Exquisite Brocade, A Short Rambling, and A Storied Gown

Perhaps my problem arose because I spend too many hours in a haphazard array of cotton and fleece, writing in a cold climate, in a cold downstairs room, and as I am told, looking like a quasi-homeless person.

Perhaps, to contradict my prior musing, it’s because I have a tendency to lust after frippery, stopping just short of slapping it on my person.  Stealing from museums, you see, is not really a realistic pursuit at this point in my life.  Well, to be honest, it never was.

Oh, the woe.

Fantasies of reckless fashion acquistions thus abandoned, the obsession I am referring to today, readers, involves what has passed out of natural life and into state and private collections, namely the luxuriant and often excessive finery that prompted Madame de Pompadour to gaze at her surroundings and proclaim, “Après nous, le déluge.”

As curiosity is a weakness of mine, I find it impossible to blithely stroll past a gown this richly nuanced and not ferret out under what extravagent circumstances it was worn.  The occasion, as I was soon to learn, belonged to a little known Englishwoman whose portrait has been lost to the public, though a history of the Fanshawe family once described her as ‘strikingly handsome’.  We’ll have to take their word.

Not to be confused with Lady Ann Fanshawe, the 17th century English memoirist, our Ann Fanshawe was th eldest daughter of the newly appointed Lord Mayor of London.  Her father Crisp Gascoyne, Master of the Brewers since 1746, was sworn into office one cool evening in November 1752, and it fell upon Ann, a 28 year old wife and mother, to don this magnificent gown and pose as ‘Lady Mayoress’ in place of her deceased mother.

As you can glean from the considerable amount of silver thread used throughout, every inch of fabric was designed to glow in the flickering candlelight that presided over the night’s celebrations.  Sadly, the gown was worn only once but then again, it’s not exactly something a gentlewoman can step out in twice.  “Oh, look, she’s wearing the beer gown again.”

If only for a night, Ann must have looked a shining advertisement of the family’s glory.  The white silk is Spitalfields; the brocade serves as both an allusion to her father’s successful brewery business and a reassurance of his future achievements as the Lord Mayor.

Look closely and you’ll see a theme: barley and hops spill from silver cornucopias, silver anchors rest on silver barrels, and indigo and crimson flowers flourish over the remainder of the mantua.  There’s even a tale behind the indigo dye and the expense involved, but if you want to read more about the gown and its creation, head on over to the Museum of London.

I’m once again ready to admire.

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8 thoughts on “Exquisite Brocade, A Short Rambling, and A Storied Gown

  1. Oh, I love this so much! My mum giggled like a kid when she saw this dress in London, but then she’s an adolescent of the 1960s. I dream about dresses like this – all thanks to my Ladybird book of Cinderella (which ironically dates from the 1960s)!

    1. Cinderella goes to the ball three times in different dresses?! *Swoons* Why didn’t my parents buy these books when I was a child? I googled pictures and they’re gorgeous. You’re lucky to have them in your possession. There’s even a blog devoted to Ladybird books: http://oldladybirdbooks.blogspot.com I had no idea.

      I’m delighted the post stirred up a happy memory for you, Julie.

  2. A very well balanced design! Often when a theme is present, the design gets kinda fussy with color, but the subtlety here is quite elegant. I keep wondering if this specific, ornately-storied weave was ever employed in other family clothing (a waistcoat? a pair of trousers?), or was the intense detail-work limited to this one dress? It’s easy in our very mass-produced age to forget (I do) that dresses at that time weren’t cut from an acre or two of pre-woven sheets of detailed, machine-assisted loomwork.

    I laughed out loud at the “beer-gown” sentence. That is, until I started to think about how few fashionable suits I own…

    1. The museum website indicates the design was likely exclusive to the dress. The expense must have been very dear, but it would have made a dashing waistcoat. Maybe the forgotten garment lies moldering away somewhere . . .

    1. I went to a silver exhibit at Versailles around 2007 or so where the lights were dimmed to mimic candlelight and it was out of this world amazing. Everything silver glowed. I think of that experience when I look at this gown.

      Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed at the exhibit which was a bummer! We history bloggers shall have to use our imaginations as usual.

  3. Exquisite embroidery and a stunning gown.I find it fascinating to be able to fix the time and place it was worn to the precise occasion.Thank you!

    1. Knowing a garment’s history certainly makes for a richer experience. Apart from royal garb, I don’t imagine there are many who, what, and where instances regarding period costumes. This one is a real gem.

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