James Middleton will deliver a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, February 3, at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled “But She’s Wearing It Backwards: Understanding and Misunderstanding an Eighteenth-Century Mexican Court Gown.”

This talk will explore the history of a late eighteenth-century Mexican gown since its donation to Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Historia in 1900. The opulent, deep green silk-velvet and ivory satin dress with lavish silver embroidery has long been recognized as one of the most elaborate garments surviving from the colonial Americas, but has only recently been identified as a traje de corte—a court gown, one of four extant New Spanish garments to be so identified—made according to the etiquette requirements of the Spanish royal court. It has been exhibited in many guises, with and without its stomacher and/or train, and paired with radically different pannier and hoop variations. The genesis of the talk’s title is the gown’s first published appearance, in the 1988 book, La historia de Mexico a través de la indumentaria, in which it was correctly identified as a court gown, but misidentified as a Velázquez-era infanta dress and photographed worn backwards by a live model.

Middleton will be using this extant dress, as well as other extant garments in paintings, as a means of reflecting on some of the questions posed by the existence of court clothing in Spanish America. Who wore gowns like this? Were they required for functions of the viceregal court of Mexico City as they were for the court of Madrid, or were they aspirational garments worn for social display by the nouveau riche nobles of New Spain? The presentation will consist of photographs and analyses of extant and painted garments, as well as contemporary texts that document New Spanish tailoring practices and textile commerce, to investigate the little-understood phenomenon of court culture in the Americas.
James Middleton is an independent scholar working on dress in the Spanish-Colonial Americas circa 1520–1820. He has lectured and published on the subject in the US (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, et al.), Mexico (Museo Nacional de Historia, Museo Nacional de Arte), Colombia (Universidad de los Andes), and England (Society of Dress Historians). His particular interest in this subject dates from the early 1990s, when he first saw the dress that is this presentation’s focus in the conservation lab of the Museo Nacional de Historia, two weeks after having bought a copy of La historia de Mexico a través de la indumentaria.
This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.