Women's Clothing

Lives of the women at home and following the army during the war years.
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Location: Upper Canada

Women's Clothing

Post by pud » Mon Nov 20, 2006 9:49 pm

Source: K.B.BRETT. Women's Costume in Early Ontario. Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto, 1966.

" A red wool cape, made about 1790, is semicircular, has a small vandyked cape and a high standup collar set away from the neck to allow for a bouffant kerchief." "An embroidered muslin gown was warned at a ball in 1805. The short bodice, trained skirt and fullness at the centre back are all typical of this period but alterations have been made to keep up with changing fashions. Insets of netting around the hem and sleeves were added later."

"The growth of Upper Canada was not even. Some parts developed early, some late; some quickly, some slowly; and this is reflected in the costumes which have come down to us. Most of the early clothing was worn in the Niagara District, one of the province's oldest communities, which had a certain elegance when Toronto was still a dream. From later decades dresses, shawls, bonnets and accessories survive from many parts and in far greater numbers."

"How were they made?
In some dresses the hand of the skilled professional is revealed, while others are frankly home-made; many are the work of the competent seamstress in the family. Almost without exception women in 19th century Ontario had to be able to sew and make dresses. They did it well, and were ingenious at altering and making over. Unfortunately information rarely survives as to who made any particular piece of clothing, although tailors and dressmakers were established in many communities.

Hats, shoes, stockings, gloves, shawls and even ready-made gowns were imported by merchants from England and New York. A red cape in the Museum's collection was bought in the first shop opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Storekeepers also offered dressmakers supplies, and after each new shipment advertised a dazzling array of materials, ribbons, laces and feathers; but it must be remembered that such shipments were infrequent and popular items quickly ran short."

"A pencil drawing of Miss S. Macdonnell, dated 1810, shows a long-sleeved dress finished with a ruffle at the throat. Around her neck and crossing in front she wears a small folded kerchief and, over her shoulder, a black scarf probably of embroidered net. Her flat slippers are trimmed with dark rosettes."

"A ball gown of 1825 was made of soft pink figured silk with a border pattern. The wide puffed sleeves may have been stuffed with down sleeve pillows." "A pink and white silk gauze dress of about 1835 was brought from England when the family settled in Ontario."

Housecaps were worn indoors and there is "... one of fine muslin, edged with lace and finished with a striped gauze ribbon bow on top, dates from the early 1830s. The ties of the cap are behind the ears,...A sheer muslin kerchief is worn, held in front with a brooch." "The 1780s saw the gradual disappearance of the traditional 18th-century style-a two-piece dress comprising an overdress with fitted bodice and elbow length sleeves, worn over rigidly boned stays and a matching or contrasting hooped or panniered petticoat -and its replacement by a one-piece dress closing down the front. From this and the chemise dress, an innovation of this decade which could be slipped on over the head, the high waisted gown of classical simplicity developed before the turn of the century. The bodice remained close fitting during the 1780s but its rigid lines were softened by the use of lighter and plainer materials, a voluminous buffant-fichu and a wide sash, and sometimes in the chemise dress a drawstring under the bust line. This and the sash helped accentuate the rising waistline. Sleeves were long or to just below the elbow and finished with a frill; the skirt, though still full, flowed out behind over a bustle. By the end of the century the bulky petticoats and all traditional stiffness had gone and women's dress, with high waist and vertical lines, had come under the influence of the Classical Revival which had already left its mark on architecture, painting and the decorative arts in England."

"During the first 10 years of the 19th century the feminine silhouette remained straight and slim. Dresses were simply cut with a very short bodice, usually tying behind with tapes run through the back of the high waist and wide neck. For daytime wear the neck was filled to the throat with a tucker or kerchief. Sleeves were short or, for outdoor wear, very long and narrow. The skirt hung straight down in front and at the sides, and was gathered, or pleated to the bodice at the back. Ball dresses were trained, a fashion that went out at the end of the decade.

White cottons, particularly fine Indian muslins, were the most favoured materials but for practical daytime wear printed cottons, checked ginghams and linens, and probably homespuns, were worn. Ball dresses, usually of muslin, were trimmed with embroidery, insets of lace, or in narrow embroidered panel down the front. Silks, when obtained, were soft and thin and either plain or lightly patterned. They were usually white, but yellow, pale blues, pinks and greens were also fashionable.

By the end of the first decade trimmings on skirt and sleeves were more elaborate. This was the beginning of a trend toward wider shoulders and hemline which in the next two decades resulted in a very angular silhouette. From about 1820 the waistline began to drop. For evening wear sleeves were short and puffed and skirts were elaborately trimmed. With these changes stiffer materials were required and taffeta and velvet returned to favour in the 1820s for evening wear. Striped, checked and printed cottons were the usual daytime wear.

The fashionable outdoor garments from about 1795 were the pelisse, which resembled a coat, and the spencer. The pelisse, in the first decade of the 19th century, was usually shorter than the dress beneath it and hung loosely from the shoulders. In the next two decades it was full-length, waisted, long sleeved and finished with a collar and often a small cape. By the 1830s it was really a gown which opened down the front. The spencer was a diminutive jacket which came only to the waistline. With long sleeves and a collar it was worn outdoors but with short sleeves and made of silk or net, it served to dress up a simple little gown. The most practical outdoor garment, however, and probably the one most commonly worn, was the traditional woolen cloak or cape, usually red, which was warm and all enveloping."

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