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.
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