Friday, April 03, 2009

Women's costume 1794, France, Aprons and Pockets

We're back for another installment of the clothing of the working and middle classes in France in 1794. This one is on Aprons and 'Pockets'.


Did somebody say apron?

We don't wear aprons these days, so it's a little hard to work out what they felt like to wear. How you handled them. In 1794, everybody in the middle and working classes seems to have gone running around in an apron, more or less continuously.

Now the rich in the C18 don't routinely wear aprons over their clothes. They sometimes show up in little lacey apron-ettes, but that's not applicable to my working folks.

It seems to me well-to-do women in the 1790-1794 period start showing up more and more with an apron on 'em as part of their day dress. Maybe they were making a political point.

So. Looking at aprons.

This one is from 'Street Cries of Paris' by Bouchardon, and dates to about 1740.
But I think aprons stayed very much the same.

We got ourselves a salad seller. Romaine lettuce, looks like.

The apron is as long as the skirt, which seems to be typical for working women. It's pulled up and the hem tucked into the waist of her skirt on the side. It's the left side, (her left,) so it's likely that's what right-handed people do.

Here's a closeup of two aprons. (Greuze, The Village Bride, 1761.)

Both mother and child have the pinned-up bib on the top. See more detail of a pinned-up bib below.

Mom has her apron tied, not in back, but on the side. Her right side. That would be easier for a left-handed person, ISTM.
I have also seen period apron strings so long they come clear around the wearer and are tied in front.

The girl holds her apron up, making a pouch, keeping her little bits in it. She takes a handful of fabric. This is going to be just an automatic gesture for anyone who wears aprons.

As long as I got the picture here , look at the caraco on the woman above. I think there's a slit in the side seam to allow access to a pocket beneath.
More on pockets below.

See how the child has her fichu tucked into the top of her apron bib. There must have been an art to tucking the fichu.

Here we got another too-early picture ... before 1771. This is market women.

The clothes are much too early to be relevant. But see how our gal on the left has her aprong converted fully into a secure pouch for carrying . . . I dunnoh. Maybe the entire Oxford English Dictionary or watermelons.

She's tucked the hem of the apron neatly into her waist at the middle, letting it gape a bit at both sides.

Note also that this is a dark blue apron. I have other examples of dark-coloured aprons in France, at least one of them in period. See the 1794 apron on the tricoteuse further below.

Here are some 1850s aprons.
I'm just wandering all over the place, timewise, ain't I?

This Millet is here only for the custom of typing the apron back behind the butt like this and making a big carryall. I'm assuming this was done in my era too.

But since you're tired of me wandering all over French history ... we got some truly period aprons coming up.


The next ones are early 1790s, as are the tricoteuses further on.

In the picture where our sansculotte young lady is carrying a sword, see the way the skirt is drawn up on one side and tucked in. It's on her left side. Right-handed sansculotte?
Visit that bottom print at home here,

In other news, in these three prints, note the mid-length hair, worn undressed and loose under the cap. Note the sabots. Note the striped material of the skirts.

Our lady above, on the upper left has a little basket on her arm and what looks like a bag slung at waist level. I think the basket is to hold yarn. We see the same thing in the Greuze painting below. The little pouch on the side of her seems to be an exterior pocket. I've seen these from time to time.

And here we got Les Tricoteuses Jacobines by LeSueur, which is, of course, smack dab in period.

Our knitters have specialized aprons. Little pockets on the right, (their right,) side of the skirt.

And here is the dark apron I mentioned. So they weren't all white, even among our working class gals.
One way we know they are working class is the length of their skirts. See our gal on the right? Short skirt = laboring class.

Find our tricoteuses here.

Below is a rather interesting take on that 'tricoteuse apron'.

This is the Palai Royale, a noted haunt of prostitutes.

See the madame in the back offering the pretty young knitter to that unpleasant fellow? Her pocket says she's a working girl and gives the impression of an innocence she's about to sell.

Find it here.

Now ... here is Greuze, La Tricoteuse Endormie.
Let us all pause to go aaaaaawwww.

Ahem. Back to business.

This apron shows how the bib attaches. See how one side has come unpinned?

Purely by the by, see those four needles in the knitting? I have tried to knit with four needles. I will blog about that.

And we got that basket the 1794 knitters carry to hold their ball of yarn when they don't have a pocket in their skirt..

Moving on to the fascinating subject of 'pockets'.


These were not the sewed-in feature we are used to. They were a little bag tied at the waist, under the skirt. Often this was two pockets, tied separately, and worn one on each hip.

This makes comprehensible the nursery rhyme:

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it.
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.

which has worried and puzzled generations of readers.

We have some early C18 pockets here, from the V & A.

These are linen, sewn with linen thread, embroidered in coloured silks, with silk ribbon and linen tape

A couple more below.

Find them in detail here.

These are from Meg Andrews, Antique Costume and Textiles. Her site is here. These pockets are white cotton, marcella quilted, joined on a wide 2 inch band. They tie with tapes. There's a different design on the two pockets. Odd, what.

Here's a pair of 1796 pockets -- exactly in era. These are embroidered linen.

They belong to the Met, which welcomes you here.

You're wondering how folks got into their pockets in 1794?

Folks got into the pockets by reaching through slits in the seam of their skirt. The caraco in 1794 wouldn't have been long enough to interfere with access, so they could just go through that skirt.

Lookit here where you see just exactly those slits.

They're doing the other thing they did with these pocket holes, which is they pulled a hank of skirt up through them to shorten the skirt. Fashionable women did this for 'the look'. Working women did it to get the skirts out from underfoot.

Or for the look, I guess. And this print is from Yale. Find it Here

Here you get a look at the slit in the side of the skirt where our young lady could reach in and get to the pockets. See this picture, here. Click at the site for a closer look.


  1. I love your costuming posts. I once made some costumes for a Moliere production, and pocket hoops were part of the ensemble. These were side hoops--imagine a birdcage, divided, and each half worn over a hip. The over-gown had a slit for access to the pocket, just as you mentioned. The hoops created quite a cavernous space--you could pack a picnic or a couple of small dogs in there. One of the cast members used hers to stash her cell phone, though she disliked the having one hoop heavier than the other (cell phones were bulkier back then).

  2. Those huge pannier skirts, and the bustles and hoop skirts of the Nineteenth Century, strike me as snake-eyed weird.

    There's something about trying to change the outline of the human body to grotesque proportions ...

  3. Fabulous research! I would love to cross post this one if you would be willing! I have an apron appreciation site called The Apron Goddesses and am always looking for some new and interesting material. This post is excellent!!!

  4. Hi Julia --

    I'd be delighted and honoured.

    I do plan to expand this with a few more pictures I have on hand.

    Let me see if I can get them in today or tomorrow.


  5. Hi Joanna,
    I am finally getting to cross post your story! I will put it up on Saturday this week! It is amazing and I love the pictures. Thanks for letting me share your work. :)

  6. Hi Julia --


    When you're up, drop by and post the link to your site here. That way, anyone who wanders by looking at clothes can head there.

  7. Thank you! You are generous. :)