Friday, October 12, 2018

Episode 22: Part 2 with Jenny Tiramani from the School of Historical Dress

Hi Again!

Abby here, fulfilling my promise from last week that we were going to release the second part of our conversation with the incredible Jenny Tiramani.

This week's episode is just a continuation of what we were discussing last week, and some great details about future books from the School of Historical Dress (omg sooo excited!), and just other lovely goodness.

So sit back, relax, and have a listen!

Oh! And for the love of everything good and educated --- buy Patterns of Fashion 5 now! Only a few more weeks until we can get our hands on it -- hooray!

Until next time (hopefully next week, cause woo boy, do I have a lot of podcasts to publish!)


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Monday, October 8, 2018


The "En Fourreau" Myth

In our modern world there is much of the past that has been obscured. Looking through the lens of time, especially when you have to peer through the film of the Victorian era, the ways of the past get hazy, sometimes completely lost. We lose knowledge and understanding of ways of life, of work, of dress, of speech. This is why we can never truly be 100% historically accurate.

We tend to apply our own knowledge and understanding to things in the past. We call these "reenactorisms." Reenactorisms start nobody's-quite-sure-where-or-when and persist doggedly, sometimes for generations.

One such reenactorism is the ubiquitous term "en fourreau." It's used to describe a pleated back English gown or night gown wherein the back pleats are cut in one with the skirt. The term "fourreau" is an 18th century French term relating to dress, but doesn't appear to relate to the back pleats of a gown.

The New Pocket Dictionary, 1784 [1]
The Complete Vocabulary in English and French, and in French and English..." 1785.
In its simplest translation, fourreau is a frock. (It also relates to an envelope, sheath, as a scabbard, but also of a, um, horsey bits). The fourreau describes children's dress, but in the 1780s is seen in description of women's fashionable dress as well.

Children's dress described in Cabinet des Modes, February 1786. The description, the plate, and my translation. Cabinet de Modes is available on Gallica (click through for link)

"The little girl seen from the front is dressed in a taffeta frock trimmed with gauze and a gauze apron."Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1780. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1482 [2]
The fashion plates depicting adults use the word "fourreau" (or "foureau") in many different ways. Here are the plates:

From Cabinet de Modes, December 1785, with my translation. I have purposefully not translated "fourreau" here because it can mean several things - is this a frock? a sheath? a kerchief? I leave it to you to make your own determination.

..." a simple Foureau d'Agnes, Amadis sleeves"
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1567

"A Foureau gown with a single tail (train), the sleeves rolled up."
We may be tempted to believe it means the bodice and skirt are cut in one but the mid-1780s is way past the fashionable period for pleated back gowns. Cassidy of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment interprets/translates this to be that the back is pleated.   Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1584

"Fourreau gown, the sleeves rolled up, the edges of the dress turned in front with braids and buttons..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1784. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1580

"...wearing a gauze fourreau with a striped belt..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1785. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1624

"...she is dressed in a caraco and taffeta fourreau..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1786. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1643

"A Levite gown with a foureau bodice/waistcoat..."
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais, 1779. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 44.1417

Additionally, The Lady's Magazine of 1789 notes -

It's such a shame we can't see what Lady's Magazine was really describing!

*Cassidy Percoco has also translated and listed more fashion plates from various sources mentioning "fourreau" and its derivatives on her blog A Most Beguiling Accomplishment. You'll see there are even more descriptions and plates that confuse the meaning of "fourreau," for instance, a child's gown described as a fourreau but with no back fastening and a supporting description that it fastened in front (1780); also a Levantine gown (1779) described as having a pleated back, but with no image of the back to illustrate how.

Just to confuse you, the pink gown is described as a fourreau. Gallerie des Modes, 1780. (not the description written on this plate, but the description in text describing this plate - you can find this on Cassidy's blog (at link).
As you can see just through observation, none of these garments gives us a conclusive definition of what a [un] Fourreau gown or en fourreau part of a costume is. As with so many 18th century things, especially in the 1780s, it's all over the place.

 I have yet to find a definitive primary source identifying "fourreau" or "en fourreau." as a pleated-back English gown or Night gown (but if you have, please let me know in the comments!). There are secondary sources aplenty, though. Janet Arnold labels a gown from The Gallery of English Costume as both a polonaise and "cut en fourreau," but does not list references.[3] Costume Close-up tags the 1770-85 gown with the term, "This style is called en fourreau, or the English back," with no citation. Grandaddy C. Willett Cunnington repeatedly describes and assigns the label to illustrations in Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century, but not a single primary quotation in his book actually uses the term to clearly describe the back pleats of an English gown. It remains a mystery where Cunnington got this definition.[4] Norah Waugh indexes "fourreau" as a tie-back gown in the late 16th century and later in the late 19th century. Waugh does not assign the term to any of the 18th century pleated-back gowns in The Cut of Women's Clothes.[5]

Interestingly, Cunnington consistently uses the term "corsage en fourreau" to describe the back pleats. This term appears in the Gallerie des Modes fashion plate depicting the Levite gown (above). Norah Waugh and Abby Cox both cite primary evidence defining "corsage" as a soft, un-boned bodice, commonly worn beneath fly-front gowns like the Polonaise, Levite, and Turque. A corsage en fourreau is more likely to be a back-closing, close-fitting bodice based on the child's garment and worn by fashionable ladies in the third quarter of the 18th century.

As for the rest, it's quite inconclusive. It's one of those wibbly-wobbly-18th-century-timey-wimey-fashion things.

So, my friends, how do you think this misuse of the term arose? Have you seen any primary evidence linking pleated back English gowns with this French word? Can we stop calling them en fourreau gowns now?


[1] There are many dictionaries with the same or similar definitions - "Royal Dictionary Abridged" 1715, "Royal English Dictionary" 1729, and "The Royal Dictionary" 1771. (Google Books)
[2] Another Gallerie de Modes et Costumes Francais plate, also 1780, describes "This little girl is dress in a frock [un Foureau] of painted toile trimmed in bands and the pulled up a la Polonaise" Museum of Fine Arts, Boston44.1483
[3] Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction c. 1660-1860. It is well-known now that the Polonaise is its own specific garment - in fact, Norah Waugh in Cut of Women's Clothes, 1968, states this clearly, contradicting her contemporary Janet Arnold. Without citations in Arnold it's very difficult to substantiate her label of "en fourreau" as well.
[4] Cunnington, C. Willett & Phillis Cunnington, Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. 1964. Great Britain. pgs 114, 121, 125, 274, 276.
[5] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600 - 1930. 1968. New York.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Podcast Episode 21: Jenny Tiramani & Patterns of Fashion 5 Book Release, Part 1

Hi Everyone!

Hooray! A new podcast episode! This week's episode has Lauren and I sitting down with the incredible Jenny Tiramani from the School of Historical Dress, to discuss their newest publication Patterns of Fashion 5: The content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c.1595-1795 which is available for Pre-Order now! (and at the time that I wrote this -- they have just over 1000 copies left, so...yeah, get on that y'all. You're going to want this book)

We've already pre-ordered our copies -- and we're *so* excited!

In addition to discussing the publication (and future books), we also got to hear Jenny's wonderful story of how she inherited the Janet Arnold collection and archive, her inspiring career journey, and more! We had such a great time chatting with her, that we ended up going on for over 2 hours, which means that we ended up breaking up our interview into 2 parts! Tune in next week for the final installment with Jenny.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

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Simplicity Patterns Now Available on

Hi! This is just a quick announcement to let you know that we now have all of our American Duchess Simplicity costume patterns available at, woo!

You'll find Simplicity 8161 and 8162, our first patterns for the 18th century inspired bodice, gown, petticoat, and stomacher; and the chemise, bum pad, and stays.

Simplicity 8161 and 8162 available on

Also available in Simplicity 8411 for the 18th century inspired robe de cour gown with the fully boned bodice, full skirt, and very large side hoops.

Simplicity 8411 available on
Lastly, Simplicity 8578 and 8579 are available, starring Abby in the Robe a la Francaise from "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," and a full set of historically accurate 18th century underpinnings (shift, stays, and side hoops) to get you started. Remember, you can use the patterns with the machine sewing instructions OR use the instructions in our book to make the gown, petticoat, and hoops by hand using 18th century methods.

Simplicity 8578 and 8579 available on
We've added some nice combo deals - get a discount when you order patterns together, and also enjoy a little discount when you order the patterns with our book.

Insider Information - we may be adding another Simplicity pattern to the lineup early next year, woo! 
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Friday, September 14, 2018

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The State of the Book (2) Address

Abby works on Cynthia's (Redthreaded) hair while I photographs each step for "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," coming July 2019.
Hi! I've been a pretty terrible blogger again this year, but I have a good excuse this time. We've been working on our second book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," for the entire year thus far.

Behind the scenes with Nicole (Diary of a Mantua Maker) for the 1781-83 hairstyle and accessories photos.
While we've been sharing parts of our journey on Instagram stories, I realize we haven't really shared much about our explorations and projects on our regular IG and FB feeds or here on the blog. So...without further ado...

A quick description of what you can expect in the new book...

We're including original 18th century recipes and how-to's in the book, so you can make your own natural beauty products.
...original recipes for pomatum, powder, rouge, and lip salve, and the tools of your toilette...

...various methods of curling and for various types of hair, including Asian and African hair...

We've worked with as many hair types as possible in the book - here Jasmine is being coiffed a la 1780.
...full how-to's of hair styles from the 1750s to the 1790s and all the cushions and stuff you need to create them...

We're including patterns and tutorials for making the necessary hair cushions to get those great heights in the 1770s - here Laurie Tavan reveals the secret, a giant "donut" hair cushion.
...patterns and tutorials for accessories for every hairstyle, including caps, hats, a calash bonnet, lappets, and a pouf... lots of meaty essays about hygiene, styling, trends, and myths. Woo!

The infamous calash bonnet in progress - we give the pattern and a step-by-step guide for this tricky yet epic piece of head gear.
We're finishing up the manuscript now to meet our September 30th deadline, followed by all the photography, illustrations, and patterning a couple weeks later. Then the book will go into editing and layout, ready for release in July 2019. That seems like a long time from now but a lot of work goes in even after the manuscript is written. There will be a pre-order opening sometime in the next 6 months, darlings - we'll let you know!

We're very very excited for the second book. It's meant as a companion to our first book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," and we hope you find it useful and fun. <3

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Monday, September 3, 2018

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A Little History of "Vienna" Victorian Congress Boots

With the release of our shiny new "Vienna" Congress Boots this season, we thought we'd give a little history of this interesting, rather special kind of footwear.

In the US the elastic-sided boot was known as the "Congress Boot" or "Congress Gaiter." Elastic-sided boots were patented in England in 1837 by J. Sparkes Hall but the elastic wasn't particularly good. Vulcanization was developed in 1839 by Goodyear but the resulting improved elastic does not appear to have been used in ladies' boots until the late 1840s.

The Met, early 19th century elastic-sided shoes. 13.49.37a,b
Shoe Icons - high cotton shoes with elastic at the sides. This is likely an example of "shirred goods." 1840s
There were two types of elasticized fabric used in congress boots - one was the true elastic web made from vulcanized India rubber thread, which is most like what we have today. Boots with the elastic webbing date from the 1850s (England) and the 1860s (US). The other type was known as "shirred goods" and was made of stretched rubber threads, running horizontally, that when "released" drew up the fabric they were sewn into for a shirred or puckered look. Boots with shirred goods are contemporary with the elastic web boots, with the web being the preferred method presumably due to stretch, recovery, and longevity.

Shoe Icons - 1860s-1870s elastic-sided boots in brown glace leather, AKA "bronzed kid." This was a *very* popular leather for women's shoes and boots and unfortunately isn't made today, but we got as close as we could with our patina brown colorway.
Nancy Rexford notes that the congress boots (with inferior and then better elastics) were worn in England for 10 years before they made their way to the US around 1847. (Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930, pg. 206).

This coincides roughly with Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838. J Sparkes Hall was a bootmaker to Queen Victoria and claimed the Queen "walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attached to the invention."

An interesting page from "Der Bazar: Illustrirte Damen-Zeitung, Volume 7," 1861, showing a variety of congress gaiters with bows and other decoration.
After 1847 congress gaiters were very popular for ladies - with restrictive clothing, people needed to put on their shoes and not worry about laces coming untied. Bending down in corsets or tight clothing isn't comfortable, polite, and sometimes not even possible, so the 18th and 19th centuries saw several alternative fastening methods for shoes - buttons, buckles, elastic - contemporary with shoe strings (laces).

The popularity of congress boots continues through the 1870s but the function of the boots begins to shift from being a fashionable style to being more for outdoor or practical use only. By the late 1880s congress boots for ladies are not considered the height of fashion but they were still being made.

Here is a page from the 1886 catalog "Grand Magasin du Samaritain" showing two congress boots with the more fashionable side-buttoning boots. They were still hangin' in there in the mid-1880s in Paris, which is known to be a fairly fashionable place. ;-)
There was a bit of a revival in the 1890s and turn of the 20th century for the "Ladies' Up to Date Congress Shoe," but it faded out fairly quickly. Elastic-sided boots continued to be made in the early 20th century but were relegated to "comfort shoes" and were not at all seen as fashionable for women. A quick bimble through Zappos today, however, will turn up a variety of congress gaiters, now commonly called Chelsea Boots, some very fashionable. Now that's a footwear style with staying power, 170 years old!

American Duchess "Vienna" Congress Gaiters in black or patina brown - true, glorious reproductions perfect for the 1850s, Civil War, and bustle periods.
Our new
"Vienna" Congress Boots
are available in
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