Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fashionable Fabrics in Jane Austen’s Day

It's my pleasure to welcome Sue Wilkes, a fellow member of the Pen and Sword Books fold, to discuss fancy fabrics in Jane Austen's era!


---oOo---

When Jane Austen was a little girl in the late 1770s, ladies wore huge head-dresses, and heavy silk and brocade sack gowns, supported by enormous hoop petticoats and pads (false ‘bums’) underneath the skirt.  


‘High change in Bond St’. Fashions of 1796. James Gillray, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-8766.
‘High change in Bond St’. Fashions of 1796. James Gillray, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-8766. 
Georgian ladies changed their dress several times a day.  ‘Undress’ or deshabillée was worn at home. When paying morning visits or going shopping, slightly more formal, but practical, ‘half-dress’ or ‘morning’ dress was worn. Of course when attending a rout, assembly or a ball, ladies donned their very best gown: ‘full dress’.

A court mantua, 1760s.
A court mantua, 1760s.
In December 1780, full dress was a long polonaise dress ‘of rich plain satin, trimmed with white and painted wreaths of flowers; the trimming set on each side of the gown strait [sic]’ edged with plaited crepe, plus ‘Vandyke cuffs, with large treble ruffles. Plain satin shoes, with brilliant or pearl knots. Large hoops’. (Lady’s Magazine, Vol. IX, 1780). 


Allegorical woodcut from April 1809 issue of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, with samples of scarlet and gold furniture calico, a striped ‘Scotia silk’, and a spotted muslin. Author’s collection.
Allegorical woodcut from April 1809 issue of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, with samples of scarlet and gold furniture calico, a striped ‘Scotia silk’, and a spotted muslin. Author’s collection. 
Hoop petticoats began to disappear, except for court dress. Jane’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide wore a court dress with an immense hoop at a reception in St James’s Palace in 1787. 

1820s fashions. The gown on the left is a purple silk gauze.
1820s fashions. The gown on the left is a purple silk gauze

Ladies gradually abandoned heavy silks and damasks in favour of flowing styles and light printed cottons for morning dress. Cotton was much lighter to wear and easier to wash.  Waistlines rose, and ladies adopted simple, ‘classical’ gowns as straight as a candle. A fashion plate from the Lady’s Monthly Museum (August 1798) shows a white ‘round gown’ for morning dress, worn with a long green net cloak and muslin bonnet.

Fashions of 1800. Author’s collection.
Fashions of 1800. Author’s collection.  
Muslin was very delicate, however, and easily torn. When Lydia Bennet eloped with Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, she asked her servant Sally ‘to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown’. 

Lady's Monthly Museum, August 1798 fashions. Author's collection.
Muslin gowns were not exactly warm to wear, to ladies wore a pelisse – a long sleeved, full-length coat – to stop unsightly goose-bumps.  A cloak or hooded mantle, a silk or muslin shawl, or a spencer (a bodice-length jacket with sleeves) provided additional warmth. In June 1808 Jane Austen found her kerseymere spencer ‘quite the comfort of our evening walks’.

1815 fashions. The yellow print calico gown is c.1815; man’s woollen uniform same
1815 fashions. The yellow print calico gown is c.1815; man’s woollen uniform same date; the blue dress c.1808 is possibly for a young girl to wear.
About the Author

Sue is the author of seven books: http://amzn.to/1elkCup. Her new book, Regency Spies, will be published by Pen & Sword later this year. She is a member of the Society of Authors. She writes for adults and children and is a creative writing tutor for the Writers Bureau. Sue like toast, crisp clear autumn mornings, and haunting secondhand bookshops.


Written content of this post and 3 author photos of displays at the Museum of Costume, Bath http://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk, © Sue Wilkes, 2015.

9 comments:

  1. What about the sprigged muslin, which Jane Austin reserves for her younger characters?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It must have been so liberating to get rid of the hoops etc. Think I'd rather have had goosebumps than try to navigate with a hoop tied to my waist - an accident waiting to happen!

    ReplyDelete
  3. and think of all those exciting figured muslins from India, with gold threads, satined stripes, different weight of thread in stripes, and those embroidered, whether sprigged all over or embroidered heavily at the edge. Indian techniques could also apply patterns of gold or silver foil.
    Cloud, by the way, which is mentioned in Jane Austen's letters, was a fabric on which a pattern was printed on the warp before weaving, so that it was clouded or misty one the weft had been added.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Such beautiful fabrics to work with!

      Delete
    2. And in many countries today "cloud" is most commonly known as "ikat"

      Delete
  4. thank you! I didn't know that

    ReplyDelete