“black & white riding hats are equally worn”

A few days later, SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY wrote another letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS. (See previous posts here and here.) The topic is again fashion, a subject of great interest. It was common for women from America to ask their friends in Europe to keep them informed about the current styles, indeed not only to send them fabric and trimmings but also to have clothes made for them according to measurements provided. When sending packages, and even letters, it was usual to note the captain of the ship that carried them. Correspondence and shipments were geared to the departure dates of vessels bound for America.

Paris 25th Novbr. 1782My dear Madam
It was not without regret that I heard of Captn. Barney’s leaving Paris without having those things in charge, which you had requested might be sent by him; but I hope my dr. friend will acquit me of indolence when I assure her that I never recd. the commission with which I was honor’d till two days before the Captain’s departure, & one of those was Sunday, on which you know business could not be transacted: Mr. Le Couteulx still flatters me that the box may arrive at the port in time to be taken on board.
The measure of yr. gown, cannot it seemd be found; but it is of less consequence as Mr. Ridley has sent out for Mrs. Powel two habits: a sultana & an English habit which you can see before you have yours made. The Pistache & rose colour were most fashionable last Autumn, but what will succeed them in the spring is difficult yet to divine; the trimming is made by the first miliner, & will either suit a sultana or habit, with both of which dresses they wear the petticoat of a different colour. You’ll pardon the liberty I’ve taken in adding an handkerchief: for as it was new, & consequently admir’d, I could not resist the inclination: its to be ty’d on before the gown, & then pinned down to the stays & when the gown is on to be put under the shoulder straps & then the tippet is put round the edge of it & renders a tucker unnecessary—I can’t imagine why it’s call’d a Chemise, for I cannot discover any resemblance that it bears to that part of dress.—The hat & Cloak are fashionable at all seasons of the year, tho’ in the Winter the Cloak is only worn in dress. Your stays, tho’ made according to yr. direction is perfectly the mode, stiff ones having long since been laid aside—but you forget that your waist has length as well as breadth, & therefore you’ll be obliging as to pardon yr. Taylor if he has not guessed right—am I at liberty to draw any inference from yr. partiality?
As black & white riding hats are equally worn, I’ve sent both, the one trimm’d in the present taste the other without ribbon that your own may be consulted—they are likewise very much worn of a morning with the hair dress’d without a cushion as for riding.
Should I have been so fortunate as to give satisfaction in the choice of the things, I shall think myself vastly happy, & always proud in being honor’d with your commands. May I flatter myself, that this scarce legible scrawl will as well as come former ones, meet with your indulgence. With my best wishes for Mr. Morris & mr dear Kitty, I remain
my dr. Madam your very sincere & affectionate friend
S. Jay

English-born Matthew Ridley moved to Baltimore in 1770 and became the manager of the Maryland branch of a London mercantile firm. He became a supporter of the Revolution and went to Paris in 1781 as the agent for the state of Maryland with the intention of soliciting a loan for the state. While abroad he fulfilled requests for clothing from American friends. After the death of his first wife he married Sarah Livingston’s sister Catharine (Kitty).
Elizabeth Willing Powel was the wife of Samuel Powel, the mayor of Philadelphia until the Revolution. Mrs. Powel maintained a French-style salon frequented by the political and social elite of the city.
A sultana is the name (of exotic origin) given to causal but elegant at-home wear. A loose wrapping gown, it was worn without stays and therefore was comfortable. One could receive visitors in sultanas, and they were favored attire for portraits. A tucker is a detachable yoke made of lace or other fabric, to cover the breast when wearing a low-cut dress. A tippet is a small piece of fabric that goes around the neck and hangs down a little on either side, somewhat like a stole.

The letter is from the Robert Morris Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library. For those interested in the fashion of the period, a very good source for the names of various kinds of clothing and the parts they consist of is the Glossary of 18th Century Costume Terminology.

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