Fashion illustrations often exaggerate for effect. Women are shown with impossibly tight-laced waists, sleeves as big as balloons and skirts too wide to fit through most doorways. But just as few ordinary women today will dress like an editorial photograph from Vogue, ladies in the past who were neither court beauties nor trend-setting actresses would have worn a modified, less extreme version of the styles shown in French fashion plates like the enormous hat, below right.
Or did they?
The painting, below left, is one of my favorites from the Philadelphia Museum of Art:Portrait of Thomas Payne with His Family and Friends, painted in 1787 by Louis Francois Gerard van der Puyl (1750-1824). Thomas Payne was a famous bookseller and publisher in 18th c. London. This group portrait shows Payne with his family and friends in an informal gathering, enjoying a few hands of whist along with their conversation. It's a prosperous, respectable, happy group, but not an aristocratic or fast one. Yet all the women in the group are wearing the same enormous hats found in fashion plates.
Yes, the artist might have exaggerated the hats, too, preserving them for posterity along with the game of whist. But I like to think that the bookseller's wife is enjoying the same fashion as Marie-Antoinette's ladies, and quite handsomely, too. Vive la mode!
Above: Portrait of Thomas Payne with His Family and Friends, by Louis Francois Gerard van der Puyl, 1787, Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of John Howard McFadden.
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.