Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From the Archives: The fine art of walking city streets in the 19th century

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Louise-Léopold Boilly, Passer Payez, c. 1803
Loretta reports:

The art of negotiating city streets in bad weather, modeled on the Parisian method.
You must pay attention to your manner of walking, for fear of throwing mud around you, and spattering yourself as well as those who accompany you, or who walk behind you. Any person, particularly a lady, who walks in this improper manner, whatever her education may be in other respects, will always appear awkward and clumsy.

Every one knows that the Parisian ladies are celebrated for their skill in walking: we see them in white stockings and thin shoes, passing through long, dirty, and blocked up streets, gliding by careless persons, and by vehicles crossing each other in every direction, and yet return home after a walk of several hours, without soiling their clothes in the least.

To arrive at this astonishing result, which causes the wonder and vexation of provincial visitors on their first coming to Paris, we must be careful to put the foot on the middle of the paving stones, and never on the edges, for, in that case, one inevitably slips into the interstice between one pavement and another: we must begin by supporting the toe, before we do the heel; and even when the mud is quite deep, we must put down the heel but seldom. When the street becomes less muddy, we can compensate ourselves for this fatigue, which, however, in the end, leaves us hardly sensible.

This manner of walking is strictly necessary when you offer your arm to any one. When tripping over the pavement, (as the saying is) a lady should gracefully raise her dress a little above her ancle. With the right hand she should hold together the folds of her gown, and draw them towards the right side. To raise the dress on both sides, and with both hands, is vulgar. This ungraceful practice can be tolerated only for a moment, when the mud is very deep.
Elisabeth Celnart, The gentleman and lady's book of politeness and propriety of deportment: dedicated to the youth of both sexes, 1833  

Illustration: Louis Leopold Boilly, Passer-payez (ca 1803), courtesy Wikimedia Commons.  

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AuntieNan said...

Hmmm... From the pic I'd say the point was to do some walking in less than dry streets for the purpose of showing some LEG. Both those adults have some seriously lovely calves, which was probably very much appreciated!

Sarah said...

Haha, Nan has hit the nail on the head... I'd as soon have inelegant ugly pattens myself! Well, actually, I'd as soon have wellies, but for the period...

Anonymous said...

it must have taken a tedious amount of time to traverse the city in this manner! an all day walk wouldn't have taken them more than a 1/2mile lol

AuntieNan said...

At least they admit that trotting along on the balls of your feet is TIRING. Uh, yeah. That's why some of us in this century can't bear to wear high heels...
Auntie Nan

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