1790s gown remodeled from an earlier block printed fabric
Given the durability and high production cost of 18th century textiles, they were routinely recycled. This garment may have been altered to fit a new owner or to make it conform to 1790s fashions.
Today when we quickly discard fashion chic, we would not think of redoing an entire dress to preserve the fabric. Yet we accept a kitchen renovation in an antique house because of the cost effectiveness of renovation vs. building from scratch.
In the 18th century, inexpensive hand labor made remodeling an expensive gown an easy choice—likely the rule rather than the exception. Such altered garments are more interesting than early pieces frozen at a moment in time. This fine gown, dating from George Washington's presidency (1789-1797), is an exemplary historical artifact.
In What Clothes Reveal, the authoritative text on early American clothing, Linda Baumgarten states (p. 50) that "21st-century curators, conservators, and collectors are more likely to value an artifact's continuing history, evidence of age, and alterations, rather than demand pristine, unchanged quality."
The glazed cotton fabric dates from at least 20 years earlier than the 1790s style of the dress. The floral print has a naive and endearing charm with its blushing roses in bloom, attended by pretty little buds in white and cerulean blue.
Extra fabric may have been removed from the skirt to create the more au courant long sleeves. The bodice and sleeves are lined with beige linen.
The bodice front opening has an under extension of later roller print cotton, probably added when the dress was remodeled. The dress is completely hand sewn, using several different types of thread.
Baumgarten presents a famous example (p.86) of a remodeled gown from the very highest level of Colonial society. That gown belonged to Elizabeth Henley (George Washington's sister-in-law). The silk textile dates from c.1750, but the gown was remodeled c.1770.
Ms. Baumgarten has taught us that surviving artifacts allow us to encounter the past first hand, providing a more accurate understanding of our forefathers' world. Our magnificent remodeled gown is living proof of her thesis.
The condition is very good. In the skirt are a few tiny holes.
It measures: 38" bust, 32" waist, 24" sleeve length, and 55" from shoulder to hem.