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The Met, ca. 1774

Regular readers know I have a tendency to make things, especially clothing, especially for events. So another event–actually two: What Cheer Day! and Nathan Hale–approaches, and the question, as ever, is what to wear?

I like to start with the runaway ads for inspiration and documentation. The ads for Rhode Island runaway women can be limited, so I look in Boston and New London as well, and sometimes Philadelphia. My mother lives outside Philadelphia, and I know that trade connected Providence and Philadelphia in the 18th century, in particular through the mercantile house of Brown and Francis.

Of course, I do also have a fabric problem not unlike my bonnet problem. I buy fabric, and stash it. Most sewers do, and after regretting a pair of very-marked-down red leather Andrea Pfister pumps I did not buy at Marshall Field’s one winter, if I like something, I buy it. It is often red, viz:

I know what merchants were selling in Rhode Island, and as early as 1768, Samuel Young in Providence at the Sign of the Black Boy, is selling “Chints, calicoes, and patches of all figures and prices.”

When I found the ad for the runaway wearing the red and black chintz gown, I knew I wanted to make that gown.

“Run away, on the 30th of last March, from the subscriber in Fourth street, near the Post office, an apprentice girl, named Anne Carrowle came from London with Captain William Keais, in the year 1769, she has a fresh complexion, brown hair, near sighted, left handed, round shouldered, and about 16 years of age; had on, when she went away, a green silk bonnet, an India red and black and white calicoe long gown, a blue halfthicks, and striped lincey petticoat, a white apron, and new leather shoes; she has been seen trolling on the Lancaster and Gulf roads, on pretence of going to service at Esquire Moor, and the Bull Tavern, and then at Carlisle….” [Pennsylvania Gazette, 27 April, 1774]

To add to the fun, I know Lancaster and Gulph, and this could be close to where my mother lives now. Too bad I am so far from 16.

Moving on…Here’s the dilemma: front closing or not? Open robe or round gown? The last one seems easier, as the petticoat is described, and thus probably showing, so an open robe. But the bodice, what about that? Stomacher front or closed?

There is a gown in the National Trust dated ca. 1770 with a closed front. And there is a gown with a missing stomacher in the National Trust dated ca. 1770. There are many gowns in the Snowshill Collection with closed fronts, but what is documented to New England? Before 1773, it seems, only stomacher front en fourreau gowns.

PMA, ca. 1775-1780s

I think the answer is that the runaway in 1774 is not wearing the height of fashion–though at 16, she will trend as new as possible, and could be wearing a closed front gown. For me, as a middling to lower sort, I think the best choices will be a stomacher front gown with robings. I have a bodice block for a front-closing gown, know the fit works, and have a back a like and a sleeve I can live with. So on to a muslin for the stomacher front, I think. The center front closings of the striped cotton gown in Philadelphia are probably too modern for what I’m doing, and for my age.

Really, it should be brown linen. Sober. Mature. Not running away. But what are costuming and living history, if not a kind of running away?