Wilhelmina of Prussia, painted by Tischbein in 1789. While the princess wears her gown long-waisted, as had been popular for so very long, the fabric appears a little lighter than earlier in the century, and it is closed down the front rather than open with a stomacher. These round gowns had grown in favor...and from this point on, women's dresses would generally be closed up front rather than pinned or laced partially open, revealing garments or decor beneath.

The princess is also wearing a fichu. Long worn for modesty, cleanliness and style, fichus in the 1780s began to bouf out a little, and by the 1790s would get positively pigeon-breasted. The princess' fichu is a little bouffy, and fortells the later frontward expansion. 

And her hair? Positively puffy, as it had been most of the decade. Costumers these days call it hedgehog hair. Much of it is wig, and it's still tinted gray with powder...you will see more of this styling in the 1790s, and it will become even less styled, before moving to a more natural look.

Here is another portrait, from 1787, the Marquise de Pezay (or Pezé) and the Marquise de Rougé with her sons. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.) Both women are wearing sashes, and informal round gowns with tight sleeves, of drapey, light fabrics. Note the stripes!

Now here's something exciting. Look at the necklines: bouffy and gathered and round-necked,  almost like a Regency gown line. It almost appears that they are showing their chemises or wearing chemisettes or perhaps they are wearing habit shirts, since the neckline appears to be real, not folds in a fichu. Look at the sleeves: tight, except for pretty puffs at the shoulders. We will see many sleeve puffs durin the Regency. The setting for such gowns? Outdoors, or indoors in a private room far from formal public functions.  A final note. The Marquise de Pezay appears not to be wearing powder.

Look, here is lady in Italy wearing a similar dress at an informal outdoor dance. Il Ballo, dated 1790, is delightful, no? Like many prints, it's full of details, too.


The dancer is wearing a round gown, and like the Marquise's dress, it has rounded, gathered fabric (from chemise or tucker or what?) and the pretty sash. At the same function, the lady at the right who faces us is wearing the long-fashionable conical shaped, long-waisted open robe, closed with laces at the bodice, and opening out in the skirt to show the petticoat.
Another informal garment that I was interested to find was the riding coat or redingote, a 1787 image of which is shown. I understand that it was usually made of wool in menswear styling, complete with large lapels. Wikipedia's 1750 - 1795 in Fashion reports that the redingote would be later worn over the chemise dress. Hmmm.
Around the turn of the decade, the riding coat -- or whatever you want to call it -- and hat over a dress start turning up more frequently in my little sample of paintings.

Here's one, a portrait of Giulia Beccaria and her son, from 1790. There are the big lapels, along with fabric that looks like wool to me, and that riding hat.


Now, scroll back up and look at the lady sitting in her long-waisted dress at the right side in Il Ballo. We know that the open robe was an ancient design. Here's a common example from a little earlier in the century, a portrait of the Archduchess Maria Christine, painted in 1770. Notice how the dress -- called in French a robe -- opens up in the bodice to show the decorate stomacher, and in the front of the skirt a smallish portion of the skirt, called a petticoat, beneath.


By the very early 1790s, that open robe was opening up more and more in the skirt, and the bodice sides were angling farther and farther back. More and more of what was ostensibly "beneath" was showing. Here is Rose Adelaide Decreux in 1791, playing the harp, dressed smashingly in stripes.


The side view of her robe shows it pulling further and further to the back, while her petticoat is really all you see in the front. Look at the base of the petticoat: the big tall flounce, so fashionable for so long, has become a small frill. You will see that small frill through much of the 1790s at the bottom of skirt bottoms, before all becomes the severe Early Regency look. Oh, and there is that fichu, too, all bouffed out and pigeon-breasty, and cutely tied in back.

Here's what I find fascinating. In a 1791 fashion plate, source of the latest in design, we see a lady playing with a yo-yo. She is wearing the open robe, not with stomacher and petticoat, but worn like a riding coat, and over a dress. You can see the dress sleeves, the decor on the dress bodice, the sash, and that robe, pulled back in the same fashion as Rose Adelaide wears it. This makes me wonder if Rose Adelaide is really wearing a dress?


Here is another example of the open robe,  this one in brown silk, from the portrait of Joseph Arkwright and his family. I note that the dress or petticoat is plain, but not muslin -- it has the sheen of silk.


Did you notice how tall and narrow the hats have become since the late 1780s?

Not the turbaned heads of the 1780s had disappeared. Far from it. See for example this portrait, below, of the Frankland sisters, painted in 1795 by John Hoppner. This is a favorite of mine, although I don't quite know why. It appears that they may have been drawing or watercoloring outside, to the boredom of their spaniel, who is napping happily on, not just at, their feet.


About their dresses: times were changing. The sister on the right seems to be wearing a white muslin round gown with a fichu, but look at the waistline. It's rising a little. Her sister to the left is wearing a chemise dress. If you look carefully at the neckline, it's gathered, the way chemise dresses usually were, but the pretty lace frill appears to be quite narrow.

At this point in the decade, and this might just be my sample talking, but it seems as if chemise dresses start to appear more and more frequently, and they are far more plainly built than their counterparts of a decade before. 

A famous Heideloff fashion plate from The Gallery of Fashion shows two young ladies in morning dresses described as of "calico" (fine muslin) fabric out for a drive. The year, 1794.


Frills were still a bit fashionable. The lady on the right's chemise dress has a fine neckline frill, and her sleeves are quite full, controlled by ribbons in the middle of the upper arm by a colored ribbon. The driver wears a ruffled shawl above her dress.

Here is Goya's Maria Teresa Cayetana de Silva. Spanish dress was always a little different or so it seems to be, featuring brighter colors in higher contrast, but if the sash and ribbon are bright, the dress itself might be worn anywhere. There's the narrow frill at neckline again. The narrowness makes the gathered sensation stand out more, and in fact, the whole front is gathered in such a way to accentuate the bustline, just as it would be through the Regency.

The dress appears to be spotted, perhaps with embroidery, as dresses began to be, and the base has just a narrow band of embroidered trim. It's her sash and heavy classically-styled jewelry that stand out. Speaking of which...she is wearing a double strand of what are probably coral beads. You will see "corals" for the next thirty-odd years.


In this year, it happens...the great change...antiquity begins to assert her rule in earnest.

Here is Madame Seriziat, by David.


The chemise dress, with falling collar, but where is the neckline ruffle, where are all the fluffs and puffs? The narrow round-gown-style sleeves to her dress have just little buttons as ornament, and the fabric, none. Only the rosette on her sash and her frankly flirty little hat, and the transition corset, remind me of earlier decades.

The satirists were already at it, too. I love this print . At first you think it's serious, then you look at it a little more...is the lady in white really making her lovers match the Classical statuary? Then you read the title, "The Imitation of Antiquity". Of course.

Now, notice her dress. Regency waistline, Regency neckline, but just a little fuller skirted than dresses would be later.

As we move towards the end of the century, we enter the early Regency. Next post, let's watch what happens to skirts, the bodice and corset line, and to the vestigial frillery.

...the rest of the story.

Interested in Reading More?

See all my 1790s posts, plus experiments in costuming in 1790s: Costumes. You'll find a lot of research, such as analysis of extant clothing, portraits, portrait miniatures, fashion magazine texts and plates, even translations from the German Luxus und der Moden, and of course secondary sources, that I've done in efforts to document each part of the costumes made.

12 comments:

Sarah Jane said...

Oh I have so enjoyed this post! The 1790's fascinate me so very much since there is such a change in earlier 1790's styles to late 1790's styles. I too love the drawings in Costume in Detail, they have helped so much in my understanding of the transitioning styles of this period.

renna_darling said...

This comes at a great time for me! I'm attempting to recreate the Madame Seriziat dress. I just love the clean lines of it. Thanks for posting this!

ZipZipInkspot said...

Dear renna_darling,
You're doing the Madame Seriziat dress? Neat! Would you be willing to let me know if you post anything about it, and I will be glad to write a post that directs to yours?

Very best,
Natalie in KY

renna_darling said...

Sure I'd be happy to! I mostly post on livejournal if I post at all so I'll make a special effort for this outfit if you think people would be interested!

P.S. Love your blog!

ZipZipInkspot said...

Dear renna_darling,

Oh, good! I'll look forward to your word that you're posting.

Yes, I know people would enjoy seeing your creation. There seems to be a 1790s trendlet on right now...Jennie La Fleur has posted about her latest dress and her 1790s hairstyles, The Lady of Portland House has done a very pretty roundgown, and several other costumers whose blogs I follow are making 1790s noises.

Thank you too for your kind comment; it's most appreciated.

Very best,
Natalie

Sarah Jane said...

Natalie, I just visited this post again to enjoy once more looking at the great collection of images you have here. Renna_darling; (you are the same who has recently posted about 1812 reenactments at S&S?) :) That is so neat that you are making the Madame Seriziat gown! I have been looking and looking for inspiration for an Easter dress and as I was browsing this post, that particular dress caught my eye.

Natalie, do you know how this dress may have been constructed? Do you think lowering the waistline of the ELC drawstring dress and putting more fullness into the skirts would create a similar look? It is lovely! Alas, though, construction techniques and style details of the 1790's are things I do not yet know much about.

ZipZipInkspot said...

Good evening, Sarah!
Thank you...that post didn't write itself very well for some reason. You know how it is, some are more difficult than others, and the language was slow to come.

I am preparing parts two and three slowly. They focus on the last years of the 1790s and then on actual garments. It's been quite a process.

Like you, I am just learning about dress in this era, and it's quite an education. It really helps to understand dress from earlier in the century. Bradfield's Costume in Detail is really an excellent way to get a feel for it, as is close reading of Demode's site, Katherine's dress site, and especially, Rockin' the Rococo.

The Seriziat dress is cut with bodice back and front, I think, so that it has a waistline all around...you can see the seam right under her sash.

Yes, I think you could use a variation on the S&S gown, but I would use a different, earlier back (look at Costume Diva's zone gown post for the pieces), and carry the neckline drawstring only to the shoulder. Yes, I would lower the waistline, and I would add fabric to the front. Further, Bradfield and many of the fashion plates from the period show many of the dresses with fine gathering all the way across the back and over much of the front, not concentrated in the back.

To drape well, the fabric is going to have to be really light and gauzy.

You could also look at the round gown that Lauren, the Lady of Portland House, pulled together from disparate parts, including the S&S pattern! The sleeves you can get from Hunnisett's 1500-1800 book...the tight late century sleeves are in there, if you don't have the JP Ryan pattern she used.

Personally, I am still researching options for my gown. There was an explosion of experimentation, it appears, as people tried to work with a less defined line, and I can go in a lot of directions. It's fascinating, and confusing!

Hugs,

Natalie

ZipZipInkspot said...

Good evening, Sarah!
Thank you...that post didn't write itself very well for some reason. You know how it is, some are more difficult than others, and the language was slow to come.

I am preparing parts two and three slowly. They focus on the last years of the 1790s and then on actual garments. It's been quite a process.

Like you, I am just learning about dress in this era, and it's quite an education. It really helps to understand dress from earlier in the century. Bradfield's Costume in Detail is really an excellent way to get a feel for it, as is close reading of Demode's site, Katherine's dress site, and especially, Rockin' the Rococo.

The Seriziat dress is cut with bodice back and front, I think, so that it has a waistline all around...you can see the seam right under her sash.

Yes, I think you could use a variation on the S&S gown, but I would use a different, earlier back (look at Costume Diva's zone gown post for the pieces), and carry the neckline drawstring only to the shoulder. Yes, I would lower the waistline, and I would add fabric to the front. Further, Bradfield and many of the fashion plates from the period show many of the dresses with fine gathering all the way across the back and over much of the front, not concentrated in the back.

To drape well, the fabric is going to have to be really light and gauzy.

You could also look at the round gown that Lauren, the Lady of Portland House, pulled together from disparate parts, including the S&S pattern! The sleeves you can get from Hunnisett's 1500-1800 book...the tight late century sleeves are in there, if you don't have the JP Ryan pattern she used.

Personally, I am still researching options for my gown. There was an explosion of experimentation, it appears, as people tried to work with a less defined line, and I can go in a lot of directions. It's fascinating, and confusing!

Hugs,

Natalie

renna_darling said...

Hi Sarah, yes it's me *waves* I think the real challenge for this dress would be finding the right fabric. The dress seems too solid for voile, the sleeves are especially opaque. Perhaps they are of a heavier fabric than the rest of the dress? I think when I make this gown I'll use the Silky Cotton Voile from dharma trading http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/4521523-AA.shtml?lnav=fabric_cotton.html it's more closely woven then their regular voile but it still drapey. Of course this is put off by my semi-predictable bout of CADD and my current obsession with an 1812 reenactment outfit...

ZipZipInkspot said...

Dear renna_darling,

You're right...that's the challenge.

I've looked carefully at the painting in several different web versions, and have come up with the following:

- the bodice is probably unlined in front, in terms of flat-lining, anyway. You can see the shadow line of where the neckline casing is. There may be a modesty panel beneath, that pinned shut (as in the S&S ELC pattern and in some originals seen on the web) but from the painting you have no way of knowing this except for the sense of opacity.

- The sleeves are in two pieces, with the seams running along the inside top of the arm, and underneath, where the wrist placket is.

- The sleeves are set in to the armscye and you can see tiny tucks where they are, but the strap fabric appears to be top-stitched on top, you can see a little bit of what may be a stitching line. That is surely not piping, which wasn't used until decades latter on armscyes, so far as I know.

- That wrist placket fascinates me, as does the pattern of wrinkles on the sleeves. Are they lined?

- The back of the may very well have been lined, since later chemise dresses usually have back shaping, not loose gathering.

- I am almost positive
that the bodice front is not of a piece with the skirt, which was how early chemise dresses, even some late ones, were constructed.

- Whether the skirt is fall-front or not, I do not know. There seems to be a very narrow waistband, which could be consistent with a fall-front skirt, but how the bodice fronts would be done then, I do not know at all.

- The neckline join to the straps is puzzling. It almost seems that this is fall-front bodice, too, which wouldn't make sense with the above note, but the strap seems to go underneath the gathering of the bodice front. There is no sign of button or pin. I thought that fall-front bodices that buttoned or pinned at the top didn't come in until 1797 or so.

- The skirt unlined, with a pretty petticoat beneath, likely. There are lots of fashion plates and paintings showing women drawing up their skirts with their hands to reveal a pretty petticoat.

Oh, and by the way, by this point cotton could be used as a lining, not just linen.

I have a lot to learn. Ten weeks of study on and off is not enough, and I have no access to originals, and no copy of The Cut of Women's Clothes...

Very best,
Natalie in Kentucky

Sarah Jane said...

I've just been back and again amazeed at all the work you have put into this lovely article on 1790's attire. Thank you so much for your construction tips. Renna, I'll have to try that voile from Dharma too; I have decided to use the voile for probably an 1820's gathered dress from Costume in Detail since it is not really right for this period anyway.

I've decided to put off making this dress til all our 1860's stuff is out of the way, but I can't wait to start it when I get everything else done! Natalie, your research and knowledge is a gold mine; thank you for sharing here! I too had wondered about the apron front on the bodice; if indeed it is an apron front or if it just has the appearance of it and fastens in some other way. . .I guess I need to do more research, then hopefully I'll have a good idea of what to do when I get to make this lovely gown here depicted!

ZipZipInkspot said...

I finally have more information on how this garment may have been constructed.

Suzi Clarke says there is a collar, that folds down. There is a similar collar shown on a dress in Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes.

Suzi says the bodice would be lined. You could use the S&S version of lining with modesty panels that pin shut, or you could mount the exterior fabric on a lining, again per the example dress in Norah Waugh. The lining would give the dress the opacity we are looking for, while allowing for the lovely draping of the voile. The sleeves would be lined, too.

There is a dress with a standing collar (not a fold-down collar, in the Age of Nudity exhibition at Kent State University, which is archived online.

There is also an example of a dress with a rather heavier fabric on Christie's auction site, at http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?from=salesummary&intObjectID=5120747&sid=e4830c8e-5c66-4ed3-8fb9-3165bd7a5503. It has a crossover front, but you get an idea of what a more opaque fabric might look like in person. I believe it is lined with the modesty panels used in the S&S drawstring dress.

Hope this helps,

Natalie