Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Little White Dress on Fire

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Loretta reports:

The more I study the topic, the more I realize that here, as in so many cases with history, there's no easy answer. The first print (1805) shows a woman, who's clearly a young miss, in the classic white muslin dress.

The Gillray print (1802) offers another angle on the story. One of the caricaturist’s jobs is to mock the follies of the time. If a fashion is being mocked, we can be sure it was popular. This isn't the only print I've come across that portrays women wearing a style that might not suit them. But what got my attention here is that the two ladies are obviously not young misses.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Proving once again that the more we learn, the less we know. *g*

The second print's esp. interesting because it makes a true (if humorous) observation on the perils of wearing cotton muslin. The older, more traditional fabrics in use during the 18th c. like linen and wool respond less dramatically to fire; if a spark happens to pop from the hearth onto one's skirts, it smolders, and can easily be patted out. But a spark on cotton bursts into flame, as this lady is demonstrating (with Mt. Vesuvius over the chimney piece!)

So the illustrator's sarcastic caption -- "Advantages of wearing Muslin Dresses! -- dedicated to the serious attention of the Fashionable Ladies of Great Britian" –– actually does have a serious undertone. One more caution against the eeeeevvvvvils of following fashion too closely.

Loretta Chase said...

So far the Classic White Muslin dress seems ubiquitous in the decade before the time when the Prince of Wales was declared Regent by Parliament. Maybe I need to look at a point where this fashion, having been adopted by everyone, high and low, went out of favor.

Vanessa Kelly said...

It would be really interesting to know that, Loretta. And I wonder when the little black dress achieved its dominance. Was that due to Coco Chanel, or was it earlier, do you think?

I love the poem for A Receipt for Courtship. It seems so sweet, until the last line.

Are those stacked flowerpots outside the window?

Loretta Chase said...

Vanessa, it seems likely that, as is the case today, once EVERYONE is wearing something, it's no longer cool. It's going to be fun trying to find out when that was. I'm not sure about the little black dress. I just read something somewhere about black being fashionable--was it in Elizabeth I's time? Then I think of that famous painting Madame X in the black dress. Anyway, it's a topic I'm hoping to tackle one of these days. Those flowerpots bug me. What the heck are they?

Vanessa Kelly said...

Yeah, those flowerpots are weird. Glad it's not just me!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I, too, wondered at the symbolism of the flower pots... It's lovely to see such a voluptuous figure being depicted in the first drawing. I'm all over the place here -- weren't there cases of terrible fires in cotton mills? The second caricature seems in dreadfully poor taste, which is saying something in re caricatures.

Ingrid said...

The flowerpots seem to be arranged on one of those stairs arrangements which allow you to fit a lot of flowerpots in a small space, while giving them all equal access to the sun. You can see three tiers of pots.

Loretta Chase said...

Ingrid, thank you for explaining the flowerpots. For a while I thought they were single pots, in a strange shape! And many thanks for persevering with the links to that amazing exhibition. Michelle, I think the caricaturists' motto was Dreadfully Poor Taste R Us. I've seen prints that made my hair stand on end. But NHGs being what they are, you'll probably be seeing some of them in days to come.

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