The second series of Poldark is now underway around the world. Fashion during the 18th century in the provincial county of Cornwall was not the same as it was in bustling London. At the start of season 1, the year is 1783 and Britain is in a crisis of falling wages and rising goods prices. The second series starts where the first ended in 1790.
Block-printed cotton, c. 1770. LACMA
Despite the economic struggles of Poldark’s Cornwall, the county did have an upper-class which includes the characters Elizabeth, Verity and Ruth Teague. In their costumes, we see both solids and prints, and some embroidered fabrics as well.
Taken during filming of Season 2, Heida Reed (Elizabeth) can be seen wearing a dress made from a fabric with an Indian feel.
Even in Truro it's likely that characters of all classes could have regularly worn the Indian influenced printed cottons.
In an earlier article TOKENS OF LOVE we talked about the printed cotton textiles from the Foundling Museum, even women living in poverty in the mid-1700s in London would have been wearing block prints.
Marianne Agertoft was responsible for the costume designer for series 1 and there is a very interesting interview with her HERE where we can learn more about the costumes worn.
Whilst Poldark is not a lavish costume period drama such as Downton Abbey where high fashion fills our screens in the majority of scenes there is still much to be enjoyed from the costumes worn.
“Although some countries passed legislation against the import, manufacture, and sale of painted and printed cottons in order to protect domestic textile industries (as in France from 1686 to 1759 and England from 1700 to 1774), by the 1730s printed cottons were serious contenders in the European clothing and furniture market, with their largest popularity from the 1780s onwards. While most printed cottons continued to be manufactured in India until the 1790s, mills in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland began to produce their own versions. – Kendra Van Cleave”
The textiles from India influenced not only the development of fashion, but fueled the industrial revolution which made more affordable textiles available on a large scale for customers in the expanding middle classes. By the 1790s, mills in Europe with upwards of a thousand employees were copying existing Indian patterns and producing their own designs, like this 18th century block-printed cotton textile from France, above. The textile is part of the Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
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