Friday, September 26, 2014

Girls (and Boys) in White Dresses with Blue (and Pink and Green) Sashes

One of my planned winter projects is pretty small--or, at least, it's for a small-sized person.  Baby E has become Toddler E and she'll need at least one new dress for next year.

Small-sized persons may use less fabric, but in this case, they require just as much research!  One interesting trend in 18th century children's clothing is the preponderance of white.

Interesting because, well, it's interesting.  But also "interesting" (insert sarcastic air quotes here) because my parental instinct is to avoid putting my child in white. Ever.  Or off-white.  Or light grey.  Even pale pink, really.

Toddlers are messy creatures.

Then I thought a little more about this.  Sure, the thought of putting my two year old in white silk or other un-launderable fabrics still gives me hives.  But white cotton or linen is eminently launderable.  After all, we discuss all the time how linens--as in ladies' and men's underthings, shifts and shirts--were laundered frequently and their fabric (as well as construction) lent itself to this kind of sudsy abuse?

And thus I could justify, practically speaking, the idea of putting my toddler in a quite justifiable, authentically-speaking, historical dress.

Now...what to do, exactly?

Tons of images exist of littles in white:

The Blunt Children, 1766–1770, by Johann Zoffany Birmingham Museums Trust

Elizabeth Davers (1730–1800), Countess of Bristol, and Her Daughter Lady Louisa Theodosia Hervey (1770–1821), Later Countess of Liverpool by Antonio de Bittio, c.1773

Francis Graham by Tilly Kettle, c. 1774

1775 Child's dress with green bows worn by Gustav of Sweden, via Royal Armoury Collection, Sweden.

Some are clearly silk (HIVES!I tell you) but others have the distinctive soft drape of a very fine linen or cotton.  Another element that I'm intrigued by is the sheer dual color effect.  Both the green-bowed extant dress and the portrait of Francis Graham show a white overdress with a colored layer showing, just barely, through the thin fabric.  Is this a petticoat?  Part of the dress itself, as a dual layer?  I want to know all the things.  Alas, I'm limited to images.

And of course the variations of the "white dress" raises some questions as to construction.  Check it out--the ivory silk piece (second from bottom) has a distinctive "gown" shape.  The Lady Harvey's little dress also has a distinctly fitted bodice--likely stiffened and/or boned.  The Swedish dress, as well as the clothing of Francis Graham, however, is cut with a non-stiffened rectangular (rather than shaped) bodice.  And the Blunt children--I can't quite tell.  A pair of merely well-fitted bodices or are they stiff?

What to do, what to do?  A little gown with a stiffened bodice?  Would this be appropriate in a washable fabric?  A dress with more "chemise" like features, and can--should?--this have the multi-layer effect with an additional color?

Much more research to do...fortunately, the subject matter is really, really cute.


Cassidy said...

I think what I've seen the most looks like a full silk gown with a lawn layer over it - I went looking through my pinterest and I didn't see anything that looked definitely like just a colored petticoat (although I thought I had).

My guess about the cuts is that it depends on age and sex. It seems like very littles wear the unshaped chemise gown with a sash, and when old enough to differentiate the girls start wearing fitted fourreaux.

Rowenna said...

I agree that age and sex may be determinants here--as well as, potentially, precise year/s and locations and degree of formality represented/"tone" of portrait. One thing I'm finding problematic is that children's ages can be difficult to determine in many of these portraits! I'm tracking down additional info on portraits I find, hoping to do some more pinpointing.

Thanks for the layered image! I'm a little jealous--I kinda want one of these double-layered sashed dresses as a grown-up.

TCW said...

This reminds me of the world of problems I opened for myself when I foolishly had a character refer to pink as a feminine colour:

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