What to wear to a masked ball at Ranelagh in 1754?
The fashions of this era are stunning. The gowns are every girl’s dream to look at. I’m not quite so sure how it might feel to wear such an outfit. Perhaps the re-enactors out there who make and wear such things might let us know what its like to move or to dance wearing such clothes.
My character’s in A Gentleman’s Folly employ a seamstress and her minions to create whole new ensembles for the masked ball they attend. So what were the girls wearing?
Chloe has a sun coloured gown created in the style known as the robe a la Francaise. This magnificent gown will draw every eye.
Katherine chooses a different style, the fitted robe a la Anglaise, made up in a way to present her as a country maid. Her gown is embellished with a apron embossed with strawberries. She doesn’t go as far as leading a goat kid on a ribbon to the ball, well, it had been done before.
We all know the outfit has to be supported in the right way for it to look good. That basic principle was the same in 1754.
Every gown began with the right foundation wear. All women, rich or poor wore a shift as their main undergarment. Drawers were not a usual part of most women’s dress. They had been invented as undergarments but many considered them unhealthy. Shifts were usually made of linen. Differences in quality came with embellishments the garment might have. This garment was the most intimate garment a woman wore, if she was seen in it she was said to be naked. There wasn’t anything else.
Stays were worn by every woman, rich or poor. These gave her the right shape for her gown or garments. Stays weren’t quite as fierce as later corsets, they tended to keep the shoulders back and give an upright carriage and front thrust bosom, whereas the later corset was a squeeze.Many gowns were very low cut revealing an ample
décolletage, glimpses of nipples weren’t uncommon, but to reveal a shoulder was quite another thing.
Hoops and bum rolls were also used. These changed in size and shape over the era but both gave additional definition to the shape skirt of the gown. Both would be tied on as a foundation garment.
Stockings were worn and ranged from warm woolly ones to finer fabrics; the stocking was gartered at or just above the knee. Garters were ribbon tied or buckled with jeweled or enameled buckles.
Petticoats added volume to outfits too. More than one would be worn, sometimes arranged over hoops, and sometimes quilted against the cold, they all added to the overall shape of the gown and helped produce the wonderful rustling sound when walking.
A young woman could take a long time to dress in this era; hardly surprising.
The top gown all the foundation garments supported was the important piece. In London in 1754 the robe a la Francaise and the robe a la Anglaise were two popular styles.
The gowns do look expensive to modern eyes and they were at the time. This style of dress is way beyond the pocket of ordinary people. One of the chief complaints about young lady’s-maids at the time, such as Katherine’s maid, Dora, was they got cast-off gowns and it gave them ideas above their station and unsuitable manners.
For young women like Katherine and Chloe image was all and dressed in their best, with handmade shoes such as this exquisite example they were confident of their place in society. I happen to love shoes so I had to put a shoe in the blog. These truly look like amazing heels.
Once properly attired young ladies of the elite or those aiming for a place in the elite could ‘strut their stuff’ and in my story a Gentleman’s Folly Katherine and Chloe can attend the ball.
My next blog will discuss make-up and hairstyles of the era. Do drop by.
Images from Wikipedia under commons licence.