Friday, April 08, 2011

Solving the Coverage Issue on the 1795 Wrap-front Sheer Dress

Obviously no kerchief. Quite daring for daytime, even
these days.
Edited May 23, 2011

While lady in "my" reference portrait miniature cheerfully wears a deep decolletage on her wrapfront dress, she may be wearing evening dress, for which decolletage was expected.

I am not so comfortable wearing a deep decolletage. Daytime looks were more usually covered up, although not always. Here's a September 1796 example of a wrap-front dress with no kerchief indicated in the text, and the Gallery of Fashion was normally very careful to mention all items of dress.

Original text: FIG. CXII. The toupee cut short and combed straight, plain chignon; cap of clear muslin, the cawl drawn behind into the form of a rose, trimmed with a double border of lace, broad green striped riband, forming a large bow in the front and behind; lappet of plaited muslin round the chin. Round gown of thick muslin, with a narrow plaiting of lace round the neck; narrow pink riband tied loosely round the neck. Sash of green striped riband. Cloak of thin muslin, trimmed with the same. Necklace of large beads. Yellow gloves and shoes.

How to obtain coverage? Most miniatures were no help this time round, so I went back to the standby Gallery of Fashion, and some museum sites, and found some handsome options.

Option 1: A Tucker, High or Low

Tuckers were a standard item for dress, although the brave might go without them, as we see above. They were so common, in fact, that in the Gallery they are not often mentioned unless they are out of the ordinary in design. The high tucker mentioned further down in this section is an example.

Standard tuckers were more like this:

First, from December 1794, cold-weather evening dress. Figure 35, on the right, wears a wrap-front dress with a double-layer high tucker; this would have been tacked into the neckline. Alternatively, I could substitute an edged kerchief and get the same effect. I read in other descriptions that "clear lawn" is a good foundation material for such a kerchief, and this would be appropriate for the tucker too.

As reported in Cathy Decker's Regency Fashion site, the original text read:

FIG. XXXIV. HEAD-DRESS. The hair in light curls; double chignon, the ends returned in ringlets. White and coquelicot striped Barcelona twisted turban, the end falling very low behind. One white and purple ostrich feather placed behind. One white and purple ostrich feather placed behind. A purple silk round gown, drawn in the waist; long sleeves, and trimmed with white fur. Coquelicot-coloured sash. Swan-down tippet. Handkerchief within the gown. A string of white beads round the neck. Gold loop pattern ear-rings. White gloves and shoes.

FIG. XXXV. HEAD-DRESS. Chiffonet made of white embroidered lawn, black velvet bandeau set with pearls. One white, one black, and two white and lilac feathers, with a large diamond pin placed on the right side. Petticoat and robe a la Turque of white satin, trimmed with gold foil, and a black fringe intermixed with gold. High tucker of blonde, double plaited. Diamond ear-rings. White shoes embroidered in gold. Party-coloured fur muff.

Option 2: A Cravat, Plus Small Handkererchief Around Shoulders, Tucked to Follow Neckline of Dress
The middle figure of the June 1794 plate of morning dresses worn in Kensington Gardens is wearing a cravat. Her kerchief, which the original text calls a handkerchief in reference to its size, goes round the shoulders and ties behind, but I would tuck have it go round the shoulders and tuck in along the neckline edges. Since I'll be in a garden setting in July, perfect...
Again, from Cathy Decker's June 1794 page:
Fig. X. (leftmost): Straw-coloured gipsy hat, trimmed with lilac riband formed into a large bow in the front, and into a very small one behind; tied under the chin with a lilac-coloured silk handkerchief. One white, and one lilac ostrich feather, placed on left side. The hair in light curls, falling down behind, bound with a white half-handkercheif, tied in the front into a large bow. Round gown of fine Indian callico, trimmed with a narrow flounce; long sleeves trimmed at the wrist with lace. Lilac-coloured sash tied into a small bow, the ends as long as the train. Lawn handkerchief, over it another of lilac-coloured silk, turned under the arms, and tied behind. Yellow shoes. Jonquille-coloured gloves.

Fig. XI. (middle): Plain chip hat, trimmed with purple ribands. Hair lightly frizzed; chignon turned up in a loose plait. Plain muslin gown and petticoat. Short sleeves, trimmed at the elbows with lace. Full cravat round the neck. Small lawn handkerchief tied behind. Black silk cloak, trimmed with very broad lace. Lead-coloured gloves. Green fan.

Fig. XII. (rightmost): Demi-gipsy hat, trimmed with green ribands, forming a large bow in the front, and a very small one behind. A narrow white net, plaited round the edge of the brim, its two points tied with narrow green ribands, passing under the ringlets, and forming behind a small bow. Two party-coloured feathers on the left side. Hair in easy curls; chignon turned up plain and the ends returned in ringlets. Chemise of spotted muslin; the sleeves tied in two parts with green ribands. Cross-striped green and white sash. Jonquille-coloured gloves. Yellow shoes.

You can see another cravat in the detail from an engraving, below. The fashion also appears in other Gallery of Fashion plates (read the Gallery of Fashion online at the Bunka Gakuen Library to see other examples).

Visual References for Tucking in One's Handkerchief at Neckline

August 1794: Morning Dresses

Leftmost figure, original text (Cathy's site again): "Headdress: white stamp-paper hat, trimmed with a green riband and tied down with the same. One green and one yellow feather placed on the left side. Green gauze veil. The hair in small curls; plain chignon. Plain calico morning dress with long sleeves; the petticoat trimmed with a narrow flounce. Plain lawn handkerchief, green sash, lawn cloak trimmed with lace and tied behind, york tan gloves, yellow shoes."

What the neckerchief could look like from the back:

This is a detail from an ironical engraving, dated 1796, titled "A promenade in St. James's Park, or, Fashions of the day", and available in full in the Lewis Walpole Digital Library collection, call number 796.08.01.05+.

The figure on the far right is wearing her neckerchief tucked inside her dress, and following its neckline. By the way, her dress is ornamented with a long ribbon wrapped and crossed in the back in a fashion known as "a la enfantine", which was popular in this year (read the Gallery of Fashion online at the Bunka Gakuen Library to see other examples.) It was usually worn in tandem with a chemise dress...what look like pleats here are probably gathers, given that the gathers on the arms are drawn with thick lines too.

Option 3: Full Coverage

There is always the option of covering up most of the neckline. Although the watercolor below, by Anne Frankland Lewis and in the LACMA collection, (AC1999.154.21) shows a lady wearing a round gown, the image is still useful. She is wearing a large kerchief wrapped in the manner common for years and years -- thrown over the shoulders, and pulled together in front. In this case, instead of a fichu brooch or some other mechanism, she appears to have tucked the ends into her dress front, which appears to be front-opening.

So, I think we have solved this


Amanda said...

What great solutions to the issue. Even with modern low cut dresses I sometimes find myself tucking a bit of lace in the front for coverage.

Kleidung um 1800 said...

I can't tell you how excited I am to see the final result! There's so much research going into your project - wonderful!!!


ZipZip said...

Thank you!

These handkerchief options are really exciting because they give that many more potential looks to the dress, depending on how they are decorated.

Am making sloooowwww progress on the dress.

Very best,