Wednesday, July 23, 2014

History's Runway: A Silk and Velvet Sack-Back Gown and Petticoat, 1774-1890

Sack-Back Gown
Made in Scotland, 1774-1775
Altered between 1880 and 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As we know, a sack-back gown, the predominant style of women’s fashions of the Eighteenth Century, is created from a single piece of fabric pleated and stitched at the back of the neck, creating an open front. The style evolved from a sort of loose negligee which was worn privately. By the 1770s, the fashion had become a more formal type of dress meant to be worn in public at important events, the opera, the theatre and at stylish dinner parties.

What sets this sack-back apart is the use of velvet. At the time, these gowns were made of woven fabrics which were printed after the weaving process. Here, the textile of silk has been combined with velvet—a technique unique to France--which created a fabric with vertical bands of ivory and pink silk alternating with stripes of floral chiné velvet. Records with the dress report that the textile cost a shocking 36 shillings a yard. The gown and petticoat are constructed of about 17 yards. Today, the fabric alone would have cost approximately £2,200—over $3400 U.S. 

While the fabric was imported from France, the gown itself was constructed in Scotland. The original garment was made between 1774 and 1775. Alterations were made to the gown between 1880 and 1890 when it was used as a costume for fancy dress parties. The ensemble was, for many years, part of the Castle Howard Costume Collection before being sold by Sotheby’s to the V&A. 

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