Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A 1760s Silk Brocade Court Dress Has Timeless Appeal

This weekend found me back at Historic Deerfield, visiting "Celebrating Fiber Arts" for the second time. I noticed several things differently during this visit, and while drawn to many of the same garments, looked at them afresh. Among the many delights of this gallery is the opportunity to view many garments without the intermediary of a glass or plexiglass barrier. I would like to share with you, as closely as possible, what I was able to savor twice in the last six weeks.
Not surprisingly, I was again attracted to the blue and cream/white Court dress, with its glorious textile and abundance of hand knotted floss or fly fringe. The luscious blue & white silk brocade was woven in Lyon, France, about 1760. The panniers (hoops or baskets) are expansive but by no means the largest protuberances we have seen.  Indeed, as far as court dresses are concerned, there are numerous extant examples which exhibit far greater detail and expense. Perhaps this is in part why I find this garment so appealing - there is an accessibility to it. The palette is akin to the blue and white Delftware and Asian export ceramics which were widely mimicked and popular throughout the period, remaining desired to this day. 
While the floss fringe is extensive - yards of it cover the bodice, trim the sleeves and skirt - it complements the silk brocade and is not jarring to the eye. There is a pleasing balance and harmony in this dress, where all the parts come together to form a cohesive whole. A classic sensibility emanates from this garment, one that I imagine would lure many a contemporary visitor to take a closer look.

The combination of the fabric, detail and width of the dress, demonstrate that it would have occupied its own space and makes the spatial requirements of one "at court" quite clear - whether it be promenading, conversing or even standing still. To be in the presence of this gown, on its mannequin, commands your attention.
All the photos are courtesy of Historic Deerfield and were taken by the author. For more on the installation, see: "Cotton, Linen, Silk, Wool: Celebrating Fiber Arts" (http://silkdamask.blogspot.com/2013/11/cotton-linen-silk-wool-celebrating_15.html)

Curated by Ned Lazaro, Collections Manager and Associate Curator of Textiles

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of New Hampshire


  1. This is gorgeous! Thanks for sharing. One thing I did wonder about, that I've noticed on similar gowns of the period, is whether the "outer" layer, that looks like a robe extending over the skirt, is actually a separate element from the other parts of the gown in the same fabric that we can see in the top picture (underskirt, bodice)? Or are all three separate? How would a dress like this have been put on the wearer?


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