In 2021 I set about reconstructing an 1650s bodice from the Museum of London (MoL), object # A7004. The pattern for this bodice is provided in Patterns of Fashion 5. While not many portraits of women in England survive from this decade (this was the time of the Interregnum government under Parliament and Oliver Cromwell), and those that do often depict sitters in deshabille (undress), there are at least 2 surviving bodices from this period in English collections that can give us some idea of what elite fashions were like in England.
In terms of silhouette and general construction, 1650s and 1660s gown bodices are very similar: highly boned with a neckline that sits off the shoulders, and with low-set cartridge pleated sleeves. This was generally true on the continent as well (especially in France and the Dutch Republic). For more on 1650s fashion and portraiture see the FIT NYC timeline here.
While bodices from the 1660s were more likely to lace down the back, it seems that those of the 1650s could lace up the front or back. Front lacing seems to have been characteristic of the early 1650s. There is another very similar velvet bodice (almost identical in terms of construction) to the MoL one that I’ve based my costume on. That bodice is from a private collection and is believed to have been worn by a young gentry woman named Mary Daugh when she married Robert Lawrence of Sevonhampton on the 8 April 1650 (PoF, p. 53-55).
Portraits from the first half of the 1650s also depict women in front-lacing bodices (with no stomachers).
The MoL bodice is made of aquamarine watered silk laid over an inner foundation of cream fustian stiffened with whalebone (baleen). Unfortunately, this bodice seems to have disappeared from the MoL online catalogue, but you can see images in the videos below.
I wanted to use my gown to double as a Halloween costume (a witch), so although many portraits show that soft pastels formed a lot of the colour palette of elite dress during the 1650s, I decided to go with a brown coloured silk. This brown is what I think was called ‘sad coloured’ (a description that always makes me chuckle), a colour that was common in descriptions of dress from the mid-late 17th century.
The skirt (petticoat) for this gown is based on the skirt of the Silver Tissue Dress c. 1660s at the Fashion Museum in bath. You can see detailed photographs of the bodice and skirt here. It is very characteristic of skirts in the second half of the 17th century: cartridge or knife pleats into a narrow waistband that ties at the back, as depicted on the fashion doll Lady Clapham.
- 5.5m of silk taffeta (137 cm wide bolts).
- 1m cotton drill (in place of fustian). If was to make again I’d use a thick linen or cotton canvas.
- <1m Silk chiffon (in place of silk sarcenet) for sleeve interlining.
- silk and linen threads.
- 8mm wide cable ties (in lieu of synthetic baleen, which I would suggest going for but I was in a pandemic lockdown so hard to source at the time).
These videos are taken from my Instagram stories where I documented the making process as I went. They are by no means exhaustive tutorials but hopefully are useful to anyone who wants to make this bodice too!
The bodice is completely hand sewn, except for the boning channels which were machine sewn (it’s my least favourite part and I avoid hand sewing them if I can!). Some of my stitching could have been neater / closer together (I was working to a deadline so was under the pump) and there are instances where I wouldn’t have used certain materials (cotton drill), made my seams wider, etc. Overall though, I’m very happy with the result. It worked perfectly as a witch costume too.