I’m excited to finally share that I’ve signed a contract with Bloomsbury Visual Arts (an imprint of Bloomsbury Academic) for my next book,
The Women Who Clothed the Stuart Queens: Gender and Work in the Royal Wardrobe and the Fashion Marketplace
The book examines the lives and changing work of the women who made, sold, managed and cared for the clothing of five Stuart queens between 1603–1714: Anna of Denmark, Henrietta Maria, Catherine of Braganza, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne.
Using a wide range of written, visual and material sources, including extensive royal household accounts, this book explores the clothing and fashion cultures of the Stuart period through the lens of the work performed by women (and men!) who worked in the shops of London and the private chambers of the royal household, sitting at the intersection of the fashion marketplace and the royal courts.
In doing so, it recovers the material knowledge and skills of women who clothed these queens. This includes makers and sellers such as seamstresses, silkwomen, tirewomen, mantua-makers and milliners, as well as elite women such as the mistress of the robes and mistress of the sweet coffers, and servants such as laundresses and wardrobe attendants, who worked to manage and care for clothing in Office of the Robes, a sub-department of the Queens’ household.
The book demonstrates that women of all sorts were closely involved in the creation of Stuart magnificence in the fashion marketplace and royal courts of seventeenth-century England and their work was often facilitated by private informal female networks that spanned elite and non-elite structures. This ‘upstairs-downstairs’ history also focuses on under represented periods of fashion history, particularly the period 1680-1715.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into writing the rest of the book and looking forward to taking you all on this journey and talking more about my research in both blog and Instagram posts.
Quilted petticoats in England and America are usually attributed to and discussed in the context of the eighteenth century. This is likely due to the fact that all the earliest surviving quilted petticoats (to my knowledge) date from this period.
I am currently writing a book about the women who made, sold, managed and cared for the clothing of England’s Stuart queens during the period 1603-1714. As I have been transcribing their wardrobe accounts I have come across several references to quilted petticoats.
But firstly, what is a petticoat? The term ‘petticoat’ began to appear in English in the sixteenth century when it was used interchangeably with the preexisting term ‘kirtle’. At this time, and until the mid-seventeenth century, petticoat usually referred to a skirt that had an attached, sleeveless bodice (known as “petticoat bodies”). A petticoat with an attached front lacing bodice is visible in the painting below.
By the second half of the seventeenth century, “petticoat” generally began to refer only to the skirt. Petticoats could be under or outer wear. Women often wore many layers of petticoats at this time made from various different materials. This brings me to quilted petticoats in the seventeenth century.
Evidence from the Queens’ Accounts
Did quilted petticoats exist in the seventeenth century?
Yes! They did.
Quilted petticoats begin to appear in the royal accounts after the reign of Henrietta Maria. Unfortunately, the first twenty years of accounts belonging to Catherine of Braganza have not survived. However, those during the 1680s do.
In the Christmas quarter of 1685-6, several “Quilted coats[s]” were made or altered for dowager Queen Catherine of Braganza. At thsi time, the queen’s tailor and dressmakers also provided “new Eaching & Ribanding” for “a Quilted coat” and widened the “Wasts of 3 Quilted Coats.”
During the early 1700s, Queen Anne was provided with several types of quilted petticoats. These included garments described as “white Quilted under peticoats.” The fabrics that these quilted under petticoats were made from are not mentioned, but if can be assumed that they were some sort of linen, as silks were usually specified in these accounts.
In later periods, quilted petticoats were primarily worn for warmth and this was no different in the late seventeenth century. Even when quilting wasn’t mentioned, wadding of silk, “ferret” and of an unspecified nature (likely wool or cotton) were also frequently listed in Queen Anne’s accounts. For example:
It is likely that the quilted petticoats belonging to Catherine of Braganza and Queen Anne resembled the quilted petticoat belonging to a doll known as Lady Clapham (fig ). The doll portrays fashionable clothing worn by wealthy women during the 1690s and is believed to have belonged to the Cockerell family who had a family home in Clapham, London. This petticoat shows the same sorts of decorative needlework that we see on later eighteenth century examples.
But quilted petticoats were not just common among queens and other elites in England.
In 1688, Thomas Barlow and Oliver Morris of St. Giles’s in the Fields were Indicted for entring the Dwelling-house of John Appleby” and stealing “one Silk Flowred Gown, value 40 s. one Quilted Petticoat, value 10 s. one Crape Petticoat, value 8 s. a pair of Sattin Stayes, value 10 s. and other goods of Ann Thomas.” All these items appear to have been part of an ensemble, the gown was likely a new fashionable mantua gown.
Later, in 1692, Elizabeth Morgan (alias Jones) and Sarah Chandlor were tried for stealing a quilted petticoat from Faith Butler in London too. By 1697, quilted petticoats were also referenced in The provok’d wife a comedy by John Vanbrugh.
These garments therefore appear to have been a relatively common sight by the end of the seventeenth century in places such as London.
The Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney, formerly the Powerhouse Museum, has an amazing collection of shoes that range from medieval work shoes to modern haute couture. The Joseph Box shoemaking archive forms the core of the collection, and when I was a curatorial volunteer in the design and textiles department I was able to view one of the more interesting pieces from this collection.
According to the museum’s curatorial notes the construction of these shoes is as follows: “Women’s pair of straight laced shoes of rand construction with visible stitching and upcurved blunt pointed over needlepoint toe and covered Louis heel. Uppers consist of embroidered linen, lined with silk and leather, featuring a high cut vamp with square tongue, under latchets tieing in centre front, oblique side seams, centre back seam and leather soles. Edges bound in pink silk and uppers decorated with silver scrolls and silk flowers embroidered in the centres.”
Interestingly the design of these shoes leans to a production date in England in the early eighteenth century, around 1705-1715. Now, I’m sure any of my readers that are familiar with seventeenth and eighteenth-century fashions will note that the embroidery motifs on these shoes certainly do not resemble those of the eighteenth century. On close inspection you can see that the embroidery detail features strawberries, rosehips, carnations, thistles and cornflowers that are framed by metallic-thread scrolls.
Indeed when footwear specialist June Swann was invited to view them at the Museum she noted that: “Although shoes were made “straight” and would normally have been swapped daily to equalise wear, each shoe has been pieced at the bunion joint where wear would be greatest, if worn continually on the same foot. There is no evidence the piecing was done after the present soles were attached. This suggests that the uppers were either made into shoes on a previous occasion (probably not before the late 17th century when women’s toe shapes change to a point) or, less likely, that the uppers were pieced during the making of this pair.”
The presence of piecing in the fabric of the shoes indicates that they were most likely made from another older garment. Going purely off the embroidery, it seems that these shoes have been made from an early seventeenth-century garment, possibly a coif, but it is more likely that they were made from an Elizabethan or Jacobean embroidered waistcoat, of which many examples have survived.
Take for example the embroidered motifs on these linen waistcoats from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This woman’s waistcoat dates from 1600-1625 and features silk embroidery with spangles that depict “honeysuckle, pansies, carnations, foxgloves, borage, strawberries, cornflowers, rosehips, thistles, columbine and vine leaves.” Silver-gilt thread scrolls frame these floral motifs which was characteristic of this style of Jacobean design.
The second waistcoat has a slightly larger date range of 1590-1630 but contains the same sort of silk floral embroidery motifs of “spring sweet peas, oak leaves, acorns, columbine, lilies, pansies, borage, hawthorn, strawberries and honeysuckle.”
As with the previous waistcoat and with most embroidered garments from this period, the floral motifs are framed by embroidered scroll work.
How an intricate embroidered waistcoat came to made into a pair of shoes in the early eighteenth century remains a mystery. However, as all dress historians of the early modern period will attest, there are few surviving extant clothing examples, not only due to the age and fragility of these items, but also because many were often remade into other items.
Fabric, particularly silk embroidery, was extremely expensive during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and so early modern people were the thriftiest up-cyclers. Embroidered shoes were also highly fashionable at the start of the eighteenth century, as this other pair of shoes in the Box collection shows. However, as you can see from this example, the style of embroidery, while still focused on floral designs, is much different to that other the early seventeenth century.
Instead of paying for a brand new pair of shoes then, clearly for the original owner of these thought it was cheaper to remake a family heirloom into some fashionable eighteenth-century footwear.
“Although small in size, the priceless materials and skills involved in making these pieces dating from the 18th to the 20th century can make them fully-fledged objects d’art. Produced by artisans ranging from embroiderers, soft furnishers, glass makers and ceramicists to jewellers and silversmiths, they crystallise the history and evolution of these skills. The button has also fascinated famous painters, sculptors and creators of jewellery, inspiring them to produce unique miniature creations for the great couture houses.”
You’ve probably never thought much about buttons before. I’ll admit I hadn’t. Besides their practicality there is little to consider for most people. However, buttons have held an important place in garment manufacture and personal presentation for many centuries. Take for example the picture above. This coat, a typical example of menswear à la mode français from the late eighteenth century, is beautiful in it’s own right and made from a stunning brown patterned silk. But looking closer you can see that there is more to this coat than just it’s fabric. The very pronounced buttons at front, containing miniature portraits and pastoral scenes, were not only practical but also extremely decorative and evocative of the original wearer. Who were the people in these portraits? A wife? A lover? Family members? Possibly even the wearer himself? And why did the wearer choose such decoration usually reserved for more intimate accessories such as lockets, and to display it so prominently?
These sorts of questions sprang to my mind as I walked through Musée des Arts Décoratifs viewing their newest exhibition – Déboutonner la mode. Curated by Véronique Belloir from the 20th century collections department at Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris.
Firstly I must say that I love the overall design of the exhibition space. Spread over two levels, when you first walk into the space it is quite dark. For much of the exhibition you are essentially walking around in darkness except for the soft yellow lighting illuminating the exhibition pieces and their labels, which really does achieve the desired effect of drawing your focus to them. Too many times I’ve been in a bland, white walled exhibition space where my attention has wandered to corners of the room that do not contain any of the exhibition pieces. In fact I didn’t even see the museum staff that monitored one section of the space until I saw a shadow moving around in a dark corner of the room! The only downside to this design is that if you’re quite tired when you enter the space you may be even more so by the time that you leave it.
It is interesting that the museum website lists the exhibition designer is Éric Benqué. A quick view of his portfolio tells me that he was not involved with the previous 2013 exhibition La Mécanique des Dessous: Une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette, which I was lucky enough to view in New York at the Bard Graduate Centre under the name, Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. Yet the design of the exhibition – particuarly the use of low lighting, as well as the overall mood – is strikingly similar. I’d be interested to know then how much of this is dictated by Les Arts Décoratifs and how much by the actual exhibition designer. However, if this is keeping with the museum’s general textile and fashion exhibition style then I thoroughly approve of sticking to a good concept.
The exhibition begins with an emphasis on materials – what have buttons been fashioned from over the years? Multiple buttons from a variety of centuries are used to demonstrate this – from carved wooden faces to ceramic asparagus bunches. The history of the manufacture of buttons in France from the seventeenth century onward is explored, discussing the often complex guild system that determined what artisans were allowed to manufacture what types of buttons and with what types of materials. New innovations that impacted the manufacture and use of buttons are discussed, and the exhibition charts their use as functional objects through to decorative and delicate accessories. Most of the labels are in both French and English, which actually surprised me as the labels in the Louvre are just in French, which is great for those non-French speaking visitors.
Overall, the exhibition follows a chronological timeline – starting in the mid-eighteenth century and finishing with modern day collections. Buttons and fashion post-1950 are shown through the lens of the big French fashion houses that emerged in mid-twentieth century, such as Christian Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier. That is not to say that iconic fashion houses pre-1950 are not discussed though. Special emphasis is placed on famous French designer Paul Poiret during the 1910-20s, and the Italian Elsa Schiaparelli who was at her peak in the 1930s.
One of the highlights is a collection of 900 different buttons from the workshop of artist and decorator Henri Hamm who was popular among stylish Paristian women in the early twentieth century. As the label to the collection states, “His buttons illustrate his taste for a wide range of materials” and their “decoration is uncluttered but technically skillful, with significant sculptural and chisel work.” The buttons are really very intricate and range from those that are highly stylised to those that depict flora and fauna.
Personally my favourite part of the exhibition was the museum’s collection of French Revolution and World War Two Liberation buttons. The French Revolution buttons date to 1789 and depict principle events from the revolution such as the storming of the Bastille or revolutionary slogans such as “VIVRE LIBRE OU MOURIR.” Buttons relating to the French liberation from the Nazi controlled Vichy Regime (so c. 1944) depict the tricolours of France, the British and U.S. flags, as well as portraits of soldiers and resistance fighters. These collections reveal the stylish methods in which buttons, and personal adornments in general, were a means in which to show political allegiance or patriotism during France’s turbulent history.
Finally, the exhibition catalogue is beautifully presented and photographed. I also own the catalogue to La Mécanique des Dessous: Une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette, and it is beautifully done as well. Both would make lovely additions to anyone’s collection – whether you’re interested in the articles inside or just the pictures.
The exhibition runs from 10 February to 19 July 2015.
For more information on the exhibition and the Museum, go to the exhibition page on Les Arts Décoratifs website click here.