MUSLIN DRESS WITH HISTORICIZING TRIM
English, ca. 1800-05
The striking combination of bright yellow and rich, dark brown in this elegant, early nineteenth-century dress reflects the contemporary interest in the colors of antiquity. The widespread vogue for white muslin notwithstanding, women’s clothing depicted in fashion plates and paintings also incorporated vivid and complementary hues inspired by Greek, Etruscan and Pompeian sources. In England, the prevailing neoclassical silhouette was frequently combined with details and trimmings that evoked more recent periods of history, especially the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The zigzag pattern created by the applied brown and yellow silk ribbon was a particularly popular form of decoration. As illustrated in the pages of the deluxe English periodical, The
Gallery of Fashion (1794-1803), “Vandyke scollops”—the term for this type of ornament—embellish numerous gowns as well as cloaks and hats.
In the last decades of the eighteenth century, cotton was increasingly worn by both men and women across the socio-economic spectrum. Although India produced the finest muslin, by the turn of the nineteenth century both England and Scotland were manufacturing sheer, high-grade cottons. Their soft, draping qualities perfectly suited the narrow, columnar shape of female dress inspired by classical prototypes. The gown’s brilliant yellow color, achieved with a plant dyestuff, attests to the skill of eighteenth-century dyers. Its low neckline, short sleeves and long, trained skirt as well as its materials suggest that it was intended for late afternoon or evening wear. Accessorized with a headdress and long gloves, the ensemble’s eclectic appropriation of historicizing colors and motifs would have created a stylish toilette.