The following are a brief sampling of period paintings showing common everyday attire for women after which one might model a living history wardrobe. This might be considered a companion piece to this morning’s post on period aprons.
Run-away ads are an excellent source of what people were wearing during the 18th century and now that many of them have been compiled into book form it is easier than ever to use them to produce an accurate wardrobe.
A white run-away servant in Virginia was described in 1752 as, “wearing fine pink-colored worsted stockings and leather shoes, an old dark brown quilted petticoat, a check’d apron a strip’d Manchester Cotton bed gown, and a black beaver hat”.
In 1760 and 1769, run-away convicts in Maryland were said to be wearing gowns of chintz and striped linen respectively.
From the General Advertiser, July 30, 1772, we read of a woman who went away in a black petticoat and flowered linen bed gown and her companion who was wearing a broad blue and white striped petticoat and a bed gown of red ground with a diamond figure.
Let’s look at a few other quotes from the mid-1700’s. “Close by him sat his lady, combing her hoary locks before the same looking glass, and dressed in a short bed-gown…she was without stays, without a hoop, without ruffles, and without any linen about her neck…”. – Coventry, Francis. The History of Pompey. London. 1761.
A similar account of an 18th century woman’s attire described the woman as, “without stays, in a raggedy greasy bed-gown tied loosely over a raggedy greasy short, red, petticoat which gave me an opportunity of seeing the finest legs and feet I ever beheld”. – Long, Edward. The Prater. London. 1757.
The description of attire being greasy is not appealing by today’s standards, but lest we think the bed gown was the attire of only the coarsest of working women, let’s compare it to a completely opposite description.
“As soon as he was gone, she new-dressed herself in a most ravishing undress, putting on an agreeable cap tied with a rose-coloured ribband, a bed-gown of rose-coloured taffety, ornamented with white lace, and a petticoat of the same; in short, her whole dress was calculated to set her forth to the best advantage…Never did I see anything so pretty.” – de Beaumont, Elie. The history of the Marquis de Roselle, in a series of letters, Volume 1. London. 1766.
With regard to the following paintings from the era:
1. The adults wear petticoats, bedgowns, aprons, caps, and kerchiefs.
2. Petticoat, shift, neckerchief, stays or jumps that lace up the front, and a white cap with pink ribbon.
3. The Fishwife, bedgown, petticoat, shift, stays, colored apron.
4. Saying Grace – the mother wears a shift, petticoat, bedgown, cap, neckerchief, and apron.
5. The Scullery Maid, Chardin, another image of typical working attire.