Thursday, March 20, 2014
Thursday, March 20, 2014
As I've written earlier, I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week to attend the "Millinery Through Time" conference in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Margaret Hunter Milliners Shop as a historic trade site.
One of the high points of the conference for me was the presentation on this 1782 print, below, called A Morning Ramble, or – the Milliner's Shop. The presentation was given by Sarah Woodyard, apprentice milliner and mantua-maker in Colonial Williamsburg's historic trades program (and someone who has appeared frequently and patiently on the blog in the past, such as here, here, and here.) As Sarah explained,
"Three milliners are pictured behind a counter, stitching together lacy caps, ready to tend to their customers. However, these customers are not ladies in need of caps, but flirtatious gentlemen sitting on the counter with masquerade tickets in hand. These gentlemen illustrate the delicate moral line that a shop woman had to walk: maintaining her virtue, while selling her wares. While the men in the image might have been lured into the shop to flirt with the pretty milliners, it is the hope of the shop woman that the gentlemen would also be tempted by fashionable goods behind the counter.
"Behind the counter are shelves holding boxes labeled 'love' and 'coxcomb.' While they are a satirical comment on the gentlemen customers, these labels also tell the story of a complex, varied trade, since there was no single product that defined the eighteenth-century millinery trade. The diversity of the goods and services sold, as well as the diverse clientele of a millinery shop, were features of the female-dominated millinery trade. A wide audience for an ever-changing range of fashionable goods meant the potential for great profit. Milliners also had connections to the global fashion industry with their contacts and vendors abroad. The minute details of A Morning Ramble tell the much larger story of the millinery trade's place within society, fashion, and the global economy."
In other words, this was a total Nerdy History Girl event.
But as thoughtful as Sarah's presentation was, the most entertaining part came at the end, when she and three of her fellow apprentices - Abby Cox, apprentice mantua-maker and milliner; Mike McCarty, apprentice tailor; and Aislinn Lewis, apprentice blacksmith - wore clothes made by the Margaret Hunter Shop and recreated A Morning Ramble, above. Mike is wearing a wig of yak-hair, but the stupendous hair of the three ladies is all their own (more about that hair in a future post.)
If you wish you'd attended, take heart. There's another historic trade shop conference on the horizon: November 14-15, 2014, celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Wigmaker's Shop.
Top: A Morning Ramble Recreated, photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: A Morning Ramble, or – the Milliner's Shop, published by Carington Bowles, after Robert Dighton, 1782. The British Museum.