Guts – Inspecting the Insides of 18th Century Garments

Vintage Textile, c. 1780s (click through for more). This is the waist edge at the center back of the bodice.

Lauren here >

Historical costuming is a journey. It starts with an interest, grows into experimentation, and somewhere along the way it might turn in to … well … obsession. šŸ˜‰

For me, over the years I’ve become more and more interested in the original construction techniques of various garments. I know how things are put together today but how did mantua-makers in the past approach garment-making? We face the same challenges across the centuries – draping, fitting, setting sleeves (ugh!) – but we come at them from different perspectives and experiences.

The back of the bodice, interior – what do you see? There are boning channels at the center back. The armscyes are left raw; there’s some top stitching and facing around the neckline; I see two whipped seams either side of the CB; the side back seam was finished in the lining then the outer fabric applied and top stitched. The more we look, the more clues are revealed. Vintage Textile – click through for more.

With 18th century dress I’m fascinated by the “order of operations.” The Georgian mantua-maker seemed to do everything in reverse, fitting the lining of the gown first, then building the glorious outer garment atop, making heavy use of top/visible stitching and working from the outside of the garment.

They appeared to give few hoots about interior finishing. The interiors of surviving 18th century gowns are often a hot mess. Many a gown shows raw edges at the waist seam and armscyes. At the same time, some archaic stitch techniques were used to produce clean and efficient seams.

Vintage Textile – gown – 1770s-80s. This is the center back where the skirt is stitched to the bodice. Feel better now?

This idea of efficiency seemed to override everything else – how quickly can the garment be put together, and how quickly can it be disassembled and re-made? How easily can your milliner get that old trim off and get the new, fashionable trims on? 18th century people were an impatient lot – they expected their gowns fast and the milliners and mantua-makers obliged. Fabulous on the outside, janky on the inside.

The interior of a sacque gown, showing the back. eBay listing (click through for more)

So next time you’re beating yourself up over the wack interior of your Georgian dress, cut yourself some slack. <3

For *lots* more Georgian gown interiors, check out our Pinterest board.
To learn how to construct these gowns by hand with the original methods, pre-order The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

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