Half Scale 17th Century Dress Recreation: Part 1

Hi All!

For the winter term at Oregon State I am working as a GTA for Dr. Elaine Pedersen, editor for the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, the teacher of the costume history classes, and the curator of the historical costume collection here on campus. As part of the collection she has a number of half scale historical garment replicas that she uses as a teaching tool for assignments in her classes. For the next month I will be working on a new addition to her half scale garment collection! This will be my first time delving into historical garment design and I will be documenting some of my research process here. 

Dr. Pedersen requested a 17th century garment of my choosing for this project. The costume collection only has female half scale forms so that restricts me to garments worn by women during this time period. The book used for the historical costume classes is Survey of Historic Costume by Totura and Eubank (2005) (There's a new edition available on Amazon) and will help aid me in the choice of costume to recreate. For this blog I will be referring to the 4th edition. The section on 17th century women's dress in my edition is fairly brief, with a handful of illustrations of 17th century dress and some textual descriptions. While it is easy to find other sources on 17th century dress (which I will be using) the students in the history classes will only be using the Survey book. For this reason I am choosing to make a garment that fits the typical description of dress for women that the students should be able to identify using the information from their textbook.

In Survey of Historic Costume the discussion of women's dress is broken up into three time periods: 1630-1660, 1660-1680 and 1680-1700. The dress in the period of 1630-1660 had many elements similar to the time period before hand, and the dress of the time period from 1680-1700 was already beginning to show transition to the more commonly known silhouette of the 18th century. The dress in the time period of 1660-1680 was the most unique of the period, with a distinct exaggerated bodice and full sleeves. However, this style of dress is the least discussed in the book. Due to the unique shaping of the dress however, the silhouette of the garments from 1660-1680 should be the easiest for the students to be able to identify. 

Totura and Eubank (2005) describe the silhouette of women's fashion from 1660-1680 as "bodices lengthened and narrowed, becoming long-waisted and more slender with an extended V-shaped point at the front...frequently edged by a wide lace collar or band of linen called a whisk, necks tended to be low, wide and horizontal or oval in shape. Most sleeves were set low on the shoulder, opening into a full puff that ended below the elbow" (p. 213). Looking at paintings from the time period like the Portrait of a Married Couple in the Park from 1662 by Gonzales Coques, and Abraham del Court and his wife Maria de Kaersieter from 1654 by Bartholomeus van de Helst the women in the painting are wearing the silhouette Totura and Eubank describe as typical noble dress of the mid 17th century. 

Totura and Eubank (2005) stress that much evidence of costume from the 17th century comes from paintings, and that is is important to note that paintings could be misleading, and are not always reliable sources of information on dress. Painters made up garments and painted people that had long been dead in modern garments (p. 204). For this reason I will be using more than one source for this project, namely the information on the extant 17th century dress housed at a The Museum of Costume in Bath, England. The image of the Bath dress below is courtesy of The Dreamstress, who made her own recreation of a 17th century dress and has so generously provided a number of links to sources on dress in this time period. 

The best thing about doing historical recreation is that there are so many people that are into it that it is so easy to find amazing sources of information!  For example this photo gallery posted by Cathy Hay shows all of the detail and construction on the Bath garment: Warning: Costume Porn. Feast your eyes! This garment is one of only a handful of surviving pieces from this time period and is in wonderful condition. One of the first things to notice is the clear two piece construction of the garment. The bodice is worn over a chemise and has a tabbed bottom. The tabs are all worn below the waistline of the skirt, except the front point which is pulled to up over the waistband.  The half scale garment I create will be made the same way.

While this is going to be a historical recreation that I eventually intend to submit to Costume Society of America as a design scholarship project, I am limited on certain aspects of the design. First of all, this project is to be completed as a GTA assignment, so I am limited on the cost and time of the project. My aim is to use period accurate materials where I can and historical sewing techniques when possible. I am working on a half scale so things like boning and size of embellishment will need to be adjusted so the garment looks balanced to the size of the form. Garments of this time were usually made of silk satin. Because this garment will have to last a long time and is to be done as an assistantship research project, I will likely choose a less expensive fabric to keep the cost of the project as low as possible. I will likely need to choose other fiber contents besides silk for the body of the dress. 

There is much much more to go through with this project so keep an eye out here for more updates! 

Tortora, P., & Eubank, K. (2005). Survey of historic costume: A history of Western dress (4th ed.). New York: Fairchild Publications.