I invited Sarah to guest here and am glad to say that she graciously accepted.
She has not only a thorough and practical knowledge of tailoring and fabrics but also of the Regency period, which I’m sure you will agree is a very valuable combination!
My first book to be published ‘Poison for a Poison Tongue’ should be coming out soon but if you are interested keep an eye on my blog on http://sarahjw.posterous.com/
This little piece is on the revolutionary move from one form of obvious conspicuous consumption to a more subtle one. The new craze for cotton Up to the 1790’s the way to show off wealth had always been with sumptuous silks and beautiful brocades, the stiffer and more covered with brocading, embroidery, gold threads and so on the better.
Then along came the French Revolution and a sudden craze for neo-classicism. Portraits of the likes of Madame Recamier showed women in skimpy lawn and muslin looking sexy; and gone were panniers and brocades.
Mme Recamier 1800 by J. L. David
Cotton prices were also falling dramatically: Cuenca Esteban [quoted in C. Knick Harley ‘Cotton Textile Prices and the Industrial Revolution’ JSTOR] claims that prices fell by one third between 1770 and 1801 and by a further 50% before 1815. This was due in great measure to increases in technology that permitted greater amounts of very fine cotton to be woven that rivalled the fine Indian muslins and therefore permitted the production of the same at home without import costs.
Lawn had always been a fine, sheer fabric woven from linen, but over the last years of the 18th century there was a gradual shift from linen as the lightweight yarn of choice to cotton, at first in union, calico for example being made with a warp of linen, woven with a weft of cotton; but gradually all cotton lawn and calico appeared.
These are all modern fabrics but show some of the woven effects that were extant including one with metallic threads included.
These are all modern Indian embroidered muslins but again of similar nature to what would be found in the regency including the one with gold embroidery.
Wherein lay the hidden conspicuous consumption?
In the laundering – or rather in the difficulty of laundering.
Linen could be boiled to get rid of stains, but the delicate muslins, before deodorants, would pick up in a hot ballroom all those unpleasant stains under the arms that would turn them yellow. Could this be why the colours Primrose, Straw, Jonquil and canary yellow were popular, because they did not show the stains as badly?
White muslin does not stay white for long. It does not wash white easily without modern washing powders; and there wasn’t even Reckitt’s bluebag until 1850. So to be able to afford to wear a fine white fabric was of itself a status symbol.