The description of the first of February 1816’s fashion plates, Plate 10, an “Evening Dress,” is rather frustrating. The writer reports that “the slight view which we had of the dress will not permit us to describe” its trimming; it advises readers to refer to the plate to “form a very correct idea of it.” Readers are also advised to refer to the plate for a clearer depiction of the body of the dress, which is reported to be “extremely novel and elegant,” but which is not described in any detail. Was there some scheduling mix-up between dressmaker, copy writer, and artist?
This made me wonder how the writer, dress designer, and artist who created the fashion plate interacted. I had once assumed that the dress designer also supplied the descriptive copy, but here, Mrs. Griffith, of Riderstreet, St. James’s, the “inventor” of the dress designs, is obviously a different person than the one who wrote the column. It sounds as if the writer of the copy viewed actual dresses (if only for a short time!), rather than the plates, to write the copy, and that the writer wrote the copy before having the chance to view the finished plates. Does anyone know of any sources that talk about how such plates were created?
The Evening Dress seems to be adorned with puffs of silver or light blue, with a pleated bodice that barely rises over the top of the shoulders. Not a dress that one could wear a corset under, I’d wager. The slippers are of “white satin,” “trimmed en suite, and made, as all dress shoes are now, to come very high over the foot.” The headdress, with its small cylinder sticking up from the top almost like a chimney is styled “toque á la Rubens.”
The copy writer must have been allowed more time with Mrs. Griffiths’ Promenade Dress, for the description here is far more detailed. Although we aren’t told what, precisely, the “new-invented trimming” that adorns the hem of the dress is made from, readers are assured that it has “an uncommonly light and pretty effect.” The dark mulberry of the dress, with a velvet spencer one shade darker, makes for a dramatic contrast with the oversized “Roxburgh muff,” made of white satin and swansdown. The muff is so large, you might well keep a small pet inside! Although readers are cautioned (enticed?) by the note that said muff is “from the beauty and delicacy of its materials, calculated only for the first style of promenade or carriage dress.” Would Mrs. Griffiths allow one to purchase her muff alone, without knowing with what dress it might be paired?
This month’s “fashionable colours” are “ruby, fawn, emerald, and bottle green; French rose, blue, pale brown, and light purple.”