“Besides, the consumption of all sorts of silk fabrics should be seen in Mexico as the main point of its commerce; clergy men, gentlemen, merchants, bourgeois, artisans, craftsmen and even Africans and mulatto, they all dress in silk for most part of the year. Therefore Spain, together with France, should focus firmly on this trade in order to rectify the deterioration in the situation due to the introduction of silk from China to Mexico.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, chap. XXXVII)
Court dresses from the Eighteenth-century were made with extremely luxurious materials, and possessed three essential parts: a train, a rigid bodice, and a skirt (commonly called petticoat) that had to be used with a panier underneath. This type of dresses is usually defined by its function because court dress was worn in the presence of the royal couple. In the case of the New Spain, it is likely that it was used in front of the viceroys. However, more research is needed because formal dress could also be seen in important city celebrations, weddings, taking of vows, etc.
The elaborate masterpiece made of green silk velvet, which belongs to the collection of the National Museum of History in Mexico, is probably one of the few surviving examples that show taste in the New Spain. Elements such as the large stomacher placed on the front of the bodice, the profusion in the use of sequins, metallic foils and glass-pastes, as well as the provenance of the dress, have led specialists to believe that the mantua was specifically made for a New-Hispanic lady, although the materials could have come from Europe or China.
Symbolism played an important role during the Age of Enlightenment. The different parts of the gown support this idea through the depiction of floral motifs, which are symmetrically arranged. One interesting aspect, which is placed along the train as a form of narrative speech, is the consecutive representation of the growth of a wild rose, created through embroidery.
Scientific analysis of the materials showed that this dress contains silk, gold, silver, potassium-based glass and indigo. However, one must remember that objects that survive until today are not identical to their moment of creation. Time, context and use have taken their toll and caused some physical and chemical transformations. The analysis also proved that this dress presents multiple alterations, therefore it is important to recognize and differentiate the original features against the modifications and the effects of degradation.
See also unpublished thesis by the author: Laura G. García-Vedrenne (2016): “El reconocimiento tecnológico y material como fundamento para la conservación de un vestido de alta corte del siglo XVIII, perteneciente al acervo del MNH”.
Acknowledgements: National Museum of History in Mexico (MNH) and Photographer Omar Dumaine, as well as Martha Inés Sandoval Villegas and Diego Iván Quintero Balbás.
Stockings for children are rarely found in museum collections, but they do exist. The Museum of Copenhagen has several different samples, and they tell a bit about the way children were seen and cared for in the 17th century. Many adult stockings and four child stockings, dating to around 1670s, were found during the archaeological excavations at Copenhagen’s Rådhusplads (the Town Hall Square). All the stockings are made of wool (though a few adult silk stockings were also identified) and knitted in stockinette stitches with rows of garter stitches at the top of the shaft. Nothing is known yet about the stockings’ colors yet, but dye analyses will soon be carried out.
The size of the child stockings reveals that they belonged to children aged 1-2 years. A so-called clock – a purl stitch pattern, usually in a flower- or tower-like construction – is seen at the ankle on most of the adult stockings, but also on three child ones. The stocking style for children thus seems to have followed those of the adults in many aspects. However, one of the clocks is clearly adapted to the age of its young owner, as this stocking has an almost anthropomorphic clock, resembling like a short man (fig. 1). This anthropomorphic style is not seen on any of the adult stockings. Another adaptation for children’s stockings is found on a stocking which has a silk ribbon garter sewn on to it, just below the knee (fig. 2).
Since garters could fall down from time to time, attaching it to the stocking permanently, insured that the child would always be properly dressed. A third stocking from an unknown location in Copenhagen has a heel of garter stitches, which is not common on adult stockings either (fig. 3). The garter stitches may have ensured enough flexibility for the child to use it for a longer time, as the foot grew bigger. So, in the 17th century, stockings for children would have resembled those of adults in many ways, but individual adjustments were made according to the child’s age and needs.
“Stockings embroidered with gold and silver, and garters: very few assortments of this type of stockings would be sold, but as was noted in the article on silk stockings, they should be wider from the calf down to the heal, like those from Genoa. Having said that, those produced in Lyon are more beautiful and more highly regarded. The colors must be beautiful and as described in the article on silk stockings.
Along with the stockings, one should have an assortment of embroidered garters like those from Genoa. There should be one pair of garters for every four pairs of stockings. No garters are produced in Spain, and none have come yet from China.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XXXVIII)
Some examples of garters from early modern time are specially displayed at the Victoria and Albert museum, London, for the exhibition Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion (Victoria & Albert Museum Gallery 40 Fashion 16/04/2016-05/02/2017)
The dolls known as Lord and Lady Clapham from the 1690s, preserved at the Victoria and Albert museum, London, have got stockings and garters; these elements are very interesting and precious since very few items from such an early period survive, and demonstrate of how their were worn.
“Silks Black sewn silk stockings, long enough to be rolled. Those from Seville are more highly regarded than those from France; Short stockings of the same quality, not intended to be rolled, but rather for use with the golille outfit, which have since fallen out of fashion. Other silk stockings of all colours and all lengths, for both men and women: Stockings from Naples and Milan called punto, both for men (when not rolled), as well as for women and children. This type of stocking is made in Toledo in Seville and across Spain, but those from Milan are considered the best. These stockings are also produced in France, and they are without question the most beautiful and the best of them all, but since they are also the most expensive- and have the disadvantage of being too narrow from the calf down to the heel- they do not sell as quickly as the others. In the detailed listing of the assortment of the cargo earlier mentioned, we will see which colours are the most coveted, with red and blue generally being the most popular. Many of this type of stocking also comes from China, and although they are not as good quality or as beautiful as those from Spain, France, or Italy, sales of these have detrimental effects on the consumption of the European ones, since they are offered at a better price.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XXXVIII)
The V&A’s new fashion exhibition, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, presents over 200 garments dating from the mid-18th century to the present day.
The exhibition opens with a display of male and female underwear from the second half of the eighteenth century. Looking for something colourful to contrast with an array of white linen, we decided to include an eye-catching pair of hand embroidered, frame knitted, green and pink silk stockings. The stockings (V&A: T.156&A-1971), which were donated to the V&A in 1971 by Miss B. Hinton, have always been described in the Museum’s records as Spanish and dated to the mid-eighteenth century.
Sandy Black analysed the technique used to make stockings in her recent publication, Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft (V&A Publishing, 2012, p.25). The stockings are seamed at toe, under the sole of the foot and up the back of the leg. The green and pink sections are knitted together using the intarsia technique. The leg and foot of the stockings are green and the gore clock, which extends to the calf, is pink. The clock was subsequently embroidered in polychrome silks with a design of two-handled urns containing stylised pine trees alternating with pairs of facing peacocks, which reduce in size as the stocking tapers. The clock is finished with a scroll and leaf motif, two more peacocks and a crown. An embroidered border pattern covers the join between the green and pink silk. The embroidery is worked by the counted thread technique. The stockings are just over knee length and have two pink stripes at the upper, turned edge. The letters ‘E A COST A’ are knitted into one stocking under the stripes. The letters are presumed to signify the manufacturer.
Black goes on to point out that the stockings were subsequently copied using a different technique. The example in the V&A’s collection (V&A: 666-1898), which is thought to be of English make and has been dated to the early 19th century, was frame knitted with a blue leg and ivory clock. The two sections were joined by seaming after the (less shapely) embroidered border had been worked on the leg and the main pattern on the clock. This method of construction did not require any specialist machinery or a particularly skilled operative and was a practical solution to replicating the design in a cheaper way. The embroidery uses similar motifs to the ‘Spanish’ stockings but in general the motifs are less skilfully rendered.
Further research on Pinterest revealed several more examples of both the ‘Spanish’ and ‘English’ types in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (four pairs), Museum of Fine Art, Boston (two pairs) and the Kyoto Costume Collection (one pair). Furthermore the Reggio Emilia Museum in Italy has a pair of the ‘English’ type which survived with a late 18th century man’s coat and waistcoat. These stockings are variously described as Spanish, Italian, French and English and the majority are dated to the early 19th century.
Why were the stockings copied? If the copies are English, it was probably because of the ban on the importation of foreign, ready-made silk garments and accessories introduced in 1765. This regulation was designed to protect Britain’s domestic industries and may well have encouraged an enterprising manufacturer to offer copies of a stocking design with proven sales.
Alternatively could the stockings have been produced in Nimes, and then copied in either Spain or England? An extract from the 1809 publication, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages …, includes the following observation:
“For a long time our manufactories of Languedoc – of Nismes (sic) particularly – had been accustomed to furnish the ladies of Peru with stockings. For this they had looms constructed on purpose, in which they worked their stockings with broad clocks, embroidered in different colours; but the Spaniards imagined themselves competent to the supply of the Peruvian ladies according to their taste. They set up similar looms for manufacture of stockings, and flattered themselves at first with rivalling, afterwards entirely supplanting our manufacturers.”
Restrictions on the import of stockings into Spain were introduced in 1779, and, with greater impact, in 1787 but in reality the regulation was frequently evaded by French merchants working with Spanish silk ‘manufacturers’ in Cadiz. Seals declaring the stockings to be of Spanish manufacture were illegally attached enabling them to be re-exported to the Spanish colonies.
It is also possible that both stockings were made in Nîmes for different markets. Stockings made in Nîmes were exported to Italy via the port of Marseille which might explain the survival of the pair in Reggio Emilia.
This lengthy blog poses more questions than answers! We would be interested to hear from any textile and fashion historians who might be able to shed light on the stockings, their country of origin and date.
My thanks to Sandy Black for her research and to Cristina Barreto who drew my attention to the stockings in Reggio Emilia.
For the hosiery industry in Nîmes, see: M. Sonnenscher, ‘The Hosiery Industry of Nîmes and the Lower Languedoc in the Eighteenth Century’, Textile History, vol. 10, 1979, pp. 142-60.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, Victoria and Albert Museum, until 12 March 2017
The exhibition explores the close relationship between underwear and fashion, and its critical role in shaping the body to the fashionable ideal, and the importance of design and technology to its increasing functionality, fit and comfort.
“Fans Assortment with beautiful and pleasant portraits and figures, with ivory sticks, all painted in bright colors, and some others dull.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XL)
« Les éventails à la mode sont de taffetas de différentes couleurs, et argentés. Ils sont fort légers, semés de fleurs naturelles, et montés de bois de calembourg. On les appelle les éventails à la Dauphine ». En mai 1681, le Mercure galant (p. 381) nous offre un descriptif d’éventail « à la mode » qu’il serait bien hasardeux aujourd’hui de tenter d’illustrer. Nombre d’entre eux en effet, datant de la seconde moitié du XVIIe siècle, ne sont plus connus que par les écrits. Quelques relevés dans ce même journal permettent de souligner l’usage des éventails « à la siamoise », des éventails à « lorgnettes », mais aussi des nœuds de rubans ou des chaines d’or qui viennent agrémenter les brins.
De rares exemples aujourd’hui témoignent du raffinement de ces accessoires de mode.
La simplicité des brins en os finement découpés, suivant un mouvement serpentiforme, répond à l’exubérance du décor de la feuille. Composé de palmettes de soie, cet éventail appartenant à la collection de Mrs Hélène Alexander (The Fan Museum, Londres, inv. 1620) offre un décor exotique. Au centre, une déesse sur un char, tiré par deux amours, est entourée d’oiseaux exotiques et d’insectes géants. La luminosité du fond or met en valeur le coloris des vêtements. Composés de plumes majestueuses, les coiffures des différents personnages contribuent à évoquer les terres lointaines. À contrario, les deux faces argentées laissent place à une succession de branches fleuries ou chargées de fruits, en alternance avec d’imposants insectes.
Les fonds or, et argent, très en vogue dans les dernières années du XVIIe siècle, le sont encore au début du XVIIIe siècle selon Savary des Bruslons dans son Dictionnaire du Commerce. Il indique d’ailleurs que ce sont les batteurs d’or qui sont en charge de cette préparation avant que les peintres en éventails n’interviennent.
Cet éventail est d’autant plus exceptionnel qu’il offre quatre images, soit quatre faces, au lieu des deux habituellement observées sur les éventails. Le montage particulier des palmettes permet cette prouesse. L’éventail s’ouvre ainsi de la gauche vers la droite, mais aussi de la droite vers la gauche.
L’éventail « parfait », ou achevé, est ensuite proposé à la vente. Paris est la plus grande place de ce commerce. Les éventaillistes, parfumeurs, gantiers, mais aussi marchands-merciers partagent la diffusion de cet accessoire dont le succès ne cesse de croître. Qu’elles soient de royaume de France, d’Espagne, de Hollande, d’Angleterre ou encore des Pays du Nord ou d’Amérique, les femmes de la haute société apprécient les éventails des artisans parisiens.
Au cours des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, les tissus de soie en Europe échappent aux influences orientales de leur origine première et des styles nouveaux apparaissent.
Une rencontre émouvante vient d’avoir lieu avec la découverte en archéologie maritime de pièces de vêtements du XVIIe siècle restées enfouies sous les sables pendant quatre cents ans au nord des côtes de la Hollande. On a donc pu voir récemment au Kaap Skil Museum à Texel cette robe de damas de soie de grande qualité. Examinée par des experts du Rijksmuseum et par le Professeur Emmy de Groot of the University of Amsterdam elle vient même d’être qualifiée; “the Night Watch of the costume world.” Son léger décor floral est encore influencé par la mémoire textile orientale revue par l’habileté italienne. Damas, samit et lampas vont alors s’enrichir des produits des manufactures françaises de Tours et de Lyon. À côté des décors “ branchus” – un siècle après la robe” sauvée des eaux”, Nattier peint encore Henriette de France dans ce même type d’étoffe – le décor floral devient plus naturaliste sous Louis XIV et sous Louis XV. Brochés et brocarts de coloris soutenus parent hommes et femmes : La Tour représente ainsi le très fleuri député de Southampton, Henry Dawkins en 1750, tandis que les fleurs s’épanouissent tout à leur avantage sur les robes volantes comme dans La déclaration d’amour de Jean- François Troy, en 1731.
“Lace is largely consumed. All different sorts of Lace -of all sizes and qualities- from Normandy, du Puy and Lorraine have a great debit.”(Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XXXVI)
When looking at early modern colonial portraits, the viewer’s attention is invariably drawn to the subjects’ clothing. Closely fitted to the body, covered with intricate patterning, and heavily accessorized, one can’t help but ponder how difficult it must have been to wear such clothes. A portrait like Miguel Cabrera’s Doña María de la Luz Padilla y Gómez (c. 1760; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York) shows her in a sumptuous white silk brocade dress, carefully painted to make visible the dress’s patterning and texture. Its large-scale floral design resembles Indian cottons, a popular source of inspiration for eighteenth-century textiles. Another component of her dress may escape initial notice: the lace cuffs that adorn her sleeves. These were likely Flemish, imported to Latin America and incorporated into her garment there.
Lace historian Santina Levey has written that lace’s curious place in European history: at once extremely common and extremely expensive, it was a commonplace luxury. Perhaps that formulation could be extended outside of Europe as well. Colonial Latin America participated in an international textile trade that included lace, which was considered an essential component of European costume in the Ancien Régime. Lace was made into cuffs, collars, shawls, head coverings, and lappets. Usually produced by female artisans, often girls, such items were accessories to garments made of other materials, principally silk. Due to its light weight, lace was easily transported, although it was heavily taxed when it crossed international borders, which contributed to its high cost.
For a woman like Doña Maria, the cost was worthwhile to convey her international flair and knowledge of European fashion. A bigger question, however, is why lace remained so important to elite dress in this period? Its meticulous mode of production, requiring skilled manipulation of flax threads into intricate patterns, is perhaps a metaphor for the workings of the early modern global world.
See also Michael Yonan (2016): “Materializing Empire in an Eighteenth-Century Lace Gown”, TEXTILE, Cloth and Culture, online publication, May 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14759756.2016.1144637
“There is nor Church nor private in the Western Indies, who does not consume this kind of gold silk brocade; it has then to be considered for significant and its consumption shall rather increase than diminish, especially on occasions where vice-royalties looking for pomp and glory will walk through Mexico without wearing the golilla.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XXXVIII)
In early modern Europe, a man’s complete suit consisted of a coat (long vest or justaucorps), a vest (or waistcoat) and breeches. The so-called “three-piece suit” (or habit à la française) was used for formal dress from the end of the 17th century and continued throughout the 18th century. The general shape of the formal suit underwent noticeable changes by the end of the 18th century. Beginning before the 1770’s, the main modifications occurred on pockets, sleeves, on the side and back pleats of the coat, and also including the addition of a narrow collar to the coat so that, by the end of the 1780’s the masculine silhouette looking more slender. With respect to variety and every-changing fashion, France and England enjoyed the best reputation in men’s tailoring. In his book on tailoring written for the Encyclopedia and published by the Académie des Sciences in 1769, Garsault describes the “French suit” as the European formal dress for men and he uses it to demonstrate the complexity of the art of tailoring. Accordingly to Garsault the three-piece suit is the single most complicated piece of work for a tailor as it calls on every one of the principles of his art.
The parts of a man’s waistcoat (ROM 909.21.2.A, B, C), originated from France and dated 1713-15, are made of a salmon pink silk brocaded lampas of gold and silver threads, with accents of pink, blue and yellow. The multicoloured silk is designed to fit the waistcoat’s pattern, and woven to shape. It was ready for the tailor to cut and fit to the customer and sew together. The waistcoat, lined in silk, consists of two long fronts with a flaring skirt and side pockets flaps with three round buttons under each pockets flap. The brocaded design is typical of so-called “Bizarre Silks”; and consists of exotic flowers and fantastic foliage of leaves and fruits in a vertically undulating plant scroll.
In 18th-century New Spain, the male started to abandon the “Golille”; in the New World as well as in Europe, the three-piece costume was then used as the formal and fashionable male outfit.
Acknowledgements: Anu Liivandi and Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum (Canada)
In his dictionary of commerce, Savary des Bruslons writes that: “The West Indies, a Spanish colony, cannot do without merchandise and products manufactured in Europe” (Savary des Bruslons, I, Etat général du commerce, 1723).
The Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert describes Mexico City, capital of New Spain and the largest city in the New World, as being extremely rich in commerce as it was supplied in the north by approximately twenty large ships filled with merchandise from Christendom that landed each year at Vera Cruz (Encyclopédie, vol. 10).
In spite of strict regulations, trade with Spanish America, theoretically reserved exclusively for the Spanish, was nonetheless supplied by other European countries, especially by the French, English and Dutch. This commerce was, in fact, one of the richest and most profitable of European businesses. All the merchandises for Spain and for Spanish America were transported by French, English and Dutch vessels, as well as those of a few other Northern European countries (Savary, I, p. 237).
What effect did the successful marketing of European products have on the New World at the beginning of the 18th century? And how should one go about studying the European Fashion and Textiles that transformed the way people dressed in the Spanish colonies?
“Dressing the New World” research project is framed by a unique document, which describes Mexico in 1700s. This document is a rare reference for the knowledge of Spanish America at the beginning of the 18th century, and a very unique source to understand how and why Europe aimed to disseminate its textiles, commodities and fashionable goods overseas. The research project seeks to consider Early Modern Fashion in detail through this historical piece and other resources from literature, iconography and material culture, merging into different disciplines: Modern History, Art History and Dress History. Finally the research project aims to integrate the impact of politics and global connections in fashion studies for the early modern period.
Official reports, political correspondence and accounts written by travellers are a rich source of information that allows us to write the history of fabrics and fashions and to study their impact, consumption and distribution in early modern times. Taken together these sources will offer a unique manner in which to envisage and articulate textiles and dress in the mix of cultures of the New World from the Spanish conquest in 1521 up to the 19th century, and map up how the global market connected different parts of the world in early modern time.
Matched with a unique source of iconography (the “Casta paintings”), the achieved research will produce the first illustrated glossary on Textiles and Garments whose were consumed on a global scale in the preindustrial time.