The high sums of money invested in fabrics in the eighteenth century meant that whatever their rank, ladies tended to be economical where possible and extremely careful with their clothes and were skilled in inventive re-decoration. It was a matter of pride that a lady could make her gown last through changes in fashions and still keep it looking up-to-date. A Mrs Papendick noted in 1791:
‘a silk gown would go on for years, a little refurbished up with new trimmings – and a young woman was rather complimented than otherwise’.
There was an endless choice of trimmings or passementerie from applied braid, gold or silver cord, embroidery, coloured silk fringe, multi-coloured intricate braid to silver sequins, tassels and rosettes. Decorating a gown with new trimmings in contrasting colours could give a gown a totally new look. However these were often the most spectacular and costly feature, so making up a gown was a serious business. In York there was a small-scale industry which produced gold and silver passementerie.
Gowns were also adapted and restyled to keep them up-to-date. The quantities of fabric involved meant that the sack was ideal for conversion, and surviving examples often have alterations. Four full widths of the silk were required to create the back of the gown, while two more were used at the front. Gowns were also altered to accommodate pregnancies and changes in figure. They might also be altered to or result from a tired-of dress being given as a gift to someone else. Indeed clothes made in the eighteenth century were so valued for their quality that they were sometimes refashioned to suit the fashions of the nineteenth century.