The LittleWhiteMuslinDress of the period is one of my favourite period wardrobe staples, as it can be upgraded and downplayed with a few well placed accessories. It is an upper class or Sunday garment, as practical work is rather out of the question, though with train or without, I love the simple elegant flowing lines the LWMD creates.
My current favourite is last years Roman Style Dress, or Medea, as I nicknamed her after the first wear. She was created originally as a ball dress, but with the objective to be worn to elegant promenades as well.
Last year in April, my friends C & F organised a most beautiful Bal de Souscription (Read Sabines report for more details), and amidst sewing for musicians and one other dancer, I thought that I actually also would love a new dress, preferably without train, even if trained dresses were still very much seen on the dancefloor.
|© The British Museum, Acc. No 1856,0712.609|
A bit earlier I fell in love with this painting, respectively her dress, the hem. And her veil. And the flowers. In short: the whole ensemble.
Anonyme portrait of a lady, presumably Caroline Murat.
Collection of the Château de Malmaison, and she also served as the poster girl for the Musée Marmottans Exhibition "Napoleons Sisters, Three Italian Destinies"
The only problems were the sleeves, as lovely as they were, I planned to wear my dress to a ball, where dancing would start at 4 in the afternoon until midnight. By the experience of our monthly and bi-weekly rehearsals it wouldn't be a walk in the park, but a sportive event, and I would need my full sleeve chemise as underwear to prevent stains on the dress.
That's when this painting, what went on sale at Sotheby's in the months before the ball came to my help: closed sleeves, and another hint that I will need a red shawl in the future.
PORTRAIT OF JEAN-LOUIS GUSTAVE D' HAUTEFORT, AND HIS SISTER, MARIE-THÉRÈSE-THAÏS D'HAUTEFORT
My dress itself is unlined, made from sheer Swiss cotton (very sheer). The bodice is as lowly cut as
the one of the beauty from Malmaison, and the hem features a more time saving approach to the zigzags, by simple chain stiching. It's front closing with drawstrings, and generally a wonderful no-fuss dress, apart of the fact that one needs a petticoat underneath, a chemise on it's own will not do.
It worked a threat at the ball, and when I did my hair (I bought flowers for my head and ended up handing them out to ladies with greater need than I) I turned to my friends and asked 'Do I look like a crazy tragic actress personifying Medea in all her madness? Yes? Excellent.' That's where the dress received its name.
And did it work for dancing? Oh yes. It was light. It was flowing, it made me feel like a goddess, even when I started to become very very footsore
|© Eliane Caramanna|
|© Jeannette Klok-Heller|
And now we come to the versatility of it:
Promenade prior to the ball? Add a shawl/Schall/Châle and you are good to go.
|© Sabine Gaus / Empirepicknick.ch|
A Summery afternoon in a landscape garden? Capote with veil and shawl in coquelicot, beige gloves and some corals makes if elegant yet not overdone for an outing out of town
|© Fabrice Robardey|
As I've said, this dress has become one of my well loved favourite dresses. It takes so little to turn a whole outfit upside down:
Picture © Antonia Mandic
But only a couple of hours later we sat in a beautiful little opera house in Barga, and casual wouldn't do for me. Off came the jacket and the hat, drape the shawl over one shoulder and enjoy the show (and thank the gods that you did a proper updo before you put your hat on...)
|© Keane / Barganews.com|
|© Coltrane Koh at Coleshot.co.uk|
|© Coltrane Koh at Coleshot.co.uk|
I am on the first range of boxes, on the right :-)
You see, I am an advocate of the Little White Dress, and even more so if the Little White Muslin Dress for earlier period. Cotton muslin is easy on the budget. It washes well (pre-wash it before you cut your dress!), can be embellished with some white embroidery (if you feel up to it) and depending on the accessories results in so many beautiful and different outfits.
There is close to no occasion where you will be out of place (Attending court wouldn't do. But I speak of more Bourgeois occasions), where you won't feel pretty and fresh and elegant.