Sunday, May 12, 2013

Capping It off

I obtained this mid-19th century night cap via an online auction and while it has some condition issues, it still has plenty to tell us regarding period attitudes and concerns.

During the 19th century, night caps were worn by all ages and social classes. They were designed to fully cover the head and tied under the chin - they closely resemble the day caps worn by women in the 1700's. Night caps were nearly always constructed of white fabric, which allowed for easy washing and boiling if necessary. They were a functional item, intended to confine the hair, protect the bed linens from the oils and pomades used to dress the hair and provided warmth in chilly bed chambers.

The seller did not provide any provenance for this cap, I believe it may be a museum deaccesion due to the number penciled on the tie.

This cap is an excellent illustration of the relative cost of materials versus cost of labor during the period. A cap of this style would usually be constructed with three pieces of material: the brim, crown and neck curtain. This cap has been extensively pieced - 14 pieces in fact - including a tiny triangle, with sides less than 3/4" in length. All the pieces have been very carefully sewn, the stripes matching perfectly and all seams finished with no raw edges visible. A great deal of time was spent in making the minimal amount of available materials (probably recycled from a previous garment) work - a very 19th century mindset.

It's not something we see done very often in modern interpretations of historic clothing; we typically purchase new textiles and go buy more if we run short. It's an option I'm increasingly trying to incorporate into my garments: piecing materials, reusing materials, tiny details that add to the authenticity!

Night cap available for purchase here.

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