The quotes below are from Two Centuries of Costume in America by Alice Morse Earle, a woman of great wit & insight... and strong opinions regarding the fashions of her ancestors. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, it's a very enjoyable read & has some great secondary sources. Personally, I disagree with some of her assessments on the beauty of various fashions, but can't fault her information. I'm happy to say that we both love the English Gown or Mantua. Her observations are colored by her time, as are our own.... but I have a feeling that Mrs. Earle's observations will last far longer than our own.
1740's Woman with a Dog, Ceruti, Italy.
Mrs. Earle on 18th century dress in America...
"We must not fall into the notion that every American or every English woman wore a brocade or satin gown or petticoats. There were working women who had clothes simple of shape and stuff. You can see similar ones in Hogarth if you will, or in other works of his day.
This dress, consisting of a warm, wool gown with double-puffed sleeve, with linen kerchief and collar of white or woollen apron, and loose hood tied under the chin, was seen in scores of prints; such as for instance, Tempest's Cries of London, 1702. If the scene be without-doors, a hat surmounts the hood. A young woman would have her bodice laced or strapped, and have ribbons on her shoes, and pockets on her aprons, and would wear mittens. Sometimes the overskirt was turned up to form what is known as a washer-woman's skirt or apron, and was used by ballad-mongers, and the sellers of the gazettes and news-letters -- all tiny sheets-- as a deep pocket to hold their wears. A street vendor cold also and did carry a basket on her arm, in which she displayed her 'Dutch biskets, " laces, minikin pins, cotton reels or ribbons. The skirt did not touch the ground, and the shoes had low heels, the neck was protected by the hood, and the eyes shaded by the hat brim; and I think it altogether a neat, trim, comfortable, warm sensible dress; one which could be adopted for working-women with advantage today...."
1760, Sewing Workshop at Arles, Raspal, France.
"I have quoted in the previous chapter a description written by an old gentleman for the Old Colony Memorial at the meeting at Plymouth in 1820 to celebrate the two hundreth year of the settlement of Plymouth. He thus described the dress of plain country women, in the years from 1750 to the Revolution:---
"As for the women, old and young, they wore flannel gowns in winter. The young women wore wrappers in the summer, and about their ordinary business they did not wear stockings and shoes. They were usually contented with one calico gown, and another of camel's hair goods; and some had them made of poplin. The sleeves were short and did not come below the elbow.
On holidays they wore one, two or three ruffles on each arm. They wore long gloves coming up to the elbow, fastened by what were called glove-tightens, made of black horeshair. They wore aprons made of checked linen or cotton, and, for holiday use, of white cotton, lawn or cambric.
They seldom wore caps when about their ordinary affairs; but they had two kinds. One kind they wore when they meant to be much dressed up. One was called a strap-cap; it came under the chin; the other was called round-cord cap, and did not come over the ears.
They wore thick leather, thin leather, and broadcloth shoes, all with heels an inch and a half high. These had peaked toes, turned up in a point at the toes. They generally had small, very small muffs; and some wore masks."