Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Transitions, More Questions

As we discussed in our previous post, during the mid-1770's, fashion seems to be making a transition from the the dominant stomacher front style to other gown front configurations.

Looking at some more satires and fashion plates from the mid-seventies, we are noticing what appears to be the makings of the zone front gown.  All of these prints are courtesy of the Lewis Wapole Library.

This print above,  is a 1776 fashion plate.  The woman on the left wears a gown that has trim along the robing lines and a line of ruching down the center front of the stomacher section.

Another selection from 1776, a satire, shows what looks like an inverted stomacher (in modern lingo is what is often referred to as a "zone") with trimming on either side of the stomacher, and a line of ruching down the front similar to the previous print.

While we're making fun of fashion -- high hair and cork rumps in this case, here's a satire dated 1777, where both women are wearing gowns with ruching around the neck and down the side front openings. The front of the gown on the left bears a resemblance to the way the gown in the first print was trimmed.

Once again, a satire goofing on big hair,  her gown appears to be some sort of zone front also with trim around the neck and down the side openings like the previous examples.

Is this the genesis of the zone front style? And/or is this new look a transition to a center front closing gown? Another thing to ponder - since three of these prints are lampooning high fashion, is the artist specifically showing new gown styles as an integral part of the satire?  Let us know what you think.


  1. I love this series. (Have I said this before? Probably.) I am a dating nut, and being able to pin down exactly when a style began to be seen is dear to my heart.

    I don't think that the satires are mocking the style of gown, though. That aspect of the prints just doesn't seem exaggerated enough to me. I think the "Slight of Hand" artist may have been using it to indicate high fashion, but the "Long Corks" print shows both ladies with equally large hair ... though it seems significant that the two women have such different styles of dress.

  2. We are trying to really pin down the dates to those points in time when the styles really change. So far the results are pretty interesting to say the least. Hallie

  3. I agree "M of M", I don't think the artist is mocking the gowns, except in the case of the cork rump print, where I suspect it's the use of cork being lampooned. I was suggesting that in satirizing fashion, i.e., the high hair, the artist is showing his subjects in the latest styles because it's possible that that is what the real fashionistas were really wearing, perhaps giving us a hint as to what was innovative in the fashion world in that year.

  4. Look at this blog post from a former Colonial Williamsburg mantuamaker:

    She researched polonaises, and I think what you're describing is what she calls a true polonaise, rather than just an anglaise with the skirts polonaised.

  5. We are familiar with these gowns and jackets and they represent a departure from the dress making conventions of the time with regards to the back treatment, skirt attachment, lack of robings, etc. The general assumption has been that this style became popular in the 1780's (one can see it frequently in the French Fashion plates), yet we are seeing something similar represented in the satires as high fashion in 1776.

    The question is, did ladies of the colonies adopt this style and if so, was it in VA or was it in the Northeast as well. Are there any primary source accounts of women in the colonies wearing this type of gown in 1776 or earlier? And was this gown part of the transition to the center front closing gown?

    We know it exists, but where did it originate, when, and was it worn by ladies in the colonies and at what date??? More questions...