Rate the dress
comments 33

Rate the Dress: Rosy pink Robe a la….

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

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.

33 Comments

  1. Kathy Hanyok says

    Absolutely lovely! And in such good condition. The pattern matching is extraordinary, what I aspire to so never attempt. I think the wearer/maker thought the fabric spoke for itself and so left off any totally unnecessary trimmings. I absolutely adore it. 10

  2. Christina Kinsey says

    I think the dress shows how the rules of fashion have never quite been as rigid as we imagine. People have always adapted styles to suit themselves , it looks like the wearer might have been someone who preferred a certain look , even if it wasnt high fashion, because the fashionable style wouldn’t show off the fabric as well ? It is a beautiful fabric, and there is no doubt a simple style really shows it off to advantage
    A definate 10 I think for this one

  3. Ellen Najpauer says

    Such a beautiful dress and fabric. I am in awe of the workmanship! 10

  4. Emma says

    I love it. The fabric is gorgeous and the pattern matching is fantastic. It’s pretty much perfect

    10/10

  5. nofixedstars says

    “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.”

    that is exactly the irony i feel whenever i look at antique chintzes, among other things with a similar provenance…

    it’s a lovely, complex print, for certain, though chintz, especially pink chintz, is not a personal favourite of mine. and as others have observed, the pattern matching and piecing is stellar. i think it’s a pretty exemplar of its period, and apparently very well-preserved.

    9/10

  6. Anat says

    My eye sees that print on fabric as something more suitable for curtains or a duvet cover (i used to have curtains with this type if print) so it makes it look a bit weird. Besides that, very pretty dress.
    7/10

  7. Joy says

    I really like this dress, the pattern-matching and even the print (which I would never personally wear, but love regardless).
    It’s always good to keep the history in mind—this isn’t just a ‘shiny!’.
    10/10

  8. Am in complete agreement about the loveliness of the fabric and the exquisite skill of the piecing.
    10 of 10

  9. Marjo Wheat says

    A lovely dress made of gorgeous fabric. The dressmaker skills are something far beyond me! So impressive! 10/10

  10. Cirina says

    I’m glad you are back!
    So, the dress. It’s very pretty, but it’s not quite ten for me.
    I love the scarf.
    9/10

  11. Theresa Diaz says

    It is a marvelous dress, I adore it. The pattern matching is outstanding, I love the print and the colors. I give it a 10/10.

  12. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I give the fichu a 10 and 5 for the apron so we are already up to 15, right?

    Lovely dress, well made, great fabric. The stripe matching on the sleeve-to-bodice is excellent.

    10/10

  13. Florence says

    It’s lovely and fluffy and the stripe placement is just fabulous!
    The clean design really lets the busy fabric shine.
    I also really like how well ist goes with that wonderful fichu.
    10/10

  14. Elaine says

    The fabric is gorgeous, the shape is lovely, and the stripe matching is masterful. Nonetheless, the overall effect wasn’t impressing me much – I dislike the apron and really dislike the crossover fichu. Then I got to the notes saying those elements were not original to the dress. OK then! Pretending the fichu and apron aren’t there, for me it’s a 9/10.

  15. India says

    Welcome back! I love everything about this dress. OK. It had a head start anyway because this is an era in fashion that I’m generally very fond of. However, this dress raises things to another level. It has everything. A lovely, simple, elegant silhouette. Gorgeous fabric (the thought of that deliciousness being made up into curtains – shudder). And, above all, the maker’s absolutely stunning workmanship, restraint (she knew exactly when to stop) and mastery of her craft. It can only be a 10.

  16. Elise says

    I would love to know the story about this individual dress!

    Speaking of stories and individuals, I just wanted to add: You do YOU. There is so much joy and playfulness and anti-colonialism and aloha and art in your blog. Thank you for bringing all of that and making this corner of the internet a better place.

  17. I love the accessories the Royal Ontario Museum has selected to show the dress with. They combine so well into a perfect outfit! It is pink and pretty, without being insipid. (All that’s missing is a cap matching the lovely pattern on the fichu.) I love the cut of the gown, so sleek and elegant (though very different from mid-1700s gowns). I would cheerfully wear a facsimile of this in my size.

    The look of the sleeves might cause me to drop my rating to an 8 if the dress were shown without accessories, but as it is I’m giving it a perfect score. Thank you so much, Leimomi, for taking the time to give us such a detailed perspective on the features of this particular gown and its place in the fashion of this period, despite all that’s been going on in the world, and with you, these past few weeks. I also appreciated the bit of historical perspective on how foreign tastes for such fabrics likely affected the country that produced them.

    10 out of 10.

  18. Lynne says

    A beautiful thing! The complexity of the fabric is muted by the softness of the pink – really pleasing shade. I agree – the cut and piecing are most impressive. I do like the way that in the V at the back of the bodice, the cut creates a flower at the bottom of one of the Vs.

    10 out of 10

  19. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    The more I looked at it the more I liked it. I think it is a grower, in a good way. I like it, and I’m going to give it a 8/10 because it’s still quite low key and needs some pop, and I can’t really justify going any higher.

  20. Anna says

    Almost a perfect dress, but a little too busy for my tastes I think.

    8/10

  21. apricots says

    Very interesting! I wonder if the expense of the fabric meant that the creator or wearer wanted to go with a “tried and true” design, rather than a new style they weren’t as comfortable with?

    I think the positioning of the rosebud stripes is a pure delight, and I love the pleating on the back. It’s not my personal style but I think it looks nice.

    9/10.

  22. Camilla Flint says

    I want curtains out of this fabric! Also I want to read The Scarlet Pimpernal again.

  23. Elyse says

    I had similar curtains too, growing up! How lovely a gown, though.

    Re: fabric cut slightly off grain to smooth across the bodice: would that transfer well to modern dressmaking?

  24. Elizabeth Newton says

    Adore this gown. The maker has put in so much thought to the design. To be able to match stripes so perfectly is a skill! The fabric itself is gorgeous and I would wear it today in a heartbeat.
    10/10 for me!

  25. Debbie Gorski says

    I was just made aware of this website and love it! This dress is exquisite! The dressmaker was at the top of their field. Matching stripes in sleeves to bodice, is not always easy and it takes more fabric to do so as the stripes in this dress are not the same; alternating stripes and large print as well. I would give it a 10!

  26. Clara says

    I love it. The fabric on the front being off grain but not true bias gives it the perfect stripe placement, and the fabric patterning is fabulous. Too much decoration would have ruined the look.

    10/10

  27. Nannynorfolk says

    Thank you for your detailed descriptions of the fabric and dress and so good to see you back.
    I think that the dress is lovely although the fabric is not to my taste, but it is so well made and overall looks wonderful. I am not judging it’s something that I would wear but on the way it’s designed and made. The dressmaker who sewed it was so skilled let’s hope she was appreciated and well paid, though I doubt if the Indian fabric ‘ artists ‘ were.
    10/10

  28. Julia says

    I’m not a huge pink fan but it is pretty. The pattern matching is lovely and I like that it is paired with accessories. It makes it seem more real.
    I have to say if there is one thing I’ve learned from your blog, it’s an appreciation for dresses from this era. It’s still not my favourite, but I’ve learned to appreciate it and even like it. Thank you for all you do!

    • Julia says

      Also thank you for the history lessons. You have taught me a lot.
      I forgot my rating as well! It’s a 7/10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.