DISCLAIMER! I have not made this outfit....yet....

I have been longing to make a dramatic late 1600/early 1700 dress for a long time, and when I saw the movie "Sleepy Hollow", I came up with a lot of wonderful ideas. But I thought that I, for a change, should try to use a pattern. It occured to me a good idea, especially since Butterick has started to make a lot of cool costume patterns. When I saw their Sleepy Hollow style pattern, I immediately bought it, and went on a fabric hunt.

I ended up buying a purple fabric, shiny and very synthetic. I didn't even fancy it allt hat much when I bought it. Must have been to eager to get started, and I didn't have a lot of money either. It was a really bad material choice.

Ah well. Home I went, and I started to work on the dress immediately. I altered the front a little bit, leaving a gap to allow a nice contrasting fabric to be viewable from underneath. I also wanted a full lace cuff instead of what the pattern suggested. Somewhere along the road, I just realized that I didn't like the pattern. One thing is that the fabric were all wrong, but the pattern gave me a too unshapeable dress as well. I also found the skirt way too narrow, and it looked strange from behind. But I didn't want to give it up so soon, so I continued with decorating the bodice with ribbons (almost like a mock lacing), and tried out several fabrics for the cuff and the front. Well... I left it unfinished. I gave it away, so I hope someone else will appreciate it more than I did....

One day I rented a book at the main library in Oslo. The book displayed a lot of authentic Danish clothes from around 1600 and until today. One of the gowns simply took my breath away. What a magnificent fabric, what a shape, what details....! The gown is dated to 1695-1700, Danish, in a mantua style. The fabric is moss green silk brocade with real gold threads, and so-so-so nice. The whole dress weighs around 8 kilos, not including petticoat, hip support and the train... But what a dress! Forgive my poor photo of the dress, neither fabric nor model appears as beautiful as it must appear in real life. The museum owning it claims that it is amongst the eldest whole surviving civile female outfits in Europe. And look at it! The dress is actually over 300 years old. Who'd believe it?

One of the ladies working at the museum owning the gown has been very kind and helpful. But she didn't know too much about the lady once wearing it. She did say that they wanted to exhibit the gown one last time, due to a royal wedding in Denmark. But they decided they couldn't. Because the weight of the gold is tearing the ageing silk apart, and because it is a fragile piece in general, it is no longer exhibited, not even for short special exhibitions.

It is referred to as the "Valdemar Slot kjole" (Valdemar Castle gown), and is numbered 802/1922. I guess that refers to the year it was donated to/bought by the museum (1922), and that it was item number 802.

The dress probably belonged to Christine Elizabeth Juel. She was married at Valdemar Castle in 1695, and this gown is said to be her wedding dress. At Valdemar Castle they lived a French inspired court life, and the dress is fashionable continental in style. She was widowed in 1709.

The dress is made of a green silk with intervowen gold threads, and it's one of the few surviving mantuas in the world today. It consists of a full skirt with a trained "robe" overneath. The robe is pleated in front and back bodice and at the sleeves, and the front skirt is draped towards the back. The draperies are fastened with buttons and loops, as is the sleeve drapes. The stomacher is not the original, but from a contemporary gown. The sleeves are also said to have had "engageants" (laces) at the elbow, but this has probably been an undergown with lace cuffs rather than engageants being attached to the dress.

It is said several places that the gown weighs 17 kilos, but according to the museum it's app. 8 kilos. Still heavy... This is partly because of the (real) gold threads and the heavy silk, but also because the sleeves are kept in place by heavy metal lots, and because we're dealing with big chunks of fabric.

I've realized I cannot wait for the perfect gorgeous-all-silk fabric to become affordable (ain't gonna happen...), so I will start looking for cheaper alternaltives. Or mayeb I'll forever keep this as my dream dress?

The Mantua fashion is believed to have derived from the East (Rothstein 1984: 20). In the West they were first used as informal house garbs, both by males and females. The early mantuas (in French "manteau") was a T shaped overgown with petticoat and eventually a stomacher. The front skirt of the overgown was usually hitched up, revealing the petticoat. The ends were often attached to buttons or lacing in the back, forming a nice drape over the hips and ending in a elaborate backdrape or hanging loose in a long train (Fukai 2004: 204). The petticoat could be of the same fabric as the overgown, as the Valdemar slot outfit, or a contrasting or matching different fabric, some with lace and various trims as decorations.

The overgown was draped directly on the wearer when made, so the fit was tight and unique. It would have extensive pleats in the back and front of the bodice, and with cuffs looking like they were pleated back to reveal lace engageants belonging to the chemise. The train would be square instead of rounded, and often attached so it formed a waterfall backdrape, revealing a different-coloured lining.

On the head one would wear a fontange, a small cap with stiffened, high lace decorations in front, and often with lace bows and loops to support it in the back. This type of head garb still lives on in some Spanish folk costumes, but then basically in simplified black versions.

This type of garb started as rather informal overdresses fastened with belts in the waist, without the stomacher. But they became more elaborate as time went by, the decorated stomacher was inserted in front and the belt disappeared, and it soon became popular even at court. This style eventually transformed into the Robe a la Francaise, which has basically the same construction, but the pleats in the back are now hanging loose (Rothstein1984: 20), and with different paniers than what was worn with most mantuas.

In the beginning of the style it was the vertical lines that dominated. The silhouette was narrow, and the fontange high. But as the fashion developed, especially in England, it was the horizontal lines than became predominant (Rothstein 1984: 22). The court mantuas could almost be just as wide as they were long, with wide, square hips, and the head garbs became much smaller. This horizontal forcus continued into the Robe a la Francaise dresses, which lasted until the 1780's Rothstein 1984: 22).


1. Pattern in Jean Hunnisett's "Period Costume for Stage and Screen"
2. British, ca. 1690, The Met, New York
3. Italian, ca. 1700, LACMA, Los Angeles
4. British, ca. 1708, The Met , New York
5. British, ca. 1710, V&A, London
6. Norwegian (?), ca. 1720, Kunstindustrimuséet, Oslo
7. British, ca. 1730, National Museums, Wales


Kunstindustrimuséet, Oslo
The Met, New York
LACMA, Los Angeles
V&A, London
National Museum, Wales

Andersen, Ellen (1977) Moden i 1700-årene: Danske dragter, Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen (pattern for original dress)
Fukai, Akiko (2004) Fashion in Colors, Assouline, New York
Hunnisett, Jean Period Costume for Stage and Screen (Mantua pattern on page 119-125)
Kildegaard, Bjarne (1993) Klædt på til tiden, Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen (two pages about the dress)
Rothstein, Natalie (1984) Four hundred years of Fashion, V&A Publications, London

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