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Bill-head of Andrew Schabner, Robe and riding-habit maker, Tavistock street

A full transcription of the bill is available on the museum's online collections explorer.

Andrew Schabner started out as a milliner before specialising in making riding habits. The fact that he took up production of a fashionable garment that had developed from the male wardrobe demonstrates both his entrepreneurial skill and that it was possible for shopkeepers in London to narrow production to cater for such a niche market. Two of the trade cards of haberdashers in the Fitzwilliam's collection devote almost half a column of text to items to 'ladies riding dressses' (see Paulins and Coates, and Croft and Saltzman), showing how popular the style had become. Joshua Reynolds painted Lady Charles Spencer in a riding habit, reproduced by William Dickinson in mezzotint in 1776. The habits, comprising a fitted bodice and skirt, were worn by wealthy women not just for horse riding, but for travelling and informal outdoor leisure activities.

There are three bills from Schabner at the Fitzwilliam Museum, dated 1774, 1777 and 1781 (the latter is illustrated above), at which point Schabner had been appointed robe maker to the Duchess of Ancaster. Mary Blathwayt did not order a riding habit, on this visit at least. Four 'negligees' are listed, which is probably a term for the sack dress, or robe à la française, which altered slightly over the course of the eighteenth century, but retained the distinctive pleats that flowed from the neckline at the back of the gown (Barbara Johnson used the word negligee for this sort of dress). From the evidence left in these bills it seems to have been Mrs Blathwayt's favourite style of dress. She also had a Brunswick dress made (see the bill from haberdasher Matthew Pearson), another fashionable garment, which received special mention on the engraved plate of the haberdashers Price & Pearson

The bills reveal a purchasing history of an assortment of materials and of high fashion: muslin, cotton, damask, Chenile (or 'snail' as it is sometimes called), Gulix Holland, Bombazine; satin of various descriptions (including quilted). The colours of the fabrics are striking, and it is interesting to look at what colours are ordered year on year: 'grey' , 'pea green' and 'laylock' were the colours of choice beweeen 1770 and 1776, and after this Mary's preference shifted towards browner hues: 'Spanish brown strip'd' in 1777; 'camel' and 'feuilemort' (the colour of a faded leaf) in 1780; and in 1781 'crapaud' and 'boue de Paris' (in the bill illustrated on this page).

Significant expense was lavished on these materials. One letter at Gloucester Archives dated 24 May 1764 written by Sophia Blathwayt to her older brother, William, shows that the family did worry about money:

mama cannot do without [her jointure], for the remittance fell much shorter last year than usual... Look into yr affairs for yr own and yr family's sake as I find by Mr West that the yearly rents will not defray the outgoing by a vast deal, therefore she begs you would look about you before it is too late & consider the consequences of running into debt.

This was written just under six months before someone in the family ran up £41 9s on fabric at Hinchliffe's on Henrietta Street, including A 'Rich Blue & w.t Royal Tissue' at 15s a yard, the most expensive fabric and the highest overall total on any single bill in the Fitzwilliam Museum's collection. Patterned fabrics were so much more costly because of the additional time it took to prepare the silks on the loom. It is illustrated in the Selling section.

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