Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Simple Shortgown: The Whys and Whats

It's funny--I've seen it discussed many times on many costuming and living history blogs what the difference between a costumer and a reenactor is.

There are a lot of really insightful answers, often dealing with questions of authenticity, mission, where the individual derives enjoyment.  I don't have a good, complete, perfect answer.

But I did discover my own, personal derivation.

A costumer doesn't make clothing choices based on the premise, "But I just need something to throw on in the morning when I go to the portajon!"

I realized I'd hit a point where I didn't have such a garment--all of my clothing needs to be worn over stays, pinned perfectly in place.  I've had shortgowns in the past, but they've either been given away or are in the "spare things or scrap things" pile.

Of course, full disclosure: Prints and paintings depicting women wearing bedgowns and shortgowns often lead one to believe that they are, in fact, wearing stays underneath these garments.  Which makes sense--stays are like basic underwear.  But the loose cut and forgiving fit also suggests that maybe they were intended to be thrown on as a kind of pre-stays wrapper in the morning or post-stays loungewear at night.  Speculation on my part, yes--but it's how I find myself using a roomy garment!

Is this lady wearing stays beneath her shortgown?  Hard to tell--but I love that scowly expression.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I've used this pattern before--in fact, it was one of my earliest 18th century projects.  The pattern is something like this one:

from the Mara Riley website, except it's a little longer and the pleats in the back are a little different.

Another place you can find a similar pattern is in the book Fitting and Proper.  Costume Close-Up has a shortgown pattern that, instead of using pleats to fit the back, uses a drawstring.

I have no idea where the original of this pattern came from--it was passed around the ladies of our regiment years ago, and I suspect that the originator drafted (or Frankensteined) the first pattern herself.  I copied my friend's copy onto the wrapping paper affectionately referred to as the BabyBabyBaby paper:

(Yes, when a friend and I made her first 18th century ensemble, we used this pattern, and found ourselves randomly, incoherently babbling "Babybabybabybabybaby" while cutting it out.)

This time around, of course, I had my own BabyBabyBaby to contend with while laying out the project.

She likes fabric.  A lot.

It's the easiest pattern in the world to cut out--you lay the center edge (the one with the neckhole in it) on the fold, pin 'er down, and cut 'er out.  The center front will need to be cut to form the opening.

And when it's cut out and unfolded, it looks like this:

This is the lining--basic white linen.  See how the center front has been cut so it opens in the front? That's the trickiest part.  Easy-peasy pattern.

Next time--the assembly of the shortgown, my choice of fabric, and the Great Authenticity Decision plays out in this project.


Anachronist said...

Thanks for a lovely pic of your daughter!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your assessment...they must have had something to put on in the morning. I know how long it takes me to finally hop in the shower-- get the baby, nurse the baby, change the baby, make sure the baby is happy, nurse the baby again, and maybe, if I'm lucky, I get to take a shower and subsequently, get into a bra. I can't imagine life for 18th Century women was all that different. In fact, they probably had a ton of other chores they were trying to stuff in there before they had the chance to adequately dress. And I can't imagine they were running around in nothing but a see-through chemise. So yes, I agree.

Annabelle said...

LOL. I find myself happily agreeing with your assessment of the difference...I recently struggled with the "portajon wear" question and thought "wow, how far I have come from dressing up at home and driving down here for the day!" I ended up making a sort of bedgown/banyan for the purpose but have been thinking about shortgowns, so thank you for the documentation and how-to!

Rowenna said...

You're welcome, Anachronist!

Right, Kathleen? Sometimes living it gives you a whole new perspective on how things must have worked!

Annabelle--indeed! Sometimes I wish I did a bit more "dress up" and a little less "live in it" but it is what it is! Shortgowns are such an easy project--if you go for one, have fun!