Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wearing the right shoes & stockings in 1811

Thursday, March 22, 2012
Loretta reports:

Be the foot eminently handsome, or the reverse, it alike requires to be arrayed soberly...On brilliant assembly nights, or court drawing-rooms, the spangled or diamond-decorated slipper has a magnificent and appropriate effect. But for the raiment of the leg, we totally disapprove, at all times, of the much ornamented stocking.
The open-wove clock and instep, instead of displaying fine proportion, confuse the contour; and may produce an impression of gaiety; but exclude that of beauty, whose rays always strike singly. But if the clock be a coloured or a gold one, as I have sometimes seen, how glaring is the exhibition! how coarse the association of ideas it produces in the fancy! Instead of a woman of refined manners and polished habits, your imagination reverts to the gross and repelling females of Portsmouth-point, or Plymouth-dock; or at least to the hired opera-dancer, whose business it is to make her foot and ancle the principal object which characterizes her charms, and attracts the coup d'œil of the whole assembly.
If I may give my fair friends a hint on this delicate subject, it would be that the finest rounded ancles are most effectually shown by wearing a silk stocking without any clock. The eye then slides easily over the unbroken line, and takes in all its beauties. But when the ancle is rather large, or square, then a pretty unobtrusive net clock, of the same colour as the stocking, will be a useful division, and induce the beholder to believe the perfect symmetry of the parts. A very thick leg cannot be disguised or amended ; and in this case I can only recommend absolute neatness in the dressing of the limb, and petticoats so long that there is hardly a chance of its ever being seen.
One cause of thick ancles in young women is want of exercise, and abiding much in overheated rooms. Standing too long has often the same effect, by subjecting the limb to an unnatural load, and therefore to swelling. The only preventive or cure for this malady is a strict attention to health You might as well expect to see a rose-bush spring, bud, and bloom, in a closely-pent oven, as anticipate fine proportions and complexion from a long continuance of the exotic fashions of these days.  —The Mirror of the Graces, 1811

Illustration from An analysis of country dancing, 1811, courtesy Library of Congress American Memory, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.


Lundhags said...

Your shoes are probably the single most expensive piece of clothing you wear every day, and are undoubtedly the garment you put under the most stress and expect the most out of. Take care of them and you can get some extra mileage out of your clothing budget.

Merrell Barefoot said...

I am so interested in your writing and the shoes are so beautiful. I like it very much.Thank you for sharing it.

Ella Quinn said...

I get your posts via email, so I rarely leave comments. But I wanted you to know how much I love your posts.

textilehistorIE said...

I've seen this sock clock phrase before but have yet to really understand it. What is going on?!
Also: YAY! A sock post from my favourite blog! Excellent and thank you.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Since I'm the Nerdy History Girl Who Knits, I can answer the question about clocks. Clocks are the decorative elements, either knitted in or embroidered afterwards, that go up the sides of stockings. Stockings with clocks were popular in the 18th c, but from this article, it sounds like they must be beyond the pale in the 19th!

Here's a photo of knitted stockings with clocks:

Gloria said...

"A very thick leg cannot be disguised or amended ; and in this case I can only recommend absolute neatness in the dressing of the limb, and petticoats so long
that there is hardly a chance of its ever being seen."

So I guess this is why I haven't worn a skirt in decades. At least now I know that I had kindred spirits two hundred years ago!!

Elizabeth K-W said...

I somehow have the impression that men were more likely to wear socks with clocks. Is this a made-up fact gleaned from poorly researched historical novels, or is there truth? Certainly, before men wore long pants, they were the ones whose calves would be shown to best advantage . . . . if there was something good to see.
Ah, for the male fashions of history. I would not welcome all the petticoats and such, but breeches and clocked socks on a well-turned leg?
This is a priceless selection.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

18th c ladies also wore stockings with clocks - though it was probably a pretty stylish & mildly racy thing to do. Most of the paintings of women in clocked stockings are French. I don't know if this means the French were more likely to wear fancy clocked stockings than the English, or simply that French ladies were more often painted in situations that displayed their, uh, charms & their stockings, too.

Regardless - this painting by Francois Boucher called "La Toilette" shows a lady with clocked stockings with her impossibly tiny feet. I believe her friend also has clocks in her stockings, but the reproduction isn't quite clear enough to see. With backless mules, the effect is quite...alluring, mais oui?

LorettaChase said...

Elizabeth, my instinct is to say no, because with Brummell, men's dress became very simple. Think about how tight they wore their breeches & trousers. I can't imagine a man wanting to spoil the line of his leg by wearing clocked stockings. But historical research has taught me to be careful about laying down rules. I shall look into the matter and eventually post something about it.

Julia said...

I'm always fascinated by the concepts of beauty, how they change and stay the same - if nothing else stays unchanged, it's how unrealistic they are. Women always have tiny tiny feet and hands on these pictures - actually, so do the elegant males, quite often.

On the fashion plates and paintings, chests tend to be well upward of c-cup, with behinds to match, but the ancles should be "finely rounded" but _not_ large. And there's nothing to be done about a thick leg but hide it.

And of course, glitter and decoration are elegant and "appropriate" in one place and coarse in a place 2 inches away. (Sounds famliar).

And I like the mention of standing and overheated rooms are bad for the legs - we always think, any medical expertise beyond using leeches is a product of our time, but it's not as if people a few 100 years ago couldn't watch and think and draw conclusions!

SkyWatcher said...
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