Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Fashionable Neoclassical Dress, 1800-1805

This formal dress, c. 1800-1805, of white cotton gauze, features small floral sprays across the textile. It is detailed with a border design “composed of vine and a modified Greek fret worked in a chain stitch with fine red and white wool.”  This is a classic example of what is known as the Regency, Empire or Neoclassical style which began in the last decade of the 18thcentury (post-American and French Revolutions) and continued to inspire women’s fashions into the 1820s, and in some places, beyond.

A dress like this would not have been out of place in the first quarter of 19thcentury in Boston. By the time of Henry Sargent’s painting of The Tea Party(c.1824) showing the elegant attire of the age – although clad in long columnar dress, with shawls and hats of every variety, we begin to see additions of pouf sleeves, decorated hems, fancy trimmings altering the silhouette and profile. The setting for this elegant gathering was none other than Boston’s Beacon Hill, and is a companion piece to his masculine habitués detailed in The Dinner Party.[1]

 (Via the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Accession #22.665

1. For additional information on Sargent’s painting, see Jane C. Nylander, “Henry Sargent’s Dinner Party and Tea Party,” Magazine Antiques, May 1982.

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