A stunning yellow moiré dress from the early 18th century is conserved in the collection of the National Museum of History in Mexico City. This dress consists of two parts: a bodice that closes at the front, and a skirt that was probably worn with a small panier underneath. Both of them were tailored with a fabric that was intentionally cut and sewn in order to symmetrically place the metal brocade motives throughout the dress. On the inside, the bodice possesses a fine, bright pink lining.
A true moiré effect was achieved in the textile by a weaving process, which causes the characteristic wavy watermark-design with a light and dim contrast. Historically, it was applied to silk fabrics with a plain crosswise rib weave; this causes light to diversely reflect on its surface. Although nowadays a calendering finish can also be used by passing and pressing the fabric between a pair of engraved rollers while using steam and moisture, the true moiré effect is distinguished from the modern one by identifying if the lines are impressed with an irregular repeated pattern.
Some features of the bodice – such as the existence of two carteras de bolsillos simulados or fake pockets near the waist – resemble what Spanish women wore around 1730-1750. In comparison with existing Spanish samples in the Museo del Traje, it is noticeable that the pockets’ shape varies slightly, and that the length of the peplum seems to be shorter. In addition to these subtle differences, the fact that the bodice closes on the front shouldn’t be ignored since it allows specialists to suspect that this dress wasn’t used with a stomacher in the front. Several New-Spanish paintings depict women with closed bodices, contrary to what European ladies found fashionable at the time. Therefore, it is thought that this dress could be an outstanding example of New-Hispanic taste during the first half of the 18th century.
Last but not least, it is necessary to emphasize a particularity of the “yellow” color of the dress. A variety of natural dyes, such as saffron and several types of plants, could provide a yellow tonality. Although the specific dye source has not been analyzed, it is possible to infer that the original color has faded over time. Minor amends made by close stitching were a common-practice in historical garments. In this case, it is possible to notice that the thread used to repair the fabric has a different hue and is significantly brighter. It is generally thought that the placement of repair threads had the intention to match the original; this leads to the belief that this amend has faded at a different rate, although it isn’t recent.
Further study is necessary to understand better the materials and the technology used to produce this object. Although this dress has been exhibited several times, it is only now that professionals have begun the search to comprehend this type of material culture.
Acknowledgements: National Museum of History in Mexico (MNH) and Photographer Omar Dumaine. Special thanks to Martha Sandoval Villegas for discussing the topic with me and allowing me to freely read her unpublished works.
See also: James Middleton (2016), Reading Dress in New Spanish Portraiture, Clothing the Mexican Elite 1695-1805. https://www.academia.edu/26791493/Reading_Dress_in_New_Spanish_Portraiture_Clothing_the_Mexican_Elite_1695-1805