Sunday, June 28, 2009

Further Unbuttoning

Sunday, June 28, 2009
Susan reports:
A few more thoughts about these knitted breeches from Colonial Williamsburg....

I knit and sew, so I not only looked at those elegant black knitted breeches with Loretta, but I considered them in a more practical light. Yes, the knitted fabric stretched, the way an old-fashioned cotton sock stretches. But the stretch would come from the stockinette stitch alone, not the fiber (which I think was either Breeches-knit cotton or linen thread.) Neither linen nor cotton has any natural recovery -- a fancy way of saying that once they stretch, they don't return to their previous shape unless they're washed, and even then it can be iffy. Think again of those old socks from high school gym class, and how sad and loose they soon became. (This is why modern fabrics often incorporate small amounts of Lycra blended in, the super-stretchy stuff with enough recovery to pull the other fiber along with it.) Which, of course, explains why if you were a gentleman who liked his breeches fashionably tight, you'd request your tailor to cut them with so much negative ease, that three-inches-too-small that Loretta mentions.

But what must those breeches have looked like after a long day lounging in a gentleman's club, sitting behind a desk, or riding in the park? How droopy did the knees and backside become? Did the truly fashion-forward gentleman only wear his breeches so long as they were taut, and change into fresh ones when they began to sag, the way that dandies like Beau Brummel changed their linen shirts several times a day? Was this one more way a peacock-male displayed his impeccable attention to sartorial detail? Or was the droopiness just an accepted part of the style for most men, the way bagged-out-jeans are today?

Another question to ponder: men's shirts at this time were still voluminously cut much wider than the body, with tails that could reach the knees, depending on personal taste. Where exactly did they tuck all that excess fabric into those narrow cut breeches?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reader, I unbuttoned them

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Loretta reports:

Breeches buttoned Finally, I got to unbutton a pair of breeches.
Susan and I entered the milliner’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg,
and there they were, spread out on the counter.

Breeches up close We were told we were welcome to touch, so I did.
In case you were wondering, that “stockinette” you may have read about is definitely stretchy--and thinner than you’d guess. These breeches are 18th century, a little before my writing time.

Breeches-fall It was very interesting to learn that men of the Regency wore their clothes much tighter. Tailors, we were told, were advised to cut the material three inches narrower than the man’s measurements. So now I’m picturing men in tights. (???)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Thursday, June 25, 2009
Eye  miniature 1Susan reports:

One of my fav galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art isn't really a gallery, but a little room.  As it should be, because it's filled with little, tiny paintings. Long before IPhones became the way to keep in touch, miniature paintings were the memento of choice for the titled and affluent. Exquisitely painted and framed, miniatures traveled well, whether worn as a locket or on a watch fob or tucked inside a trunk.

But in the late 18th century, the Prince Regent (soon to be George IV, and the Regent who made his Regency THE Regency) launched a fad for a special kind of miniature. Mrs. Fitzherbert, his lover and secret wife, commissioned Richard Cosway to paint a miniature of her right eye, a conceit that was as discrete as it was charming. At once the Prince returned the favor, and had his eye painted and set into a ring for her to wear. Eye miniatures became an instant sensation in England, France, and even America, and were popular well into the Eye miniatures (group) nineteenth century. The largest example that I've photographed here (a bit blurry through the glass, I'm afraid) is only about two inches across, and they decorate brooches, rings, and snuffboxes. I like how modern collectors have dubbed them "lover's eyes"; seems fitting, doesn't it?

And so far. nobody's winked.
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