Friday, September 7, 2007

Independent Study Progress Post 1: The Polonaise (1770s)

My first costume for this project is a Robe a Polonaise-- a style of dress popular during the 1770s-- the 'Georgian period,' or the time of the American Revolution. Examples can be found here, here, and here.

What was going on in the Quaker World during the 1770s: Many American Quakers, especially the followers of John Woolman, were engaged in the struggle against slavery. As such, many Friends avoided slave-dependent goods such as cotton and indigo (the most common blue dye at the time). Quakers of this period built their clothes to last, believing it ostentatious to throw away perfectly good clothing when the fashions changed. They'd make high-quality garments and wear them until they wore out-- hence the myth that they were intentionally behind the fashions.

Right now, I've got my pieces up on my dress form for fit adjustments:

The Character It's Made For: My vision of the woman who would wear this dress is that she was upper middle-class, and so had access to the latest in fashion and the best in fabric. She had this dress made sometime around 1775, and chose a polonaise specifically because it would help her achieve the popular silhouette of the era without resorting to a hoop skirt or 'pocket panniers,' which she viewed as ostentatious. The rich brocade of her skirt (not pictured) speaks to her wealth, but it's the same color as her overdress-- an elegant brown that doesn't call undue attention to itself.

A Few Notes:

The Fabric: Since fit adjustments are done inside-out, you actually don't see much of the right side of the fabric. It's a slightly lighter shade of brown and not at all shiny. The fabric itself is an old ultrasuede/microfiber that's been kicking around in my closet for years. It looks and drapes like a silk or silk-blend-- exactly the kind of fabric a wealthy Quaker of the day would make her wardrobe out of.

The Shape: With all the pleats, darts, and tailoring on this dress, hanging it inside-out doesn't give a very good indication of how it will look. All of the shaping done to make the dress poof out in the back is currently making it poof in. Also, the neckline hasn't been cut yet. The white line in the pictures gives a good idea of where it will fall.

About Those Darts: I'm actually making my polonaise from an 1870s pattern-- it's a hundred years out of the time it's meant to portray. The darts and princess seams are anachronistic to the Revolutionary War period. From the example pictures linked above, you can see the conical silhouette fashionable during the 1770s period. Since my rib cage hasn't been deformed by years of corsetry and I don't have stays that will help me fake it, a 1770s polonaise would look pretty weird on me--it would bunch and wrinkle. Rather than make a completely inaccurate garment, I chose to make one that's accurate to the Victorian era--my period of specialty-- so that I can re-use it after this project is finished. In the meantime, it will be dressed up with eighteenth century touches that will help hide this underlying discrepancy.

I'll be posting more pictures as the dress progresses. I may re-use it even within the presentation, bringing it out for both the 1770s and, re-dressed, for the 1870s. I haven't worked out what other pieces I'll be making for the presentation, but I want to do at least one man's outfit as well-- possibly two, depending on time and resources. I'll be staying away from the Quaker 'quietist' period, because this project is about the ways they used their clothes in their struggles to change the world-- not how they used them to set themselves apart.

1 comment:

Annalee said...

...For the record, I did actually iron this. It just looks wrinkly in the picture for some reason.