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Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

Rate the Dress: Rosy pink Robe a la….

I’m going to try to keep up a regular blogging schedule again

This week’s dress is a floral bedecked pink frock that’s an excellent example of transitional styles in the last quarter of the 18th century, and is also an illustration of British colonialism in that period. Rate how it looks, but think about the circumstances that made it possible.

Last Week and-then-some: a mid 1860s dress in green

Good: green.

Bad: mis-matched green (quite possibly not the dress’s fault: the tabs may have been a perfect match to begin with).

Good: silhouette.

Maybe: Those tabs. The dress would be too boring without them, but you couldn’t really call them good.

Bad: No trim on the back of the dress

The Total: 7 out of 10

It was a dress to be OK with, but not to love.

This week: a 1780s dress in Indian chintz

I think this 1780s Anglaise (more on that later) is such an interesting dress, because it shows how cuts and definitions of different types of garments blend and become hazy as fashions transition from one look to another, and because it contains quite a few examples of things are a bit contrary to what we’re usually told are ‘right’ in late 18th century fabric and fashion.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

First, the fabric:

The quick guides to late 18th century cotton fabrics tell you that they should have delicate, widely spread floral patterns, possibly combined with stripes, but all kept very light and sparse. Alternatively, there are the cottons that were popular in the Netherlands, with bold grounds, and large, striking floral motifs.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

And then there’s this fabric. It’s a striped and floral cotton chintz with a densely speckled ground – the ‘chitta‘ spots that gave chintz its name, sometimes called ‘vermicelli‘ by modern costume historians. It features lush florals in pinks, purples, blues, and greens, on three different kinds of stripes: dotted with scalloped edges, multi-striped with rosebuds, and densely striped with a garland twining around it. The florals wind in and out of the stripes, splashing across the spotted ground to interact with other stripes. It all sounds far too busy to be probably as a 1780s fabric.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chintz, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

And yet – here it is! There are other examples of similarly dense and busy 1770s & 1780s fabrics. They were made with a combination of block printing and resist dyeing and hand-painting, with each additional colour adding and step adding to the cost, so were very expensive, but definitely existed and were used by those who had the means to splash out on a decadent gown.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

The fabric, made in India, but with a dense print and the inclusion of rosebuds, shows the influence of European taste on Indian made fabrics. This fabric was almost certainly created specifically for the European market. It’s a visual symbol of the complicated relationship between the maker and the consumer, with an artist creating designs for the taste of a country they had never seen, and a consumer buying an ‘exotic’ product that had been designed precisely to appeal to them. The cultural and economic relationship that the fabric represents is equally complicated Some makers (or at least the owner of the workshops) in India grew rich off the trade in fabrics, and used their technological knowledge to retain autonomy and control of the relationship – at least for a time. At the same time, the desire for these products fuelled a rising tide of European colonisers eager to control the trade in fabric, and other products – and controlling the trade meant controlling the country.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chinzt, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

In addition to its unusually decadent fabric choice, this garment has some other features that are a trifle unexpected. I’ve squinted and squinted at the back of this gown trying to decide if it would be considered a robe a la anglaise (dress with the back panel extending from the neck down through the skirt to the hem) or an Italian gown (dress with the skirt and bodice cut separately). I think it has the skirt and bodice cut separately, but the patterning has been very carefully placed and matched so that the scalloped stripes run smoothly from the bodice through the skirt, creating the illusion of continuity. Either that, or it was cut in one, and has had a seam added later, to ‘update’ the look to the new ‘Italian’ fashion.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

The sleeves of the dress are another interesting point. Earlier in the 18th century stripes on sleeves almost always run across the sleeve. By 1780, you start to see sleeves cut with the stripes cut vertically. However, contrary to what some fashion historians have claimed, this change isn’t absolute: there are still a good number of examples from the 1780s and 1790s, like this dress, that continue to use horizontal stripes.

The horizontal stripes on this dress allow some beautiful pattern matching where the back joins the sleeves: see the rosebud stripes flow perfectly from back to sleeve.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

The dress is missing its petticoat, so the Royal Ontario Museum has paired it with a full length apron and lavishly embroidered fichu: a clever dressing that hides the missing pieces, but also illustrates how the dress might have been accessorised and styled in the 18th century.

Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12
Overdress of a robe à l’anglaise, Chintz: painted and resist-dyed cotton tabby, English dress made of Indian export chint, c.1780, Royal Ontario Museum, 972.202.12

Although the crossover fichu partly covers it, you can still see that the front of the dress is cut someone off grain, but not quite on the true bias. This somewhat casual approach to bias is typical of the front of 1770s and 80s gowns. Going off grain allows the bodice to smooth over the body. The modern aesthetic preference would be for completely bias stripes meeting in Vs down the front, but modern tastes are not historical tastes. It appears that the maker of this dress wanted to retain the appearance of vertical stripes as much as possible.

What do you think of this dress which pairs a very pricey fabric with a relatively modest silhouette, and a cut which isn’t quite ready to commit to the new fashion.

What do you think?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

As usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment.

#blacklivesmatter #indigenouslivesmatter

I’m sorry for the radio silence.

On a personal level, it’s because I’ve been dealing with a really difficult and stressful situation.

On a bigger level, it’s because blogging about fashion history while black, indigenous & other people of colour continue to be marginalised, oppressed, and killed seems frivolous and pointless.

#blacklives matter.

You don’t need my voice: another privileged white woman, telling you about it.

All I can do is to educate myself, and to try to use this blog and instagram to share the work and knowledge of those who have been working for racial equality, and to decolonise the US, New Zealand and the rest of the world.

I’m working on a plan to lend actual, practical support.

I can also work to help make the historical costuming community a safe, supportive place for people of colour: one that doesn’t romanticise or idealise the past, and that does not provide a platform for racism.

This blog and my instagram will continue to be a combination of fashion history and social history, because fashion is social history, and you can’t understand dress without understanding the social conditions that created that dress.

The whole point of understanding history is to use that understanding to keep the worst parts of history from repeating themselves, and to use what you know to create a better world. So I’m going to use whatever voice and platform I have to work for social justice.

If you’re here for that – thank you!

Rate the Dress: Grass Green 1860s

I’m very fond of pink and green together, so it’s not surprising that I gravitated towards a green dress after last week’s pink dress. In an odd way, this week’s dress also remind’s me of last week’s dress. Will it remind you of it too? And if so, for all the right reasons, or all the wrong reasons?

Last Week: a 1906 day ensemble in deep pink

One of the interesting things that comes out of Rate the Dress is how much our prior perceptions colour the way we see a garment, whether they are distinctly personal, or a general product of the time and culture we live in. Usually this is a good thing, or at least neutral. Last week it got out of hand, and revealed some of the unpleasant underbelly of the society we live in.

Luckily a quick clean up of the comments and a reminder to be kind got things back on track, and led to an amazing discussion: mostly about the dress, but also about negativity and positivity, how the internet changes our behaviour, and (of course) how our cultural perception changes our viewpoint.

So what did we think of the dress: well, almost everyone could acknowledge that the workmanship that went into it was amazing. And the pink colour was pretty popular, as was the embroidery.

The tassels, not surprisingly, were…divisive. A few of you liked them, either because they were so evocative of that period, or because you thought they were a really clever touch that tied the neckline together (or both). A good portion of you just found them distracting, and the rest couldn’t get past their placement on the chest: even though they weren’t at the right height or width for nipples, that’s what some of you saw, and the rest of you couldn’t help but feel they were just asking to be dragged through soup!

It ended up being very much a dress of two parties: a large block of people who loved the dress and rated it in the 8-10 range, and a small block of people who really didn’t, and rated it four and under.

The Total: 8.7 out of 10

Exactly the same as last week!

This week: a mid 1860s dress in green

This week’s dress is classic mid-1860s: a full skirt just beginning to take the back-heavy elliptical shape that would evolve into the bustle of the 1870s, dropped shoulders and roomy sleeves with a slight built-in curve, a solid colour, and bold trim.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The bold trim, in this case, is ribbon tabs which form a faux yoke and a faux apron effect.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

It’s an interesting choice: both extremely simple, and intriguingly textural.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The skirt trim features a complete tri-part apron idea, but the yoke trim truncates abruptly at the shoulders, leaving a blank back.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

Design ideas that don’t continue on the back of garments always annoy me, but the lack of continuity is fairly common in 1860s garments. If nothing else it would save the wearer from worrying that the trims were getting crushed and bent out of shape!

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The skirt features interesting seaming: either joins to piece the fabric as frugally as possible, or purposeful gores to lend that newly fashionable back-thrust to the dress.

What do you think? 

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

As usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment.