Sunday, 7 July 2019

All the tartan dresses

The Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding dress isn't the only garment in the Wild and Majestic; Romantic Visions of Scotland exhibition; there are lots of other tartan clothes on display. I must admit though that I was very partial, and only recorded the dresses, not the various men's suits.

First up, this boy's kilt dress, c1820. The lower part is styled to resemble a kilt, and the buttons and braid reflect the way military dress details were used in civilian clothes at the time.

Kilt dress, front and back

This 1823 painting, reproduced in the exhibition, shows how such a dress would have been worn.

Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge with her children Prince George and Princess Augusta

King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822. Many of the details of the visit were planned by the novelist Sir Walter Scott, including a grand ball at Holyrood Palace. For this, Scott recommended that the ladies wore plain white silk dresses with silk tartan scarves. Clearly Mary Jane MacDougall followed his advice.

White silk gown with silk tartan sash, c1815-25

The dress has mesh oversleeves finished with silk tartan, and is trimmed with beetle wings and more mesh, with a silk tartan sash over the top.

Sleeve detail

Hem detail

While the royal visit was not without controversy, it did provoke interest in tartan as a fashion item.

'Evening dress', Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1822

Lovers of the wilder end of 1830s fashions may feel that all their Christmases have come at once when they set eyes on the next dress. Clearly 'less is more' was not a phrase which ever occurred to its owner. Sarah Justina Davidson married Colonel Ewen Macpherson in December 1832, and this riot of two different silk tartans and all the trimmings is thought to have been part of her trousseau.

I so want to see somebody recreate this!

Sleeves - go double or go home

Making sure that the hem doesn't miss out on the trimming madness

All this and lace as well

Looking positively restrained by comparison was this dress worn by the then Princess Victoria, c1835-7.

Silk velvet, trimmed with lace and silk tartan bows

Close-up of the bodice

Victoria's love of Scotland is well known. In 1842 she and Prince Albert spent two nights at Drummond Castle, as guests of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and his wife. (This very non-Scottish name is explained by the fact that Lady Willoughby de Eresby's maiden name was Drummond, and she was 'Chieftainness of the Clan Drummond'.) A ball was held to mark the end of the royal visit, for which Lady Willoughby de Eresby wore this dress of Drummond silk tartan.

Another dress trimmed with net

Attempt at pattern matching at the front

But none at the back

And that would be it, but for one teensy, weensy confession. My train home from Edinburgh wasn't until mid-afternoon on Monday, so in the morning I went for a stroll round the south side of the city. When I found myself outside Edinburgh Fabrics of course I had to pop in, to see if it had changed at all. And it had - it was even better than I remembered. There had been a lot of talk about linen over the weekend, and there I was looking at a large selection of the stuff, in glorious colours. . .


I'm telling myself that as souvenirs go, at least it was a healthier option than than Edinburgh rock, tablet, or any other Scottish sweet treats!

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