Last week I discussed dress, including formal gowns and suits, and this week I would like to depict some ways to add some late eighteenth-century accessories to your modern dress for the #SMITHSONIANat8 James Smithson’s Holiday Birthday Ball. I will review accessories such as handbags, footwear, and jewelry. For more information on these accessories as well as other aspects of dress, please see my Pinterest board.
Now let’s talk shoes! Somewhat similar to today, a variety of shoe choices were available to late eighteenth-century men and women. For example, women could showoff silk shoes with a rectangular heel (due to the shortened length in the front of their gowns). The shoes, adorned with brilliant fabrics such as brocade or damask, could be accessorized with lace, embroidery, and buckles. A square tongue, and pointed or curved toes, could be incorporated into the design.
Women's Shoes, displaying embroidery, in the collections of the National Museum of American History
Women’s Shoe, of silk brocade and showing a circular buckle, in the collections of Historic New England.
To recreate such fashionable footwear, this tutorial will show you how to turn a modern pair of pumps into fabulous formal heels by widening the heel and applying fabric (in this case pink damask). If you would like a less-involved way to add some period flair to your feet, you could attach a circular pin (think costume jewelry) to a pair of fabric heels.
For men, buckles also were an important method of fastening. Black, low heels or pumps were popular, made of soft leather for formal occasions. Colors other than black were less popular. These French court shoes share similarities to American formal shoes.
Court Shoes, French, in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
These shoes are easily transferred to today’s fashions, with black leather dress shoes a prominent staple in most closets. To add some flair, attach a buckle or pin, similar to women’s shoes. Paired with white stockings, also worn by women, this will make a good look inspired by period dress.
In addition to shoes, period neckwear can easily be included into a modern men’s look. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, jabots and cravats were worn in the eighteenth century. More informal, the cravat was wrapped around the neck and tied in the front. It was made of linen with adorned ends, such as with lace. The jabot, of French origin, was a ruffled lace or cambric (a white cotton or linen material that was lightweight and closely woven) material, and was sewn to both sides of the opening to the shirt.
Coat, Waistcoat, Breeches, French, showing a jabot, in the collections of The Kyoto Costume Institute.
To recreate the look, a piece of light linen or even cotton could be wrapped around your neck, with a long end of lace attached to it at the front. You could also create ruffles by leaving a long end at the front of your fabric, and pin ruffles at increments (if you’re extra handy, sew some ruffles).
To add some finishing touches to your look, add some period-inspired jewelry, fans, and bags. While period women would not have had pockets sewn into their dresses, they did wear pockets inconspicuously tied around their waist. Both men and women wore purses, which could be crocheted, knitted, or knotted. Pocketbooks were also used and could be embroidered. Modern wallets and wristlets are often embroidered, and would add a nice period touch to your dress!
Stocking Purse, England, knitted, in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg. This bag would later be referred to as a miser’s purse.
Lastly, fans (which could be adorned with imagery) and jewelry such as brooches, necklaces, and earrings, with natural designs, were worn during the period. Modern costume jewelry inherited from family members could embody such period inspiration. You could also paint a fan, purchased at a hobby store, in narrative court and formal scenes. Be creative and have fun!
My last post next week will quickly cover cosmetics, just in time for the Ball!
See the following sources for more information:
Post by Kristin Skinner, Master’s candidate in the Smithsonian Associates-George Mason University program in the History of Decorative Arts