Friday, January 11, 2008

The Fashionable Miss, Part I: 1800-1810

Oh, I get to talk about clothes! No, no, you mustn’t make me . . . well I suppose I could . . . just give me the keyboard!

What did the fashionable young lady wear in the earliest part of the nineteenth century? It was a rather daring time for fashion. Gone were the hoop skirts and huge powered wigs of the previous generation. High-waisted gowns now draped the human figure in sheer fabrics that emphasized the breasts, often revealed a lot of arm, and hinted at shapely legs.

White was the in color, and muslin the in fabric, for day wear and evening. Some white fabrics had little tufts (sprigs), and many were embroidered along the hem, in panels down the front , on the bodice, or throughout the fabric. Many dresses gathered at the neck in ruffles. If the necklines were a little lower, a young lady might wear a bit of lace in the opening for modesty.
Or leave it out and be though a bit fast.

For evening, a demure young lady would still be advised to wear white, but the dresses were embroidered with gold thread or draped with gauzy overskirts. Jewels glittered in the deeper necklines, and the sheer fabrics were covered with patterned shawls and tippets (long, thin strips of material, usually swan's-down or fur). Ball gowns might be made of silk, satin, lame, or crepe. And of course every young lady had her velvet evening cape.

Shoes were flat, like ballet slippers, of fine kid leather in many colors and even prints. Fans were large and made of fabric on bone or wood. You may have seen Marissa’s earlier post on the subject. You could really whack a saucy fellow with one of these babies.

I like classic lines in my clothes, so I probably would have gone for the ruffles-at-the-throat look. A swan's-down tippet sounds like too much fun (can’t you just imagine twirling it or wrapping it about your fingers as you chat with friends?), and I’d adore a black velvet evening cape. A girl can never have too much velvet.

How about you? What would you choose to wear?


Sarah Prineas said...

What to wear, what to wear.

I think a riding habit, pretty much all the time. That'd be the equivalent to jeans and a ratty cardigan, wouldn't it?

I never knew sprigs were tufts on the fabric! Before I'd always pictured, you know, sprigs of flowers, or something.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm partial to the red dress Elizabeth wears in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice when she's staying at Netherfield with Jane. Except that red isn't my color. Sigh.