Museum Life: Dating historic garments

Dating historic garments is often an interesting exercise. Looking at details such as sleeves, textiles and skirt shapes helps date a garment to a particular time or historic period. Although personal taste or requirements of a wearer can create many idiosyncratic quirks in a garment, during the modern history of the west, general fashions have prevailed at particular times.

Recently, I have been looking at garment details, studying changes in fashion of women’s dress from the late 1830s and the early 1840s. In this blog post, I thought I would take you though some of these details.

From the 1820s and 1830s women’s fashions began to take on a Romantic style with fuller skirts, elaborate hairstyles and more decorations and embellishments. In contrast to classical styles worn earlier in the 19th Century such garments included very wide, balloon-shaped sleeves. At the beginning of the 1830s these sleeves were very wide, extending from the shoulder to the wrist. From the mid 1830s dress sleeves became tight from the elbow to the wrist, emphasising the shape and size of the upper sleeve. And, as the decade went on the sleeve began to drop to the elbow, finally becoming slimmer in fit into the 1840s.

[87/533-1] Wedding gown, silk, satin and leather, worn by Miss Ann Turner for her wedding, 1834, maker of dress unknown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, maker of slippers unknown, Liverpool, England. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

Wedding dress, silk, 1839. Private collection

There are similarly slight changes in the shape of waists in women’s dress during the 1830s and early 1840s. At the beginning of the decade waists were slightly higher, than the natural waist and straight, similar to  early Nineteenth Century fashions. Later in the decade waist shapes returned to the natural waist emphasising fashionably fuller skirts and sleeves. At this time you can also begin to see the construction of the bust forming a V-shape. This eventually gave way to distinctive V-shaped waists, which became a characteristic detail of women’s fashion during the early 1840s.

[H5971] Day dress, womem’s, silk taffeta, mottled black and brown. Empire line bodice with wide boat neckline, full length skirt, very large gigot (or leg-o-mutton) sleeves. England, 1830. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

Women’s dress, cotton, Collection: Illawarra Museum, Wollongong, Australia

Wedding dress, silk, 1846. Collection Port Macquarie Historical Society, Port Macquarie, Australia

It is intriguing to look in detail at historic garments to examine shape, structure and manufacture. These aspects assist in understanding apparel in its historic context. Dating garments is a process of looking at all part of a garment and comparing it to others from a similar period.

I would also love you to contribute to this post.

Do you have any particular methods in studying historic garments? Or do you have a favourite historic dress period?

References:

http://www.australiandressregister.org/

http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

First images: [H5971] Day dress, womem’s, silk taffeta, mottled black and brown. Empire line bodice with wide boat neckline, full length skirt, very large gigot (or leg-o-mutton) sleeves. England, 1830. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

2 Comments »

  1. Shelley said,

    November 24th, 2012 at 3:47 am

    Another point to look out for in the construction is the use of piping on all seams.

  2. Shelley said,

    November 24th, 2012 at 3:48 am

    Particularly prevalent into the 1840s.

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