Fashionable Day Dress, 1744-1752

Original price was: £20.00.Current price is: £15.00.

History of Costume II 1660 to 1800

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The next picture is an excellent example not only of the evolution of the pannier dress but of the obstinate British habit of adopting a foreign custom and adapting it so vigorously that all alien elements are safely eliminated. A modern variation on this theme with a fortuitous twist for the adapters is in the matter of miniskirts which, contrary to belief, did not originate in this country but due to the energetic efforts of a new extrovert population were not only accepted but so acclimatized that they have been acknowledged as the brain-child of British designers and exploited as such to enormous profit. There was no commercial intention in the 18th century. It was merely the wish to be in the latest fashion while making it suitable for a rather different way of life from that of its originators. Time and again the French have borrowed ideas from the English and produced something so much more provocative than the original that the final product has had to be toned down when it made its way back across the English Channel. Relations have become rather strained at times even ·for those pining to wear the latest that Paris could provide. In the latter part of the 17th century a coterie of smart Parisiennes, concerned for the appearance of their out-of-touch English sisters, had started sending regularly to London models of the latest fashions on intricately dressed dolls. So popular were these mannequins that over a long period of years not even a war prevented them crossing the Channel. Kind though the initial thought might have been, it was also an excellent boost for French trade and it was unfortunate that some distrustful English characters should have begun to suspect that French humour had got the better of tact and that ‘Pandora’ was not always in the latest fashion. The little jest of Paris designers in the Second World War, producing fashions, it has been confessed, to make the heavy German client look ridiculous, prompts one to think there was much in the suspicions. In the interchange of ideas pannier dresses, too, made their way backwards and forwards between the two countries. Wide stiffened petticoats undoubtedly started their career in the theatre, society lacking any personality or originality at this period. The French company who made them such a universal success generously admitted that they had picked up the idea while playing in London. The current fashion being so tame it is quite possible that the ladies of the very popular English theatre had livened up their shape in this outstanding manner. Whoever had the first idea, it was taken up with rapture by the fashionable and with fury by the moralists, who preached sermons against it, wrote pamphlets and even legislated against it. With wearisome regularity anything new and eccentric is proclaimed immoral but, after it has become accepted, discarding it becomes downright wanton. Panniers started a long fashionable life as ‘guilt disguisers’, but many years later when Marie Antoinette was heartily sick of them she was accused of every kind of impropriety for leaving them off. Hooped petticoats were no invention: it was the peculiar shape they eventually became that aroused such ire. Very early in the century iron or wooden rings had been threaded through slots in a funnel-shaped petticoat to hold out the heavy material then used for skirts and were quite a rational and invisible part of the dress. At their re-introduction in the 1720’s they were anything but invisible: they altered the entire shape of the wearer. The sane but rather timid fashion after 1710 had at first been gingered up by a round hooped petticoat, but as this looked too like the previous old fashion, without its character, the next obvious variation was to change the circle to an oval by tying in the more flexible cane hoops from back to front. A woman then walked in a cage, not only ringed round, but criss-crossed by tapes and flattened back and front. The whole structure could be made of wood or cane taped horizontally and vertically together but a more comfortable and less erratic garment was produced when whalebone took the place of the heavier stiffeners and was threaded through tucks in a linen petticoat. There was such a demand for the new material that the Dutch set up a whaling station solely to provide for this purpose and made a small fortune over the years. The early shape, through being the same length all round, had the intriguing habit of tilting up at the sides and could be flaunted to show the ankles and red-heeled shoes, but even that advantage was jettisoned in the search for further extravagance. The box shape of the new skirt was so novel that it positively de­ manded carrying to extremes. The petticoats were then extended and squared off with pads to lift the sides horizontally in two shelves, either as elbow rests or making it imperative to hold the arms stiffly forward in front of the panniers. The Frenchwoman covered herself and the whole contraption in the sacque dress that was, indeed, called the ‘robe a la française’, and yet managed to reveal a feminine shape by the nature of her corsetting which allowed a soft rounded bosom to swell over the curved front husks. The Englishwoman counteracted any such tendency by firmly lacing her corset up the back and presenting a long flat front to the world. The trim English bodice, itself, often had a back closure and was held down by being attached firmly to the skirts. The long lean look of the bodice was intensified by a white kerchief being pulled down narrowly and held in place by one strap or more across the front, which later developed into criss-cross lacing. Tiers of graduated bows were much more to French taste. Aprons and caps were always dear to the homelier Englishwoman who clung to them no matter what the occasion. This conservative domestic habit was particularly infuriating to Beau Nash, trying to give tone and sophistication to society in Bath: taking a strong line with the Duchess of Queensberry he tore off her costly apron and flung it to the ground in front of the entire company at an assembly. Very seldom was an Englishwoman seen with an uncovered head. Small mob caps: gathered at the nape, or triangles of lace and lawn, topped closely dressed hair, but the favourite style was the cap with frills that dipped slightly over the forehead and continued in lappets left loose on the shoulders or tied under the chin. These were particularly fetching when covered by the flat hats in fine straw or silk in the deliberately simple shepherdess style that had become the vogue through the excursions into Arcadia by the fashionable painters. The slightly bedroom look of the French sacque did not endear itself very quickly to our straight-laced countrywoman but the wide panniers that accentuated the clear outline and emphasized their withdrawn attitude were an instant and increasing success. The difficulty of allowing enough material to cover the enormous width of the panniers in ample folds was catered for by the pleats, back and front, from the shoulders of the sacque dress, and even then, sometimes had to open down the front over an under-skirt. The trim bodice-and-skirt line presented a problem that was neatly overcome by continuing the fullness at the waist laterally, into the side seams running along the top of the panniers. English skirts were inclined to be less fussy than the French fashions. but when worn with a front opening the under-skirt was often of very fine quilting. The difficulties of precedence can be imagined when every woman was encased in a square cage. On State occasions double the space was. necessary to prevent the Queen from being obscured by those of less degree – and so on, down the scale of personages of importance. Despite embarrassments the shape kept its popularity until well after the mid-18th century and became, because of the grand style it gave to the wearer, official court dress in all the capitals of Europe, only being abolished in Britain as late as the 1830’s.

Additional information

Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm