For the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #17 we’re going to play with words, and their multiple meanings, a little.
The challenge, due 26 August, is ‘Robes & Robings’, and you can make anything that could be described as a robe, is usually called by the name robe, or has robings. How does this work?
Francesco Sassetti (1421–1490) and His Son Teodoro Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenico Bigordi) ca. 1488, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The basic T shape that we call a robe, and its many variants, is one of the most classic shapes for garments. As such, it is found across the dress of millenia and continents, ranging from the costumes of some of the peoples mentioned in the bible, to the foundations of medieval garments, through 18th century banyans, Regency evening robes, 19th century wrappers, some tea gowns, and the early 20th century kimono borrowed from the East. If it looks like what we would call a robe today, it counts for this challenge.
Women’s Japanese quilted satin and silk gowns. 1913, NYPL
What else counts? Thing that are called robes by a reasonable percentage of English-language museums and costume books (because if we use French, everything is a robe!), so the 17th and 18th century robe volantes, robe battante, robe à la coer, robe à la française, robe à l’anglaise (+ turques, polonaises, & circassienne), and the 1920s robe de style.
And what are robings? They were also called robins and round robins. Basically they are the trimming round the neck and down the front of 18th and early 19th century gowns and pelisses. The Dictionary of Fashion History (Cummings et al) describe them as:
Broad flat trimmings decorating a gown round the neck and down the front of the bodice, and sometimes continued down the borders of an open over-skirt to the hem
Robings were often made of the same fabric of the gown and permanently attached, but they could also be made of fine lace or other expensive materials in matching sets with stomachers and cuffs, and there are advertisements from the 18th century describing sets of stomacher, cuffs and robings. The LACMA has a pair of engageates and matching shirt robings in dresden and drawn-thread work, and then there is this beautiful robing-collar from the MFA Boston:
The most obvious use of robings is on 18th century robes, but the name continued to be used for trimmings well into the 19th century. A 1829 Lady’s Magazine describes”a chemisette of fine lawn, where the robings open en reverse…” , and an 1830s Lady’s Magazine describes a pelisse of green watered silk with “lapel robings, on the chest robings, en tablier, on the skirt, fastened down the front with small knots…the whole of the robings edged with dents”, and the 1840 Workwoman’s Guide gives instructions on dressing skirts with robings that match the bodice. While the Workwoman’s Guide could be a bit old-fashioned, other contemporary fashion magazines show that robings and fichu-robings could still be very much the vogue.
Redingote with robings on the bodice and skirt, 1822-23, Centraal Museum
And what are fichu robings? Based on contemporary descriptions of the 1820s-40s, they are robing-style trimmings that cover the shoulders of the bodice, and extend down into the bodice point. The 1829 Lady’s Magazine describes “a dress made plain with fichu-robings, cleft at the shoulder and descending en guimpe to the sash where they meet in a point and are trimmed in a ruche of blond [lace]”
Dress with fichu robings, 1840s, The Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil de Terrassa
How’s that! A challenge and a terminology post! I’m on fire! Now wait until you see all the sewing I have gotten done!
Tomorrow I’m going to be doing a tutorial on how to make a mid-late 18th century inspired bergére hat, so I thought that perhaps first I should tell you exactly what a bergére is, and we should look at lots and lots of bergére inspiration.
Eleanor Frances Dixie in a bergére, c. 1753, by Henry Pickering
A bergére is a low crowned, wide-brimmed hat, usually of straw, but sometimes made of other materials covered in silk. Bergére hats first appeared in the 1730s, and were popular in various forms throughout the 18th century.
The style saw a revival in the 1860s, and the name was occasionally used in the decades after that to describe hats based on similar shapes, though these were more commonly called Gainsborough or picture hats. A 1930s fashion column even makes the link between the two.
Bergére literally means shepherdess (the masculine shepherd is a berger), and the style has a strong link with 18th century pastorialism, and pastoral fashions. Bergére hats are also sometimes called milkmaid hats. It’s easy to see how a simple, wide-brimmed straw hat would be a useful part of a shepherdesses or milkmaids costume, protecting the skin from the sun and the eyes from glare.
Some authors have suggested that the bergére hat is named after Boucher’s famous portrait of Madame Bergéret with a bergére hat. This is very unlikely as the style of hat predates the painting by some ’30 years, and there is such a clear link between the shepherdess aesthetic and the bergére hat. More likely the painting is a coincidence, or Madame Bergeret posed with a bergére hat as a witty allusion to her name, somewhat like the juniper in Ginevra de’ Benci’s portrait.
Madame Bergeret, c.1766, François Boucher
Here are some more variants on the bergére as inspiration for tomorrow’s post:
Miss Constable in a bergére hat, 1787, George Romney
Hat (bergère) French, 18th century, Straw with straw appliqué, MFA Boston
Mary, Countess of Howe in a bergére variant, Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1764
England, circa 1750, Silk, wood, paper, silk tulle, LACMA
Hat, 1760s, LACMA
Bergére Hat 1760-1785 English, silk over straw, replaced ties, Colonial Williamsburg
And check out the silk brocade lining of this one:
Bergére hat, 1780s, lined with ca 1715 Coromandel Coast chintz, Meg Andrews
Bermingham, Anne and Brewer, John. Consumption of Culture: 1600-1800: Image, Object, Text. London: Routledge. 1995
Cumming, Valerie and Cunnington, C.W.; Cunnington, P.E, The dictionary of fashion history (Rev., updated ed.). Oxford: Berg. 2010
Grantland, Brenda and Robak, Mary, Hatatorium: An Essential Guide for Hat Collectors. Self Published. 2011
O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1986
Brown linen is the term used to describe unbleached linen in the 18th and 19th century. ’Brown’ linen could either be finely woven, high quality linen that would be bleached before being sold, or rough, coarse linen that would be sold brown.
Rather than pre-bleaching the linen yarn, cloth was usually woven brown, then sold to bleachers, the price based on the quality of the thread and weave, and then on-sold to fabric merchants and customers. Heavy and course linen would probably remain brown for use in cheaper clothes, as bags and for rough use (in 1803 Merriweather Lewis purchased from Richard Weavill, a Philadelphia upholsterer, 107 yards of brown linen to be made into 8 tents for his cross-continental exploration with William Clark), finer linen cloth would be bleached white.
The Impact of the Domestic Linen Industry describes the how the town of Banbridge in the county of Down had grown up from a cluster of houses in 1718 to a prosperous market town 20 years later entirely around the sale of unbleached linen, and how “the weavers brought their webs to the weekly brown linen market, where dealers known as linendrapers purchased them for bleaching and finishing.”
Most of the mentions of specific brown linen garments in the 18th and 19th century come from two sources: lists of stolen clothings, and advertisements for runaway slaves in the American South. The latter is quite understandable: brown linen was a cheap fabric, so slaves, at the very bottom of the societal ladder, were most likely to be clad in the cheapest cloth. Mentions of stolen clothing are more interesting, because they illustrate how valuable fabric was in the 18th and early 19th century, when even a “man’s shirt of brown linen much clouted and worn” was worth stealing in the 1760s.
In July 1804 a slave named George fled Charleston in “brown jacket, brown calico waistcoat, and brown linen pants with suspenders.” Three decades later one Willis ran away via steamboat from New Orleans wearing “white shirt, brown linen pants, a blue frock coat and a black hat.”
In the 18th century the brown linen worn by slaves for shirts, chemises, petticoats and summer clothing was invariably osnaburg (also spelled ossnabriggs or oznabig). Onsaburg is a heavy, coarse plain-weave fabric having approximately 20-36 threads per inch. The name coming from the German city of Osnabrüch where a course linen cloth was manufactured in the early 18th century. By 1740 osnaburg was being manufactured in Scotland and by 1758 2.2 million yards were being made, mainly for export. Some was exported to England or the continent, but most went to the Americas, and most of that was used for clothing for slaves.
It was so popular for cheap labourer’s clothing that when cotton replaced linen as the most economical fabric in the early 19th century the name became applied to a cheap cotton fabric of a similar weight and weave. An 1835 story describes a slave wearing an “onsaburg chemise and coarse blue woolen petticoat”. Similarly in 1853 The Lofty and the Lowly mentions a similarly dressed woman in an “osnaburg chemise, and linsey-woolsey petticoat.” By this time onsaburg could have been either linen or cotton. Onsaburg is still readily available (Jo-Annes in the US sells it) for those wanting to replicate early 19th century lower-class in America.
Cotton onsaburg for sale here
Unbleached linen was commonly called brown linen well into the mid-19th century. In 1824 “brown linen cambric” was advertised for sale in the New England Farmer, and in 1840 The Workwoman’s Guide describes ”A Gentleman’s Worshop Apron…of Holland or strong white or brown linen.” In 1835 the British government passed “An Act to continue and amend certain regulations for hempen manufacture in Ireland”, which frequently describes “Brown or unbleached or unpurged linen yarn” and proscribes the measurements of cloth “when brown and before the same shall be bleached.” Brown linen was sold in New Zealand in the 1860s. Even as late as 1895 the Montgomery Ward & Co. catalogue was selling “brown (unbleached) linen” in 50 yard lots. By the mid 19th century the brown linen that is being sold is clearly intended to be used only as rough cloth.
Brown linen finally ceased to be a poor-mans cloth in the later 19th century with innovations in bleach technology and the rise of cotton as the cheapest, most readily available fabric. Improved bleaching technology throughout the early 19th century made it so much cheaper and easier to bleach linen that white linen of the same quality was hardly more expensive than brown. In the first part of the 19th century the cheapest bleaching methods weakened the cloth and people “loudly complain of the rotten state of the linens being retailed in a grey [partly bleached] state in the streets, alleging they give no wear from being bleached with lime.” By the end of the century white linen was as common as brown, and cotton was a far cheaper fabric than linen, so linen of all colours achieved a bit of status and unbleached linen suits and dresses were worn by the wealthy for summer clothes.
Day dress of unbleached linen with green silk underslip, 1901-2, Misses Leonard, St. Paul, US, Minnesota Historical Society
Crawford, W.H. The Impact of the Domestic Linen Industry. Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation. 2005
Embleton, Gerry and May, Robin. Wolfe’s Army. London: Osprey Publishing. 1999
Franklin, John Hope and Schweninger, Lauren. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999
Katz-Hyman, Martha B, and Rice, Kym S. (eds). World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the US. Santa Barbara California: Greenwood, 2011.
Saindon, Robert A (ed.). Explorations Into the World of Lewis and Clark, Volume 2: Essays from the pages of We Proceed On: the Quarterly Journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. “Along the Trail”. R.R. Hunt. Great Falls Montana: Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. 2003
Styles, John. The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. 2007
The workwoman’s guide, containing instructions in cutting out and completing articles of wearing, 1840.
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