|Los Angeles Public Library|
Now that Isabella/Susan and I are pinning pins on Pinterest (as TwoNerdyHistoryGirls*** as well as individually), we are encountering some amazing images.
When she first sent me this, we were both scratching our heads, trying to decide what was going on. (Our French is less than exquisite, and it doesn’t help that spelling could be haphazard at the time.) Obviously it wasn’t a caricature. Clearly it wasn’t normal dress. No woman would show her lower limbs in public in 1832.*
Eventually, we translated. Fancy dress! Of course! Masquerades allowed ladies to express their wild side.
Frankly—though I’m not sure what, if anything, it’s supposed to represent—I love this costume: the jaunty angle of her hat, the plaid, the scarf, her belt . . . her expression. We were especially entranced by the bloomers and what seem to be argyle stockings. Or were the bloomers & stockings meant to imitate the trews that our friends at Irish Historical Textiles recently showed?
So far, I haven’t turned up a contemporary fashion description, so if there’s more to this than meets the eye, I hope that our historical dress experts will offer enlightenment.
On the other hand, it could be just for fun.
Examples of pre-Victorian fancy dress are not thick on the ground. I think the only one I've posted was this 1829 ensemble, with its daring harem pants—daring because they’re trousers—on a woman!—not because she’s showing parts that should otherwise be covered.
Want more examples of how daring 1830s fancy dress could get? Look here and here.
Illustration © Los Angeles Public Library—from its marvelous collection of fashion prints.
*Note: The same print on Tumblr lists it for 1831. This might be the correct date. Certain English magazines reprinted directly from French ones; this might have been a December 1831 print in La Mode, which reappeared in February 1832 in The Lady's Magazine, for instance.