Thursday, March 20, 2014

"A Morning Ramble" from 1782 Comes to Life in Colonial Williamsburg

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Isabella reporting,

As I've written earlier, I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week to attend the "Millinery Through Time" conference in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Margaret Hunter Milliners Shop as a historic trade site.

One of the high points of the conference for me was the presentation on this 1782 print, below, called A Morning Ramble, or – the Milliner's Shop. The presentation was given by Sarah Woodyard, apprentice milliner and mantua-maker in Colonial Williamsburg's historic trades program (and someone who has appeared frequently and patiently on the blog in the past, such as here, here, and here.) As Sarah explained,

"Three milliners are pictured behind a counter, stitching together lacy caps, ready to tend to their customers. However, these customers are not ladies in need of caps, but flirtatious gentlemen sitting on the counter with masquerade tickets in hand. These gentlemen illustrate the delicate moral line that a shop woman had to walk: maintaining her virtue, while selling her wares. While the men in the image might have been lured into the shop to flirt with the pretty milliners, it is the hope of the shop woman that the gentlemen would also be tempted by fashionable goods behind the counter.

"Behind the counter are shelves holding boxes labeled 'love' and 'coxcomb.' While they are a satirical comment on the gentlemen customers, these labels also tell the story of a complex, varied trade, since there was no single product that defined the eighteenth-century millinery trade. The diversity of the goods and services sold, as well as the diverse clientele of a millinery shop, were features of the female-dominated millinery trade. A wide audience for an ever-changing range of fashionable goods meant the potential for great profit. Milliners also had connections to the global fashion industry with their contacts and vendors abroad. The minute details of A Morning Ramble tell the much larger story of the millinery trade's place within society, fashion, and the global economy."

In other words, this was a total Nerdy History Girl event.

But as thoughtful as Sarah's presentation was, the most entertaining part came at the end, when she and three of her fellow apprentices - Abby Cox, apprentice mantua-maker and milliner; Mike McCarty, apprentice tailor; and Aislinn Lewis, apprentice blacksmith - wore clothes made by the Margaret Hunter Shop and recreated A Morning Ramble, above. Mike is wearing a wig of yak-hair, but the stupendous hair of the three ladies is all their own (more about that hair in a future post.)

If you wish you'd attended, take heart. There's another historic trade shop conference on the horizon: November 14-15, 2014, celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Wigmaker's Shop.

Top: A Morning Ramble Recreated, photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: A Morning Ramble, or – the Milliner's Shop, published by Carington Bowles, after Robert Dighton, 1782. The British Museum.


vintagevisions27 said...

So sad I missed the conference this year. :(

GSGreatEscaper said...

Concerning the labeled boxes - did they not represent the different types of caps available? My recollection is that the types of caps had names and that the type worn varied by age, rank, marital status and message to be conveyed. So the caps worn by widows were very different from those worn by young married women, those worn by the middle classes were different from those worn by flirtatious aristos ready for some action, etc.

sherribrari said...

GSGreatEscaper (or anyone) - I don't think we know enough to say who wore which caps when and where and why. If you know of sources that say or hint at such detail, please oh please let us know!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

GSGreatEscaper - According to Sarah's research, the boxes represented different items that would have been for sale in the shop - "Love" was a kind of ribbon, and "Coxcomb" a kind of trim - but that also had double-entendre meanings. Love is obvious, but a coxcomb could also be one of the well-dressed young men who were flirting with the women.

As for caps - yes, 18th c. caps were very diverse, and also had all sorts of different details to mark their wearers by age, station, occupation, and marital status. There were also styles for every degree of formality, and different times of the day. For example, the wonderfully extravagant cap that Sarah is wearing is for morning - not only because of its shape, but because its blue caul (the insert piece at the top) is made of colored silk, which was considered more informal.

I wish someone would write THE definitive work on 18th c. caps - though it would probably be a lifetime's work! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this! I missed ASECS this year and just so happen to be using this image for a talk on 18thc coxcombs so it was lovely to see this post on the image - which is marvellously rich.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket