The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: a review

Have you ever wanted to dress like a gorgeous Georgian? Well, now help is at hand in the form of the The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox. It is released here in the UK on 13th December 2017, just in time for Christmas.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.
The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

Lauren and Abby are owners of the historical footwear online store, American Duchess who ship worldwide and sell the most amazing shoes. They have now used their research and experience to complete your outfit and enable you to make the most amazing dresses (and accessories) to go with those fantastic shoes.

The American Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

Divided into four chapters, this book takes you step-by-step through making four gowns representing four different eras of the eighteenth-century plus all the accessories you could need to go with them. If, like us, your dressmaking skills are a little rusty or even rudimentary, don’t be put off. The book is written in a friendly style with basic details such as the different types of stitches covered as well as more detailed instructions, and all with a multitude of helpful diagrams and images so it doesn’t seem as daunting as you’d think.

There are instructions for making four gowns in the book. © American Duchess
There are instructions for making four gowns in the book. © American Duchess

And, even for a non-sewer, the book is still an entertaining and informative read if you are interested in the period. It’s interspersed with sumptuous pictures and lots of amusing asides (for instance, discover why one of Madame Pompadour’s maids inspired the name for the new short sacque gown being worn by her mistress, ‘pet en l’air’).

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, 1763-4 by François-Hubert Drouais. The National Gallery
Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame,
1763-4 by François-Hubert Drouais. The National Gallery

The book begins with a simple English gown from the 1740s complete with neckerchief, apron, mitts and hat. Then we go onto a much more extravagant ruffled and flounced dress, a sacque gown dating from the 1760s-1770s inspired by Francis Cote’s A Portrait of a Lady, plus underpinnings and accessories.

Portrait of a Lady, 1768 by Francis Cotes. The Tate
Portrait of a Lady, 1768 by Francis Cotes. The Tate

An Italian gown in printed cotton which follows the style of the 1770s-1790s and accommodates a ‘false rump’ is the third project. Again, you are given instructions for everything from the false rump to a silk covered ‘brain hat’, described as ‘fluffy, puffy and never stuffy’.

At the end of each section, you are shown how to wear your gown with style.
At the end of each section, you are shown how to wear your gown with style.

The last gown to be featured is the 1790s round gown, a much different silhouette from the preceding dresses.

Plate 034, N. Heideloff, February 1, 1795, Thomas J. Weston Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the images given as inspiration for the 1790s round gown in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmkaing.
Plate 034, N. Heideloff, February 1, 1795, Thomas J. Weston Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the images given as inspiration for the 1790s round gown in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

To build confidence, we’d recommend starting with some of the simpler projects: now the weather has turned cold we’re looking with extreme interest at the 1790s giant (faux) fur muff… that’s a fashion that needs to be brought back, right?

The American Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

This is a book that will be a permanent fixture on our bookshelf. It is a brilliant reference book on the fashions of the eighteenth-century and the history of dressmaking of the period and, as such, invaluable for anyone who writes about the era and wants to understand more about the clothes women wore. And, if you are an eighteenth-century re-enactor or lucky enough to be attending a Georgian dinner, ball or festival where it is requisite to look the part, then this wonderful guide will ensure that you stand out from the crowd in the latest fashions.

The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768 by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, Château de Versailles.
The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768 by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, Château de Versailles.

Now, where are our needles? That fur muff is not going to make itself and it’s beginning to snow outside!

We received a copy of this book in return for an unbiased review on our blog.

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