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  • Writer's pictureAisha

Research Sessions: Georgian Dresses at Bath Fashion Museum

Dear Reader,

I love diving into costume stores, but I don't do it nearly as often as I should! In Bath, I had the good fortune to examine two polonaise dresses from roughly the 1780s, one richly trimmed for evening wear and the other more simple for everyday wear. This post is a continuation of the first post looking at Georgian Underwear at the Bath Fashion Museum.

Polonaise dresses are defined by long skirts hitched up with ties. The back panels were often cut all in one, extending into the skirt which pleated into the bodice and cut away at the front, revealing a petticoat beneath.

*If you want to re-share these pictures on social media, please give credit to the Bath Fashion Museum*

Bronze Dress

It was very difficult to decide on the colour of this dress- initially I was going to call it gold, but I suppose it's more of a bronze colour? Whatever colour it is, I find it absolutely gorgeous. Sometimes my camera picked it up as more of an orangey colour, so please be aware that when it looks like a drastically different colour it's not a different dress!

The fabric almost felt like a taffeta, it was quite crisp and shiny, so the dress was probably worn for evening wear. The stitches were so tiny, it's so impressive to think about the amount of work that went into this!

The trimming is very Georgian- there were special tools in the era to get this pinked trim, and it's used all over this dress in particular. Interestingly, only one side of the fabric has been pinked, the other edge inserted into seams instead of being topstitched in place, like it is on the neckline of the bodice.

The skirt was 113cm long and there were five panels in the skirt. There were two layers of ties down the length of the skirt on either side, the loops secured at the bodice so you could pull the ties up and secure them there.

You can just see the loop in the bodice here.

There were slits on either side of the skirt so the woman could have access to her pockets.

The back was cut in one so the back pieces extended into the skirt.

The back bodice panels were pleated slightly to create a lovely shape down the centre back.

The rest of the skirt was pleated into the bodice with tiny little pleats that were also stitched into place on the wrong side so they would keep in place.

The centre front of the bodice was 36cm long.

There were the remnants of stitches on the inside, and I assumed that this bodice was closed with hooks which have since been unpicked.

The trimming is very pretty on this sleeve and I love the way that it's been inserted.

The whole bodice is backed on a cotton or linen and a lot of the backing has been pieced together, most notably so in the sleeves.

Inside of bodice back.

Inside of bodice front.

Inside of bodice sleeve.

The sleeve has been stab stitched into place along the top, a common way of inserting square sleeves that were popular in this era.

Feather Dress

This dress feels a lot heavier and sturdier than the first, probably used for more everyday wear. The fabric is woven with feathers, which means that the wrong side of the fabric is just as interesting as the right side!

Right side.

Wrong side.

This skirt was slightly longer than the first, 120cm at the longest point, and the bottom of the back panel actually had to be pieced in order to be long enough.

There were five panels in the skirt and the hem was curved. There was no trouble taken to try and make the hem even which is common in this kind of dress with the seamstress trying to get the most out of the fabric, while also enabling it to be unpicked and re-used at some point in time.

This dress also had one of my favourite features from the items that I studied that day- this dress had an actual pocket sewn into the side of the skirt!

The other side still had a slit for access to a probably larger pocket beneath the wearer's skirt.

The skirt is cartridge pleated into the bodice and this time the back isn't cut in one- instead, it's cut separately and gathered into the back.

Inside of skirt.

The centre front of the bodice measured 32cm.

The sleeves are two piece sleeves, slightly tucked in at the elbow.

Inside of armhole.

The dress bodice was also backed onto some kind of linen and it wasn't finished quite as neatly as the other dress.

The front was fastened using hook and bars.

The hooks were metal and the bars were hand-stitched, in a slightly sloping line to fit the wearer.

Original hooks.

Hand-stitched bars.

The bottom of the bodice front was pieced together, as a lot of this bodice was.

The inside of this bodice also had some interesting decorative pieces. Around the top of the bodice was a hole which I assume would have been a drawstring to tighten the bodice around the wearer, but the string has since been lost.

The bottom of the bodice front has been stiffened with a bone, but the bone doesn't run along the whole length of the centre front.

You can just see the tip of it poking out underneath the fabric!

That's it from my research session at the Bath Fashion Museum! Hope you enjoyed and someone finds this useful.

Until next time,

Aisha x

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