This is a question we find ourselves asking frequently when studying samplers. Whilst reproducing Hannah Coates 1848 we have been pondering why Hannah chose to dress her young lady as she did?.
Firstly let us look at the fashionable young lady of 1848 when Hannah completed her sampler.
This is altogether a very different style to Hannah's chosen costume.
If we go back twenty years to 1828, the "Romantic" period, we will start to see a new fashion evolving. Skirt length's started to rise and the ankle could be glimpsed, sleeves were expanding and the bodice started to give an impression of width.
By 1830 the skirt was wider than before and had risen further exposing the ankles. The sleeves were still expanding. Hair was elaborately arranged with curls over the forehead and a chignon at the back. Artificial hair was sometimes added in the evening in the style known as the "Apollo" knot, fixed on top of the head and decorated with flowers, feathers and combs.
By 1832 sleeves had become so wide that they were supported by hoops. The skirts were at their most extravagant, the pleats doubled and often trebled.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 and just as with modern day royalty and celebrities, became a fashion icon. Women adapted their style in day dresses to reflect the young monarch's taste, who favoured simpler, modest designs.
The Romantic period was over and the Gothic period was beginning. Sleeves were no longer so wide and the bulge began to slip down the arm. Skirt lengths dropped so that the ankles were hidden. The most striking change was to the headgear. It was no longer a hat but a bonnet tied firmly under the chin and worn close to the head and shaped like a coal scuttle.
Plainer fabric colours were chosen over brights and shawls that modestly covered the shoulders became hugely popular.
We place Hannah's girl firmly in the Romantic style of the 1830's. Yorkshire, where we believe that Hannah lived, would have been a few years behind the "haut ton" of fashionable London and Bath so probably around the middle the decade.
So why did Hannah choose this period?
Maybe that was the time that Hannah's governess or teacher would have been a young girl herself. Was Hannah's governess teaching her to stitch by using her own sampler made when she herself was a young girl?
We will never know for certain but what we do know is that you can never accurately date a sampler by costume.
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