As promised yesterday, we'll be showing you some of the pieces inspired by the 1777 print The Spruce Sportsman, and recently reproduced by the tailors and mantuamakers of Colonial Williamsburg. And what better place to begin than with this amazing feathered hat?
Sarah (the mantuamaker's apprentice, and our fav and most obliging model) is wearing the hat here over her dressed hair and a ruffled, beribboned cap – not quite the super-fashionable "big hair" of the 1770s as in the print, but still handsome enough to support the hat.
The hat began its life as a simple circle of flexible woven straw, covered in yellow silk. (Imagine a flat-brimmed straw hat without a crown.) Then, like a pastry chef layering on the whipped cream, the mantuamaker embellished the hat with poufs of blue silk gauze and loops of silver silk satin and black velvet ribbon.
Last, though certainly not least, came the plumes. While 18th c. fashion pages do mention tinted feathers, these were created with another technique. Several ostrich feathers were tied closely together so that their barbs mingled and overlapped to make the colors appear to shade into one another: white, silver grey, pink, and dark crimson.
(N.B.: Something we didn't realize, at least as it pertains to 18th c. millinery: a single feather is always a feather, but bundle two or more together, and they jointly become a plume. And here we'd always believed that it was the fluffiness that differentiated a feather from a plume!)
When the ribbons tie the hat on the head, the brim takes on the distinctive curved shape of the period. And, of course, no trendy 18th c. lady would ever dream of tying those ribbons beneath her chin – they always go to the back, tucked beneath her hair, so the brim tips enchantingly over the eyes. You know, the way the Gainsborough ladies wear them whilst strolling The Mall in St. James's Park.
Even so, maneuvering down The Mall or any other street in a breeze more fierce than light airs could be perilous, and long hair pins, thrust through the brim or crown and hair with the pin-heads buried in the ribbons, may be necessary to keep the whole concoction from taking off.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.