Pride and Prejudice and Round Gowns

In the portrait Polly is most likely wearing a “round gown.” These were popular from the 1780s into the Directoire period (about 1790-1800), and got their name because they were closed down the front. What had been popular in the past, and was still common, was a gown with an open front that revealed the (highly decorated) chemise and petticoat beneath. You may recognize round gowns as the lovely dresses featured in the many TV/film versions of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Dresses such as Polly’s were of delicate white cottons and silks, with a straight, narrow silhouette in imitation of the Greek golden age as represented in statues and case paintings. Influenced possibly by the political ideology of the French Revolution, which was inspired by classical antiquity, the dresses emulated the same culture. One of those funny things that I love about history is the mistakes we historians make when looking at the fragmentary evidence we are left with. This fashion of the Directoire period is a wonderful example of just such a mistake. The dresses were made with white cloth to imitate the clothing of the Greek golden age… For those of you who don’t know your costume history, the Greeks actually used bold colours in their clothes. But the colour on the statues was bleached away by time, leaving the impression that the clothes they wore were as white as marble.

The United States gained its independence in 1776, but women continued to follow English and French fashion trends. The French Revolution establishes the new Directory government, thus the period name “Directoire.” This was before the time of factories or the sewing machine, and most women’s clothing was made at home. Polly’s dress, most likely, was made by the household slave woman, from fabric ordered from England by John Marshall (a reproduction of the slave woman’s outfit is on display in the John Marshall House Museum cellar/gift shop).

For more information, read: Survey of Historic Costume by Phillis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank.


Go to next post: ‘My Research Board.’

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 2:45 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Interesting historical details!

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