Christening Gowns and Fashion
Up until the 17th century young babies were wrapped in tight Swaddling clothes carried to the font in a bearing cloth. This was a large square of lavishly trimmed silk. Mid 18th century it evolved to a front opening robe fastened with ribbon ties showing a petticoat beneath.
The first Christening robes were made in the style worn every day by 18th century children. Both boy and girl children wore slip dresses, with a very long flowing skirt falling from a short, tucked bodice, low neck and short sleeves. This fashion has remained popular for Christening ever since. Partly due to the tradition of handing down these robes from one generation to the next. Large families were popular in the Victorian era and a mother might make one very beautiful gown while she had the time while waiting the arrival of her first born child.
Although many women had access to a sewing machine in mid Victorian England the gown, being small and compact, would often be entirely handmade and could be easily moved around, from room to room in the young mother's needlework bag. Once used and admired along with the new baby; it would be carefully packed away awaiting the next birth. As a result would become a family heirloom. Mid 19th century christening gowns were decorated with fine white embroidery known as Ayrshire work.
This consisted of embroidery worked with extra needlework fillings and cutwork. This white on white originated in the Scottish lowlands. When the bodice came down to the front in a point; with tradition the point was kept on the outside however when used for a girl the point would be tucked in when christened.
Mid to late Victorian era christening gown skirts were lavishly ornamented with pin tucking and lace insertions with embroided bodices and the baby always topped with a bonnet. Very special christening attire ensured that any baby wearing the best looked picture perfect for the occasion and the event of having a family photograph taken to record the day.
Christening gowns are one of the few pieces of costume history that has survived across a broad range of society because they launder well, are small enough to store easily, and have continued use to another baby!
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