The Low to Middle Class Working Colonial Woman
Pretty, as in attractive and suiting the customer’s tastes. We also mean “quite basic”, as in 18th century, once you learn the rules, is almost all the same. Design is a matter of social class, availability, cost, ability, and personal tastes.
We review the objectives:
Middle Class woman
African American teacher, on a plantation
Most common and available and affordable materials
Suits personality and tastes
Quick to make given time constraints.
With Yvonne’s input, after teach the history and components, we gave her no choice as to the pieces she would need. She got to pick the colors and textures.
Based on our research she needs below. Linen suits all the requirements (class, status, cost, location, climate, maintenance, color, texture). Cotton will be used for high end, as it was not readily available to a woman like this:
Shift – linen (optional ruffles sleeves and/or neck to stick out)
Stays – authentic type, as authentic and common as possible – means linen and reed
Inner petticoat – also linen – rustic and rough
Outer petticoat – choice – can be rustic, linen, or cotton. If cotton dyes and colors need to be “natural” and available
Jacket – designer chooses caraco because it fits her body well and is suitable. Other than a shortgown in rough linen, a cotton chintz would be appropriate for this depiction to “dress up”; closure to be determined. Needs to be easy to get into with help
MobCap – linen – handmade – of course! No mature woman would be seen without one in public
Stockings – over the knee
Shoes – slight heel per period. She can use the ones she has from Edwardian with the tapered heel to save costs
Accessories – fichu – linen, embroidered, can be fine cotton too for dress up
Other – bum roll – fitted and correct “shelf” style; fit petticoats to it
Given these, we looked at suppliers and found these fabrics. From the fabrics found and those in stock (trying to use stock to keep customer’s cost down) we put together pleasing combinations of fabrics using the same design.
Real Garments & Portraits
For ideas on item design, construction, and color/pattern. We actually looked at hundreds more, but these were the influential ones. This project was done on a budget and in a hurry, so some were not documented. Here are the Key extant examples:
Headwear, apron, fichu and fabric from this illustration from 1770’s England
While this is mid-1800’s, the concept of the working girls with mixed fabrics and colors with headwear and apron are consistent with Yvonne’s character
1766 Marie Therese, fashion inspiration for women of color throughout the world. High fashion
The head wrap was high fashion for young and old, but predominantly in southern climates, and in the Colonies, worn under a hat or mobcap as a sweat layer. This is probably Dido Elizabeth Belle
The look we are going for, but this a robe
rural and working interpretation, we see the shoes, length of skirt, use of stripes and patters for apron vs bodice.
How the apron and fichu work together and cover the entire petticoat front
Florals were not resigned to cottons. There could be a brocade, but that would raise the class status
German women show the use of natural earthy colors and textures of woven fabrics. Note the BINDING – this is a construction technique very authentic and typical, especially for lower classes because it was an efficient use of scraps. Note how short the petticoats are. The higher the hem; the lower the class. except in 1765-75 when short was high fashion.
Color schemes in a high fashion ensemble
High contrasting color schemes were appropriate
Design layout and color scheme ideas
Marie Antoinette was at the head of fashion; wearing ornate pastel silks. Possible, but unlikely for lower classes who would not be able to wear those dragging skirts or a light color that could get dirty so easily. Remember, they only had a few clothing items and had to wear them all the time over and over. Anything that would lift them out of mud or off the floor was good for real women. Queens didn’t have to worry about that
Girl’s inner petticoat. Use of pinks was popular, and it’s rare the dyes survived to today.
Deep rich colors and color schmes that blend in with each other; picking up the background color of the printed or woven fabric. Good idea
“Little Red Riding Hood” the red cloak was wildly popular for every class. This is a nice color scheme for low class too.
Use of linen or homespun for apron on twill tape, with way to make simple and historically accurate chatelaine. This one is sewing.
Another example of use of chintz floral fabric with outer petticoat in coordinating but more subtle and light color.
This serving girl is technically low class, but it would appear her employer wants her to look good waiting on company. This silk stripe is more what would be found on elite women of the day. The cap, fichu, and apron would be perfect for this depiction.
You don’t get much lower class than being a woman who sells something. This shows the earthy, natural, and very practical dark colors of the working woman
From Spain? The colors and textures are perfect for this project. Love the blue skirt with brown striped apron, checked fichu, and linen shift peaking out. Inner petticoat is a nice coordinating bronze/brown. If we could build just this, it would be perfect. It’s not a jacket though – she wants a jacket.
A bit towards the 1790’s, and it’s odd washer women would be wearing light colors like this that can soil easily, so this is obviously an artist’s interpretation of camp followers. Lovely color scheme though
This is Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin in England. She was a rich heiress, child of a caucasian nobleman who claimed her as his own. She created reform on many levels for women of color in England throughout her life, and was known for her innovative fashion which blended some of the concepts of the Dominican where she visited, with high fashion of the day.
This seems like Mexico or South America by the divided skirt, but it gives a good idea of the non-structured low class woman who was not wearing robe and stays. Most likely there were many.
Queen Charlotte of England was African American, although you wouldn’t know that from this portrait. This is in the 1790’s, but we wanted to look at one other fashion icon of the era.
This looks like a Phyllis Wheatly mobcap. It’s a bit too late towards the 1790’s and much too ornate for this depiction.
These sketches of rural women of the mid-1770’s are great for reference shoes, stockings, and the unique earth tone colors and woven textile patterns of low class women. We love the striped linen skirt with the woven plaid bib apron and natural jacket with bright fichu. This is the 2nd one we would just build if we could, and the cap is the appropriate scale for this depiction too.
For cold climates, this shows a “Spinster” – where the word for a single woman came from. The apron shows how we need to build it. It also shows a low class or working woman doesn’t have to wear boring colors and gaping sleeves. This is likely a woven wool bodice.
This is a great example of the use of greens and browns of the day, and the use of tuckers and aprons, with the colors of petticoats too.
Love this color scheme and the high fashion adaptation of what would otherwise be a low class woman’s ensemble. This is the exact fashion of the day. This is most likely a middle class girl all dressed up in her very best, rather than a high fashion lady. Note the binding on the petticoat and type of shoes.
Another rural woman sketch from the fashion plate. This is a great use of floral for apron and skirt and stripe in a long bodice. We would not have thought to make the fiche the darkest, and the red string on the cap is perfect
Modern reenacter. We have a ton of this exact linen fabric! Yvonne didn’t like it though. It’s important to look at modern reproductions to see how the fabrics we are able to obtain actually work out, and how they look on a modern body.
More low class sketches show the “boho” mix of fabrics that we just love! The huge hat with the ribbon is something now seen before. From this we can tell the type of footwear, how the fichu can be worn, and length for class status.
A seamstress, this apron is of silk or sateen cotton – not for cooking or farming. She has very basic robe, but classy accessories and shift and cap. This is most likely in a cold climate. Her petticoat seems very long for her class.
Use of coordinating floral fabrics with innovative use of fabric for a fichu
This is a real historical woman. It’s hard to find African American portraits because they didn’t hire painters for the most part (except the Dido Elizabeths and her kind). The problem we have with this is the bright red; a cochineal dye obviously, but the painter has taken liberties with the fit of her robe and color of fabrics
This one was a key for us because of the coordinated fabrics and textures. Note the long length of the petticoat.
Interesting color combination and fabric texture looking like velvet. The child is fancier than the adults.
Nice color scheme and fit of bodice, petticoat, and apron relative to each other
Dominican women.. Dido again? Shows high fashion in HOT climates and the unique head wraps
Loong jacket for a tall woman, but quite a bit what I think we’re looking for
More earthy colors and wovens by working women. Interesting to note one has her mobcap on, and the other doesn’t. Is that what the seated woman is asking? “Where is your mobcap?”
For some reason, this is the one we were most drawn to. Perhaps it is the color; how the fichu of one picks up the dress colors of the other and vice versa. It is also nice to see the drape of the fabrics – we know they’re linen or cotton, and the caps are perfect.
Use of the apron and a different cap. How the shift being correctly sized makes a difference in the overall look even if it is a low class interpretation.
In a family posing for a portrait, the children are dressed like little adults. The mother is in a mix of print fabrics.
New Orleans. Another hot climate interpretation to understand. The wrap or fichu is different on this than we’ve seen in other drawings.
Jackets In General
These were all selected as we tie down colors, patterns and print mixes, length of jacket, type of peplum, length of peplum, and fichu designs and positions. We’re also studying how the fabric moves and drapes. Most looks like linen.
We have already studied these at length with the fashion history. Notable is the 2nd picture of a modern reproduction ensemble that is accurate. Also noteworthy are how many pink stays there are in museums.. we’ve seen golds next, and blues after that. Pink was very popular! The ones that are brown, were probably originally pink too, but faded over 300 years.
NOTE: After studying extant, we need an apron! A basic, wrap all around, linen apron without a bib like these:
Please refer to the section on
dyes & print processes as well as Yvonne’s History & Fashion page to see why we have selected these colors, fabrics, and prints.
We are trying to use from inventory to keep the price down, plus have only what is available. Many of these below were over $100/yard, and so those were not considered.
Extant Fabrics (Real ones in Museums)
Chintz – reds and blues
Similar reproductions found:
In Stock for fichu over brown linen
Fabric samples from in stock and reproductions found sent to Yvonne. These are grouped for color combinations using in stock linens, silks, cottons along with the reproduction fabrics found:
And the winner is! (based on extant below, what’s in stock, and Yvonne’s favorites):
Cotton print for outer petticoat, berry linen for inner petticoat, blue silk for stays and piping, natural linen for undergarments (or ivory), Frances Floral chintz for jacket
Applying found fabrics and materials to the garment pieces we need: (shift, bum roll, inner petticoat, outer petticoat, bodice/jacket, cap, fichu, rump, stays):
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