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Miniature, late 1770s

18th century purple

Every once in a while when I post a purple 18th century dress on Instagram someone comments in surprise that they didn’t think there were purple fabrics in the 18th century.

The fame of mauvine, and the story of the first aniline dye, means that people sometimes think that it was so exciting because it was the first purple dye.  Not at all!  All shades of purple were already wildly popular before Perkin’s found mauvine, because Queen Victoria had chosen to wear purple at her oldest daughter’s wedding in January 1858, and lilac was fashion trendsetter Empress Eugenie’s favourite colour.

Mauvine was exciting because it was a shade that was incredibly hard to dye with natural dyes, and was cheaper and faster than natural alternatives.

There were indeed natural alternatives, and purple fabrics were absolutely available before 1859, and in the 18th century.

Here’s a quick survey of extant garments, paintings, and fashion plates from the second half of the 18th century showing purple garments, as well as some fabric samples.  I’ve arranged them chronologically.  Together they give some idea of the shades of purple available, and types of garments that came in purple.

Purple wasn’t the most common colour in century: almost all purples available at the time were relatively tricky to dye, relatively expensive, and prone to fading and colour change.  Over time they could turn brown, blue, pink, or grey as the dye faded or underwent a chemical change.

Purple dye’s tendency to be fugitive means there are less extant 18th century garments in purple.  It also means that we can’t be certain that the shade of purple we see today is the same shade the fabric was when it was first woven.

The 1760s:

This dress was probably less brown when new:

Robe à la française, c.1760, Denmark, Violet and pink iridescent silk brocade. Museum at FIT.

Robe à la française, c.1760, Denmark, Violet and pink iridescent silk brocade. Museum at FIT.

Robe à la française, c.1760, Denmark, Violet and pink iridescent silk brocade. Museum at FIT.

Robe à la française, c.1760, Denmark, Violet and pink iridescent silk brocade. Museum at FIT.

There isn’t much information available on this bodice, but the style of fabric suggests its an Turkish silk, made somewhere in the Ottoman Empire:

Corset, back view, 1760-1780, Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil

Corset, back view, 1760-1780, Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil

Interestingly, this portrait of Mrs Jerathmael Bowers shows her in Turkish inspired dress.  Was purple particularly associated with the Ottoman Empire?  They were certainly master weavers and dyers.  Was purple one of their specialities?

Mrs Jerathmael Bowers, 1763, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

Mrs Jerathmael Bowers, 1763, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

Here’s a Francaise in a darker purple from the second half of the 1760s, although the fabric may be slightly earlier:

Sack and petticoat, purple silk, brocaded with flowers and lace, French, 1765-1770. Museum Number T.708&A-1913.

Sack and petticoat, purple silk, brocaded with flowers and lace, French, 1765-1770. Victoria and Albert Museum, T.708&A-1913.

The 1770s:

And another one, this time in a silk that’s more typical of 1770:

This fabric is between pink and purple but I thought it was worth including:

Robe a la Francaise, Italian, about 1775, Silk taffeta brocaded with silk and metallic threads, MFA Boston, 77.6a-b

Robe a la Francaise, Italian, about 1775, Silk taffeta brocaded with silk and metallic threads, MFA Boston, 77.6a-b

If that doesn’t quite qualify as purple for you, the dress in this charming miniature unequivocally qualifies:

Miniature, late 1770s

Miniature, late 1770s

Here’s another one that’s quite tricky, especially as different images of this garment show different shades.  If the first image is correct, this is a shade that was sometimes called ‘garnet’.

A shot mauve-grey silk gown, late 1770s. with boned, low pointed back panels, internal skirt loops, the sleeves applied with 1770s double tiered embroidered muslin engageants sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

A shot mauve-grey silk gown, late 1770s. with boned, low pointed back panels and internal skirt loops, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

A shot mauve-grey silk gown, late 1770s. with boned, low pointed back panels and internal skirt loops, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

A shot mauve-grey silk gown, late 1770s. with boned, low pointed back panels and internal skirt loops, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

Fashion plates aren’t the most reliable sources for garment colours, as the colourists could choose their own combinations (as demonstrated by the two differently coloured fashion plates of a lady at her toilette), but the colours do match up with what we see in extant garments and portraits.  They also presumably reflect what was seen as fashionable, tasteful, and correct in la modé.

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francais. “Femme en Caraco plissé de taffetas changeant gorge de pigeon..” 1778, MFA Boston

Femme galante à sa toilette ployant un billet. French, 1778. Designed by Pierre-Thomas LeClerc, MFA Boston

Femme galante à sa toilette ployant un billet. French, 1778, Designed by Pierre-Thomas LeClerc, MFA Boston

Purple also appears as touches of colour in prints.  This mainly pink dress has purple flowers:

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

Read more about it in this Rate the Dress.

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

The 1780s:

Here purple appears as lilac flowers on a hand-painted silk gown, which was also the focus of a Rate the Dress:

Robe à la Polonaise, ca. 1780, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.146a, b

Robe à la Polonaise (actually a Robe à l’anglaise retrousée), ca. 1780, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.146a, b

Here’s another example of a very pinky purple:

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, self-portrait with a straw hat, after 1782

As well as dark garnet, and lavender combined in one garment:

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, Plate 208

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, Plate 208

And a jacket in purple and blue stripes, and petticoat in garnet and lilac:

Galerie des Modes, 46e Cahier, 5e Figure, 1785

Galerie des Modes, 46e Cahier, 5e Figure, 1785

On the theme of purple stripes, this late 18th century jacket from the Met’s collection has bold ombre stripes in green and violet:

 

This embroidered panel was never sewn up into a jacket, which means the purple group is quite unfaded.

Vigée Le Brun seems particularly fond of painting subjects in purple.  Was it more fashionable amongst the French?

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (French, 1755 - 1842) The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, 1785, Oil on panel 83.2 × 64.8 cm (32 3:4 × 25 1:2 in.), 85.PB.443 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (French, 1755 – 1842) The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, 1785, Oil on panel 83.2 × 64.8 cm (32 3:4 × 25 1:2 in.), 85.PB.443 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This fashion plate, discussed in this 2019 Rate the Dress post, shows a nearly identical fabric, identified in the caption as violet taffeta.

Redingote of violet taffeta, revers, collar, and cuffs white, steel buttons, striped and spotted muslin petticoat- puce straw hat trimmed with large steel buckles- it is edged and belted with black velvet. 1787

This matelassé (learn about the fabric here) jacket is also French in origin, and shows another example of purple verging on brown.

Caraco en toile imprimée matelassée 1770-1790 Museon Arlaten

Caraco en toile imprimée matelassée, 1770-1790, Museon Arlaten

But Catherine the Great takes us back to bright lilac, in the shade that Eugenie would later favour:

Portrait of Empress Catherine II of Russia, Fyodor Rokotov after Roslin 1780s, Hermitage

Portrait of Empress Catherine II of Russia, Fyodor Rokotov after Roslin 1780s, Hermitage

Purple Fabrics:

I’ll finish off with a selection of pages from Barbara Johnson’s fantastic album of fashion plates and fabric samples.

A garnet paduasoy and matching fringe from 1762, as well as a printed stuff (a worsted wool) in similar hues:

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Johnson calls this striped lustring ‘pink’, but I’d call it purple:

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

The figured silk in the upper left corner is also quite pink, but the smaller floral in the upper right is definitely described as ‘purple and yellow’, and the cotton in the lower right is also identified as purple:

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

The broadcloth for a riding dress is called Pompadour, which, at least in some decades, was used for purple shades.  There’s also another delightful purple and white cotton print from 1760.

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

And an utterly charming floral over shepherds check:

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

And finally, a lutestring in the red-purple called garnet:

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Barbara Johnson Album, England, 1746-1823, Paper, parchment, textiles, Victoria & Albert T.219-1973

Evening dress, 1817, patterned silk gauze called 'Madras lace' with silk satin trim, Fashion Museum Bath

Rate the Dress: the new look in lace, 1810s style

This week I’ve picked a Rate the Dress that includes some of the romantic historicism of last week, and some very new technology as well.

How will it fare in comparison?

Last Week: an 1870s dress with 18th century inspiration

Ratings on last week’s dress were quite divided: a solid grouping of 8-10 scores, and then another cluster of 5-6 scores.

Interestingly, raters who I recognise as usually anti-frou-frou were quite willing to like this one, whereas some of you who are generally more positive of the extremely-sweet weren’t so keen on this one.  So a dress to subvert usual reactions…

The Total: 7.7 out of 10

Although it’s hardly a stellar rating, and not many of you commented, I was extremely pleased with last week’s Rating.  As at ratings closing time it totalled 100.5.  So close to perfectly round!

This week: an 1810s dress with spotted lace and scalloped trim

This week’s Rate the dress blends historicism with a robust appreciation for the latest trends, and the latest technology.

Evening dress, 1817, patterned silk gauze called 'Madras lace' with silk satin trim, Fashion Museum Bath

Evening dress, 1817, patterned silk gauze called ‘Madras lace’ with silk satin trim, Fashion Museum Bath

The puffed sleeves of this dress definitely owe at least part of their design to the Renaissance inspiration so common in the late 1810s.   The standing frill of scalloped edging nods at an Elizabethan ruff.

At the same time, the scalloped hem, scalloped front border, and double rows of satin cording holding the ruched front panel in place, are all very a la modé for the late 1810s, while also hinting at the 15th century.

And finally, the dress fully embraces new technology in its materials choice.  It’s made from ‘Madras lace’, a new patterned gauze weave made possible by the invention of a loom that could weave lace-like net fabrics in 1809.

Evening dress, 1817, patterned silk gauze called 'Madras lace' with silk satin trim, Fashion Museum Bath

Evening dress, 1817, patterned silk gauze called ‘Madras lace’ with silk satin trim, Fashion Museum Bath

What do you think?  Does the decadent combination of old and new, satin shine and lace froth, appeal aesthetically?

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.

 

20% off Sale ScroopPatterns.com

Scroop Patterns on Sale!

Hey hey!  Happy news!

Just in case you missed the notifications elsewhere, all downloadable PDF Scroop Patterns are 20% off this week!

20% off Sale ScroopPatterns.com

The discount is applied automatically at checkout: no need to do anything!

Not only are patterns on sale (the first time I’ve done a general sale since the launch of the Amalia Jacket and the Selina Blouse!), but the Mahina Cardigan is back after a little hiatus.

The sale ends Saturday 5 June, 11:59pm, NZ Time

Happy shopping, happy sewing!

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