18th Century Fashion and Underwear

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Photo Source: Australian National Maritime Museum Blog http://anmm.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/muslin-dress/

This is one of the one of the oldest provenanced costumes in Australia.  An evening gown, it belonged to Elizabeth Macarthur’s friend Anna Josepha King (wife of Philip Gidley King, the third governor of New South Wales, from 1800 to 1806).

The dress is made of fine cream muslin, decorated with silver plate embroidery in a sprig and spot pattern. The running border around the bottom of the skirt is decorated in a vine pattern with a scalloped edge also in silver plate. The dress has the typical simplicity of the Empire style, with high waist, narrow bodice back and short puffed sleeves. The skirt falls straight at the front and gathers into the waist at the back where it drapes a little longer to the floor. It is tiny in size, more likely to fit a young girl of today.

Read a fascinating blog post about Anna Josepha’s gown, written by the conservator at the Australian National Maritime Museum.  The ANMM blog has more photos of the gown, too.  Anna King was an interesting woman.  More posts about her are very likely!

The next quote is from the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum website (a veritable treasure trove of pictures and information – grab a cuppa and type ‘articles’ into the V&A search function).

Between the 1780s and 1800 a very noticeable change took place in the female silhouette. The waistline became higher until it reached the bust. The skirt was reduced in width and hoop petticoats were discarded except at court. In their place crescent-shaped pads were worn at the centre back waist beneath the skirt to help fill out the gathers at the back of the dress. In the 1790s corsets were lightly boned and usually made of linen. Hair was frizzed or worn in short curls.

The V&A also provides an interactive photo of typical 18th century underwear.

I’m also planning to get myself to the Bendigo Art Gallery, to see Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion.  The exhibition runs from 19 July to 26 October 2014.  From past experience, I suggest you buy your tickets online, rather than queuing at the door.

Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion, presents highlights from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s extensive collection of underwear. This exhibition will examine at the history of private and intimate clothing – from corsets to court mantuas and boudoir wear to bustles. It explores the manipulation of the body and the importance of foundation garments to the fashionable silhouette.

The role of underwear in fashion is pivotal. The majestic shapes of 18th century court dress, the distorted hourglass shapes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and Dior’s cinched ‘New Look’ were all dependent upon elaborate corsetry, technologically complex petticoats, hoops, and padded underpinnings. It is only since the 1960s that women have been expected to embody the fashionable ideal by way of diet and exercise and without the aid of foundation garments, so understanding underwear is fundamental to our appreciation of fashion history. It is also important for cultural and social historians, to whom it provides a symbol of changing social mores and attitudes to morality, sex, beauty and gender.

Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion contains more than 100 objects shown alongside contextual images from the V&A’s archives. The V&A’s collection of underwear dates from 1750 to the present day and includes many rare and never before displayed objects.

This exhibition is organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

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