The Eternal Sunshine of the 18th Century Gown

This year at Costume College it really was all very, very yellow

This year I kindof copped out at the Costume College Gala…but in a very Georgian way. I can’t really say that I wore the same dress as I have done for two years previously – rather I wore the same yellow silk taffeta now in its fifth 18th century incarnation.

2016 – The yellow silk gown as 1740s daywear – this is unfortunately the best and only picture I got of this incarnation!

This silk started out as a 1740s English gown with robings and winged cuffs. I wore it with all the 1740s fluff – kerchief, apron, cap, and wide-brimmed pink bergere – for daywear at Costume College in 2016. For the Gala of the same year I wore exactly the same gown but with a trimmed petticoat and different stomacher, inching it forward into the 1750s.

2016 – The yellow silk worn as a 1750s English gown with trimmed petticoat and stomacher and 1750s-appropriate hair style and shoes.

The gown never quite fit me how I liked, so in 2017 I picked it apart and remade it as an Italian gown from 1785-1790. I was going for a specific garment for my rendition of the 1790 portrait of Mademoiselle Guimard by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, so my bodice was a little funky, with a surplice design with trimmed lapels, closed over an ivory underbodice. My intention with this version of the gown was to be able to wear it lapels-open or lapels-closed, but the lapels didn’t quite line up with the neckline how I intended so I knew at some point in the future they would have to be removed.

2017 – Spot the Italian gown. Most of it was hidden under the blue kurdi robe.

I wore the Turkish ensemble with the Italian gown almost completely obscured for the Costume College Gala in 2017, then later wore gown again for our filming with Racked at Van Cortlandt House in New York, changing the look of the ensemble with the skirts pulled up, and frothy apron, kerchief, cap, and brain hat.

2017 – Same gown, very different look, though I kept the lapels open, a little nod to the playfulness of the 1780s. Photo by Meredith Barnes at Van Cortlandt House.

Costume College 2018 rolled around this past July and I once again turned to the yellow silk, finally removing the lapels and changing the bodice to a center front closure over the laced underbodice, similar to this gown in The Met. I kept the flippy-flappy bodice and added new trims in the spirit of the 1780s – fluffy white sleeve puffs, neckline ruffle, and a deep hem guard all made in a silk-cotton with a woven-in spot and trimmed in narrow French blue ribbon. I also stitched 5-loop bows to the side back points at the waist where the skirt pulled up, matching a blue breast bow in front.

2018 – The yellow silk lives on! Now with new trimmings and styled with white and blue

Plus here’s a little sneak peak of one of the new caps in our upcoming second book, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty

Even though I didn’t have an impressive new dress for the 2018 Costume College gala, I enjoyed the little chuckle of remaking and retrimming a favorite 18th century garment for three years running. Refashioning old textiles and gowns was such a common and accepted part of 18th century dress and it’s been rather fun to explore all the different ways this gown can continue to live on regardless of size, weight, and taste changes. If you’d like to learn more about just how common remaking, altering, and retrimming was in the 18th century, have a listen to our recent podcast with Dr. Carolyn Dowdell:

Now comes the question…what shall be the next version?

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