The combination of white muslin and puffed decoration on this dress reflects a mixture of historical influences. As with most garments of this period, we cannot pinpoint exactly where each detail comes from. They are often fanciful interpretations of past styles. By looking at portraiture and studying contemporary descriptions of fashion, however, it is possible to trace similar elements of design.
The general shape, with its raised waistline and long, white, soft clinging fabric, is loosely based on the simple tunics featured in classical art. However, this piece has a flared skirt which falls from the waist in a triangular line as opposed to the tubular silhouette of antique statues.
Four rows of muslin puffs are stitched and gathered to the bottom of the skirt. These are reminiscent of decoration on Tudor dress, where the sleeves or doublet were often slashed and the undershirt drawn through the openings to form a series of puffs. Soft bands of muslin catch the sleeves into delicate ‘bouffants’ in the style of 17th-century dress. The wearer would probably have added a ruff or frill of lace at the neck to add to the sense of romantic nostalgia.
Early in the period 1800-1900 Greek and Roman influences on dress remained strong. Long, white muslin gowns with high waists were loosely based on the simple tunics featured in classical art. Soon, however, there was a taste for greater ornamentation. So-called ‘Gothic’ styles inspired by Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan and 17th-century costume flourished. Puffs of fabric, slashed decoration, elaborate ruffs, ‘vandyked’ borders and names such as the ‘Medici’ collar and ‘Marie’ sleeve reveal a fascination with history.