18th Century Women’s Bedgowns and Manteaus-de-Lit

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

It is unclear what the difference between a “bed gown” and “short gown” actually is; while there seems to be some sort of distinction between the two, in terms of 18th century garment-names, the actual difference between the two is unclear. (I’ve posted information about shortgowns on a separate page.)

  • V&A 2115-1899, a bleached linen bedgown with corded quilting, made in Great Britain c. 1700-1750
  • Winterthur 1969.4671, made in England or France, block-printed mordant-style cotton, c. 1715-1725; made from textiles printed in England c. 1720
  • V&A 517-1877, a bedgown made in Great Britain c. 1720-1750, pieced from an embroidered textile (possibly a bedcover made c. 1690-1720)
  • V&A 42-1908, quilted white silk sarcenet bedgown, made in Great Britain c. 1740-1760 (altered c. 1870-1900)
  • Met C.I.37.2, a coat in a printed linen, America, third quarter of the 18th century
  • Chertsey Museum M.2005.02, “Woman's quilted undress jacket or bed gown of ivory silk satin with a wide, loose kimono-style construction and wide three quarter length sleeves. It flares out to an A-line shape and extends to hip level. It has a high round neck and is open at the centre front and is lined with cream coloured wool flannel. The quilting is hand-stitched in a simple diamond pattern. The sleeves have raw edges, and it may be unfinished; c.1750-1780.”
  • Manchester 1972.110, c. 1760-1780; “Bedgown of white plain-weave linen, printed in indigo using China blue block printing. A formal pattern of dots and trailing flowers. Two weaves of white/dark blue checked linen used, one for lining back, one for lining gown fronts. Short gore at each side of sideseam for fitting over skirt (hence female garment). fronts not meeting by 4cm. Shoulder line slashed for 7cm at each side neck. Short sleeve sections extended by long unshaped rectangular piece, and lining stopping short by 12cms, allowing for turning up of cuffs.”
  • National Maritime Museum ZBA4677, a bedgown belonging to Sophia Maskelyne

18th century depictions of women in bedgowns

Runaway advertisements and other descriptions

These descriptions are useful for understanding how bed gowns would have looked; they are taken from descriptions of runaway slaves and indentured servants, published in newspaper advertisements.

  • “a short Stuff bedgown, of a purple cast” (Pennsylvania Gazette, January 22, 1745)
  • “a quilted bed gown, val. 12 d.” (Old Bailey, September 11, 1745)
  • “a brown shalloon bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, December 12, 1747)
  • “one dimitty bed-gown, val. 2 s.” (Old Bailey, July 5, 1749)
  • “one silk bed-gown, val. 1 s. 6 d.” (Old Bailey, July 5, 1749)
  • “I pursued her and found her in a pawnbroker's shop, with my shift, bed-gown, and cheque apron on” (Old Bailey, May 14, 1752)
  • “a strip'd Manchester Cotton Bed Gown” (Virginia Runaways, Virginia Gazette, September 29, 1752)
  • “a calicoe bedgown” (New York Mercury, February 5, 1753)
  • “one callicoe bed-gown, value 18 s.” (Old Bailey, April 24, 1754)
  • “Calicoe Bed Gown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, August 11, 1757)
  • “a stamped linen bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, June 19, 1760)
  • “a striped Linen Bed gown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, September 23, 1762)
  • “a black and white Calicoe Bed gown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, July 7, 1763)
  • “a Calicoe Bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, June 6, 1765)
  • “striped Linsey Petticoat and Bed Gown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, April 24, 1766)
  • “a Callicoe Bed-Gown” (Maryland Gazette, May 15, 1766)
  • “a long callicoe bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, October 30, 1766)
  • “a striped linen bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, November 20, 1766)
  • “a brown linsey bedgown” (Pennsylvania Gazette, January 28, 1768)
  • “an old check bedgown” (Virginia Runaways, Virginia Gazette, February 7, 1770)
  • “a red baize bedgown” (We're rooted here and they can't pull us up, Nova Scotia Gazette and Weekly Chronicle, September 1, 1772)
  • “she had on, and took away with her, a Variety of Petticoats, and Bed Gowns of different Stripes and Colours.” (Virginia Runaways, Virginia Gazette, December 2, 1773)
  • “new striped Country made Linsey Bed Gown and Petticoat, and sundry other Clothes.” (Virginia Runaways, Virginia Gazette, May 26, 1774)
  • “a callico bed gown, value five shillings” (Old Bailey, April 26, 1775)
  • “a linen bedgown, value 5 s.” (Old Bailey, December 8, 1779)
  • “a short red callico bed gown” (Pretends to Be Free, The Royal Gazette, October 10, 1781)
  • “The prisoner came in under pretence of looking at some cotton for a bedgown.” (Old Bailey, February 22, 1781)
  • “one linen bed gown, value 1 s.” (Old Bailey, September 11, 1782)
  • “a cotton bed-gown, value 2 s.” (Old Bailey, January 14, 1784)
  • “one flannel bedgown, value 1 s. … one striped linen bedgown, one flannel bed-gown” (Old Bailey, February 25, 1784)
  • “one cotton bedgown, value 1 s.” (Old Bailey, May 26, 1784)
  • “I was informed that a young woman came out of my garden in a green petticoat, flowered bedgown, and a black hat … she had an old hat on, and a green petticoat, and a light linen bedgown.” (Old Bailey, July 7, 1784)
  • “a stuff bedgown, value 6 s.” (Old Bailey, October 20, 1784)
  • “one cotton bedgown, value 1 s. one callico bedgown, value 4 s.” (Old Bailey, February 23, 1785)
  • “they came into our shop, and wanted to buy a little printed cotton for a bedgown; I shewed them two pieces, and they did not approve of them; I then shewed them four pieces more, and we soon bargained for three yards; that is a pattern for a bed-gown; they paid for that, and went away … I told her I was going to buy a bit of cotton for a bedgown, I knew the prisoners before, as we all deal at market; they both went in with me, and I bought this for a bedgown.” (Old Bailey, April 6, 1785)
  • “a callico bedgown value 12 d.” (Old Bailey, May 11, 1785)
  • “one linen bedgown, value 3 s.” (Old Bailey, September 14, 1785)
  • “I came into that place to buy a yard and three quarters for a bedgown” (Old Bailey, October 19, 1785)
  • “one callico bedgown, value 9 d.” (Old Bailey, October 19, 1785)
  • “a cotton bedgown, value 2s.” (Old Bailey, September 9, 1789)
  • “one linen bedgown, value 6 d. … she had a bed-gown on that is remarkable, and I can and will swear to it … this white bed gown she had on her back” (Old Bailey, January 13, 1790)
  • “one callico bedgown, value 2 s.” (Old Bailey, March 29, 1792)
  • “two cotton bed gowns, value 3s. … they have made the [petti]coat into a bed gown, and here is a piece to match it … Do you know the bed gown? - It is the [petti]coat of the gown, I am perfectly sure of the pattern … They were not bed gowns when they were lost, she has made them into bed gowns; this bed gown in the indictment was made up out of one of the cotton [petti]coats. … The white cotton bed-gown was pawned the 15th of February last, the other cotton bed gown was pledged the 4th of April. … that white bed gown was not in the indictment, but it is mine pawned by the same person. … The bed gown was pawned in my name, the flowered one, it was made out of a petticoat … I bought them of Mary Bromwell, two bed gowns, and this cotton bed gown.” (Old Bailey, April 30, 1794)