Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Fashionable Archer in 1831

Thursday, September 30, 2010
Loretta reports:

If looking at history teaches us anything, it's to beware of making generalizations.  In my blog about Mrs. Bennet's nerves, author Thomas Trotter told us that girls were discouraged from getting exercise.  Yet that really isn't the complete picture.  Just as today there are extremes of fashionable dress, practiced by a minority, there were extremes of behavior.  We know that women rode and drove even in the Victorian era.  Bingley's sisters might laugh at Elizabeth for walking to Netherfield, but walking was deemed a healthful exercise, and many upper class women prided themselves on being able to walk long distances.

The following excerpt from an 1831 La Belle Assemblée indicates that many fashionable women knew their way around a bow and arrow.


THAT truly English pastime, archery, the delight of our forefathers and foremothers (no cavilling, good reader—we insist upon our right to coin a word now and then), is once more become fashionable ; and we hasten to present our fair readers with two dresses equally elegant and appropriate for that healthful and delightful amusement.

FIRST ARCHERY DRESS. A DRESS composed of changeable gros de Naples, green shot with white. The corsage, made nearly, but not quite, up to the throat, fastens in front by a row of gold buttons, which are continued at regular distances from the waist to the bottom of the skirt. The corsage sits close to the shape. The upper part of the sleeve forms a double bouffant, but much smaller than is usually worn. This is a matter of necessity, as the fair archer would otherwise cut it in pieces in drawing her bow. The remainder of the sleeve sits close to the arm. The brace, placed upon the right arm, is of primrose kid to correspond with the gloves. The belt fastens with a gold buckle ; on the right side, is a green worsted tassel used to wipe the arrow ; a green watered ribbon sustains the petite poche, which holds the arrows on the left side. A lace collar, of the pelerine shape, falls over the upper part of the bust. White gros des Indes hat, with a round and rather large brim, edged with a green rouleau, and turned up by a gold button and loop. A plume of white ostrich feathers is attached by a knot of green ribbon to the front of the crown. The feathers droop in different directions over the brim. The half-boots are of green reps* silk, tipped with black.

So as not to make a loooong blog, I'm putting the description of the Second Archery Dress at Loretta Chase...In Other Words.

*Reps: A French silk fabric having organzine warp the ribs are either warp or cross ribs. (From Louis Harmuth's Dictionary of Textiles (1915)


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I'm guessing that archery was probably like playing the harp - it showed the arms and figure well and displayed a certain accomplishment, without any untoward huffing and puffing. Plus there's the whole connection to Diana, the virginal goddess of the hunt. Not bad for a "true English pastime" - and the clothes are pretty cool, too.

Monica Burns said...

walking was deemed a healthful exercise, and many upper class women prided themselves on being able to walk long distances.

If I recall correctly, Lily Langtry (Professional Beauty and King's Mistress) ran every morning to maintain her figure. Some women got the fact that exercise is good for you. Unfortunately, I'm not so good at exercising, except my brain. LOL

Miss Kirsten said...

I remember in the Jane Austen film with Gwyneth Paltrow how she shot archery. She made it look so elegant!

LorettaChase said...

I remembered that scene, too, as soon as I stumbled on this. I've never done it, and would be interested to hear from those who have. It seems to me the kind of sport that would help build upper body strength. ??? If so, maybe I need to try it.

Pauline said...

I was quite fond of archery in college, though I could never compete. My father-in-law hunted brown bear with a bow and arrow but I wasn't courageous enough to join in. Shooting on a range is fun, but your first few times will make you feel the burn in your upper body. And there will be calouses, even with gloves. Something that makes me wonder about just how proficient the upper class demoiselles of the Regency and Victorian eras really were.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

This has been hovering in my brain all day, and I finally found it - a recent blog at the divine Duchess of Devonhsire's Gossip Guide, featuring three ladies with their bows as drawn by Adam Buck:

LorettaChase said...

So the sport not only helps with the upper body strength but it was Sexy, Sexy besides. The things inquiring nerdy minds discover! Meanwhile, I'm trying to picture Lily Langtry, in her corset and bustle, running...but no, she would have had better sense than that, and probably had a special outfit.

Sylvan Lady said...

Archery is an elegant and suitable sport for a lady. And there's also the possibility she can aim Cupid's arrow at her hero's heart!

Chris Woodyard said...

Does anyone recall the scene in the 1940 Pride & Prejudice where Lawrence Olivier "teaches" Greer Garson to shoot a bow and arrow. Lovely bit.

Also there's an archery scene in Princess Caraboo.

From the blog Jane Austen's World comes this link to a book about exercise for ladies:
Regency Ladies at Play
June 24, 2009 by Vic

Healthful Sports for Young Ladies was written by Mlle St. Sernin, a French governess, and delightfully illustrated by Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825). The book, which described exercises that were appropriate for young ladies, was printed in London in 1822 by W. Clowes for R. Ackermann. The book can be viewed in the digital collection at the Library of Congress. (

LorettaChase said...

Thanks for the link, Chris. Those are some fascinating books!

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket