8 Drool-Worthy 18th c. Dresses From the Kyoto Costume Institute

For some time now I’ve had the Kyoto Costume Institute’s book…the miniature version. It was not until this afternoon that I finally received the KCI “big book,” quite literally a costume “bible,” and a must-have of any historical costumer.

“Fashion: A History From the 18th to the 20th Century” is not a book of patterns. It is not a how-to. It is a catalog of gown, masterfully photographed, from one of the largest collections of extant historical garments in the world. It is a treasure-trove of visual information, with every page in full-color, often showcasing garments and styles not usually associated with the “stereotypical” modern view of the 18th c.

All that being said, it is downright impossible to flip through this book without earmarking a handful of “must have” costumes to add to your future wardrobe. After careful consideration, I have selected 8 to show here today:

1780 Robe a l’Anglaise. White, Pink, Green striped silk satin. Fastens at the front with hooks and eyes. I love the little miniature pinned onto the whitework fichu. The petticoat looks to be green quilted satin.

1780s Caraco (jacket) and Petticoat – Jacket is blue silk taffeta, fastened at the front with hooks and eyes. The petticoat is silk faille with chinoiserie (asian-influence) embroidery.

1780s Robe Retroussee dans le poches. That’s a mouthful. This means that the skirt was pulled up through the pocket openings at the waist of the skirt, forming these “pooches,” as I like to remember it. This was a precursor to the polonaise, which was held up with cords. The dress is triped silk faille with a moire effect.

1780s Robe a l’Anglaise. White cotton chintz (yes, cotton!) with Indian floral print (yes, print!). Laces in the front (hidden lacings, I assume). The border of this gown is a separate printed fabric sewn on as an edging, like a piece of ribbon or binding. Here is a photo of a recreation of this style.

1790 Jacket. Those of you familiar with this book will know that the companion to this pink jacket, a teal jacket with gilet, is also a must-have, and is one of the most reproduced costume pieces in 18th c. films, theater, and private costuming. This pink jacket, however, is just as noteworthy, as it is a peculiar style not seen nearly as often, but cute to boot! Pink silk taffetta, with a drawstring neckline, and a front-lacing belt at the waist that pulls the waist taught from the side-back seams. It appears to be worn over a sheer skirt with thin white stripes (voile or silk). The matching hat is killer too!

1790s Robe a L’Anglaise. I call this one the “Revolution Dress,” and it’s one of my favorites from the book. Cream silk taffetta, with a zone/turque-like front and button closure. Black lace decorates the front of the bodice and the cuffs, the latter lacing with wine-colored ribbons. The sash sports a metal buckle with a painted porcelain center, on a striped silk sash. “Diary of a Mantua Maker” has made a version of this gown: click here to see it.

1790-95 Round Gown Dress of subtley striped Indian muslin with silver embroidery. The sash belt is silk woven with silver thread. I love this gown for its simplicity, but also because it is a-typical: notice the turn-back lapels at the neckline. The turban head gear is off-the-charts as well.

1795 Dress of plain-weave linen (linen!) with a beautiful printed floral pattern, worn over a petticoat of white muslin. The blue bow at the waist is a perfect touch. Interestingly enough, the printed fabric of the gown is from 1770. This is a great example of a garment that has been remodelled to fit the new styles. Some of these amazing printed textiles can be approximated – ReproductionFabrics.com has some superb printed cottons.

“Is that all?” No! This book is choc full of so many wonderful garments from more than just the 18th century. The images I posted appeal to my tastes, but there are sure to be others that appeal to yours. If you are looking to buy this book, get it on Amazon used. The book is out-of-print, so this is your best best. My used version is in near-perfect condition, and was a shockingly reasonable price. Click the link below:


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