Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Ladies in the character of Diana": More on 18th c. Riding Habits & Hats

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Susan reporting:

We've mentioned before the riding habits favored by fashionable 18th c. ladies, and the extravagant hats that accompanied them. But we recently came across this indignantly stuffy letter by a gentleman (at least I'm guessing it's a gentleman, hiding behind the nom de crankiness of Senex) writing in a ladies' magazine, who doesn't like the stylish military-inspired cut of these habits at all, especially not in church:

"With your permission, I will just hint at an impropriety which has lately been very visible amongst us, I mean the custom of the ladies wearing hats in church – I mean those riding-hats, with large bands of gold and tassels, which are part of the riding-habit. These appear to me to be very irreverent in a place of divine worship; for although long custom has established that the ladies' heads shall be covered with bonnets or hats in church as well as elsewhere, yet I do not conceive that this privilege extends to the wearing of riding-hats, which are part of the riding-habit....I am of the opinion...that we ought to keep fashion as much as possible out of the church; there are so many other places, indeed, such as the opera, the theatres, balls, concerts, ridottos, routs, drums, and hurricanes, where we may be as fashionable, and as properly fashionable as we please, that I would be for reserving a plain simplicity and a decency in garb for our places of religious worship.


"Of the riding-habits lately become so common with those who never ride, I shall only observe, that however befitting it may be to ladies in the character of Diana, it is still a masculine garb, and in our eyes does not add those graces to the female appearance which have been by some supposed peculiar to it. When first introduced into this country it was worn only by ladies when intending to go on horseback, and has many conveniences for that exercise, to put it on, therefore, when one pays a visit, or goes to church, is such a deviation from the original design, that I hope the ladies will take the matter into serious consideration."

Letter by Senex, from The Lady's Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the FAIR SEX Appropriated solely for their USE and AMUSEMENT, London, 1790.  If you wish to read the entire letter and the magazine with it, it's here, thanks once again to Google books.

Many thanks to Karen H. (http://larsdatter.com/18c) for the inspiration for this post.


Above: Lady Worsley, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1778

15 comments:

Meg said...

Somethings don't change! I could make a similarly cranky complaint about the (very) mini skirts and exposed bra straps I see so often at church.

Le Loup said...

I don't see the problem in church. But if this were in the theatre, well that is a different kettle of fish altogether.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/

Renate said...

I love riding habits. They look so elegant and sophisticated. What is that man complaining about? Probably just jealous he can't get away with wearing one.

Lyn S said...

First, I am used to today's muffin tops and thought the women in the photo was showing her belly button. Then I realized they were real buttons. But why is she wearing what appears to be a riding habit with white satin slippers with a bow?

A Tailor said...

There not very fun to make

Rowenna said...

First...I LOVE this habit--so military and crisp. Especially love the white waistcoat and regimental-style facings. Want it.

Second...maybe he was annoyed by that mound of ostrich feathers flipping him in the face during the sermon? But I can see his point, that ladies wearing showy clothes to church were there to be seen, not for religious reasons.

Anonymous said...

Senex is Latin for old man so it is fair to assume the letter writer is male

Lauren said...

I love this! Thank you so much for posting. I went to a lecture on this last weekend and I wished I could remember where the speaker got her quote on riding habits in church and you have used the same quote! Yay! Thanks!!

Jo Manning said...

I give presentations on Georgian artists and their subjects at various venues -- gave one last year at Dr Johnson's House in London and another at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami -- and I discuss this particular painting, which has an interesting history. Do you notice what is on her feet, for instance? Not riding boots, but dancing slippers! And that hat! Suitable for riding to hounds? Don't think so :-)

Lady Seymour Dorothy Worsley was quite a woman. She was the best friend of my biography subject, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. They shared lovers upon occasion and retired to France together -- where both, alas, died. I was going to write a bio of Lady Worsley but someone in England beat me to it :(

Deb said...

The book referred to by Jo Manning about Lady Worsley is Hallie Rubenhold's LADY WORSLEY'S WHIM. In America it was published with the alternate title, LADY IN RED, which was very appropriate, seeing as the above portrait of her (wearing the colors of a particular regiment) is described at length.

Interestingly, the portrait of Lady Worsley (whose first name was "Seymour," for reasons Rubenhold, sadly, never investigates) was meant to be a companion piece, hung next to a similar portrait of her husband. By the time the paintings were completed, Lady Worsley and her husband had separated--and their subsequent divorce was scandalous (was there any other sort of divorce in the 18th century?) As far as I'm aware, the portraits have never hung together--quite like Lord & Lady W's marriage.

nightsmusic said...

What a smart look! I love the entire thing though I must admit, I'd hate to be behind her trying to see the pastor or choir. Perhaps that's what the gentleman was really complaining about?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Part of the "impropriety" of wearing riding habits was the perception that it made the wearer more masculine; there's nothing like blurring traditional gender roles that makes people uneasy.

Jo, I'm sorry you didn't get to write about Lady Worsley! Would have made a splendid companion to Grace's book.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

BTW - Lady Worsley isn't the only lady to go out riding in little slippers and a feathered hat. The lady in this drawing from about the same time isn't much more appropriately outfitted:

http://bit.ly/e5wZIV

Marilyn said...

Fie...I say to the Gentleman! The Lady is modestly covered and even her Head has a Hat. And what a Hat...I have always loved this particular Painting!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine replicated this lady's habit with the help of the Williamsburg tailors. Isn't it to die for?

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=497625761683&set=o.286101116712

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