Website Design and Content © by Eric Krause,
Krause House Info-Research Solutions (© 1996)
All Images © Parks Canada Except Where Noted Otherwise
Report/Rapport © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada --- Report Assembly/Rapport de l'assemblée © Krause House Info-Research Solutions
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
COSTUME AT LOUISBOURG: 1713 - 1758
MONIQUE LA GRENADE
Report H F 16 E
Fortress of Louisbourg
A . BODICE
A garment very commonly used in the 18th century, the chemise was worn by men and women, in daytime as well as at nightime. It was part of the bride's trousseau, i.e. "of all the clothes that a father and mother gave to their daughter when marrying her, and which includes all she would need in establishing a household".  The style varied according to its use, but generally it was "the part of our clothing which touches the skin directly".  The expression "common chemise" was frequently found on lists of clothes; it could have referred to a very simple style lending itself to all the above-mentioned usages, but whatever it was, no further precision could be found in the documents. Restricting ourselves to the limits of our topic, at this point. we only noted the data specific to women's chemises.
Since the number of chemises listed among personal belongings varied considerably from one person to another, we propose to give a few selected examples which we believe would tell more than a meaningless average. Save for one case, there always were several chemises among the clothes, and sometimes, there were as many as 26  or even 28.  For instance, in one trial for theft, the victim from whom three chemises were stolen, said "she had other chemises at home of the same quality linen".  Finally, a Louisbourg merchant's inventory included fifty-two women's chemises.  According to these indications, it was not rare to find this garment among the clothes used both by men and women.
A chemise made of "blue cotton"  was the only one for which the fabric and the colour were mentioned. This exception leads us to believe that all others were standard items and that it was not necessary to specify the way they were made. During the above-mentioned trial, the stolen chemises were described as made of white linen trimmed with muslin.  Diderot's definition of the chemise is quite categorical: "it is made of more or less fine linen according to the condition of the persons".  Therefore, it can be said that chemises were generally made of linen.
The only indication available on the pattern of the chemise was the description of a triangular piece cut on the bias, mentioned in this same trial, This detail becomes very significant when replaced in its proper context: the robber "conceals the truth when he tells us the pieces of linen came from one of his chemises, since it was obviously a woman's chemise, because one of the said pieces is a point of a woman's chemise".  This pattern was certainly common if one of its parts, the triangular piece, could be used as proof. Consequently, the pattern illustrated in Diderot  can be considered as a valuable basis since, according to it, the triangular piece constituted the major difference between a man's and a woman's chemise. According to its indication, the body of the chemise was ankle length and consisted of a rectangular piece folded in two; the neck-opening was made along the fold. The sides were sewn together, except at the bottom where the triangular piece mentioned above was inserted to give more fullness.
In the case of a plain chemise, the sleeves and the neck were finished with a simple hem. The sleeves were a little loner than elbow length, and it seems as if they were usually rolled up; that is at least whan can by concluded from P_gures represented on daily life pictures. 
Other more elaborate chemise models had a neck frill called the "tour-de-gorge" and a sleeve frill called the "manchette". For instance, the stolen chemises had a "tour-de-gorge" and "manchettes" which were "cut in coarse muslin";  an inventory listed eleven chemises "partly trimmed with muslin".  The "tour-de-gorge" consisted of "a small strip of finer linen or lace" sewn around the neck, whereas the "manchette" was a gathered piece fixed onto a ribbon which was stitched to the bottom of the sleeve. The sleeve was pleated around a cuff in the case of a chemise to be trimmed. 
2. SLEEVES AND CUFFS
Even though some documents mentioned "sleeves", "cuffs" and "false sleeves" as if they were separate nieces, nothing is said about their function. Therefore we had to consult secondary sources to obtain information on those items. The sleeves were held in place "with strings or ribbons crossed in the back",  or were laced to the armhole of the bodice;  they could also be used to cover the arms when washing one's hands:  worn over the sleeves of the chemise, they prevented the edge of the cuffs from getting wet. It is possible that these various uses were also those of the false sleeves about which we did not find any other information.
Since the cuffs were made of lace or of delicate fabric, they were probably removed from the garment to be washed separately or to be worn on other pieces of clothing; for example, dresses, since a few models had "manchettes" sewn to the edge of the sleeves. 
There were various forms of cuffs: they could be made of one or several rows of fabric; at Louisbourg, when precisions are given, they were generally said to be "double"  or "made of two rows".  Prints of that period illustrate yet another type: the strip of fabric used for the cuff was cut in such a way that, viewed from the side, it formed a point when the forearm was horizontal.
The cuffs were made of muslin, sometimes plain,  sometimes embroidered or decorated with flowers,  and in one case an "India muslin with a floral pattern was used".  Was lace also used for cuffs? Perhaps this was the use of "aunes" of lace found in private homes as well as in the shops.
3 "CORPS", "CORSELET","CORSET" (BODICE)
The corps or corps à baleine (stays), the corset or corselet were worn over the chemise. It is difficult to establish a clear distinction between these terms. According to their definition, the main difference is that the corps were whaleboned,  whereas the corset, made of quilted linen, was a comfortable garment "that ladies wore when they were undressed".  These distinctions are not taken into account here, since the confusion among the terms used suggests that these garments were very much alike. The same article was called a corset in one inventory and was sold as a corselet.  The same thing occurred when a corset became a corps. 
Very few details on the various models were available. There was one
example of "a lady's corset with sleeves",  which was different from
the plain corset which left all of the chemise sleeve showing. Other documents mentioned the stomacher,  a type of plain or trimmed front piece completing the bodice. 
The corps, corsets or corselets could be of various colours, as was the case for the three examples available, which were "white",  "brown" and "grey".  The same applies to the fabrics: silk (damask) and wool (wool serge called in French: "molleton"), as well as cotton and mitre;  "quilted corsets" were also made. 
Most of the studies on the 18th century costume deal with the "official" styles and consequently tend to generalize the wearing of stays. There probably was some truth in that, since "it is quite common in France and in one part of Europe for children to wear stays; boys wear them until they are old enough for breeches; girls and women wear them almost all their life"  However, we doubt that this generalization applied in New-France. About twenty references to corsets and corselets were mentioned in a study on the "Civil costume in New-France"  which deals mostly with the St. Lawrence valley, but whalebones were never mentioned. At Louisbourg, in a total of 25 references, whalebones were mentioned only twice. The other corsets, which are not said to have had whalebone, were probably not stiffened ones, since in the same document a distinction was made between a "white corset with a black piece" and a "whaleboned corset". 
Apparently, it was quite common to see Louisbourg women wearing a bodice over a chemise, but it is impossible to state that every one of them followed the latest fashions and had the silhouette then in style, i.e. a waist narrowed by stays.
The mention of two "lady's cotton waistcoats" in a document of 1735  is enigmatic, because women supposedly did not start to wear this garment before the last quarter of the 18th century.  Therefore, the term was probably used for a corset with sleeves or for a female garment modelled on the men's waistcoats of that period.
The bed-gown "is a type of short garment worn by women in bed and in the morning as a déshabille (undress) and which "is usually made like a chemise".  This garment was quoted twice in the documents and, in one case, it was said to be without sleeves and made with "indienne" (which is a painted cotton or linen). 
A "grena bed jacket" is mentioned in the same document.  According to Norah Waugh, who based herself on Garsault and called this garment a bedjacket, this is also a piece of clothing worn indoors; it was not so tight-fitting as the ,'bodice" and was tied in the front with ribbons. 
The waistcoat, the bed-jacket and bed-gown are the last items on the list of clothing for the upper part of the body. The limited number of references to these garments, five altogether, leads us to believe that they were not commonly used. It is quite possible, however, that only the terms are different. For example, the definitions of the corset and of the bed-jackpt it the sources of the period are quite similar. However this may be, it allowed us to establish one fact: at Louisbourg, some garments were exclusively worn indoors. The possession of such garments might imply a certain wealth, because the two inventories they were listed in contained a sizeable quantity of clothes, which was then a sign of appreciable wealth.
B. DRESS, SKIRT AND TRIMMINGS
Saying that all dresses were alike would be quite an arbitrary assumption; it is, however, reasonable to suppose that there was a dominant style. In France, it was the robe à la françoise, which was worn by all women, whatever their social status; diversity was created by using fabrics of different quality and price.  The same range of fabrics existed at Louisbourg and some details of the dress style agree with the French pattern,  of which a brief description follows.
It was made by assembling four widths of fabric for the back and two for each side of the front. The fabric was long enough to go from top to bottom, since there were no seams at the waist. Pleats were made and sewn from the shoulders to the waist to make the bodice fit properly, the rest of the fabric being free in order to give the skirt the desired fullness. Two side seams, one on each side, ran down the full length to join the back to the front, except at the armholes arid at the top of the skirt where an opening was left for the pockets. Contrary to the chemise, which looked like a rectangular bag, the dress had armholes cut in its bodice before sewing the sleeves in.
The width of the skirt varied, depending upon whether it was a "round dress" or a dress to be worn over a hoop (panier). Even though the expression was not found anywhere in the Louisbourg documents, the "round dress" was probably the most popular type since the hoops were rarely mentioned: one "linen hoop covered with whalebone" was sold in 1741  and two other hoops were sold in 1753.  These were the only references found. The hoop does not seem to have been very popular in Louisbourg and such might be the case for New-France; for instance, fairly abundant data gathered on costume in the St. Lawrence valley do not include one single reference to hoops. 
The front of the dress was made up of two separate pieces. If the bodice had lacing holes on each side so that the fit could be adjusted, the stomacher, a sort of front niece tied to the corset, was then seen; if it had buttons for fastening, the two triangular pieces sewn to the lining on each side of the front were called the compère.
From the waist down, the skirt opened on a petticoat which sometimes matched the dress. Such was the case for:
"a dress and petticoat of persienne" 
"a dress and petticoat of satin flambé" 
"a Toscan dress and yellow silk petticoat. 
"another dress of damask with the petticoat..."
"another satin dress with a blue petticoat..."
another dress of flowered damask with its petticoat
"a taffeta dress with its petticoat..." 
Several dresses were mentioned alone and vice-versa. This does not necessarily mean that they were of a different style since, on one hand, the two pieces did not have to match and, on the other hand, it would be surprising to find that petticoats, often made of beautiful fabrics, were hidden under a completely closed skirt.
Other dresses were completed with an apron:
"another dress of Indienne with its apron
another Silk and cotton dress with its apron...
another flowered satin dress with its apron". 
This accessory will be discussed further under the heading of aprons.
Still using the same pattern, the dress would have been sewn on a lining; but this was rarely done at Louisbourg because, save for one exception, a "dress of perse lined with silk",  the lining was never mentioned.
Finally, the dress was sometimes trimmed with a facing sewn around the neck and on the front edges of the skirt to the bottom hem.  Once again, only one example of this was found in our documentation: "a Dress of Indian fabric with a red facing". 
If, on the whole, the models of the dresses were quite alike, such was not the case for fabrics. This is at least the impression gathered from all the documents consulted: almost nothing was said about the pattern of the dresses, but the fabric used was always mentioned. (See Table No. 1) Throughout the history of Louisbourg, there does not seem to have been any shift of preference from one fabric to the other: silks and cottons were the most popular, whereas wool was little used, if at all. Two crepon dresses could be considered as an exception, but there again, the opinions varied: for some this fabric was all wool,  whereas for others, it was either made of wool or silk.  Cloths other than wool or silk were generally lightweight ones (eg: étamine), or mixtures of silks or cotton. In short, the dresses worn in Louisbourg were not any different than what was made elsewhere. "This [the cloth used] was often painted or printed silk or stuff known as indienne, which were produced in increasing quantities". 
TABLE NO. 1: DRESS FABRICS
|1720 to 1745||1 bourg
1 cotton fabric
|1 crepon||1 damask
1 satin flambé
1 étamine **
1 Grisette de Paris
1 satin on cotton
|1749 to 1758||1 bourg
1 crepon on silk
2 Saint-Maur *
1 silk and cotton
1 painted linen
1720 to 1758: 18 documents including 44 references to dresses 1720 to 1745: 10 documents including 15 references to dresses 1749 to 1758: 8 documents including 29 references to dresses
The fabric was specified in all cases.
* Translator's note:
According to the Grand Larousse encyclopédique, under the heading "ras", among the short nap silk fabrics, those from Saint-Maur were most reputed, were all black, either all silk or having a weft of ferret and a warp of silk.
** Etamine: - This fabric can be all silk, all wool, or a blend of each.
The astonishing quantity of expensive fabrics found in Louisbourg shows that a certain level of luxury existed there. But before stating this as a general fact, it would be useful to try to find out who wore those clothes and when. Even if the social status of everybody concerned is unknown, two examples are worth keeping in mind. First, the inventory of Mme. Dupont Duvivier's estate,  which listed a total of nine dresses, a number larger than average; but the fabrics, almost all silks, were quite ordinary.  Likely, the other inventories available list the possessions of persons who dressed in a similar fashion and consequently, had an equivalent social rank or at least were in a similar financial situation.
The second example is the following quotation from a letter sent to Louisbourg from Nantes in 1733: "...it has been impossible for me to send you the fire red damask with the white floral design. That fabric has not been made for more than ten years now. I could always have sent you a short nap fabric of Sicily instead in that same colour, but it would have been a boor substitute. I finally decided to send you a damask of the latest style, the one that is now worn in France. I do hope it will suit your taste and that of your daughter. I have gone over your order as far as price and quantity... The price is 28 aunes 1/2 at 15# the aune; it would have been impossible to get it at that price without taking the whole piece; so I thought in taking it that this would also please you, because when one marries a daughter and has yet others to marry, it is customary to give them a bride's trousseau, and the remnant of the said piece would be big enough for two petticoats..." 
Two years later the inventory of Mme. Péré, the addressee of the above-mentioned letter, was recorded. It said: "Item, fourteen aunes of green damask which, according to Miss Benoist, had been reserved by her deceased mother for her daughters bridal clothes..." She consequently had paid about 210 livres for a wedding dress, excluding the cost of making it. Such an expense was quite unusual since the closest to that amount was 55 livres for a silk dress and its petticoat sold 10 years later.  Notwithstanding the considerable price difference, which simply indicates a difference in quality, it is possible to conclude that a fabric such as damask was reserved for special occasions, such as a wedding, which required clothes not included in the ordinary wardrobe.
That changes and diversity in the fashion were more linked to types of fabric than to the cut of clothes, is illustrated well in the previous example. At first glance, all the styles looked alike. "Throughout the century it is possible to note an increasing degree of egalitarianism in costume, although this varied in varied countries, and it took long to make itself felt. The classes, except for the poor, began to dress more and more in the same way".  The dresses for which a description was available belonged to'persons who could afford to follow the style, but we know little about the costume of the others except that it was different.
2. ROBE DE CHAMBRE
At the end of the 18th century in France, the expression robe de chambre was applied to a new type of dress with a loose cut which was the opposite of the heavily-boned bodice worn till then.  The originality of this style was the way it draped the fabric on the shoulders and let the pleats thus formed fall freely, giving the dress a négligé appearance. We do not know if the robe de chambre had a specific use, i.e. a garment worn indoors as is the case today, or if it simply was a different style of dress. Diderot, for whom it was only a variation of dress style, did not bother explaining how it was made. 
At Louisbourg, two "dresses" listed in an inventory of 1743, were sold as robes de chambre;  but generally, the two expressions were found side by side in the documents, which means that there was some difference, however small, between the two garments.
Very few details were given on the robe de chambre: two of them were lined: one was made of Indienne lined with silk, ]72] the other, in bourg lined with flannel.  Another one, made of striped Gros-de-Tours, had a matching petticoat.  These details do not provide much information since the same could be said of an ordinary dress.
Finally, there is no sign of originality in the fabrics used. (See Table No. 2) The same ones were used for the dress and for the robe de chambre, e.g. silk and cotton, but no wool.
The apron could be used as a working garment or as a decorative one. In this latter case, it was laced end embroidered or cut in fabrics such as taffeta. The ones used for housework were generally made of less delicate cloth such as linen or serge, for example.
The rectangular piece covering the front of the skirt was pleated at the waist around which it was attached with bands, whereas the bib was pinned to the bodice.  Some aprons were without bibs; this model can be seen on prints of that period. 
TABLE NO. 2: "ROBE DE CHAMBRE" FABRICS
|1720 to 1758||1 bourg
|2 satin bourg
1 English taffeta
1 magnonette lace
1720 to 1758: 12 documents including 15 references to robes de chambre 1720 to 1745: 10 documents including 13 references to robes de chambre 1749 to 1758: 2 documents including 2 references to robes de chambre
The fabric was specified in all cases.
The documents of Louisbourg were silent on the pattern used, but the type of fabric informed us on their purpose. The apron could be considered as a working garment when it was made of checkered coarse linen  or of coarse cotton.  As for the aprons made of Indienne, silk and cotton, flowered satin  and another of "new fine Indienne cotton",  and matched to dresses made with the same fabrics, they probably were the ones which "were once worn [...] in front of the skirts and were made of the same fabric as the bottom of the dress".  and which were more of a decorative object than anything else.
It was quite surprising to find only five references to aprons in all of our documents; perhaps people preferred to buy the fabric and sew them themselves as they were so easy to make. This would explain why they were not sold in the stores where one could buy aunes of fabric instead. If that was the case, then aprons would have been common garments at Louisbourg, in spite of the fact that there is very little documentation supporting this.
The petticoat was "a woman's garment similar to the skirt, but shorter and worn underneath the skirt".  Described in those terms, the function of the 18th century petticoat is almost identical to that of the modern slip. But in those days, there was more to the petticoat: since it sometimes matched the dress when it had an open front, it was also a decorative item. It can also be assumed that it gave more fullness to a skirt, specially to one not worn over a hoop, which makes the petticoat fulfill a specific function. However, we do not know if the petticoat was worn with all types of skirt; at least it was not necessary in the case of a closed skirt, since the chemise was almost as long as the skirt.
The pattern of the petticoat was quite simple:  five widths of fabric gathered around the waist where it was held with ties. One opening was left on each side to give access to the pockets. This pattern provided for a lining sewn on the reverse side of the fabric; two examples of these were found at Louisbourg in 1741: one petticoat of brown Ras-de-Sicile with gold flowers,  lined with linen and a white damask petticoat lined with taffeta.  Perhaps the others were also lined, but this was not specified in their descriptions.
This simple pattern could sometimes be executed with the quilting technique: the fabric was then lined with cotton-wool held in place by stitched designs. Three references to quilted petticoats were found in our documents,  but no mention of what fabrics were used.
During the period studied at Louisbourg, there was a change in the types of fabrics used for making petticoats. (See Table No. 3) Up to 1745, not a single reference to woollen petticoats was found. On the other hand, every time the petticoat matched the dress, it was made with silk or cotton, but never of wool.
"A woman's garment hanging from the waist to the feet",  the skirt was the piece of clothing most commonly found in the wardrobes of our time.  It was generally shorter than the dress: in Europe, a skirt showing the feet was characteristic of a middle class woman,  whereas the mid-calf length found in the St. Lawrence Valley was the result of the Amerindian influence. 
TABLE NO. 3: PETTICOAT FABRICS
|1720 to 1745||5 dimity||7 calamandre
1 damasked calamandre
1 molleton *
1 figured sartin
|1749 to 1758||7 cotton
1720 to 1758: 22 documents including 54 references to petticoats 1720 to 1745: 14 documents including 28 references to petticoats 1749 to 1758: 8 documents including 26 references to dresses
Fabrics not specified in 42 cases.
*Molleton is a woolen fabric.
In the Louisbourg documents, there was an approximately equal number of references to skirts and dresses, but it seemed as if the skirts were not worth as much as the dresses. (See Table No. 4) It is therefore possible that less well-to-do people wore skirts instead of dresses, particularly since the fabrics used to make them were much more simple.
Contrary to dresses and petticoats, skirts were made of woollen fabrics. (See Table No. 5)
Some were also made of cotton, but very rarely of silk. Finally, there was one reference to a quilted skirt. 
C. OUTDOOR WEAR
It is needless to say that in the Louisbourg weather, it was necessary to have warm garments to protect oneself against the cold. The coat, mantle and hooded coat were sometimes worn, but the cane or the mantelet were much more common.
The cape was like a heavy coat "of which the top [is] cut so as to cover the head".  Even though this garment was mentioned quite regularly in the documents of Louisbourg  dating from 1741 to 1757, the information given on them was not very diversified. Most of the capes had hoods and were made of camelot, i.e. woollen fabric,  or sometimes of camelot on silk; whenever the colour was mentioned, it was said to be brown. The only original detail given concerned the fastener of a cape, which was a silver clasp.
TABLE: NO. 4: COMPARISON OF SKIRT AND DRESS PRICES
|GARMENT||PRICE QUOTED||AVERAGE PRICE PER UNIT||YEAR|
1 skirt at 4 livres *
1 dress at 12 livres 5 sols
1 dress at 20 livres
1 dress at 24 livres
1 dress at 20 livres
1 dress at 30 livres
12 livres 5 sols
For each type of garment, a few examples of prices, taken at about fifteen year intervals, are given. The table lists the quoted price and the average price since not all documents specified the price per unit.
The "livre tournois" (livre of Tours) was divided into 20 sous as the "livre parisis (livre of Paris), but the sou parisis being worth 15 deniers tournois instead of 12, the livre parisis was worth 25 sous tournois. The use of the livre parisis having being abolished by the Order of April 1667, the livre tournois remained the only money in France until the adoption of the monetary system called the "de Germinal".
The French livre in use before the law of the 18 germinal an 111 (1795) was equivalent to 0,987 65 F in the French monetary system used before 1926; it was divided into 12 sous (sols) which in turn were divided into 12 deniers each (Grand Larousse Encyclopédique).
TABLE NO. 5: SKIRT FABRICS
|1720 to 1745||1 damasked calamandre
|1 "coc" [?]|
|1749 to 1758||
7 embroidered cotton
1 striped cotton
1 cotton linen
1 lamb shalloon
1 Ratine **
1 China satin
|1 "barrasol" [?]
2 coarse muslin
1 beaver short nap
1720 to 1758: 11 documents including; 39 references to skirts
1720 to 1745: 3 documents including 3 references to skirts
1749 to 1758: 8 documents including 36 references to skirts
Fabrics were not specified in 34 cases.
*Indienne can be translated Indian cotton, though it is not always cotton, and can be made of linen. It was not from The Indies, but decorated after the fashion of the Indies; it was produced in Europe by the 18th century.
**Ratine in the 18th century was a woollen cloth.
Worn by seamen, the capot which "looked like a dress with a hood"  was generally a men's garment. Nevertheless, a "Norman style woman's hooded coat" was sold in Louisbourg in 1756. 
3. MANTLE (Mante)
The mantle was sometimes made of gauze-like fabrics  "light and transparent fabric of silk or linen",  hence not a very warm garment. It was probably used as an outdoor garment when made of scarlet woollen stuff;  this must have been a fairly heavy fabric because at the same time in Montreal it was used for a man's hat lined with fur.  The other and last, reference to the mantle did not provide any additional information.  All this shows that the mantle was a fairly rare garment in Louisbourg.
The coat does not seem to have been popular either, since only one made of shag (peluche) was mentioned in our documentation. 
5 . MANTELET
The mantelet is a type of short cape "which has a scalloped edge at the back and is about elbow length". It was tied under the chin with a ribbon; women wore it to keep warm in the summer and also the winter, depending on the weight of the fabric that was used.  This garment must have been quite common in Louisbourg, because about thirty references to it were found in our documents dating from 1735 to 1758, and it was not rare that one person owned more than one. Moreover prices quoted ranged from three to six pounds, which seems to have been relatively low.
Most of the mantelets were made of cotton fabrics (See Table No. 6) and consequently were not very warm; but to compensate, they could be lined as was the case for three mantelets lined with wool (calamanco, flannel or frieze, molleton). On the other hand, one mantelet with hood made of "diablement fort'", a fabric "which almost feels like leather",  was sold in 1756.
On the basis of that information, the mantelet was one of the warm garments worn outside and among these, the most common.
TABLE NO. 6: MANTELET FABRICS
|1720 to 1745||1 bourg
|1 calamandre||1 grena|
|1749 to 1758||
1 Indienne cotton
1 damask "pour fil"
|1 "diablement fort"
1720 to 1758: 14 doctuments including 27 references to capes 1720 to 1745: 7 documents including 10 references to capes 1749 to 1758: 7 documents including 17 references to capes
The fabric was not specified in 21 cases.