‘1 Nightgown new made’: A Practical Investigation of Eighteenth-Century Clothing Alteration PART 3 (of 3)

This is the third and final post in my small series chronicling an “experimental archaeology” project of mine about 18th century alteration practices by first making then altering a 1760s style gown to a 1780s style gown drawing upon research from my PhD thesis on the topic. If you’re just joining and would like to start from the beginning you can click for Part 1 and Part 2.

This reveal has ended up being a tease for some of you since it took some time for me to get pictures that I was really happy with. I hope it won’t be too anti-climactic for you! For the first photoshoot of the 1780s dress I ended up being unhappy with my styling of the gown – hair, ruffles, ribbon colours. It took time to schedule a re-shoot, which Taylor of Dames a la Mode was very gracious to do for me (she took the styled photos of the 1760s gown and the first round of the 1780s dress – she has a lot of patience with me, for which I am very grateful!).

And now, without further ado, I present to you the altered gown:

Phase 3: 1780s dress

Plain Photos

The first set of photos are just the gown mostly alone but with the proper underpinnings for the 1780s, mainly a split false rump in addition to the stays, rather than the pocket hoops worn for the 1760s iteration.

With the skirt left un-tied at the back:

With the skirt tied up at back:

“Fashion” Photos

For styling, I paired the altered gown with a neckline ruffle, sleeve ruffles and petticoat I made to go with my pale blue cutaway-front anglaise last year (the neckline ruffle was a later addition to the ensemble). I had made these pieces specifically to be moved from gown to gown and I love that I’ve actually been doing that!

The green ribbons are from Dames a la Mode and I’m so pleased with how well they set of and contrast against the pink of the gown making the whole ensemble look so fresh – perfect for spring!

Note in the photo above how the re-pleating of the skirt has shifted the pocket slits towards the back of the body – this was a very common feature I found amongst extant garments altered for the 4th quarter of the century.

In the photo below you can see the effect of the narrowed ‘en fourreau’ pleats and can also see some hints of stitching and crease lines from the previous configuration.

A detail of the extended sleeves:

The silk organza cap was made using the American Duchess guide to 18th century Dressmaking and I think it’s so wonderfully frilly and froofy!

Details of the stitched-down sleeve head pleats that create the effect of a slightly more smoothly fitting sleeve without making major alterations to the sleeve.

Combined, the alterations and different accessories/styling really create such a different look compared with the 1760s version!

Some extra photos because I think they’re pretty!

Ok, so not the best photo for illustrating the project but I love the mood of it:

Haha, I kind of feel like I’m in some sort of advertisement in this one:

Direct Comparisons

Showing the two versions side-by-side really highlights the change in style and aesthetic between the two periods!

Of the plain gown:


1760s                                                             1780s


Of the styled gown:




A quick summary of my findings and ruminations on the project as a whole and its outcome:

  • I was surprised to find that the work proceeded more quickly than anticipated. The entire alterations process was completed within 3 days. A period seamstress/mantuamaker who performed this kind of work regularly would sure have been able to execute even more quickly. This, combined with the low cost of labour in the period really did make altering one’s gowns a very easy and economical option
  • Along with the above, I continued to be struck by how a very different look could be achieved with relatively little time, difficulty, labour, and extra materials.
  • From the initial making of the gown and petticoat I had some scraps left over, these were more than enough to provide what I needed to perform the alterations; they would also have been sufficient should more piecing of the bodice fronts been required. Since customers bought their own fabric and brought it to the mantuamaker the inevitable leftover scraps actually belonged to the customer and were often kept by them expressly for future maintenance and re-modelling.
  • I was pleased (and relieved, lol!) to see that the types of stitch and crease marks left from the alterations I made were similar to those I observed on extant garments. So this helped to support my theories of the methods by which at least some mid-century gowns were altered for the 4th quarter of the century – always gratifying!
  • The 1760s gown was made according to construction methods and processes used in the period as closely as I was able and I found they were well designed to facilitate un-picking and efficient re-making. This is an aspect of 18th century dressmaking that has intrigued me for years, since my MA research days. I even termed the overall approach to 18th century dressmaking as “made to be unmade” (TM ;oP) For years I’ve theorized that not only were alterations expected but that the specific types of stitches and seams used on different parts of the garment were carefully calculated to combine efficiency of making, durability (where needed), and ease of un-picking/re-making. It was such a treat to actually utilize these features!
  • I was really excited by one particular “aha” moment – I noticed that the deepening of the back bodice point was a necessary result of the alteration, this also became a style trend of the 1780s, leading me to wonder if this particular alteration may have actually fuelled the fashion trend/tendency. And if this was the case, are there other instances where the natural consequence of an alteration might have done the same/similar? It was also really neat to have another little tidbit to help complicate the “on the ground” practice of fashion in the 18th century, how fashion plates – beautiful and inspirational/aspirational as they are – do not necessarily represent what even the fashionable among society actually did.

And so there you have it folks! I’m happy to answer any questions about this project that you might have and would love to hear your thoughts if it sparks any! Thanks so much for coming on this ride with me!


6 thoughts on “‘1 Nightgown new made’: A Practical Investigation of Eighteenth-Century Clothing Alteration PART 3 (of 3)

  1. This is fantastic! I absolutely love seeing this process in action. The ability to remake and piece is part of why 18th century sewing jazzes me so much. I find the utility fascinating. And, of course, both gowns are gorgeous!! Thanks for sharing!



  2. I dig the transformation and I kinda am super adoring the simplistic lines in the 1780s remix. It’s cool to see this level of experimental archaeology, thank you for documenting the process ❤


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s