Feathers and plumes have always been a favorite way to decorate hats and hair. Fashionable Georgian ladies had a particular love for extravagant plumage. While all feathers could be stylish (there's even a description of headdresses using vulture feathers), the most desired were ostrich. Showy, fragile, and imported, the feathers were expensive, which, of course, made them all the more in demand. In 18th c. parlance, a plume was a cluster of feathers bound together at the barb, and towering white ostrich plumes on the head were actually required for English court dress.
Needless to say, the fashion didn't escape the keen eye of satirical artists. This print, left, titled The Feather'd Fair in a Fright, takes the ostrich's point of view, who is justly furious at being plucked clean of his feathers for beauty's sake.
Yet as is often the case, what's old in fashion will eventually become new. Feathers are once again turning up in stylish hair, this time in the form of colored rooster-feather extensions, a fad driven not by the royal court, but by music celebrities like Ke$ha and Steven Tyler. This time around, too, the birds have more vocal defenders in the form of the Audubon Society and PETA – though not surprisingly, the fashionistas still seem to get the last word over hapless fowl. Above: The Feather'd Fair in a Fright by John Collet, c.1777, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Many thanks to Janea Whitacre & Sarah Woodyard for first sharing this print with me!
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.