1775 maja, projects

Initial Thoughts

I have wanted to make this dress FOREVER. Seriously. Ever since I saw it in Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe. I think I have a black & white thing, plus I love the jacket, the embroidery… the only thing I DON’T like is the snood. It’s too “Hi I bought a snood at renfaire!” So I think the hairstyle/hat will go. But otherwise!

Marquesa de Llano by Mengs, 1775

Marquesa de Llano by Mengs, 1775

The “maja” was a term used in late 18th and 19th century Madrid for a particular group of people: the majo/maja, who were lower class artistic people who spoke “pure” Castilian and wore elaborate outfits. Both women’s and men’s costumes were distinguished by jackets worn open, and were usually in black. The upper classes appropriated their dress as a means of being anti-French (the French being the fashion leaders of the era). Of course, if I do a French hairstyle then I’ll really be doing the aristocratic-appropriation-of-lower-class-style thing… But then hey, it’s exactly what Sophie (my French Lumieres character would do) – pick up a dress in Spain and have no idea how to wear it properly (“What do you mean – doesn’t EVERYONE wear French hairstyles BLINKBLINK?”)

So theoretically this will be my Costume College gala dress, and of course will go to some Lumieres events too!

Currently I am working on really analyzing this portrait to figure out what’s going on. The main question I have is what the embroidery is — silk, probably? Tambour? Bridget suggested it could incorporate spangles, but I feel like it’s not shiny enough – what do you think? Also, do you think those sleeves tie on, or is that just decoration? And metal buttons on the front, or some sort of thread that matches the embroidery? Check out this high res image if you want to peer at it and help me out!

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  • Reply Andrew December 28, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Is it just me or does it look more sea-greeny than white? Maybe it looks different in person.

  • Reply Maribárbola December 28, 2008 at 11:37 am


    Long time lurker, first time poster here. My name is Clara and I’m from Madrid, so you can imagine how it thrills me to see that you’re going to make a Maja gown, because I’m Practically sure the result will be awesome.

    Only one thing: If you don’t want to wear the snood,(Which I would do, since it was the most common option, but that’s only my opinion) one option would be wearing a hat, like one of the women in Francisco de Goya’s “La gallina ciega”: http://www.biografiasyvidas.com/monografia/goya/fotos/2g.jpg.

    In my humble opinion, Goya’s designs for tapestries are actually the best way to check if there was a possibility that something was worn or not, during the late eighteenth century in Spain, but that’s only my opinion.

    Also, there is a bodice in The Museo del Traje that looks soimewhat similar to the one in the portrait. I’ve tried to search for it in the Online catalogue, but it seems like it won’t appear, so next time I visit it, I’ll try to take some pics of teh bodice, if you want.

    Anyhow, good luck with this one, I’m sure the result will be gorgeus.


  • Reply Maribárbola December 28, 2008 at 11:39 am

    (I forgot to apologise for the possible grammar mistakes, which I’m sure there will be, since english is not my first language.)

  • Reply demoder December 28, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Clara – thanks so much for the vote of confidence and the hat alternative ideas! So are those sort of mob caps? And what about the Gainsborough-type hat in the background? Definite food for thought.

    Now that you mention it, I think I remember the Museo del Traje jacket – I’ll see if I can track it down! I’d love to see pics if you can get them and if it’s not too much trouble.

  • Reply demoder December 28, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Almost done – looks like another option for headwear is a mantilla and shawl, which I can get excited about!

  • Reply Maribárbola December 28, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Yes, it is the jacket… though I must admit that now that I see it again, it looked more similar in my head. Still, I think it may help you to get an idea of what to do, specially with the closing front.

    I’ll try to translate the text in the webpage, because there is some information about the embroidery that may be useful.

    Pity I visited the Museo two weeks ago. Had I known of this project before, you would have had the pics now. But don’t worry, it is really near from where I study (it only takes me five minutes to get there from my university building), and I was planning to go, because I’ve heard they ‘re bringing of of Eleanor of Toledo’s gowns.

    And, as for the hats, I believe that this costume would look great with the hat a la Gainsborough. Though one of those mob caps in black is also an interesting idea.

  • Reply Lady Kalessia December 28, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    It looks to me almost like a zone-front gown with the additional jacket layer. I’d say that it’s probably similar to a compere-front, except with large elaborate buttons linked by either a cord or chain instead of front-buttons, much like some modern Austrian trachten I’ve seen. Contrasting/matching embroidery up the front center underneath them… It also looks like the front doesn’t actually close at center, but wraps over to the side with some buttons that might be hidden by the jacket, but that have been left rakishly askew for the portrait. Like a German brustuch, almost. Looks like the facings are embroidered to match. I originally thought she had a handkerchief favor pinned to her bosom, but the embroidery makes me think it’s part of the dress.

    I’d guess that the sleeves aren’t lace-on, but may be semi-detached or vented, like a toreador bolero would be. Which is sort of in keeping with the fact that she seems to be holding bolas in her left hand. (Either that, or castanets. Either could be possible. At any rate, correct region!)

    The plain black silk apron is a hoot though!

  • Reply demoder December 28, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Carla – I just did a rough Babelfish translation on the Traje jacket and you’re right, it’s cording! I’d love to get your better translation. Now I am thinking about applied cording instead of embroidery!

    Laura: Yes, I agree that it’s probably constructed similar to a zone gown with the front waistcoat built in to the jacket – yes, definitely a “double breasted” front, what with that piece flopping over at the CF top.

    And I just found another source that says that tied-on sleeves are typical of the maja dress, so I do think those ribbon bits are functional!

  • Reply demoder December 29, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Andrew – I think it’s that whole “white is never really WHITE” thing – esp. when painting, artists generally try to reflect the various tones in a given color.

  • Reply Maribárbola December 29, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Ok, here is the translation. It took me a bit since there are some words that I had to check (and I’m not actually sure if I translated everything right, though I tried my best to do it.)

    Here is the original text:


    Jubón en seda labrada de color azul y en tafetán de seda en color marfil. Con cuello de tirilla y manga larga y estrecha. La espalda remata en su borde inferior en una cola. Va decorado con una aplicación de cordoncillo en seda e hilos metálicos dorados entorchados en hilo de seda.

    1770 (ca)
    INVENTARIO: MT 009304

    Este jubón, abierto por delante, que simula estar compuesto por jubón y chaleco, es típico del último cuarto del siglo XVIII. Rafael Mengs retrata a la marquesa del Llano con uno similar (Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid). También Francisco de Goya, en el cartón de “El Pelele” (Museo del Prado) nos muestra a las mujeres vistiendo jubones de estas características.

    And here my translation:

    Jacket in blue figured tissue and ivory silk taffeta. With a neckband and tight sleeves. The back ends with a train(?). It is decorated with an application of silk cording and gold silk braid.

    This jacket, opened in the front, fakes being composed by jacket and vest, and it’s tipical of the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Raphael Mengs paints a portrait of la Marquesa del Llano,(in the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid) with a similar jacket. Also, Goya, in his carboard “El Pelele” (Museo del Prado, Madrid), shows women wearing similar jackets.

    So, I actually was right in the beginning, it is indeed similar to the one depicted in the portrait (Though I must admit I don’t remember saying anything about the cording). I hope this helps.

    By the way, she’s holding castanets and one of her gloves with her left hand.

    Well, I’m off to prepair my suitcase (I’m going to the beach to celebrate the New Year! Yay!), see you soon.


  • Reply demoder December 29, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Clara – thank you SO much. I was peering at the jacket, trying to decide if the jacket was separate from the vest/bodice! Incredibly helpful! You rock. Have a great New Year!

  • Reply Pren December 30, 2008 at 7:52 am


    the painting is stunning and very detailed. You will have a lot of hand work to do with all of the braiding to add. However, after lurking your site for sometime and seeing and learning how you have constructed many of your historical costumes. I have no doubt that this will one will be equally as beautiful.

    I have been inspired by you Katherine and Jenny. Your blogs have been extremely informative.
    Thank you for all you have done to share with the rest of us.


  • Reply Amanda December 30, 2008 at 7:52 am

    This look is dead sexy!

  • Reply Maribárbola January 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Hi! I’m back from the beach, I had a pretty nice New Year(I’d forget the fact that I’ve begun it with a pretty nasty cold, because it’s almost gone).

    Anyhow, I’m really glad this helped you, and be sure that I will follow the process of making this dress with a lot of attention.


  • Reply Noelia January 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Maybe I’m a little late with this, but at this archive (http://imatex.cdmt.es/) you have a pair of jerkins listed that have have a similar style. The inventary numbers are 11530 and 11531 (I can’t link them directly). I hope you find this useful!

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