Friday, August 26, 2011

Your Underwear Is Showing!

Dearest Friends, 

When I was growing up, it was a social disgrace to let your bra straps show. I even sewed those little ribbons with the snaps into my sleeveless dresses to prevent that kind of fashion faux pas! Times change and fashion changes. And so it appears was the case in the 18th century with regards to shifts.
Detail from Smock Race by John Collet (Lewis Walpole Library)

Located next to your skin, and under your stays, by mere proximity alone, a shift is "underwear". so one would assume that this garment would only be seen hanging on the line after being laundered.  Not so - at least where the sleeve of the shift is concerned.  Underwear is worn as a fashion accessory!

Mrs Daniel Hubbard by Copley

In portraits, for a good part of the century, you frequently see a rather long shift sleeve sticking out below the outer gown sleeve, and often with an elaborate ruffle attached at the cuff of the shift. In the portrait at the left, you see an example from the 1760's showing a positively gorgeous ruffle and puffy shift sleeve displayed below the wide full cuff of her silk gown.  And there is no attempt to hide the lower part of the shift sleeve just above the ruffles.

Mrs. Ezekiel Goldthwait - Copley 1771

As the fashion changes from cuffs to tiers of sleeve ruffles and flounces, the now shorter shift sleeve is largely hidden making a super fancy shift sleeve ruffle superfluous. However, a peek of the shift sleeve does not morph into a "Glamour don't".  It's there and should the arm be in a position to show it, the wearer does not attempt to hide it.

 Thus is the case with my model Mrs. Skinner.

Mrs Skinner, shows off a diminutive shift ruffle, presumably of fine linen, attached to her shift cuff, which falls just beyond her elbow -- a detail to keep in mind when I measure for the length of the sleeves for my new shift. This is just the kind of detail we want to pay attention to when trying to assemble a really accurate look -- particularly connecting these details to time frame.   They seem, at first, incidental, but when put all together they truly help to create a much more accurate impression.

Mrs. Skinner's sleeve detail by Copley (1772)
Over the years I've become less hung up about the occasional bra strap offense, but I will gladly show off the lovely cuff and ruffle of my new shift's sleeves - but only when I bend my arm and my sleeve flounces fall away to expose it!  Underwear as a fashion statement - some things never change.

Yours truly,
Mrs. S.

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