Bath Fashion Museum, 18th Century Dresses, part two

1 April 2011

Are you ready for part two of my write up about my afternoon in the Bath Fashion Museum’s study centre? I’m really pleased that fellow enthusiasts are enjoying these photographs so much!

Dress six:

Unknown origin (looks English to me), robe volante from 1730-39.

I’ve posted quite a few photographs of the skirt just so you can all see the quality of the hand embroidered decoration. It really is amazing – I can’t imagine how many hours of work went into making this. It really does make you think about the amount of work that went into these dresses and how expensive they must have been. Also, these dresses were clearly worn by women of means but could a girl who was handy with her needle have made something comparable? I checked the seams on each dress and they were all neat with small stitches – it made me wonder about who had made the dresses and if they were professional seamstresses or the wearer herself.


The holes are for pockets.

Dress Seven:

English gown and petticoat, 1760-1770.

This dress looked really unassuming until I got up close and realised that the silk had a soft gold glow that would have looked amazing in candlelight. There was also an astonishing amount of fabric in the skirt, which had a bell shape and slight train that curved away from a shorter petticoat in the same material.

This dress has pockets as well!

A CSI shot of me rather excitedly putting my hand in an eighteenth century pocket!

Dress Eight:

Muslin dress, 1813-20.

This is a later dress but I asked to see a couple of muslin gowns too as I thought you would all be interested in seeing how they were put together. This dress was so beautiful but really worryingly see through! You forget this about muslin when you see them in period dramas and stuff, but you would definitely have to wear a petticoat (damped or otherwise) beneath this dress!

Dress nine:

Muslin dress with silk detail edging to the sleeves, 1816-20.

Dress ten:

Patterned muslin dress, 1815-20.

This is the sort of thing that a Heyer heroine would have worn. It is such a pretty, flounced dress with an interesting strap detailing at the wrists.

I really hope that you all enjoyed looking at my photographs! I’d really recommend that anyone who writes historical fiction tries to do something like this as it really makes you think about how people of the time would have moved and how restricted they really were by the clothes that they wore. I also now know a lot about dresses would have done up – the eighteenth century gowns went on like coats with the bodice fastening at the front thanks to a hook and eye arrangement and the skirt attached with an opening at the front, where the petticoat would have been visible.

The muslin gowns were particularly interesting as they are more transparent than I expected and also the fabric is really ungiving so they weren’t as comfy as you might think.

The other really obvious thing is how small they all were – both in terms of height but also overall size. All of the dresses were clearly worn by dinky little ladies, although it was common (thanks to the expense of fabric and dresses in general) for clothes to be taken up and cut down several times in their lifespan.

All photographs were taken by myself, with permission from the Fashion Museum in Bath. Many thanks to Elaine, the Collections Assistant for arranging this and for all of her help and enthusiasm on the day. I’ll definitely be back at some point to look at something else! There was an amazing wine coloured 1880s evening dress on the table behind me, so I may have to come back and have a closer look!

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