Social media has its faults, but it's also a wonderful boon to us Nerdy History folks. Not a day (ok, even an hour) goes by that I don't learn something new thanks to Twitter, FB, or Instagram.
This post will be the proof. Last night, I put a small detail shot, left, of one of my favorite paintings on my Instagram account, which then kicked over to my Facebook page, too. These two ladies and a child are from The North Terrace at Windsor Castle, Looking East, by Paul Sandby. I've stood before this painting many times at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's a sizable picture (see it here), nearly 40" x 50", and the figures - there are several more besides these three - are dwarfed by the castle's tower and the vast sky. But the figures are surprisingly detailed nonetheless, and I was able to take several close-up photos that could be enlarged for further study.
These close-ups offer some fascinating depictions of 1770s fashions, which is why I posted them for my costume-history friends. What I didn't expect was the wonderful online discussion that developed. I'm consolidating the results of this discussion here, to share it with our NHG readers as well. As always, click on the images to enlarge them.
The lady on the right is wearing a red gown with the skirts looped up over a matching petticoat. It's hard to tell if she's wearing a true polonaise gown, or simply copying the style. The white bands around her waist are the strings of her apron, tied in front. Aprons could be a high-fashion accessory, and though hers doesn't show, it's likely a fancy counterpart to her sheer white linen sleeve ruffs. Around her neck is a kerchief, probably linen or cotton, with a decorative edging (pleats?), and around her throat she's wearing a thin black ribbon that seems to have a white bow in the back.
But it's her bonnet, right, that makes the true fashion statement. Worn low over her eyes, it's probably made of white silk, and features a quarter-moon shaped bill with a full round caul and plenty of pleated ruffles. (Here's a similar modern replicavia Colonial Williamsburg.) Her hair appears lightly powdered, too, to give it that dusty-grey look.
The second lady, lowerleft, is dressed for stylish sight-seeing. She is wearing a burnt-orange Jesuit, a long, hooded jacket with a hood folded back on her shoulders, and buttons up the front. Worn for travel, Jesuits (and their cousins, Brunswicks) were often made of light silk. She has a white kerchief around her neck, and her extravagant ruffled cap seems to have a loop of ruffles beneath the chin, over the black ribbon around her throat. Her green parasol has a carved knob at the end of the handle. It appears that she's carrying a similar hooded garment for the child over her arm.
And that child, lower right, attracted the most discussion last night. I'd assumed at first that because of the ruffled cap, the child was a girl, but others suggested that instead it's a young boy. Eighteenth century. boys wore long gowns much like girls until they were "breeched" (dressed in the same style breeches worn by adult men), usually between the ages of three and six; boys of higher rank were breeched later, sometimes being as old as eight. The close-fitting, collarless jacket that the child-who-may-be-a-boy is wearing would have been considered male. It's also vaguely like a 16th or 17thc. doublet, with a soft linen collar and what may be puffs of the shirt beneath pulled through the front opening, a romantic homage to the past that was very popular in the later 18thc. On the other hand, the child is tall to be an unbreeched boy, so she may instead be a girl, dressed in a 16thc. Mary Stuart-inspired jacket.
So that's what we decided about the dress of these "supporting" figures - but feel free to add any observations or thoughts of your own as a comment. I'd love to learn more!
Many thanks to all the contributors to this post: Angela Trowbridge Burnley, Sharon Burnston, Mark Hutter, Hallie Larkin, Samantha McCarty, Cassidy Percoco, Connie Bitz Unangst, Ruth Verbunt, Katy Werlin, Chris Woodyard. The North Terrace at Windsor Castle, Looking East, by Paul Sandby, c. 1775-1780, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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.