This “sack” dress was popular from 1755 to 1775. The white silk has a narrow black stripe and a small floral pattern. Several of the 18th century gowns, which can be seen in museums today, were made of a similar print. The bodice is tight-fitting with a low neckline. The waist, in the front, is long and rounded. A black velvet stomacher with a wooden busk gives the fashionable straight front while the cord lacing allows access. The sides of the skirt are arranged in pleats. Two double pleats form the back drape. These pleats allow the material to hang out from the shoulders and the sides fit tight to the body. The bodice has a boned lining which laces up the back and give room for expansion. You couldn’t afford a new gown just because you gained weight or became pregnant. There are tapes and rings in the back so the train can be caught up. The tight sleeves have a scalloped ruffle which hid the elbow.

During the 18th century, a lady never showed her elbows. Considered ugly by the woman, they were covered, but because they were hidden men considered them sexy. The décolletage would be low enough to show a little color, but “Heaven forbid” you showed your elbow. Hair styles for formal occasions were drawn back from the face, sometimes with a center part. The top knot was entwined with ribbons, pearls, flowers, butterflies, or ostrich plumes. Wigs were only used for court, but white, gray, or colored powder was used by the better sort. Pomatum or paste, used to stiffen the hair and hold the powder, was made of such substances as hog’s grease, tallow, or a mixture of beef marrow and oil.

Slits were placed in both the gown and the petticoat to allow access to the pocket worn beneath. The petticoat was made to be seen and did not become an undergarment until the second half of the 19th century. The corset, in black silk, has a crewel design on the front and laces up the back. Sometimes called stays, they were made wide across the front and narrow through the back which pulled back the shoulders. They also compressed the waist, and flattened and raised the bust. Weighted tabs helped keep the corset down.

To extend the gown, hoops of whale bone, oak splints, or metal were worn. These hoops came in all sizes and shapes. These are a design of cotton and metal. Under the hoop, the pocket was worn beneath the gowns. Have you heard the story of Lucy Locket? She lost her pocket because her string became untied. Within the pocket was carried many necessities such as a nose cloth, patch box, needlework, and a pocketbook. This is a copy of an original worked on 36 stitches-to-the-inch canvas. Two hundred years ago, 26-54 stitch canvas was available.

Chemises were made in the home of simple construction. One width of material is used to form the body. There is no shoulder seam, but the shoulder line is made narrower by cutting a triangle off and inserting this piece in the side to widen the hem area. Rectangles are cut for the sleeves and gussets added under the arm to facilitate fit. A drawstring adjusts the neckline to suit any gown. The sleeve ruffles were seen as decoration under the gown and give added adornment to the chemise. Nothing was worn under the chemise, except in winter when an extra petticoat was worn beneath and pulled between the legs then tucked in the waistband to keep drafts off of you know where.

Seams were taken in the sides of stockings to show a “well-turned ankle.” The decorations, called clocks, hid these seams and further accented the ankle. Knitting machines were invented in the 17th century, using the same principal as the children’s knitting spools. These produced the first tube socks. Stockings and other items of clothing were marked with the owner’s initials in cross stitch. In this period, the cloth or leather shoes had a squatty French heel and large metal buckles. Gold and silver buckles were purchased by the better sort, brass or pewter for the middling sort, and of course the meanest sort wore none.

This costume was made by Nellie Wright.

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