Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Ranks and Dignities of British Society

From a charming little volume in the Goodwood Library, A Book Explaining the Ranks and Dignities of British Society, published in 1809 and, though there is no author's name given, the book is attributed to Charles Lamb.  Our copy is inscribed, "Maria Hardy, 1816, Loughborough".

Excerpt from the chapter on Court Dress:
The court-dress for ladies is now distinguished only by the hoop, lappets, and full ruffles; for the mantua is now made exactly like any other open gown, and differently in shape before, according to fashion of the year:  the petticoat also is plain or trimmed, according to the fancy of the wearer.  The most general form is the one followed in the plate; of late, it has been more the fashion to have the petticoat, both the drapery and the under part, of the same colour as the gown; but a coloured drapery over a white petticoat prevailed for many years, and the drapery was even often of a different colour from the gown. Velvet, sattin, silk, crape, and gause, are the only materials allowed for ladies' court dresses; the lappets are sometimes of black lace, but oftener the same as the ruffles of fine lace or blonde. Court dresses are trimmed, and often embroidered with gold and silver; and artificial flowers are much used for ornamenting the petticoat. Feathers are not reckoned a necessary part of a court dress; but young ladies very seldom go without them, and they are are supposed to be under dressed if they do.  In deep mourning, ladies wear a black hood, put on as it is represented in the plate.
  • Lappet: A decorative flap or loose fold on a garmet or headdress
  • Mantua: A woman's garment of the 17th and 18th centuries consisting of a bodice and full skirt cut from a single length of fabric, with the skirt designed to part in front to reveal a contrasting underskirt
The Hathi Trust has a digital copy of this book.

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