V3: Reconciling Myself to the 1770s

My dear mother and I are planning a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in October of this year.

Of course, that means getting all excited about costume possibilities NOW, and planning all the mix-and-match combinations that will make travelling with and dressing in the whole Georgian shebang as easy as possible.

But there’s a wrench thrown in my costuming monkey-works…

The weekend we are planning to attend is that of the “Prelude to Victory” event, which is a specific re-enactment set in 1780.  While I would like to go willy-nilly and sew my favorite later 1780s and 90s jackets, that would be highly historically inaccurate of me, so it is my task to find items from the later 1770s to sew…but that cancels out my original plans:

My first ideas for jackets, but the blue and green are both 1790s, and the brown is so common in Colonial Williamsburg that Abby told me not to make it.

The problem is…well…I wanted to make jackets and various articles of undress, and I don’t much care for those I am finding from the 1770s. :- I love the polonaise styles, and you can’t really go wrong with robes a la Francaise and Anglaise, but that defeats the purpose of mix-and-match jackets + petticoats.

So far I’ve gone on a Pinterest rampage and pinned everything 1770s I could find last night.  My 1770s Pinterest board is here, if you want to check it out.

Met; 1778, polonaise and pet en l’air ensembles, French

I’m observing a heavy love of the polonaise, all of which show matching petticoats, with the use of moderate panniers.  The jackets I am seeing are pet en l’airs and brunswicks (both sack back jackets), with very few caracos or casaquins, and no pierrots, although the ubiquitous swallow-tailed Williamsburg jacket does date from this period (#5).

But I love pierrots.

I wanted pierrots. 🙁

Pet-en-l’air, mid-18th century From Christie’s
Gallerie des Modes, 1778.  ”Demoiselle habilee en caracot…”
Brunswick, V&A, 1765-1775 (sack back jacket, comperes front, hood)
The Met, 1775, French

So…what to do?  Is it possible to mix-and-match skirts and jackets in the 1770s, or should everything match?  I want to transport the fewest articles possible for the most look achievable.  What about the panniers – would it be acceptable to forgo those, or are they a must?

How would you solve this conundrum?


  • Abby

    January 3, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    Oh don't worry about having to wear matching petticoats and jackets/gowns! We mix and match all the time. You don't have to match. If you look at prints from the 1770s and 80s all middling and lower are mix and matching with a wide variety of prints and colors. Being able to match your petticoat to you gown or jacket also can be attributed to how much the fabric cost, being able to shell out more money for more costly fabric is a display of wealth, where mixing and matching usually was a more economical approach.

    Mix and match away the more the better! (sometimes….) 🙂

  • ColeV

    January 3, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    As long as the petticoat is a solid color it can go with anything! I copied the last jacket in your post and put it with a cream silk petticoat which I had originally made for my 1780s cut-away gown. Just remember you'll almost never see a mis-matched outfit in a museum, because how would they know it went together? And that petticoat probably was worn to bits being matched with other jackets and gowns. Three of my favorite mismatches:

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    January 3, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    Ooh Lauren how exciting! Thought – given the difference between a sackback and a fitted one is sewing down the pleats, could you make a scakback one and tailor the back into a caracao later?
    Also if you make pocket panniers and remove the boning for travel, they will pack down into next to nothing. A few minutesd threading and pinning or stitching the bones back in at the other end and tada, instant froofelage! :):)

  • Lauren R

    January 3, 2012 at 9:18 PM

    Thank you guys so much, I feel MUCH better about mixing and matching. I won't worry so much about things. I want to be historically correct for 1780, so I will try to stay within bounds, and Mrs C that's a great idea!

  • Hallie Larkin

    January 4, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    Lauren, based on past experience, everyone and their sister will be wearing jackets at the event, thanks to the proliferation of the JP ryan pattern! If you take one jacket and one gown with two petticoats that coordinate (in other words one matching the jacket and one matching the gown, both working with each other) then you have combinations and more importantly a gown that can be dressed up or dressed down with accessories and the petticoats. A simple gown with matching petticoat, becomes more formal immediately. Caps, handkerchiefs and hats take up little room and can change that gown from everyday to dressed up going to dinner (make your reservations at the Kings Arms now for dinner, don't wait). As usual, I never recommend the easy road! You don't need a zillion changes, just a couple of really drop dead authentic outfits, you won't see the same tourists twice, but re-enactors are a tough crowd, authentic and appropriate is better than prolific. Hallie

  • Rowenna

    January 5, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    Lauren–you can still mix and match with gowns and petticoats, if you prefer the style of the gowns from the period over the jackets. Open gowns are often shown with contrasting petticoats–and as Hallie said, you can have a matching petticoat to dress the look up. And I'm with Hallie on accessories–a timeless piece of style advice, that! Add some paste and a pretty kercheif and you're suddenly quite dressed up 🙂 And, if you'd really like a jacket, the swallowtail jacket may be ubiquitous, but it is very pretty, and a rather quick n dirty project, too.

    As for panniers, and this is my opinion, but it depends on what your portrayal is. In the reenacting community, we're often portraying camp followers or other workaday people, so, honestly, our camps have few panniers (in my experience). If you're a lower class woman, of course you can ditch the panniers! If you're planning on being the upper-middling sort, then it perhaps depends more on what you can acheive looks-wise with and without panniers. I've always slapped on a little false rump and pulled things off–and of course, by 1780, the bum was becoming the thing, so if panniers won't happen but bum pads can…well, you're just a fashion-forward gal.

  • Julie

    January 6, 2012 at 2:51 AM

    One thing to keep in mind… I do believe Becky Fifield's article in Textile History last year demonstrated that printed petticoats were only worn with matching printed jackets, and solid jackets or gowns with printed petticoats was extremely uncommon. You can mix and match solids all you like though!

  • American Duchess

    January 6, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Rowenna, Great advice! I'm going to try out some mini panniers, more like a bumpad with more to the sides that the back, and see how it looks. I want to portray middling and up.

    Julie – you are right! I searched forever for evidence of printed skirts being worn with solid jackets, and I have found only one source in the V&A showing a brown pierrot with a calico skirt. I will not be wearing prints, but my mom will. I'm going for the STRIPES!


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