This one is for everyone who loves impossibly luxurious fabric. Despite the fanciful CosPlay aspect to this display, this 18th century gown is an excellent example of the level of quality and detail that was enjoyed by the relative few. Thanks to the Museum of London’s website, there are a number of photographs which show the lavish elements. Embellishment over embroidery over Jacquard weave. The heavily ribbon-embroidered scallops of net and lace. The enormous double-layer bows at the elbows. How red, blue and white stripes read from a distance as mauve. It’s a tidy lesson in extravagance, all in a single gown. (All photographs courtesy of the Museum of London.)
Dress Ensemble. This gown is made of a very thin, plain weave silk or taffeta with very fine stripes of red, blue and white, which, seen from afar, give the impression of mauve. A white leaf pattern is woven into the fabric and as well as floral sprays in various colours.
In the 18th century this dress would have been called a sack or sacque. This term seems to have first been used in the 1750s and was applied to gowns with a loose back. The fabric was set in folds below the shoulders from which it fell to the ground where it ended in a short train. The sack developed from an earlier gown worn for informal occasions, called in France a ‘robe volante’ or ‘flying dress’, presumably because of the shape it would have been produced when its wearer was moving forward.
This dress has a matching skirt, or petticoat, to give it its 18th century name. The front of the petticoat, the only part that would have been visible, is decorated with multi-coloured ribbon and delicate lace. The gown would also have had a matching stomacher, the triangular piece that filled the gap above the petticoat. The present stomacher is a reproduction.
The shape of the gown indicates that it would have been worn with a hoop petticoat, an invisible underskirt supported with rings of whalebone or cane. (Description courtesy of the Museum of London.)