Somehow or another, we've managed to reach the second anniversary of the Two Nerdy History Girls, and we can't quite believe it. We began the blog to entertain one another, and with the hope that there might be a few other nerdy-history-folk out there who might like to join us for the ride. To our amazement, there turned out to be a great many of you: we have 582 members through Blogger and 1740 followers on Twitter. Most astonishing of all is that, over the last two years, we've had over 300,000 page views! We're celebrating, yes, but we're raising our glasses to you, too. Many, many thanks for making our success possible, and we hope you'll continue to be part of the party.
As for Hurricane Irene: as Loretta noted on Monday, Irene raged, and Susan's electricity meekly gave in. Here in my corner of Pennsylvania, we were lucky not to have the heartbreaking damage that this storm has caused in other regions, but we did loose a good many large trees that seemed determined to use power lines to break their fall. The tree, right, fell near enough to my house to knock out my neighborhood's electricity over the weekend, and we didn't have our power restored until yesterday morning.
As a result, the TNHG have been silent on Twitter over the last few days, and the Breakfast Links never had a chance. But we're back tweeting again, and, weather willing, look for a fresh helping of Breakfast Links this Sunday. Whew!
To the custom of selling wives with halters round their necks among the lower classes in England, the French make constant allusions. Nothing places our own prejudices in so strong a light as thus coming in contact with the national prejudices of others. In England all French husbands are considered as des messieurs commodes; in France all English husbands are frequently distinguished by the epithet des brutals.—"Voilà" said a French lady with whom I was driving in the Champs Elysées—voilà miladi **** et son brutal!” pointing to an English couple not celebrated for their conjugal felicity. Of the frequency of divorces in England, the publicity which reflects the mother's shame on her innocent offspring, the indecent exposure of the trials, where every respect for manners is brutally violated, and the pecuniary remuneration accepted by the injured husband, the French speak with horror and contempt . . .
Legal divorces are rare in France: formal and eternal separations made privately by the parties are more general; and when love survives in one object the honour and fidelity of the other, measures of greater violence are sometimes adopted, more consonant to the impetuous character of a people whose passions are rather quick than deep seated, and who frequently act upon impulse in a manner which even a momentary reflection would disclaim.
During my residence in Paris, a young man of condition destroyed himself, on having obtained proofs of his wife's frailty. A few weeks afterwards a gentleman shot himself through the head in the churchyard of Vaugirard, not because his wife was faithless, but (as he declared in a written paper found in his pocket) because she was insensible to his own passion. . .
As long as the frailties of a Frenchwoman of fashion are peccate celate; as long as she lives upon good terms with her husband, and does the honours of his house, she has the same latitude and the same reception in society as is obtained by women similarly situated in England, where, like the Spartan boy, she is punished not for her crime but for its discovery. —Character and manners of Frenchwomen, from Lady Morgan’s France, excerpted in Ackermann’s Repository August 1817.
Most Americans know Thomas Paine (1737-1809) as one of those famous Founding Fathers, the influential author of Common Sense. Few likely realize that before Paine came to the American colonies and into our history books, he was by trade a staymaker.
Stays (or corsets, such as the ones we've discussed here and here) were almost universally worn by British women and girls of the middle and upper classes in the 18th century. Staymaking was a skilled trade, one practiced almost entirely by men on account of the hand-strength required to stitch through the multiple layers of stiffened cloth and to force the baleen bones through the narrow, stitched channels. Paine's father was also a staymaker, earning about thirty pounds a year in a time when a day laborer made one pound a year and a schoolmaster between ten and twenty.
Young Tom's formal schooling ended at twelve, when his father took him on as an apprentice to learn the family trade. Yet an uncertain economy made for a bad climate for a new tradesman, and Paine's efforts as a staymaker (and in several other subsequent careers) failed. After he sailed for America in 1774, he never practiced the staymaking trade again.
But while modern Americans may not realize the stays in Paine's past, his English contemporaries could gleefully not forget them. In London, Paine's revolutionary writings were dismissed as the work of "Tom the Bodicemaker." Women and stays were already a popular satirical topic (like the popular 1770 print, right, Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease), and with that familiar image in mind, it was an easy step to add Thomas Paine to the cartoon, above.
Fashion before Ease; or, A good Constitution sacrificed for a Fantastic Form (1793) shows Britannia steadying herself on an oak tree (another representation of England), while wicked old Tom Paine pulls her laces tight by bracing his foot on her bottom with humiliating familiarity. Not only would Paine still carry his taint as a political trouble-maker from the American Revolution, but here he's shown sporting a Liberty Cap to show his sympathy to the French Revolution as well. A pair of shears are thrust into his pocket, ready for alterations, and his measuring tape is inscribed Rights of Man, another of his famous titles. In case a viewer somehow had forgotten Paine's long-ago trade, the sign on the cottage in the background proclaims: Thomas Pain, Staymaker from Thetford. Paris Modes, by express. (Thetford was his birthplace, and Pain was the original spelling of his name - though it could also imply the suffering he wished to impart on poor Britannia, too.)
Imagine the same sniggering hilarity if a prominent leader in modern politics had once been employed by Victoria's Secret....
Above: Fashion before Ease; or, a Good Constitution sacrificed for a Fantastic Form, by James Gillray, engraving, l793, Library of Congress Below: Tight Lacing, or, Fashion before Ease, by John Collet, engraving, c. 1770, collection of Colonial Williamsburg Thanks to Abby Cox for reminding me of this print!
Nearly 100 years after the Czar of Russia gave the Prince Regent a droschki, the motor car was becoming available to those who weren't massively wealthy. This doesn't mean the cars were cheap, especially the ones known for high quality parts and construction.
I'd never heard of the Moon Motor Car until I happened on an enquiry in the local newspaper. Naturally, nerdy historical sleuthing was in order—and you'll easily imagine my excitement at finding advertisements like this one in a WWI-era magazine.
In case you were wondering about monetary values: According to dollartimes, "$1.00 in 1916 had the same buying power as $21.28 in 2011." In today's dollars, therefore, the "New 1917 Six-66" was $33,516.
—The World's Work, Volume 32, Advertisements for August 1916.
Just when I'm sure I can ball-park date and identify most Western historic dress, an item pops up that makes me realize I know NOTHING. This helmet looks like some modern steam-punk extravaganza, or a wizard's costume from a Harry Potter movie.
It's hard to believe that this helmet is almost 500 years old, and was created as part of a lavish suit of court armor of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I. The armor was then presented by Maximllian to English King Henry VIII, the sort of lavish gift that Renaissance rulers exchanged to cement alliances.
Only this helmet now survives. Originally it would have had a silver-gilt panels of pierced work that would have fit over the skull and over a flowing purple velvet headpiece. Such a fantastic suit of armor would have been worn for pageants and parades rather than combat. Even so, the helmet with his gilt eye-pieces is so unusual that for many years, it was misidentified as having belonged to Henry's jester, Will Somers, rather than to the king himself.
But ever-competitive Henry was impressed by the high craftsmanship of the armor, superior to anything English armorers were making at the time. Determined not to be outdone in monarchical display, he gathered the best armorers available from Germany, Flanders, and Italy to a new workshop at his palace at Greenwich, where royal armor was created until the mid-17th century.
The helmet is now a prized possession of the Royal Armouries, Leeds. Click here for a short video featuring Karen Watts, Curator of Historic Arms, explaining the helmet in detail. For those who'd like to investigate Henry VIII's armor in more depth, check out Henry VIII: Arms and the Man, a lavish volume that's almost as magnificent as the king himself (also available here.)
Update: I still had a few questions about this helmet, which I asked the Royal Armouries this morning. The reply from their curators regarding the "horned helmet (or parade armet)": "It is not a flattering image, and is believed to depict the fool, a popular figure in court pageants, hence the wrinkles, stubble, dripping nose, etc. There has been much debate as to whether the horns and glasses are original or later additions. Henry VIII may have occasionally worn glasses like these, but probably not horns, as this was the sign for a cuckold. Basically it is a bit of an enigma with scholarly debate still raging! Hope that helps a little – though it's still a mystery." Many thanks to Beckie Senior, Communications Officer, for her prompt reply.
Above: Horned Helmet, by Konrad Seusenhofer, 1511-1514, Royal Armouries.
The playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan is best remembered today for his plays The Rivals and The School for Scandal. There's a good deal more, as his bio indicates: a man who packed at least a couple of normal lifetimes into one. Yet he’s by no means atypical of the Georgian era. Many of his contemporaries were hard-living, hard-drinking men who could write, speak several languages, make speeches in Parliament, and party all night—even into what in that time was deemed old age.
"To return to Sheridan at Brighton in the year 1805. His point of difference with the Princebeing at an end, Sheridan entered into whatever fun was going on at the Pavilionas if he had been a boy, tho' he was then 55 years of age. Upon one occasion he came into the drawing-room disguised as a police officer to take up the Dowager Lady Sefton * for playing at some unlawful game; and at another time, when we had a phantasmagoria at the Pavilion, and were all shut up in perfect darkness, he continued to seat himself upon the lap of Madame Gerobtzoff [?], a haughty Russian dame, who made row enough for the whole town to hear her.
"The Prince, of course, was delighted with all this; but at last Sheridan made himself so ill with drinking, that he came to us soon after breakfast one day, saying he was in a perfect fever, desiring he might have some table beer, and declaring that he would spend that day with us, and send his excuses by Bloomfield for not dining at the Pavilion. I felt his pulse, and found it going tremendously, but instead of beer, we gave him some hot white wine, of which he drank a bottle, I remember, and his pulse subsided almost instantly. . . . After dinner that day he must have drunk at least a bottle and a half of wine. In the evening we were all going to the Pavilion, where there was to be a ball, and Sheridan said he would go home, i.e., to the Pavilion (where he slept) and would go quietly to bed. He desired me to tell the Prince, if he asked me after him, that he was far from well, and was gone to bed. * Isabella, daughter of 2nd Earl of Harrington, and widow of the 9th Viscount and 1st Earl of Sefton. —The Creevey papers, 1904
(Since there's quite a bit more to this episode, I've linked to the specific page this time.)
Since my next three novels (more about those soon!) are set in 18th century London, my head has lately been crammed full of all things Georgian. I don't usually look to movies for inspiration, but Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) is an outstanding exception. Kubrick was determined to make his film as true to the story's period as was possible, and every scene is filled with historical detail and flavor. Using the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough for inspiration, Kubrick insisted on accuracy in costume and setting, and even the candle-lit scenes were filmed without any additional artificial lighting. This short excerpt shows the first glimpse that Irish adventurer Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) has of English aristocrat Lady Honoria Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), followed by his nearly wordless but highly effective seduction of her over the gaming table. Note the changing expression of Her Ladyship's chaplain beside her, too, as he realizes what is happening. It's all quite wonderful.
I chose this set of fashion plates because it gives us a chance to compare the London and Parisian styles—and try to see what if anything distinguishes them from each other. You might want also to compare them to the August 1831 fashions.
I excerpted a bit of the General Observations mainly because of the use of the Regency term so similar to to today’s fashionista.
EXPLANATION OF THE PRINTS OF FASHION.
No. 1.—Morning Visiting Dress.
White muslin dress, made partially low, and trimmed with a profusion of fine lace about the body and sleeves, with three narrow flounces of lace round the border. Cornette composed of tulle and white satin ribband, with the ends unfastened, and surmounted by a full half wreath of small Provence roses. The hair entirely parted from the forehead, and arranged in full curls on each side. Gloves and shoes of very pale pink kid.
No. 2.—Parisian Walking Dress.
Round high dress of fine cambric, or jacconet muslin, ornamented at the bottom with four rows of Vandyck trimming of rich embroidery, surmounted by a flounce vandyked at the edge. Full sleeves of muslin, à-la-Duchesse de Berri, confined by bands of embroidered cambric, and surmounted by imperial wings of clear muslin. Treble ruff of broad lace, and sash of muslin, the ends trimmed with lace of a Vandyke pattern. Bonnet of Leghorn ornamented with ears of Indian corn, and turned up slightly in front. Shoes of lilac kid. The hair in full curls, dressed forward.
FASHION AND DRESS.
The precarious state of the weather, with the departure from town of several fashionists belonging to the higher classes, and the more serious causes of emigration, have rendered the modern toilette less subject to fluctuation than might otherwise have been expected.
—La Belle Assemblée, 1816
After the number of interesting comments following my post on 18th c. stays last week, I made the question of stay-lacing one of my top priorities for my quickie trip to Colonial Williamsburg this week. The majority of women employees who are wearing historic dress are also wearing stays (the ones without stays are representing women of the past who would not ordinarily wear them, such as enslaved African American women and Native American women.)
Most said that they had a friend, sister, spouse, boyfriend, or co-worker who helped them lace and tie their stays in the morning – which, really, must have been the case for most 18th c. women as well. But there were a few hardy souls who said they could and did put their stays on by themselves, and that, with a little practice, it wasn't that difficult. Abby Cox, a costume scholar and currently a seamstress in CW's Costume Design Center, volunteered to show how it's done. Click on the photographs to enlarge them for detail.
A few words about Abby's stays, top: Replicating the style of the 1770s, the stays are made of lavender worsted wool over layers of linen, and edged with narrow strips of white kidskin. Abby stitched the stays herself entirely by hand, aiming for a hand-stitch gauge of 10 stitches per inch. This is no casual undertaking: Abby estimates that stitching the rows of narrow channels took about nine days, while shaping the bones and fitting them into the channels took another two days of work. Eighteenth century women would not have attempted to make their own stays, but instead would purchase bespoke stays from a skilled stay-maker (almost always male), who would have made nothing else.
First Abby lay her stays out on a table and laced them very loosely, using a bone bodkin (a large-eyed needle) to draw the lace – a cord much like a shoelace – through the eyelets. 18th c. stays are spiral-laced, meaning that the lace goes from side to side in a zig-zag pattern. With a servant or other helper to draw the stays tight, the lacing would begin with a looped knot at the bottom and go upward, fastening at the top. Solo-lacing must go the opposite direction, with the beginning knot at the top eyelet.
Once Abby had the lace through all the eyelets, she slipped the stays over her head and over her shift, and settled them in place, above right. Then, reaching around behind, she gradually began pulling the lace tight, above left. The goal with 18th c stays is about an inch or two gap. The edges are not intended to meet, so as you can see, Abby did an admirable job, working by feel. When she reached the bottom, she pulled the lace tight, and wrapped it several times around her waist before securing it with a bow, lower right. Yes, Abby made it look easy, lower left, but this was clearly a process that required practice as well as flexibility!
Why didn't women wear front-lacing stays, which would have been so much more simple? Tradition, and fashion: back-lacing created a smoother, flatter front that was the ideal. The majority of surviving 18th c. stays are back-laced, though there are a handful that lace in front, designed to please some forgotten independent ladies.
In case you were wondering what sorts of gifts emperors gave kings, here’s an example—and another nice illustration of a Regency-era vehicle.
~~~ Plate: 9.—A RUSSIAN DROSCHKI.
We inserted in our number for January last (p. 43)*, a notice of a gift received by his present Majesty from the Emperor of Germany: it consisted of a four-wheeled carriage, called a droschki,** withAckermann's patent moveable axles.
The annexed engraving is made from a drawing of a vehicle in many respects similar, and also called a droschki, received by his Majesty very recently from the Emperor of Russia. The chief point of difference between this carriage and that sent by the Emperor of Germany is, that the former only accommodates one person in the body ; but the shape, as will be seen, is peculiarly elegant, and the whole is of the most excellent workmanship. It is to be remarked, that although carriages of this convenient description are rare in Great Britain, yet in Russia they are extremely common, and are used by all classes, from the Emperor himself down to the humblest citizen.
—Ackermann’s Repository, 1820
*I searched in vain for this. The first volume of Ackermann's for 1820 (Jan-June) isn’t yet up at Google Books.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been spending a long weekend here in Colonial Williamsburg, where it has been both hot (usual for August) and smokey (very unusual, due to the long-range drifting smoke from the fires in the Great Dismal Swamp, NC.) Please look for several upcoming posts related to historic dress - I promise good things on the way!
In the meantime, here's a lovely photograph that captures the magic of Williamsburg. CW tailor Mark Hutter granted his younger daughter's wish for her fifth birthday: an early-morning carriage ride through the town. Here Mark and the his two daughters show how to travel in proper style, c. 1770.
From American quilts to Marie Antoinette’s pet dogs to 1904 hair driers – you’ll find them all in this week’s serving of our favorite links to other blogs, web sites, & news stories, gathered for you from the Twitterverse.
One of the questions that pops up again and again: how did ordinary women in the past lace their corsets and stays without lady's maids or footmen to pull them tight?
My sense is that, through a lifetime of daily habit, they managed (and so I've heard from friends who wear stays on a regular basis as re-enactors and as historical interpreters.) Just as most modern women don't trot off to work wearing towering 6" platform pumps, extreme tight-lacing was reserved for the wealthy, fashionable courtiers, and actresses and other performers.
But that's not to say that there weren't women of the middling sort who aspired to fashionable extremes. This print from 1777 is most likely a satire on longing for style beyond one's station - in this case, the cobbler's wife dressing herself in high-heeled shoes, a towering hairstyle, a fancy quilted petticoat, and tightly laced stays. Without a lady's maid, she has inventively used the weight provided by her husband's tools to help pull her lace tight. The cobbler, however, is not amused, and is preparing to beat her with a leather strap (remember, this is the 18th c., where wife-beating, if not exactly condoned, wasn't necessarily considered a crime, either):
The Hoity head & Toighty waist As now there all the ton Ma'm Nell the Cobbler's wife in taste By none will be outdone. But ah! When set aloft her cap Her boddice while she's bracing Jobson comes in, & with his strap Gives her a good tight lacing.
Above: Tight lacing, or, The cobler's wife in the fashion, hand-colored print published 1977 by William Hitchcock, London. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Nowhere in my perambulations, however, did I come upon the King’s bathroom. I did find his lavatory, though.
King William III (1650–1702) was not an extrovert. He liked to be alone or with small groups of friends. One of the places where he could have some privacy was what’s called the King’s Closet. Here he’d meet with the privileged few and work at his modest-looking walnut desk. His long-case clock nearby needs to be wound only once a year—highly advanced technology for the time.
And in this private area, not far away, and in plain sight between the jib doors* is King William's own actual close stool. According to the brochure, “the Groom of the Stool was a senior courtier who not only ran the Bedchamber department but also had to personally attend the king on his ‘stool.’”
Last week Loretta showed us an 18th c. French necessaire that she'd seen on her recent junket to London. One of our loyal readers, Mike from the U.K., was reminded of a similar piece in his family. He has generously shared photos of it, and gave us permission to share them with you as well.
This Victorian necessaire de voyage, or traveling case, was made c. 1870 – roughly a century after the French version – and in that hundred years, a lady's personal necessities increased dramatically. Fashioned from patterned coromandel wood and brass, with brass locks and fittings, this box is much larger (34cm wide x 20cm high x 24cm deep) and contains many more items. The side trays that open outwards contain everything a lady could possibly need while traveling, including concave and convex hand mirrors, nail files and scissors, buttonhole hooks, medicine spoons, brushes for hair and clothes, and combs. Many of the implements have carved mother-of-pearl handles. Numerous jars and vials, all of cut glass with engraved silver tops and lids, once contained cosmetics and lotions, and a puff of swansdown for applying powder sits in its own engraved silver box. There are even small hooks to screw into the guest room door for hanging one's peignoir with style!
Everything sits in fitted velvet trays that are perfectly engineered to swing open for access. Inside are special hidden spaces and drawers for stashing jewelry or love-letters. Every piece is marked with the crest of a family who identity is now forgotten. Once closed and locked the case was protected by its own custom-fitted leather case. Mike tells us that the closed case is quite heavy – and that's with all the jars empty.
Such a necessaire de voyage not only shows how much more lavish a Victorian lady's toilette must have been than her 18th c. counterpart, but also hints at several larger changes in society. By 1870, the upper classes could travel on a much grander scale, in larger coaches across better roads, as well as by steamship and train. There were many more servants in an upper class Victorian household than in a Georgian one, and the growing responsibility of a lady's maid is reflected in this case's complexity. It's also the golden age of house parties, when the well-to-do visited one another's country houses for weeks of lavish entertainments, and life was definitely lived at a more leisurely pace than today. Can you imagine trying to get a case such as this through an airport security checkpoint?
A White jaconot muslin dress; the corsage square, and gathered round the top into a band, which is lightly embroidered at each edge; the fulness disposed in small plaits, arranged en cœur. The sleeve is an improvement on the imbecille form, very large at top, and wide, but not extravagantly so at the wrist. Two deep flounces of rich embroidery, placed one immediately above the other, go round the border, and reach rather above the knee. The apron is of changeable gros de Naples, lilac shot with white: it is arranged in bands, disposed en cœur before and behind; and ornamented on each shoulder, and at the back of the ceinture, with nœuds of ribbon to correspond. English lace cap; the caul of moderate height; the trimming of the front light, short at the ears, and partially drooping over the left side of the forehead: it is trimmed with knots of cut ribbon to correspond with the apron; the brides fasten in bows and ends on the right side.
A Dress of mousseline de soie, white figured in gold colour; the corsage cut plain and square behind, and in crossed drapery and very low in front. A guimpe, that is a plain standing up tucker of blond lace, is seen in the centre of the bosom only Béret sleeves, of the usual form. The hair is turned back in a low soft bow on each side of the forehead, which is ornamented with a gold ferronière, and disposed in full bows on the summit of the head. A blond lace scarf is arranged in the lappet style round the bows: it is attached by a bouquet of roses placed in front, and another behind. Neck chain, bracelets, &c., gold, of rich but light workmanship.
—La Belle Assemblée, 1831
Happy August! We celebrate the last month of summer with a fresh serving of Breakfast Links – our weekly round-up of favorite links to other blogs, sites, pictures, and articles gathered from around the Twitterverse.
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.