Monday, September 14, 2009

The allure of the hoop

Monday, September 14, 2009

Loretta reports:

The Victorians have given us a distorted view of a number of things. When we talk about corsets, many readers imagine the Scarlett O'Hara torture device. When we talk about hoops, they're probably picturing the mid-Victorian-era big dome hoops, which strike me as the antithesis of sexy. But 18th C hoops, and the sort my heroine Zoe of Don't Tempt Me would have worn to a Regency- era Royal Drawing Room are something else altogether. At Colonial Williamsburg, we were struck by the view from behind--and the emphasis hoops give to the booty.

Above is an 18thC hoop petticoat in the CW milliner's shop. As you can see, it's not a giant steel cage. They have a nice flex, and give a sexy undulation to a woman's walk. Susan first gave me a sense of their seductive possibilities, when she suggested I take a look at DANGEROUS LIAISONS--not the Laclos novel but a book published in connection with an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It must have felt funny to our Regency misses, to wear the style their grandmothers wore, and of course many resented it, as teenage girls today would resent having to wear the fashions their mothers or grandmothers wore in high school. But I have to believe that some of those young women, like Zoe, grasped how alluring they could be.

14 comments:

Vanessa Kelly said...

I love those dresses - the fabrics are just gorgeous, too. Are they cotton?

Loretta Chase said...

I should probably defer to Susan on this one, since she's more observant about fabrics, but I'm pretty sure they're cotton. I haven't seen much printed silk--embroidered, yes. I have photos of silk dresses, and the fabric really glows. We watched couples dance one night. Only a few ladies wore silk. Their dresses caught the candlelight beautifully, and made a wonderful whispering sound when they moved. Yet the cotton dresses (if that's the right fabric) are quite beautiful, I agree. Much richer looking than what I'd expected.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Both those gowns are beautiful, but I really love the blue-stripe - sexy, sophisticated and very feminine.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Oh, no -- I have been called in as an expert witness!!! I'd guess that both these gowns were cotton. The striped one has the stripe woven in, and *might* have been fine linen, while the flowered one is glazed cotton (chintz), the shiny pressed surface made to imitate the sheen of silk. In the 18th. c., the flowered pattern would either have been block printed, or hand-painted. While cotton was still a luxury fabric, imported from India (even to the colonies where cotton would soon become King), it's always a poor cousin to silk.

These ladies were definitely dressed as Ladies. Those gowns would have been worn by women who weren't going to do anything even faintly like work. *g* Most ordinary women were wearing solid-color linen: much cheaper, less fragile, but not nearly as pretty.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

FYI -- here's an example of an 18th c. hand-painted silk:
http://www.victoriana.com/Silk-Fabric/silk-fabric.html

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'morning, NHGs! Again, you've enlightened! I totally thought full hoops when I read about them, rather than these enticing demis, if you will. I think they'd have been fun to wear and to move in in terms of body language. And that line of material from center of shoulders is so genteel, least to me; guess you couldn't be flinging around in that while slinging ale in the tavern. Thanks NHGs!

Jane O said...

I love that linen used to be the cheap fabric while cotton was the expensive one. It's kind of like an old cookbook of my mother's that recommended veal as a cheap alternative to chicken.

Loretta Chase said...

Susan, thank you. I wondered if the shiny one was chintz. Also wondered if these were fine linen, but it didn't seem to have the right feel. Michelle, I'm totally with you on that drop of material from the center of the shoulders. I love the look. IIRC, this style is called "robe a la francais."

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Jane O -- I know! It's like the famous prison riot in Boston in the 1920s with the prisoners rebelling in protest over too much lobster on the menu, lobster being "poor" food at that time.


Another word (or twenty) about the oh-so-graceful robe a la francais: those pleats that fall from the back of the shoulder to the skirt represent the height of the seamstress's art in the 18th c. They're not a free-flowing overlay or cape, but constructed as part of the bodice and skirt to *look* free flowing. If they're not made exactly right, they get all bunchy and awkward. Like so many things French, there's a great deal of art put in to looking so effortless.

The construction also used far more fabric than the more simply cut robe a l'anglaise, and therefore made for a much more expensive garment. So if a lady wanted to show off her status as well as her grace, it's a robe a la Francaise for her.

Anonymous said...

Surely the lady in the chintz is wearing a jacket and skirt? Jackets got more and more popular toward the end of the 18th century as a form of 'undress', by which were meant clothes for informal occasions.

Ingrid said...

Sorry, I did not mean to be anonymous. The comment just published itself before I got a chance to put my name in!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ingrid, the chintz is less of a jacket than a short gown over matching petticoat. Our modern notion of a "gown" as a one-piece dress doesn't entirely apply to the 18th c. versions. They're often several separate pieces pinned and tied together to make the final gown: the upper part (the gown or robe), often pinned over a stomacher (the triangular piece that goes in the front, where the sides of the gown are cut away), and worn over petticoats (what we'd call a skirt.)

And you're right, by the end of the century, there are more jackets being worn, usually made of a contrasting fabric and ending right below the waist -- our concept of "separates".

But I'm guessing most 18th c. ladies would look at the chintz –– the length, the style, and the fact that it's made from the same fabric as the petticoat -- and think "gown" rather than jacket.

Ingrid said...

Susan, this incredibly long URL should link to a 1770-1780 chintz caraco jacket and petticoat in the collection of the V&A. This one has a fitted back, but I've also seen sack-back caracos. You will notice that both caraco and petticoat are made from the same chintz. A caraco and petticoat would never be worn as full dress or even half dress, while the striped dress could be worn on occasions that required dressing up.

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/indexplus/result.html?_IXSESSION_=YmwufBksM2V&submit-button=SUMMARY&_IXIMAGE_=2006AJ9985&_IXSS_=_IXFIRST_%253d1%252526_IXINITSR_%253dy%252526%252524%25253dIXID%253d%252526_IXACTION_%253dquery%252526%252524%25253dIXOBJECT%253d%252526_IXMAXHITS_%253d15%252526%25252asform%253dvanda%252526%252524%25253dIXNAME%253d%252526_IXSESSION_%253dYmwufBksM2V%252526%252524%25253dIXPLACE%253d%252526_IXadv_%253d0%252526search%253dsearch%252526%252524%25253dIXMATERIAL%253d%252526%252524%25253ds%253dcaraco%252526%252524%25253dop%253dAND%252526_IXFPFX_%253dtemplates%25252ft%252526%252524%25253dsi%253dtext%252526%252524%25253dIXFROM%253d%252526%252524%25253dIXTO%253d%252526%252524%25253ddelflag%253dy&_IXSR_=JbNh1Og4XUm&_IXFIRST_=1&_IXMAXHITS_=1&_IXSPFX_=templates/t&_IXFPFX_=templates/t

Maybe you were thinking of the pierrot jacket. That was indeed worn around 1790 and it is short, sometimes with a little tail jutting out at the back of the waist. There's a very nice example in the Kyoto Fashion Book (if you have that) on p. 120-121. This is the best one I could find on the net:

http://antique-lace.com/date1/1720/1720.htm

The Kyoto book also has a sack-back caraco on p. 95.

Anonymous said...

Referring back to the fabric of the gowns. The blue stripe is silk, and the floral is cotton. I work with the ladies.

 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket