Bath Fashion Museum – 18th century dresses, part one

31 March 2011

I have just got home after an amazing couple of hours spent studying some of the eighteenth century dresses in the vast collections (I think they said they have 80,000 pieces in their archives) of the Fashion Museum in Bath. It almost went all wrong when it turned out that they had forgotten to put my appointment in their diary but all’s well that ends well and actually it worked out very well for me as I had to come back when everyone else booked in had finished and so had it all to myself.

I joked beforehand that it was going to be like CSI: Georgian Dress and it really was a bit like that as I donned special cotton gloves and set to work peeling back different layers of the dresses and poking my fingers into the pockets and sleeves! It was amazing seeing the hook and eye arrangements that they used to do up the bodices, the neat seam work and even the staining beneath the armpits which serves as a reminder that these are the real deal and not just mere costumes!

I came away with almost three hundred photos but will try and restrain myself a bit with this post!

Dress One: a floral printed muslin from 1793-97.

This dress has a bodice fastened with hooks and eyes and a full, open skirt. It really is lovely – very floaty and romantic with a pretty floral print. You can really imagine Marianne Dashwood in this one!

Dress Two: Possibly French silk dress, 1755-1760.

I don’t think the photographs have adequately captured the soft blue of this dress.

Dress Three: English, silk, 1752-55.

This gown was truly astonishing – the embroidery glittered and glowed as though it was brand new and it had the most amazing dramatic rustle to it. Just look at the shimmering, shiny needlework!

Dress Four: English, silk, 1770-73.

I loved this dress – it was so flouncy and romantic.

Dress Five: French, sacque gown, 1760-63.

They were really keen on combinations of pink and green during the eighteenth century – a colour combination that seems to have vanished from fashion, alas. The bodice of this dress was interesting as it has two layers.

Actually seeing these dresses in the flesh was just amazing – I’ve seen countless eighteenth century gowns on display and in portraits but nothing can prepare you for the actual feel of the fabric or the sound that it makes – these dresses really rustled. It’s incredible too to see how much work went into each one – the amount of sewing involved was extraordinary.

I will post about the other five dresses tomorrow!

All photographs by me, but many thanks to the Fashion Museum, Bath.