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.
Very excited to announce that my book Shaping Femininity has a cover image and pre-order links! See below for details!
About Shaping Femininity
In sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. This very structured form, created using garments called bodies and farthingales, existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond, in the form of stays, corsets, hoop petticoats and crinolines, right up until the twentieth century. With a nuanced approach that incorporates a stunning array of visual and written sources and drawing on transdisciplinary methodologies, Shaping Femininity explores the relationship between material culture and femininity by examining the lives of a wide range of women, from queens to courtiers, farmer’s wives and servants, uncovering their lost voices and experiences. It reorients discussions about female foundation garments in English and wider European history, arguing that these objects of material culture began to shape and define changing notions of the feminine bodily ideal, social status, sexuality and modesty in the early modern period, influencing enduring Western notions of femininity.
Beautifully illustrated in full colour throughout, Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale exploration of the materiality, production, consumption and meanings of women’s foundation garments in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. It offers a fascinating insight into dress and fashion in the early modern period, and offers much of value to all those interested in the history of early modern women and gender, material culture and consumption, and the history of the body, as well as curators and reconstructors.
Table of Contents
Notes to the Reader
Introduction: Investigating the structured female body
1. The foundations of the body: foundation garments and the early modern female silhouette
2. The artificial body: courtiers, gentlewomen and disputed visions of femininity, 1560-1650
3. The socially mobile body: consumption of foundation garments by middling and common women, 1560 – 1650
4. The body makers: making and buying foundation garments in early modern England
5. The everyday body: assumptions, tropes and the lived experience
6. The sexual body: eroticism, reproduction and control
7. The respectable body: rising consumption and the changing sensibilities of late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century England
Conclusion: legacies and misconceptions
List of Illustrations
The 1680s was a decade of change in women’s fashion. The new loose-fitting mantua gown vied for popularity with traditional gowns that contained structured bodices (a battle that the new style would win in later decades) and bodies slowly began to be called stays during this decade. One of the best written sources we have for women’s dress during this period is Randle Holme’s The Academy of Armory, published in 1688, which has a section on “terms used by tailors” for men and women’s dress.
Holme was a steward to the Stationers Company of Chester and then an alderman. Along with three other members of his family he was a keen genealogist and heraldist. While his book the Academy of Armory was primarily a book of heraldry, it also contained “Etymologies, Definitions and Historical Observations” of his time, including descriptions of various different trades such as tailoring. Many of his observations correspond with other surviving evidence, indicating that, for the most part, Holme was a reliable source when it came to the terminology used for dress in late seventeenth-century England – at least for his area of England.
In this post I’ve placed Holme’s description of the various components of women’s dress during the 1680s alongside various images from the decade in order to demonstrate what he was referring to and what fashionable 1680s dress actually looked like. Holme’s commentary relates to English dress but many of the images I use below are from France. French styles dominated English tastes throughout the seventeenth century, particularly in the 1680s when French fashion prints began to gain popularity and English audiences were exposed almost weekly to new styles from Paris.
In addition to these images, I have provided my own commentary in dark blue in both the text and the image captions.
The following is taken from:
Randle Holme, The academy of armory, or, A storehouse of armory and blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick : with the instruments used in all trades and sciences, together with their their terms of art : also the etymologies, definitions, and historical observations on the same, explicated and explained according to our modern language : very usefel [sic] for all gentlemen, scholars, divines, and all such as desire any knowledge in arts and sciences (London: 1688), pp. 94-5.
Terms used by Taylors.
In a Womens Gown there are these several parts, as
The Stayes, which is the body of the Gown before the Sleeves are put too, or covered with the outward stuff: which have these peeces in it, and terms used about it. [Stayes here refers to the bodice of the gown, not a separate garment, although the process and terminology was likely the same when making this undergarment].
The fore Part, or fore Body: which is the Breast part, which hath two peeces in it; as,
The Right side of the Fore-body.
The Left side of the Fore-body.
The two side parts, which are peeces under both Arms on the sides.
The Shoulder heads, or Shoulder straps; are two peeces that come over the Sholders and are fastned to the Forebody: through which the Arms are put.
Scoreing, or Strick iines on the Canvice to sow straight.
Stitching, is sowing all along the lines with close stitches to keep the Whale-Bone each peece from other.
— is the cleaving of the Whale-Bone to what substance or thickness the workman pleaseth.
Boning the Stays, is to put the slit Bone into every one of the places made for it between each stitched line which makes Stayes or Bodies stiff and strong.
Cordy Robe skirts to the Staies, are such Stayes as are cut into Labells at the bottom, like long slender skirts.
Lining the Bodies, or Stayes; is covering the inside of the Stayes with Fustian, Linnen, and such like.
Binding the Neck, is sowing Galloon, at the edge of the Neck.
Eylet holes, or Eiglet holes, little round holes whipt-stitched about, through which laces are drawn to hold one side close to the other.
The Waist, is the depth of the Stayes from the Shoulders to the setting on of the skirts: now it is distinguished by the Back Waist, and the fore-body Waist, which is each side of the Stomacher.
Side Waisted, is long or deep in the Body.
Short Waisted, is short in the Body.
The Stomacher, is that peece as lieth under the lacing or binding on of the Body of the Gown, which said body is somtimes in fashion to be.
Open before, that is to be laced on the Breast.
Open behind, laced on the Back, which fashion hath always a Maid or Woman to dress the wearer.
The Peake, is the bottom or point of the Stomacher, whether before or behind.
A Busk, it is a strong peece of Wood, or Whale-bone thrust down the middle of the Stomacher, to keep it streight and in compass, that the Breast nor Belly shall not swell too much out. These Buskes are usually made in length according to the necessity of the persons wearing it: if to keep in the fullness of the Breasts, then it extends to the Navel: if to keep the Belly down, then it reacheth to the Honor.
Covering the Bodies or Stayes, is the laying the outside stuff upon it, which is sowed on the same after diverse fashions: as,
Smooth Covered. [Ie. outer fashion fabric hides the stitching of the boning channels].
Pleated or Wrinkled in the covering.
The Wings, are Welts or peeces set over the place on the top of the Shoulders, where the Body and Sleeves are set together: now Wings are of diverse fashions, some narrow, others broad; some cut in slits, cordy Robe like, others Scalloped.
The Sleeves, are those parts of the Gown, as covers the Arms: and in these there is as much variety of fashion, as days in the Year: I shall only give the terms of the most remarkable.
The close, or narrow Sleeve; which reacheth from the Shoulder to the Wrist of the Arm, and is not much wider then for the Arm: which were of old turned up at the Hand, and faced or lined with some other sort of stuff.
The Wide,or full Sleeve; is such as are full and long, and stand swelling out: such are tied about the Elbow close to the Arm with a Ribbon.
The open Sleeve, such are open the fore part of the Arm, that their bravery under may be seen whether it be a mock or cheat Waist-coat with Imbrauthery or the like; else their fine Linens and Laces.
The slasht Sleeve, is when the Sleeve from Shoulder to the Sleeve hands are cut in long slices, or fillets: and are tied together at the Elbow with Ribbons, or such like.
The Sleeve and half Sleeve.
The Sleeves with hanging Sleeves, is a full Sleeve in any of the fashions aforesaid, with a long hanging Sleeve of a good breadth hanging from under the back part of the Wing down behind, even to the ground; in the greater sorts of Gallants trailing a good length on the ground.
The half Sleeves with Hounds Ears, are such as extend to the Elbow and there turn up, and being slit or open hang at the Elbow like Dogs Ears.
The Rim of the Sleeve, is that part which is at the Sleeve hand either lined or Edged or Welted: but of these sorts of Sleeves see their figures and shapes, chap. 5. numb. 130.131. &c.
The Skirt, or Gown Skirt; is the lower part of the Gown, which extends from the body to the ground: these are made several fashions, as Open Skirts, is open before, that thereby rich and costly Peti-coat may be fully seen.
Turned up Skirts, are such as have a draught on the Ground a yard and more long; these is great Personages are called Trains, whose Honor it is to have them born up by Pages.
Bearers, Rowls, Fardingales; are things made purposely to put under the skirts of Gowns at their setting on at the Bodies; which raise up the skirt at that place to what breadth the wearer pleaseth, and as the fashion is.
Skirts about the Waist, are either whole in one entire peece with Goares, or else cut into little laps or cordy robe skirts: Gowns with these skirts are called Waistcoat-Gowns.
Wastcoat, or Waistcoast; is the outside of a Gown without either stayes or bodies fastned to it; It is an Habit or Garment generally worn by the middle and lower sort of Women, having Goared skirts, and some wear them with Stomachers.
Goare, is a Cant or three cornered peece of cloath put into a skirt, to make the bottom wider then the top: so are Goared Peti-coats.
Peti-coat, is the skirt of a Gown without its body; but that is generally termed a Peti-coat, which is worn either under a Gown, or without it: in which Garment there are [this marks a slight change in the meaning of the word “petticoat” during the late seventeenth century. Earlier in the century a petticoat often referred to a skirt with an attached bodice called “petticoat bodies” that was worn under a gown or with a waistcoat.]
Peating, that is gathering the top part in into Pleats or folding to make it of the same wideness as the Waist of middle of the wearer.
Laceing, is setting a Lace of Silk, Silver or Gold about the bottom of it; which in a Peti-coat is called the Skirt.
Bodering, is the lineing of the Peti-coat skirt or bottom in the inner side.
Binding, is the sowing of some things (as Ribbon, Galloon or such like) on both sides the Edge of the skirt to keep it from ravelling; sometime it is done by a Hem: the top part of the Peti-coat hath its Binding also; that is, it hath either Incle, Filleting, or Galloon, sowed about the Edges of it, when pleated: which keeps the Pleats in their Pleats, the ends helping to make it fast about the wearers Waist.
Hem, is the turning of the Edge of the cloath in; two fould or more, then sowing it up, keeps it from ravelling.
Tucking, is to draw up the depth of a Peti-coat be|ing too side or long, and that is by foulding a part over another
Pocket, or Pocket holes; are little Bags set on the inside, with a hole, or slit on the outside; by which any small thing may be carried about, or kept therein.
A Mantua, is a kind of loose Coat without any stayes [ie. stiffening] in it, the Body part and Sleeves are of as many fashions as I have mentioned in the Gown Body; but the skirt is sometime no longer then the Knees, others have them down to the Heels. The short skirt is open before, and behind to the middle…
A Semmer, or Samare; have a lose body, and four side laps, or skirs; which entend to the knee, the sleeves short not to the Elbow turned up and faced.
The Riding Suite for Women.
The Mantle, it is cut round, which is cast over the Shoulders to preserve from rain or cold.
The Safegard, is put about the middle, and so doth secure the Feet from cold, and dirt.
The Riding Coat, it is a long Coat buttoned down before like a Mans Jaket, with Pocket holes; and the sleeves turned up and buttons.
More resources on 1680s fashion:
Arnold, Janet, Jenny Tiramani, Luca Costigliolo, Sébastien Passot, Armelle Lucas and Johanne Pietsch. Patterns of Fashion 5: The content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c. 1595-1795. London: School of Historical Dress, 2018.
Crowston, Clare Haru. Fabricating Women: the seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.
Hart, Avril. ‘The Mantua: its Evolution and Fashionable Significance in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’. In Defining Dress: Dress as Object, Meaning, and Identity, edited by Amy Le Haye, 93-103. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
Norberg, Kathryn, and Sandra Rosenbaum, eds. Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Interpreting the Art of Elegance. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2014.
Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. 1954; reprinted., Abingdon: Routledge, 1991.
My upcoming book Shaping Femininity will also discuss late seventeenth-century fashions, including those of the 1680s.