February 22, 2012

A Manteau de Lit, c. 1750-1770

In honor of George Washington's birthday, something colonial for you all!

Due to health problems and concerns for overall comfort, the lady I created this outfit for is unable to wear stays (the 18th c. corset) and so I had to find a viable middle-class option for her to wear to living history events.

Enter the shortgown. (Also known as the bedgown or manteau de lit.) Shortgowns consist of a tied-on skirt and a separate, loose jacket-like garment worn over top. The jacket can be crossed over the front and pinned, held fast by an apron tied around the waist, or tied with ribbons.

Worn with an apron and fichu (neckerchief), for work in the home.

Shortgowns were worn mostly by the lower classes, as it was hard to do work in stays, but they were also found on upper- and middle-class ladies--made of nicer fabrics, of course. A wealthy lady might wear a shortgown in the morning, to breakfast, or before getting properly dressed. The loose fit of the gown provided ample room for expectant mothers, and middle-class ladies enjoyed wearing them as housecoat-type garments.

Without the apron, shortgowns make excellent maternity wear.

 The fabric I used is a cotton sheet set I found at the thrift store for a few dollars (from the print I gather it's from the 1970s!). I did some research and found an extant middle-class shortgown made from a floral cotton print and based this lady's outfit off of that.

The skirt is made simply, like all colonial petticoats, with the fabric pleated to a two-part waistband. I think it took me about two hours, start to finish. :)

The shortgown is a simple T-tunic shape, lined with unbleached muslin.

The actual shortgown itself was made using the lady's measurements, rather than a pattern. The shortgown site provided ample explanation of fit and measurement, as did the Manteau de Lit page at La Couturiere Parisienne. Actually I found those instructions confusing and rather daunting in their complexity, and instead opted to use the Civil War infant sacque pattern (via A Day in 1862) to help, as the designs are extremely similar. (As you can see, I had to do quite a lot of research!)

Fastened with ribbons & a close-up of the collar.

The shortgown is very simple, with a turned-back pointed collar--an unusual feature for the time--and cuffs rather than engageantes (ruffles). I lined it with an unbleached muslin from the stash and attached two sets of ribbons at the top for fastening, as per the original. The shortgown can be worn with a simple white apron and fichu for a day of work in the home.

Other Helpful Resources:
Shortgown Drawing/Diagram
Katherine's Shortgown

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