This plain white cotton gown embodies the ideals of neo-classicism in dress. Imitations of such clothing appeared in fancy dress and portraiture from the late 1760s, inspired by images of Greek and Roman dress published in the mid-18th century. A similar style of gown had been worn by little girls from the 1750s. The neo-classical style first emerges as fashionable dress in France, influenced by the political ideals of the French Revolution.
In construction, late 18th-century neo-classical gowns resemble earlier styles of women’s dress. There was no surviving Greek and Roman clothing to study, so the classical look was achieved by modifying existing dressmaking techniques. By raising the waistline of the gown, making it out of plain white cotton and leaving off all forms of decoration, an appropriately ‘antique’ look was created.
Wardrobe accounts and descriptions in fashion magazines indicate that these plain gowns were very popular, but few have survived. The utility of the undecorated fabric meant they were easily recycled into children’s clothes, servants' dress, cleaning rags and ultimately, paper.