I know I promised pictures of the two balls at the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend in my last post, and I still promise that those are coming, but we’re going to take a quick detour before we get to ball pictures, to look at…
“A Dress Suited For Eve” (Elusive blue ball gown, 1811)
When dressed for the evening the girls nowadays
Scarce an atom of dress on them leave;
Nor blame them; for what is an evening dress
But a dress that is suited for Eve?
Quoted from page 42 of C. Willett Cunnington’s Fashion and Women’s Attitudes in the Nineteenth Century.
I came across this quote as I was either planning or starting this dress and I so enjoyed the curmudgeonly generation-gap thoughts expressed in it that it has stuck in my head as a sort of motto. I should explain that this quote occurs as Cunnington is discussing the new Classical style of gowns between the years 1800-1820. These dresses are usually not quite as scandalous to our modern sensibilities as they would have been to people at the time, especially those of older generations. Interestingly, this quote is from 1818 although in my opinion the often sheer muslin dresses from 1800-1810 are generally more revealing than those from 1810-1815, and especially more revealing than those from 1815-1820. Regardless, the idea of these dresses being so revealing that one is dressed as Eve would have been (i.e., wearing nothing!) is amusing to me.
This new gown is actually two separate gowns: a dark blue sleeveless underdress and a lightweight sleeved overdress in a color I call “elusive blue.” Both dresses are a mixture of hand and machine sewing, though all the finishing was done by hand on both pieces.
The underdress is simple and without a waist seam: it is gathered to a yoke in the back and gathered by a drawstring in front. The waist is created by tying the overdress. The overdress, however, is more complicated. The skirt is a simple rectangle with rounded front corners (two widths of fabric wide: there’s a seam at center back), but the bodice has front pieces, shoulder straps, and an interestingly gathered back piece, as well as sleeves. In addition to having more pieces, the overdress is edged all around with lace and faux pearls, as well as having puffs edged with lace and trim sewn on to the sleeves.
Back view (you can see the gathers on the back bodice piece).
I did indeed sew all the pearls on by hand, individually, and good thing, too! You see, if each pearl is sewn on individually then if the thread breaks you might loose a few pearls, but you won’t have your entire pearl job go spilling all over the dance floor (that could be catastrophic for the dancing and your hard work!). I did wear this to the Grand Ball on the Sunday evening of the Regency Dance Weekend, and by the end of the night I had lost a very small section of pearls along the back hem of my dress. Thanks to all my fastidious pearl sewing, that was all I lost and there were no comical/catastrophic scenes with pearls spilling on to the dance floor! If you look closely at the wavy lines you can see that they get a little wobbly at times, but I did do my best to be symmetrical despite the wobbles. I also did my best to estimate the wavelength of the pearls and replicate it as best I could while eyeballing as I went along. (In fact, I think my wavy lines of pearls are actually more regular than those on my inspiration dress.)
My dress is a direct interpretation of the ball gown at the Met from 1811 (pictured below). The most obvious difference is the colors I chose to use (partly because I found the fabulous elusive blue overdress fabric in the perfect light weight fabric for $1/yard!). I’m sure there are other small differences, too, but I did my best to follow the construction methods I gleaned from the zoom feature when making my dress. (The zoom feature on most of the Met’s pictures is so amazing! I love it.)
Ball gown, 1811, the Met.
As is usual with the first wearing of a new garment, there are things I am unsatisfied with and want to change. There are also things that didn’t quite get completed and need to be addressed.
First, the sleeves. My sleeves didn’t quite turn out like the ones in the inspiration photo, but they also didn’t get completed before I wore the dress (if you look closely, you’ll see that my sleeves are just raw edges on the bottom!). I ran out of time, but I also wasn’t sure that I would like how my sleeve puffs look and I didn’t want to spend time completing the sleeves if I was going to wind up disliking them in the end. Each puff is edged in the narrow bit I cut off of the wide edging lace and then also edged in a bit of trim that perfectly matches the elusive blue fabric (and that I purchased for about $2!). I don’t think my puffs look quite as elegant as the original, but they were a lot of work and I don’t have any more of that elusive blue trim to change things up. Also, if you look closely at the sleeves of the dress on the Met you’ll see that they are not displayed in the same way. I prefer the sleeve that is more puffed up (on the right), but I examined the pictures really closely and I think that it is just caught up on the mannequin and is intended to look like the other sleeve (on the left). So I have to decide, and that will help me determine how to finish the bottom of my sleeves.
Other things that bothered me were the length of my underdress (seems to have a similar length ratio to the inspiration, but I think I want my underdress to be about 2″ longer), the fact that I realized after sewing on all the lace that I had put in on with the wrong side facing out (oops! but I am absolutely not changing that!), and the fact that the blue underdress is a super bag without the overdress holding it in (I think part of the problem is my skirt shaping–I tried something new and it did not work–but the skirt kept wanting to poof out from between the fronts of the overdress, which I didn’t like). I’d like to address the underdress problems, but I’m not going to bother with that lace problem!
The lighting in this photo captures the colors of the dress much better than in the other photos.
I tried a new thing with my hair for this event which I think was quite successful. The poof is normal, but in front of it and my pearl hair “tiara” (it’s really a necklace!) are two narrow braids, one coming from each side of my head. I managed to hide the ends under the braids and my natural highlights allowed the braids to stand out from my front hair, in the right light (as with the picture, above). The only odd thing was covering up the points where the braids started. I liked it and I think I’ll try it again sometime. I also was able to wear some new earrings: green gems with little fake diamonds set around the edge of the teardrop shape. Despite not matching exactly, I think they suited the dress.
Ok, now the next post in this series really will be about the balls themselves!