Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Many Clothes Did an 18th C. Woman Own?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Isabella reporting,

There are many misconceptions flying around the internet about how many clothes an 18th c. woman owned. Between the two (false) extremes of "average women only had two outfits because they had to process and spin the fiber, weave the fabric, and make everything by hand" and "aristocratic women only wore a dress once" is the much more reasonable truth: women of every rank had their clothes made by professional seamstresses, and remodeled and refurbished older garments to keep up with the fashions. Much like today, the size of the wardrobe depended on the size of the budget.

And then, of course, there are the women of every age who just plain love clothes. Into this category I'd have to place Mrs. Ann Bamford.

This fascinating document, above, was recently posted on Twitter by the Lewis Walpole Library of Yale University. It's an "Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford," carefully itemized by a now-unknown clerk with very neat penmanship. Inventories such as this were made as part of settling the deceased person's estate.

This is only the first page of three, which I'm assuming means only one-third of her belongings are shown on this page. Even with just this first page to consider (and how I'd like to see the rest!), and that it likely represents a lifetime of clothes, it's clear that Mrs. Bamford must have been a stylish lady who enjoyed looking her best.

The variety of the items here is fascinating. Women's clothing at this time was complicated and full of detail, as the fashion plate form 1781, lower right, shows. To cut a fashionable figure, Mrs. Bamford owned at least a dozen gowns listed (a "night gown" is a style of dress at this time, not a garment meant for bed), ranging from brocaded silk to sprigged muslin. There's a "Goldlaced Jacket and Petticoat [of] Silk Grosgrain" which sounds very elegant,  and an equally stylish "Goldlaced blue Sattin Cloak." In fact there are quite a few cloaks listed, including five white silk cloaks, a "Green Sattin Cloak",  a "Black Sattin Cloak", and a "Gauze Cloak."

There are what we'd call accessories, "5 Handkerchiefs of different sorts for Wearing," "a Printed Muslin Shawle," and "A Black Velvet Bonnot," plus more personal garments, including "Three Pair of Stays" (corsets) and "A Pair of Pocket hoops." I'm also intrigued by "A Parcel of black Netting in a paper," which I'm guessing was how the netting was being kept from snagging.

There are also items that reflect how all 18th c. clothes were made to order: "One Brocaded Silk Night Gown, unmadeup" and "A Piece of Printed Muslin for a Gown," both that never were completed. I especially like that term "unmadeup" (having far too many handwork projects of my own in that same category), and I also like how the clerk was obviously corrected by whomever was doing the evaluating and dictating. You can almost hear that person crossly saying "no, no, not a NIGHT gown! Cross that out directly!" The clerk did have his problems with spelling some of the lady's wear, with "stomacher" phonetically spelled as "stummager."

I can't help but wonder what became of Mrs. Bamford's clothes after this inventory was done. Were they given to a sister, a daughter, or other relative? Was her lady's maid permitted to choose a few pieces as a memento of her mistress? Were they packed away and given to the poor, or sold into the thriving second-hand clothing market? I wonder....

To read the inventory more easily for yourself, click here to go to the Walpole's blog, and click again on the image to enlarge it.

Above left: Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford, manuscript, c. 1780? Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Lower right: Robe blanche de Mousseline unie, fashion plate, c. 1781. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Crime in 1830s London

Monday, September 15, 2014

Oliver Twist scene
Loretta reports:

Isabella and I were talking recently about the differences in London crime fighting in the times of our respective books.   One of the things I’ve found so interesting about the mid-1830s is the evolution of London’s police.

The Metropolitan Police came into existence in 1829, in an unfriendly environment.  In 1830, when the first policeman was killed trying to break up a drunken fight, the coroner’s verdict was justifiable homicide.  The history of the force
Crime statistics 1838
is fascinating—and I’m likely to acquire way too many books on the subject—but for today, I only wanted to give you an idea of what they were dealing with. 
Crime statistics 1834-39
Some readers may be surprised at the number of executions.  Others may be unfamiliar with the name of the penal colony.  New South Wales I was aware of.  But I had to look up Norfolk Island.


Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 8, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Fresh for your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• "Few regret the loss of Atlanta, as it was a most wicked place": diary of a rebel nurse during the Civil War, September, 1864.
• The animals that served in the First World War in pictures.
• "Avoid, as intensely vulgar, any display of your position as a bride whilst traveling": a mid-1870s going-away dress.
• Blending past and present in photos.
• Lord Chesterfield's 18th c. advice to his son on how to be a gentleman still resonates.
Bathing in illuminated medieval manuscripts.
• Unexpected textiles & traditions: a hemp time ball, quilts, and miser's purses.
Image: From the Derby Mercury, April 5, 1751: It's number 28 for this lusty laborer.
Social disparity in a Victorian family - poverty vs. a life-style with governess & domestic servants.
• Dandies, masculinity, and fashion history from Renaissance to punk and rappers: an interview with Ulinka Ruback.
• New discoveries: did Viking women accompany male warriors on overseas missions?
• The medical realities of the Oregon Trail.
• What did the royal pages do at the Brighton Pavilion during the Regency era?
• The adventures of that daring 18th c. man of action, Friedrich von der Trenck.
Image: The beautiful rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, completed c.1250.
• Explore online these friendship albums, rare artifacts of 19th c. middle-class African American history.
• A look inside the accidentally preserved 5 Beekman Street building, NYC.
• Bram Stoker's rare handwritten manuscript for the play version of Dracula to go on display.
• The wonder of man and the wonder of nature: a 17th c. nautilus cup.
• Secrets of 18th c. cosmetic art: applying the perfect patch.
Jeanne de Valois, 15th c. Queen of France and Duchess of Berri - and eventually a saint.
• Photos from the 1920s of long-lost London.
Margaret Nash, courageous World War Two POW navy nurse.
Image: Fashion Week Rotogravure: the latest styles from Paris, 1917.
• "Hopes of being with Child": an early modern guide to knowing you're pregnant.
• How beautiful steel-cut buttons could transform an 18th c.gentleman's suit.
• Free audio book for the Halloween season: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" read by Tom Mison.
• Medicinal soft drinks & Coca-Cola fiends: the toxic history of soda pop.
• For the dog days of summer: early photos of favorite pets.
• The oldest known pair of pants discovered in China: 3,000-3,300 years old.
• Just for fun: how to make a towering 18th c. inspired wig of plastic wrap, sea shells, and cardboard.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Video: A Jane Austen Dance

Friday, September 12, 2014

Isabella reporting,

While we Nerdy History Girls make our living with words, it's still entertaining to consider how much can be expressed without them. This is a clip from the 2007 film Becoming Jane, a fictionalized interpretation of a romance between a young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) with a likewise young Irishman (James McAvoy). True, there's a sizable amount of speculation and wishful thinking in the film's storyline, but I thought this particular scene was quite wonderful. No matter how heavily chaperoned a dance may be (and no one chaperons like Maggie Smith!), young people can always find a way to make their feelings for one another known.

I also enjoyed how the sounds of the dance were accurately captured. Whenever I've attended a recreated dance, I've always been surprised by how audible the dancers' footsteps are, how the shush of silk can be heard over the music. Again, quite wonderful.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A real day dress for about 1835

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Day Dress c1834-36

Loretta reports:

More from my visit to Historic Deerfield and the exhibition Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile  Gallery.*

Of course I was drawn to this dress, because it dates to the time of my Dressmakers series.  Though made of cotton, where most of the European fashion plates show muslin or silk, it shows that Americans followed the fashions popular in London and Paris.  The pleated bodice, for instance, was very popular, in both day and evening wear.  Dated 1834-1836, this is a good example of what the dresses looked like in real life, although we do have to use our imaginations a little.  We need to imagine sleeve puffs giving volume to the sleeves.  We also might want to replace the shiny green sateen ribbon at the waist with a belt made of fabric similar to that of the dress, although it could be in a contrasting color. Belts, like other accessories, are more liable to disappear than a dress is.  I was excited, for instance, to see that the pelerine had survived—and is much more attractive in person than in most fashion plates.

To aid your imaginings:  Isabella/Susan very kindly provided a link to some real dresses for this time, one with sleeve puffs and two (from the V&A) without.  The upper one shows the type of belt we’re likely to see in the fashion plates.

The fashion plate I’ve posted, whose dress has a similar look to the one from Historic Deerfield, will allow you to compare and contrast fashion illustration with actual clothing.  You will observe, too, that the lady who owned the Historic Deerfield dress did not have a teeny-tiny waist. 
Day Dress August 1835

I ought to note that many museums and even fashion history books refer to the big sleeves of the 1830s as leg-o-mutton.**  I’ve never encountered the term in 1830s magazines.  To my knowledge, they didn’t come into use until puffy sleeves revived in the 1890s.

Fashion plate courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

*on view until 28 December 2014
**Thanks to Deb Salisbury for alerting me to an error about gigot sleeves in an earlier version of this post.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the fashion plate link will allow you to view at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
 
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