The Classical simplicity of muslin was followed by a contrast with more decoration, colour and natural images on fabric, progressing towards the ‘Gothic’ style of ornamentation. The Corinthian column had stylised acanthus leaves on its capital and ‘top’ interest was gradually happening in women’s dress: wider shoulder lines and upper sleeve ornamentation emphasising the top half of the body. The spencer (a short-waisted jacket) and a pelisse (dress open down the front with a cape-like collar) were ‘new’ garments adding formal layers and more interest to a woman’s dress. As the decade progressed, ‘romantic’ details borrowed from 16th Century dress strengthened with expanded shoulders and sleeves (the puffing out leading to the leg-of-mutton or gigot sleeve). The skirt widened to balance the sleeves, and a lower waist with tighter corseting than the ‘Classical’ era, appeared.
7a Pelisse, green textured silk, early 1820s
A pelisse was a short-waisted dress open down the front, at first to just below the knees, then to the ankle. It had one or more broad, turned-down collars and full, long sleeves. Usually, tapes were attached at the back to secure it round the waist. Our example is pea-green twilled silk, woven with a raised motif of serrated leaves in a zigzag pattern. The shoulders have ‘vandyked’ edgings, which are continuous with the cape and collar at the back. The front edges and hem are padded. The long sleeves have a wrap over cuff detail, edged with matching satin piping (also used elsewhere on the pelisse). The matching belt has 3 metallic diamond-shaped pendants hanging from the back, made of silk thread and frizzled wire balls. The pelisse was often worn over a matching dress; it is sometimes called a carriage dress.
Given by Mrs E. Sanford of London, in 1962
7b Child’s pelisse, nankeen cotton, c.1828
Pelisse for a child in yellowish cotton of the type originally made in Nanking, China, and called ‘nankeen’. Possibly a boy’s garment (it is fairly sober in style) which would have been worn with matching trousers. An ankle length skirt would have been worn with it by a small girl. It has a cape collar, and is decorated with braid loops and openwork.
Given by Mrs Bradley of Maidstone, in 1956
7c Gestation corset, sateen and whalebone, 1800-1828
Corsets specially designed for pregnant women were common in the early 19th Century. Like the standard corset of the day, it is made of stout cotton sateen. It has two, hefty whalebone ‘busks’ sewn into the centre back, and laces down the front. Not uncommon for a maternity version, which could then be altered easily as the abdomen expanded. Extra tape supports to the sides have been attached, which seem to have passed over the shoulders through the loops then crossing to fasten over the stomach, when still possible in early pregnancy. The bust and hip gussets are extra- large to accommodate a full term pregnancy. Corsets throughout the 19th Century were similar in construction, using double layers of strong fabric, whale or metal ‘bones’, and eyeletted laces to adjust the tight waist.
Given by Commander A. A. MacKinnon, in 1963
7d Corset busk, whalebone, c.1820
A busk was a long piece of wood, whalebone, horn or steel sewn into the centre front of a corset to keep the torso erect. It was used until the early 19th Century, but later corsets had a double steel strip instead, one with loops and the other with studs, which were fastened centre front.
Given by Miss A Tapsfield of East Farleigh, in 1960
7e Corset bones, whalebone/cotton, 19th Century
Whalebone was used in corsets and bodices to stiffen and shape them throughout the 19th Century. Not a ‘bone’, it comes from the plates (blades) which take the place of teeth in the whale group known as ‘rights’. The whale uses these fringed blades to filter the small fish and crustacean for food. Whalebone from fins (baleen) looks similar to horn and is formed as parallel, hairy fibres which allow it to be split to any required thinness, whilst retaining its lightness, elasticity and flexibility. It can be softened in hot water, shaped and bent and will retain the new shape when cooled. Whalebone was also used in hooped petticoats, and umbrella and parasol spokes. The American Fishery supplied most of the19th Century’s needs, using the Arctic Ocean’s great bowhead whale, eventually almost wiping it out in the early 20th Century.
7f Indoor cap, ribbed muslin, 1825-35
A morning cap was worn at home, during the day. In style they were very similar to the night caps of the period. Most were made of cotton lawn or muslin, or a chequered weave. Frills were usual and strings of finer material. Sometimes caps were trimmed with a narrow edging of lace. Caps followed the changing lines of the fashionable bonnet, responding to the current style of dressing the hair. Daytime caps tended to be made of better materials and had prettier trims, but a night cap for any social class could double up as a day cap for a servant! This example is trimmed with netting and openwork.
7g Boots, cream sateen, 1810-27
In cream cotton sateen, these side-laced boots were for dress wear. They are similar in shape and construction to the heelless satin shoes, made in black or white from the 1830s to about 1860, which became a Victorian ‘classic’. This pair are ‘straights’ (no difference between the left and right) have cream cord laces with brass tag ends which thread through 9 pairs of holes on the inside. The rounded toes help date them to the early years of the 19th Century, as after 1830 the toe begins to square off.
Given by Mrs Postles of Sittingbourne, Kent, in 1960
1820s – What’s New?
Charles Macintosh, 1823
The Scottish chemist took out a patent to waterproof fabrics by cementing together two layers of woollen material with India rubber dissolved in naphtha. This led on to Thomas Hancock vulcanising rubber to develop waterproof clothing in 1830.
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1826
He produced photographs on pewter tablets using bitumen of Judea as the sensitive substance, a compound which hardens when exposed to light.