Those Mushrooms: The Dormeuse and the Corday, and the Mystery of the Missing Caps.

We’re going along swimmingly across the 18th C, with familiar cap shapes: lappets, round-eared caps, laces and ruffles, linen on linen.  Familiar construction, familiar materials, and then, 1775,  this happens:

Man and woman seated at a table; her cap is the new dormeuse style
Mrs. Izard’s cap is something new: the dormeuse.

The Dormeuse

What’s so different here?  For one, the headpiece is split, or at least shaped like wings. This is something new.  It is decorated with not just a ruffle or lace, but poufs of ribbon, a large, wide, white, striped ribbon tied in a loopy bow, and another row of gathered lace where the caul and headpiece meet. The caul is much larger than it has been, and held back and high up with, one assumes, her hair.  Her neat ‘do is visible in the triangle between  the cap’s wings.

This is one style that has its own name: the Dormeuse, from the french word for night cap. (Cumming and Cunnington, Dictionary of Fashion History, 2010, p. 68.)

Mr. and Mrs. Izard are colonials touring Europe at the time this portrait is painted, but it quickly comes across the water, and the cap continues to grow larger.

Woman in red gown and large loose cap.
Winthrop Chandler painted this portrait, “new England Woman” about 1775. Her large floppy cap is very much the mode.

This woman’s cap, abut 1775,  has the characteristic high point at the center front, and very large, baggy caul.  Something is tied at the side back, leaving loose ends flowing behind.  The ruffle is pleated lace.  We’ve gone from an enlarged but still neat and fitted caul to a roomy, baggy, rumpled look.

Portrait painted by Reuben Moulthorp of woman in colorful gown with cap of layers of lace piled hig.
Mary Kimberly Reynolds, 1788, in her grand pouf.

And it doesn’t end there. Time passes, and the Piles just get higher.  Kimberly Reynolds, 1788, has even more layers of wide lace falling loosely from her tall cap, and a big white ribbon on the crown of it all.  It really looks like she just took all her best lace, arranged them on her head, and pinned them down.

And still it keeps growing. The next year, 1789, Mrs. Salisbury sports this incredibly impractical version:

1789, Mrs. Elizabeth Sewall Salisbury, in her massive pile of linen.
Elizabeth’s cap is the same shape, just hugely enlarged.

All the same pieces are there:  the pointed headpiece, layers of ruffles, the huge caul, the big white silk bow.  There’s no way she could move about with that thing on her head!  It must be pinned into her hair at a dozen different spots.

I would like to find more 1775-1783 portraits to see the whole range of styles here.  Help me if you can! This is the evidence I am using when I say I don’t think Rev War reenactors portraying campfollowers should indulge in this fashion:  as worm in the period, it is high fashion, requires dressed hair, and is too unwieldy for working.

The Corday

A related style that comes along a little later is the Corday, named after Charlotte Corday, depicted in such a cap as she awaited her execution for her role in the French Revolution.   The distinguishing characteristics of the Corday are 1) the ruffle gets wider and wider as it falls from the CF point, so it is widest at the nape (while the headpiece itself is fitted) and 2) the caul is poufed up like a chef’s hat.

Mrs. Alsop's cap has the standing call and falling ruffles of the Corday style.
1792: caps that look to us like chefs’ hats are popular.

These have a neater look than the Dormeuse, starched and regular rather than soft and layered.  These, too, reach crazy heights.

The Corday cap is large, starched, and has wide ruffles at the nape.
Mr and Mrs Elsworth, 1792. Her Corday cap is very high.    

And then there are some odd items that I don’t even know how to categorize, like Hanna Bush:  I can see that the double ruffles come out

Women in pink with large cap with tall pleats standing up across the top of a teased-out hairdo.
Hannah Ackley Bush, 1791, in a cap rides her big hair like a sail.

pleated on either side of a headpiece, with a wide lace bow around it.   The whiffs to the right might be feathers, or a suggestion of further pleats.  The caul is hidden, so we can’t discern its shape.  A square piece of lace-edged cloth hangs down behind like a backwards apron.  She has the same style echoed in her body linen: smaller pleats on the edge of her gown and really big starched pleats standing up from her bosom under her neckerchief.

The Artifacts

There is only one: described over here, from the DAR Museum.

Which makes no sense.  Portraits attest that these were all the rage from 1775 ish to 1800.  The whole last quarter of the century was full of them.  So there should be more of these than other, older styles, right?  Or at least as many?  Or more than one?  Why don’t we have any extant mushrooms to examine?

One thought I’ve considered is that there was so much cloth in one of these that as soon as the style passed, they were dismantled for the pieces and remade. Fluffy caps come back in the 19th C. Maybe those deep lace ruffles that curtain their faces are made from grandmother’s cap pieces.  What do you think?

 

The Odd One: DAR 2005.13

third draft. pics OK

The Odd One: OK, but WHY?

The Artifact

The only extant cap so far that comes close to the huge linen piles of the late 18th C is this example in the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C.  This one is very fine muslin, with a huge caul gathered on a completely circular doubled band.  There is no way to adjust the size; it must have been made to fit.

Very fine muslin cap with large caul gathered to a fixed band, ringed with lace.
DAR 2005.13 This late century style is often called a “mob cap.” I think I disagree.

 

 

Most of the caul’s gathers are at the center front (CF), on the high forehead.  The sides are not gathered, and the rest of the caul’s cloth is gathered in lightly at the nape.  All the gathers are stroke gathers, tucked into the band.

Three different laces on the band gussy up the fluff. This cap was displayed in the DAR exhibit, An Agreeable Tyrant, and in the book of the same name.

 

The Reproduction

 

A large caul is gathered into a non-adjustable headband.
My reproduced version of the DAR’s 1790’s cap.

Here is my repro:

My muslin is thicker than the original, so maybe that’s why it sticks up so much? I also don’t know much about period lace, so I just used something with the same look, and tried to figure out where to put it.  There’s a layer sewn inside the band, a layer sewn at the join of the band and the caul, and a third piece that only goes half way around sewn in between the other layers.  I assume that layer denotes the front.

 

 

The museum dates this cap 1790’s, and that fits with portrait evidence. Here is more about the portrait evidence in this post.

Questions that Remain

So far so good. But here’s what I really want to know: why don’t we have more of these? If the high crowned caps are later than the simple lappets, why do we have more extant earlier caps?  Of all the portraits showing these crazed mushroomy caps, why would only one American example survive?

Speculation: there was so much cloth and linen in each one, they could be turned into two or three other caps after they went out of style, so they were all remade.

Worry:  all the surviving caps we call 18th C are just a bunch of 19th C Quaker caps that we have misidentified.

Worrier:  This one is a reproduction made much later, for the Centennial, for ex.  The construction might argue for that, as this is the only cap I’ve seen gathered on a band with no adjustment.

Still, it’s beautiful and unique.

Portrait

1798 portrait of Mrs. Dewey with high poufed cap and laced edges.
Mrs. Dewey wears a similar cap.

In this 1798 portrait by Ralph Earl, Mrs. Elijah Dewey ( Mary Schenk) wears a cap with a very large poufy caul, with a round headpiece, and lace for ruffles.  The difference here is that the face-shadowing lace is not ON the headpiece, but added to its edges like a ruffle. Her cap includes a lace piece at the join of the caul and the headpiece, like our artifact.  but note that the lace is shaped, getting wider at the back.  That ruffle shape is associated with a cap called a Corday, after a famous female hero of the French Revolution who wore caps of that type.

Notes and Pattern

Here are my notes and the pattern I used. I had to really guess at the shape of the caul. DAR 2005.13 notes

Thank Yous

Thanks to Alden O’Brien, Curator of Costumes and Textiles, of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC, who gave me permission to blog about the DAR caps I saw.

This cap is not in their online catalog and has no provenance that I know of.