Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fashions for September 1815

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Loretta reports:

You may find the description of the dinner dress confusing.  I’ve always associated the color primrose with yellow, and my research seems to agree, although the Smithsonian’s botany page offers a variety whose petals are “rose-purple to white, rarely cream-yellow, or rarely orange-red.”

The dress in the plate is not yellow, and might have been intended to be purple, though I suspect not.  I decided the artist in charge of coloring the plate misunderstood.  If those of you who’ve made a closer study of 19th century women’s magazines can solve the mystery, all of us nerdy history persons will be fascinated and grateful.


Read online here

From Ackermann's Repository, September 1815


Sarah said...

I've occasionally found Ackermann's plates where the colour does not correspond to the description and, having some knowledge of the publishing of a journal, my personal theory is that the pictures were passed to the colourman without the description. This can happen very easily, and the colourman has to make a best guess. Primrose was certainly a specific shade of yellow, darker than Isabella, and lighter than Evening primrose [a new colour] and Jonquil. Other yellows were straw, saffron, nankeen, apollo and canary yellow.

hopegreenberg said...

It's always fun to find multiple copies of the same plate that have been painted in different colors. While rare, it is common enough. The practice for the later 19th century Godey's Lady's Book, and I'll make a leap that it was similar for earlier magazines, was to print the plates then farm out the work of hand coloring them. This piece work was often, or in the case of Godey's almost exclusively, a job done by women.

The full descriptions may or may not have been provided, but at least some general color information would have been. However, the colorist may have made a mistake or may have even run out of a particular paint color but needed to make a deadline. As was his wont, Godey turned this to his advantage by reminding readers on occasion that these differences allowed them to see how the gown would look in a color that they might prefer!

Given the system it's surprising that there were not more variations. It would be fun to find more of this plate and see if they are mostly yellow or blue or even another color.

hopegreenberg said...

Ah, here's one quote (of course I found it after posting the previous!):
Godey's Lady's Book, May 1839:
"We now colour our plates to different patterns, so that two persons in a place may compare their fashions, and adopt those colours that they suppose may be most suitable to their figures and complexions."

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

The plates were hand colored by women on a tight deadline. I suspect if the colorist ran out of yellow, she moved on to what other colors she still had.

hopegreenberg said...

...and for even more fun, an example of "scissors editing" (i.e. one magazine copying from another): Check out p. 648 of "The Examiner" from Oct. 1815. The description of the evening gown is almost word for word that of Ackermann's with an added phrase that may show that this writer was as confused by the color change as we are: "A white satin slip is also worn under a dress of pale blue or evening primrose colored French gauze, terminating at the feet with a full flounce of blond lace, headed with a double border of the same..."

The practice is alive and well in our day. Is it real or is it Photoshop:

Isobel Carr said...

I'm always amazed at the number of prints showing women sitting with one leg crossed over the other (knees crossed). Was I the only one under the impression that ladies do not sit that way? My grandmother was very strict about it. Ladies cross their ankles and keep their knees together. DRUMMED INTO ME. I guess that "rule" came later, LOL!

Karen Anne said...

I had to think about modern day cartoons. Sometimes suddenly a character has different colored hair, and a couple of times I've emailed the writer and said, What's up with that?

It turns out some cartoons are not colored by the author, but are farmed out by the publisher(?) to colorists who are just sloppy about consistency. That's why Cookie in On the Fastrack is sometimes a brunette, sometimes a blonde.

LorettaChase said...

Wow. I knew our readers would come through. Thank you for all the great insights into the fashion plate production process!

LorettaChase said...

Hope, re the link you included--how did we end up with two different descriptions from the same Ackermann's? Yes, I've definitely come upon the lifting of fashions from one place to another. It's been helpful in cases where I have only a plate & no description. Also interesting to note one mag calling something an "Evening Fete Champetre dress" and another calling the same item a ball dress.

Isobel Carr said...

I've been going through the Ackerman's book that was recently released and for the lift of me I can't figure out what the key differences are between some of the types of gowns (sometimes it appears, as with dinner gowns, that it’s more about whether or not she’s wearing some kind of hat or turban; same style gown without is usually labeled a ball gown).

I think I may need to make a chart ...

Karen Anne said...

I've been (w)racking my brain to remember (how embarrassing if it's one of the Nerdy History Girls books :-), but I know I read a Regency where part of the plot had a group of colorists at work in the hero's house.

Some catastrophe had caused the heroine's business to need new quarters suddenly. I think the colorists were formerly no better than they should be.

But it was mentioned than one of them liked to choose her own colors when coloring in the dress illustrations.

J. Haven said...

In “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken, one of the characters notes that primroses are pink in one geographical area but yellow in another; if I had seen the plate in another context, I'd have assumed that yet another geographical area grew blue primroses... Thanks for another new bit of information!

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