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La Porte Bedchamber

18th Century fashions - 1770-1780

The master bedchamber of the house shows numerous garments that the first aristocratic emigrés might well have found familiar. The standing figures are attired in the most formal garments, while other elegant clothing is shown on the bed. Across the room, more informal wear is draped across a trunk, and waiting on an 18th century style dress stand.




Prior to the French revolution, sumptuous clothing reflected the status of the wearer.
Worn over wide hoops, it was an ideal showcase for displaying fashionable - and expensive - patterned damasks and brocades.The sack continued to be worn fashionably as day dress through the 1770's and as formal dress into the 1780's.

After fashions changed, these gowns were often picked apart for the yards of fabric, to be reworked to more 'modern' styles
The most formal clothing for both men and women made lavish use of embroidery, fine fabrics, and metallic decoration, which would have been made of genuine gold and silver.

This stately Ball Gown is a classic 18th century style: a Robe a la Française, with the bodice done as robings (pleats to shape the bodice front) over a stomacher.

Both gown and petticoat are made of crisp lilac silk taffeta, and worn over large, oval "court"panniers.

The decoration and trim for this gown are typical for the era, utilising a frothy combination of metallic and white lace, silver sequinned passementarie trim, and floral-patterned lavender ribbon.

The decoration on the stomacher is hand-embroidered with bright and matte silver flat sequins, silver threads and various styles of silver bullion trim.

FORMAL SUIT and WAISTCOAT . . . . c.1775-1780's

By the late 18th century, the gentlman's suit took on a uniform appearance, and was distinguished in its use according to the fabric and ornamentation. Coat styles were slim and elegant, with small cuffs and 'cut-away' sloped-back front edges.
Formal fabrics were sumptuous. This purple velvet coat, though restrained in color, is stylishly bordered along the front, collar, cuffs and pockets in dull gold metallic trim and matte gold flattened sequins ; matching custom-made buttons. Coat based on French court coat, In Style, p 19 MMA.

The 3-piece 'suit' was now established: coat, trousers/breeches, and waistcoat.

Waistcoats had shortened to hip-length, with slanted fronts, and even breeches were cut tighter, producing an overall neat, elegant appearance.

Waistcoat inspired by late 18th c."insect" waistcoat; The 18th Century Woman, MMA p.15
Adapted from a pattern in the Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900 N.Waugh.


This Gentleman's waistcoat is typical of the styles of the 1770's. It is done in fine-woven cream colored antique linen, to a common pattern of the era. The floral designs of carnations, lilies, anemones and tulips are taken from an 18th century border design.

Just as in the 18th century, "custom work" could be ordered, and in this case the life cycles of specific kinds of butterflies and moths were incorporated in the design. The embroidery incorporates a number of different stitches, and is done in colored cotton threads.


Additional outfits displayed in the La Porte Bedroom include:


This gown, done in a lilac and blue floral striped cotton, is cut in the late-century 'bodice & skirt' pattern, with a pointed front and back waistline. The neckline is trimmed with self-ruching, and the bodice fastens with hooks and eyes in the center front, with the direction of the striped pattern showing the construction techniques. Elbow-length sleeves feature graceful falling ruffles, and the lilac petticoat co-ordinates with the dress fabric. Overall is worn a fashionable light outdoor wrap, called a mantelet, hooded cloak, or mantle. These were popular from mid-century, and done in a variety of fabrics of different weights. For a light spring or summer wrap, black or 'blonde' lace was a favorite; for more warmth, colored satins or wool would be used.


The late 18th century was a period of transition for the textile industry - fashions turned from the use of silk to cotton and linen. The changing styles of women's gowns, with plainer sleeves and narrower skirts called for smaller patterns, and to boost their failing industry, the silk weavers often imitated designs done for cotton and linen dresses. Cotton was considered a "luxury" fabric, imported from Egypt and India. From the mid-seventeenth century on, Calcutta exported "calicut" cloth, which became familiar in western Europe as 'Calico'. Reflecting the styles of the last part of the 18th century, this late-period "Round Gown" for daytime wear, is made in a small, floral printed cotton on a navy-blue ground. The gown has a fall-front opening, the front portion of the skirt being pleated onto a band that ties round the waist like an apron, the bodice then fastening over top by means of a center-front lacing. The back of the dress is styled as a "robe a l'anglaise" with curved pleats sewn down to fit the figure. Sleeves are edged with ecru lace and gold velvet ribbon.

Outfits shown on the bed and elsewhere in the room


By the fourth quarter of the 18th century, the back seams of the gown began to move toward the center back, thus making it almost impossible to cut the back panels in one with the skirt, as in the earlier robe a l'anglaise style, The waist seam was extended all the way around, creating graceful points both center front and center back, and the front of the dress came together and attached with hooks and eyes. This formal gown is in the form of an open robe, and is made in a cream and gold floral brocade. Like the polonaise, the ensemble uses a bum roll for fullness rather than hoops. The 3/4 sleeves feature a frill of cream lace, and a narrow tucker of fine lace edges the low rounded neckline. In keeping with the formal theme, a headdress of flowers and feathers is worn.


The most formal clothing for both men and women made lavish use of embroidery, fine fabrics, and metallic decoration, which, of course, would have been made of genuine gold and silver. This gown is styled for the last quarter of the century, and although these fashions were soon to make way for less ornate styles, formal evening dress retained much of its opulance and decoration. This bronze satin Robe a la Française has a bodice with a center-front closing under an ornately decorated , applied stomacher. Sleeves no longer have the falling ruffles, but are decorated with a lace frill. Fringed and gathered bands form decorating around the sleeves and gown front.


The 18th century gentleman was certainly no less concerned with presenting a fine appearance than was his lady. From the middle of the century, a manual on etiquette advised that: "One should always 'put the best foot forward' ; one should please, shine, dazzle, whenever it is possible.." In a formal, or 'Dress' ensemble, such as this, a gentleman would surely fits these qualifications. The outfit is suitable for a most formal occasion - a ball, or official function, during the latter part of the century. The coat is slim, following the contours of the body, and has sloped-back front sections - the origin of the formal "cutaway" coat of today. The choice of color and fabric is a reflection both of personal taste of social status - here, black velvet serves as the perfect backdrop for a classically simple silver ornamentation in the highly ornate form of wide metallic lace. In keeping with this sombre yet sumptuous attire, the gentleman's waistcoat brings a touch of color to the suit with its' jewel-like floral silk brocade against a black satin background. Accessories would include a wig, a falling lace jabot and a white linen shirt.

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