I'm heading home today, where I hear I'll find the same mess of downed power lines and no internet that Loretta has, all caused by that early snowstorm. But before I go, I'll leave you with one last picture from Colonial Williamsburg. While much is made of the last royal governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, and his disastrous tenure on the eve of the American Revolution, little is known of those below stairs who kept the "palace" (a term of sarcasm employed by 18th c Virginians in reference to the expense of their royal governor's residence; as grand as it might have appeared to them, it must have seemed decidedly inferior to the aristocratic Dunmores.) Lord Dunmore's staff was a mixture of favorite servants brought with him from Scotland and enslaved people purchased in Virginia. True, the young woman I glimpsed early yesterday was a tour guide, not a servant of any kind, but she did make me think of all the more ordinary folk of that house who must have had their own stories to tell.
The same Nor'easter that blasted most of the Northeast left its mark on Colonial Williamsburg yesterday, with much rain and wind and chilly temperatures (though fortunately no snow!) While only the bravest and those armed with the sturdiest umbrellas ventured out into the streets, it was a perfect day to stay indoors beside a fire. In the Margaret Hunter shop, seamstress Emma Cross, left, took advantage of the pale sunlight to in the shop's window to stitch a hem into the silk gauze of a new cap.
Today's video is a short newsreel fashion show, featuring several Hollywood actresses modeling the latest fashions for 1928. Like a clip I shared earlier, this is a rare, early use of Kodachrome. Because of it, the women seem startlingly contemporary and fresh, as do many of the clothes. And check out those cars!
Of course I couldn't resist trying to learn more about these silent film actresses. In order of their appearance:
•Corliss Palmer (1902-1952) was a popular silent screen actress, appearing in numerous films beside such famous actors as Charlie Chaplin, Max Sennett, and Oliver Hardy. •Raquel Torres (1908-1987) was a Mexican-born actress who appeared in both silent and sound films. Today she's best remembered for playing a would-be Mata Hari in the Marx Brothers' move Duck Soup (1933).
• Laura LaPlante (1904-1996) was the most famous of these actresses in her time, and between 1921-1930 was Universal Pictures' most popular star. Talkies effectively ended her career, but her last movie, the Western Arizona (1931) included a young actor named John Wayne.
• Ruth Elder (1902-1977) was perhaps the most interesting of all these ladies. She was not only an actress, but also an aviatrix who - in a plane dubbed the American Girl - attempted to duplicate Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic to prove that women were equal to men.
It's true that no respectable 18th c lady would step out with an uncovered head, and preferably with a head covered by both a linen cap and a hat. But the flat, wide-brimmed hats that were so fashionable in 1770 can also serve a purpose beyond style and modesty. On this early morning with a slanting autumn sun, left, these two ladies - interpreters in Colonial Williamsburg - know there's no better way to keep the brightness from your eyes than a hat of fine Milano straw.
Alas, all of this glorious sunshine will soon be gone - the weather forecast predicts rain and a thirty-degree drop in temperatures tomorrow.
In a discussion, I remember not where or when, but not long ago, I’d mentioned a vague recollection of women dressing to look pregnant in the late 18th C. Trouble was, I couldn’t remember where I’d come across it . . .
Jan. 7, 1783...On pretend that certain invisible machines, of which one heard much a year or two ago, and which were said to be constructed of cork, and to be worn somewhere or other behind, are now to be transplanted somewhere before, in imitation of the Duchess of Devonshire's pregnancy, as all under-jaws advanced upon the same principle.*
—The letters of Horace Walpole: Earl of Orford, Volume 8.
The pretty, prominent pads, which now grace the first circles of female fashion, if they have no sanction in decency, can certainly find one in precedent.— The Spectator, in one of his numbers, mentions the then prevalence of the fashion: “The first time I saw a lady dressed in one of these petticoats, I could not forbear blaming her in my thoughts, for walking abroad when she was so near her time, but soon recollected myself out of my error, when I found all the modish part of her sex as far gone as herself." The following advertisements copied verbatim from a London evening paper, may be termed an unique:—“William Dursley, Oxford-street, near the Pantheon, (name over the door) original patentee of the present fashionable Pads, begs leave to inform the nobility and gentry, that he has just completed an extensive and Curious assortment of Ladies Pads, happily adapted to all ages and sizes, and imitating the picturesque forms of pregnancy in all its months. As several ignorant persons have taken upon them to sell pads, pretended to be W. Dursley's, he thinks it proper to insert this caution: his real Pads may be easily known from others, as being the closest imitation of nature, and the most prominent proofs of good-breeding. —His much approved Twin-pads, for court dress, may be had as usual.
—Sporting magazine, Volume 2
Even though the streets of Colonial Williamsburg are virtually empty in the early morning (except for the occasional dog-walker and runner), the cats remain vigilant.
The carved lion, left, tops the gates to the Governor's Palace, a regal symbol of the monarchy. While most visitors associate Williamsburg with the American Revolution, the 18th c. city as it is represented is still part of a royal colony, and there are plenty of reminders that Virginians are still His Majesty's subjects. Rule Britannia!
But it's likely that the calico cat named Shilling, right, turns up in far more tourist photos than King George's lion. She is owned by the head coachman-interpreter, and can often be found strolling about the neighborhood below the Capitol. A true CW resident, she's quite obliging about posing for pictures, too – nor does she seem overly concerned that the street that she's surveying here is often called DoG (short for Duke of Gloucester Street.)
While my first fashion-love will always be 18th c gowns, I've recently developed a guilty-pleasure-relationship with the extravagant clothes of the 1820s. This is, of course, entirely due to Loretta, and to the lovely images like the ones yesterday.
Also thanks to Loretta, I know what inflated those extravagant sleeves: sleeve puffs, or plumpers. These were pillow-like constructions of linen stuffed with eiderdown or feathers that slipped over the upper arm. Ribbons or linen ties then connected to the wearer's corset to keep the puffs in place. The goal was to continue the exaggerated line of the sloping shoulders, and also visually to narrow the waist by comparison to the voluminous sleeve. There are many surviving variations, and doubtless each seamstress created her own version to fit specific gowns. (See right for another pair of the puffs, tied in place to a corset and worn with a petticoat of the era.)
I'd seen pictures of sleeve puffs, but I hadn't seen an actual example in all its puffy glory until my recent visit to Winterthur. There it sat, above, looking more like a drab linen pudding than a stylish fashion necessity, but how important they must have been to modish ladies of the time!
It's easy to look at this humble sleeve puff and think only of its foolishness. But I've two words to offer in (admittedly dubious) defense: shoulder pads. Those of you who can remember back to the 1980s will recall the fashion for linebacker-esque broad shoulders. While 'power suits' had their own sewn-in shoulder pads, many women also owned removable ones to wear beneath any blouse or sweater. These were saddle-shaped constructions of natural-colored fabric and padding that fastened onto lingerie straps with Velcro strips, with the aim of visually narrowing the waist and hips by comparison. Hmm....
Above: Sleeve puffs, American, 1820s-30s, linen and goose feathers. Winterthur, Gift of Margaret Wilcox. Below: Sleeve plumpers, linen with down fill; Corset, quilted cotton sateen; Chemise, linen; Petticoat, cotton; Shoes, silk satin & leather: all English, 1830-1835. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein & Michel and Ellen Michelson, with addition funding from the Costume Council the Edgerton Foundation, Gail & Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore & Richard Wayne.
A bit later in the day than yesterday's picture - the morning mists are gone and the sky's a beautiful blue. Still, though, it does appear that racing to work before opening is much the same in 1770 as it is in 2011 – this young woman was in such a hurry that I doubt she noticed either the sun on the Courthouse or the bright leaves on the tree.
Note that readers could buy the paper models for the plates. I’m guessing some have survived. Or am I hopelessly optimistic? If you’ve seen any, please tell us about it.
Our Fashionable Readers should know, that the drawings of the fashions are made from beautifully-formed paper models, which may be seen and purchased—as, for the purposes of the Magazine, they are useless after the copies are published.
FASHIONS FOR OCTOBER.
NO. 1.—MORNING DRESS.
Of lavender gros de Naples; the body is made half high and full; the skirt has a hem about one quarter of its depth, cut out on the top in leaf-like dents of five divisions each, and edged with piping. Over this dress is worn an apron and canezou of embroidered muslin. The canezou is made without fulness in any part, divided on the shoulder, where it falls in two deep and rounded lapels, and is open in front, with a narrow collar, which diminishes in width as it reaches the waist in front. This canezou is confined to the shape by braces of gauze ribbon matching the dress, which are gathered up into coques on the shoulders, and fastened behind with a short bow.
NO. 2. WALKING DRESS
Of olive green gros des Indes. The body is slightly fulled across the bust, and plain behind, and is finished at the throat by a small collar very slightly indented at the edge. The skirt is set on in bunches of folds alternately reversed; its trimming consists of long curved dents cut out from the top of the hem; they are edged with rouleau, and are made to form a wreath by turning down one and leaving one upright. The sleeves are set on like the skirt, in alternately-disposed folds; they have a cuff at the wrist, which has a trimming similar to that of the hem, but much smaller. Hat of Tuscany straw, trimmed with field-flowers and ears of wheat.
Can't resist sharing this photograph. I'm back in Williamsburg, VA this week, where Indian Summer is in full flower. But while the days are warm, the nights are cool, meaning that there's a wonderfully mysterious mist every morning at dawn. I especially like walking through Colonial Williamsburg early in the day, before anyone else is about, and with that mist to soften the edges, you can almost – almost – imagine it's 1770 instead of 2011.
The 1940s isn't an era we often visit here at the TNHG, but this romantic map from 1943 is too charming not to share. (Please go to this link to see the entire map with zoomable features for all the details.)
A Pictorial Map of Loveland is the work of Massachusetts graphic artist Ernest Dudley Chase (1878-1966), who was well known for his decorative, pictorial maps. Most of his maps showed actual states or regions, illustrated with drawings of the area's landmarks, buildings, famous people, or animals, and often included traditional cartographer's elements like compass roses, elaborate cartouches, and ornate hand lettering.
But this map is altogether different. Instead it shows the mythical, heart-shaped island of Loveland ("A place where everyone should go; Where Romance Thrives, and Friendships Dearer Grow") surrounded by Oceans of Joy, Sweetheart Sound, and the Bay of Bliss. In this country with state names like State of Admiration, dozens of jolly little couples engage in all kinds of courtship amidst a world of hearts and puns. I particularly liked how often the couples seem to be equals - whether playing sports or gazing happily at their future Home Sweet Home, not far from Line of Equality. There's none of that snarky women-as-cunning-huntresses or men-as-caveman-conquerors that so often turns up in comic interpretations of love. The only hint of a more passionate kind of love is the little couple in the back seat of their heart-shaped care, the label (S)Parking Permitted. Even that seems pretty wholesome, though, and the overall feeling is sweetly, cheerfully optimistic.
But if you look a little more closely, you can see hints that the war overseas is felt even here in Loveland. One little woman is waving farewell to her ship-born sweetie with the caption Kind Remembrance. Another is shown wistfully engaged in Wishful Thinking, while yet another is eagerly receiving Good News in a letter from the postman. But best of all is the couple joyfully kissing with Many Happy Returns – the ultimate goal of countless American couples in 1943.
Above: Detail of A Pictorial Map of Loveland by Ernest Dudley Chase, 1943. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.
E-books may be the unstoppable wave of the future, but for me there's still nothing like a great, big, heavy, luscious art book full of beautiful images beautifully printed, with thoughtful commentary to match. If the subject is historical dress and fashion, then I'm truly wallowing in visual heaven.
Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute, the Victoria & Albert's Fashion in Detailseries, and last year's Fashioning Fashion from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, all have perpetual front-of-the-shelf status in my library. Now I have a new favorite to add to the collection: the aptly named FABULOUS!, from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum in Los Angeles, CA.
As the subtitle says, the book catalogues the very best of the museum's acquisitions over the last ten years. Included are women's, men's, and children's clothing from 1800 to the present, from a diaphanous Regency gown to the amazing black lace dress by Alexander McQueen featured on the book's cover, below. The1880s reception gown, above left, shows not only an example of extravagantly bustled fashion, but also how clothes can become almost sculptural in their beauty. The pieces are photographed to display their style and craftsmanship, with many full-page close-ups for details of embroidery, lace, and fabrics. One of my favorite dresses is a gorgeously elaborate court gown and train from 1907, worn to an Edwardian royal reception at Buckingham Palace. Pages fold out of the book to be able to display the spreading train to full advantage, and best of all is a vintage photograph of the dress being worn by the original owner.
There's also a tasty selection of accessories, including hats, gloves, corsets, and shoes. Oh, the shoes! Surely this pair, right, must have been worn to only the most exclusive of jet-set parties. Created by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior in 1959, they're leather, covered heel to toe in kingfisher feathers.
This is, in short, a wonderful book to explore and to treasure, with over 350 pages and 292 photographs and illustrations as well as fascinating commentary - a definite keeper for any true Nerdy History Girl. Even if you don't buy the book, check out the Museum's blog. It's one of the best historic fashion blogs on the internet.
FABULOUS! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 200-2010, by Kevin L. Jones, Christina M. Johnson, and Brian E. Sanderson, FIDM Museum Press, 2011.
Top left: Reception Gown, Europe or United States, c. 1886-1887 Right: Evening Shoes, by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, Paris, France, 1959 In accordance with some FTC rule or another (which probably doesn't apply to us since we're writers, not reviewers, but never mind), Loretta and I received copies of this book as a gift from the museum.
“My dear Madam, to thank you, or be grateful to you, for the essential service you have been to me, would be impossible. I feel all the gratitude that I am capable of, which is more than I can express; but not as much as you are entitled to from me. You have almost restored me to health, after a painful and tedious suffering of ten years. You I must consider as my preserver, with your PATENT STAYS, together with your other ingenious contrivance for Pendulous and Weak Bowels; otherwise I must necessarily have fallen a victim to my unfortunate complaint. Now, thank God, and you, I have no fear; for while I live I shall never cease to remember you with every sentiment of gratitude. And believe me, my dear Madam, to be,
Your most grateful and obliged,
July 10, 1807. A.M.D. ”
N.B. The original Letter may, for satisfaction, be seen at Mrs. Lloyd Gibbon’s, together with many others to the same effect.
One of the reasons for my recent visit to Winterthur was to see a special exhibition of historic needlework. WithCunning Needle: Four Centuries of Embroideryis a wonderful show, filled with stunning needlework that ranges from schoolgirl samplers to masterpieces by professional embroiderers. While some of the pieces might represent more skill or sophistication than the sailor's uniform and sea bag back shown here, none had a better story behind them. (Click on the photos to enlarge them to see the details.)
Standardized uniforms for enlisted sailors in the American navy were still a relatively new notion in the 1840s-50s, when this uniform was created. While sailors were required to wear the Navy-issued uniforms while on board ship, there was more leeway in what they could wear on shore. The shore-going uniform could be proudly embellished and embroidered to suit a sailor's tastes, as well as to reflect his skill with a needle. (Here's part of another elaborately embroidered shore-going uniform, a dark wool blouse from c. 1862.)
This rare summer uniform and sea bar were owned, worn, and likely embroidered by Warren Opie, born in 1835. Growing up in a large family of comfortable means in Burlington, NJ, Warren's childhood effectively ended with his cordwainer (shoemaker) father's early death in 1848. Warren's mother struggled to support the family, and several of Warren's sisters were sent to live with other relatives. It's likely that Warren, too, felt the family's financial pressures, and in 1850, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for a three-year tour of duty with the rating of a second-class boy. He was fifteen.
Warren served on the steam frigate Susquehanna, the flagship of the four-ship squadron commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry on his historic trip to Japan between 1850-1854. Warren would have had considerable time to make this sea bag and uniform on the long voyage between Norfolk, Va and Japan; it's possible that he learned to sew from his father, or perhaps from some of the other men in the crew. While the uniform shows the typical patriotic motifs – stars, eagles, anchors, and flags – popular among sailors, his bag features his parents, his two closest sisters, and landmarks from his hometown in New Jersey. Warren was visiting exotic countries on the far side of the world, but it's clear his heart still remained at home.
In Japan, Commodore Perry presented a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the ruler of Japan in an elaborate ceremony involving nearly all the American sailors in his squadron and thousands of Japanese officials, soldiers, and attendants. Records show that one of the American ship's boys carried the president's framed letter in the procession. It's tempting to imagine Warren, dressed in this splendidly embroidered summer-uniform, as the boy performing this important task.
Unfortunately, there's no documentation to tell what became of Warren after his three-year-tour was done; he last appears in navy records as having been promoted to "landsman," a full member of the crew. No one knows if he died at sea, or jumped ship in some foreign port, or returned to New Jersey to live a long and contented life, nor is there any record of how his uniform landed in the hands of the dealer who sold it to Mr. Du Pont for his collection. It's all another history-mystery – but what a wonderful legacy Warren Opie left in his embroidery!
Above: Summer uniform of an enlisted sailor, worn by Warren Opie, 1850-54, linen, silk, wool. Sea Bag, owned by Warren Opie, 1850-54, linen, silk, wool, cotton. From collection of Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library
In 1826, a lady describes a Westbury custom that follows the birth of a child.
In "these" parts of the country, it is the custom, when a lady shall have been " as well as can be expected," for thirteen or fourteen days, for the husband to enjoy what is called "the gentleman's party," viz: all his friends, bachelor and Benedict, are invited to eat "sugared toast," which, (as the cookery-books always say,) " is thus prepared"— Rounds of bread are "baked," (videlicit toasted,) each stratum spread thick with moist sugar, and piled up in a portly punch bowl, ready for action: "strong beer," (anglice, home-brewed ale,) is in the mean time heated, and poured boiling hot over the mound of bread; which is taken immediately to the expectant guests . . . How they contrive to emancipate the toast from the scalding liquid, I never could, by any effort of ingenuity and research, decide to my own satisfaction. A goodly slice you know, sir, it would be entirely impracticable to achieve; for in half a minute from the time of the admission of the "hot beer," the toast must be "all of a swam," (as we elegantly say here,) and, resembling the contents of the witch's cauldron, "thick and slab." Whether a soup ladle and soup plates are in requisition on the occasion, I am equally unable to ascertain; but on final dismissal of this gentlemanly food, (for I by no means would insinuate that the congregation is limited to one act of devotion,) they magnanimously remunerate the "nurse," by each putting money into the empty bowl, which is then conveyed to the priestess of their ignoble orgies! Of all the " mean and impotent conclusions" of a feast, defend me from that, which pays its "pic nic" pittance to an old crone, who is hired to attend the behests of the "lady," but who by some strange mutation becomes the directress of the " gentleman's" revels, and the recipient of the payment from his guests, for "sugar’d toast!"
Just for you: another fresh offering of this week’s Breakfast Links, noteworthy tidbits gathered from other blogs, web sites, news stories, and museums that we've discovered wandering around the Twitterverse:
We Nerdy History Girls are very partial to English humor, and when it's combined with history – whether Monty Python, Blackadder, or Horrible Histories – we're in laugh-riot heaven.
Recently I stumbled across a delicious series on YouTube staring the irrepressible Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, cutting a hilarious swath through the court at Versailles shortly before the French Revolution. Let Them Eat Cake features Saunders as the immorally dense Colombine, Comtesse de Vache, and French as her far more clever (but equally immoral) maid Lisette, with Adrian Scarborough as the comtesse's ever-conniving hairdresser, stylist, and confidante, Bouffant - an 18th c. caricature brought to life. The series is irreverent and bawdy, full of huge wigs and extravagant gowns, and skewed appearances by everyone from Madame Vigee-Lebrun to the Marquis de Sade.
This clip features a showdown between the comtesse and her arch-rival, Madame de Plonge, both armed with huge skirts and servants. Which one will be forced to reverse down the hall so the other may pass?
If you wish for more, the whole series is on YouTube (though unfortunately each episode is cut into three parts). Here are the three links to the first episode, called "The Pox": Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
One doubts that all clergymen’s homes were quite as elegant as this one—although Mr. Collins’s might have been, in order to do Lady Catherine proud. It's nice to see a floor plan, certainly.
October 1, 1816.
PLATE 19.—A VICARAGE HOUSE.
The annexed design was intended for the residence of a clergyman, and purposed to be erected in a situation where the scenery is both rural and romantic, and well disposed to accord with the style of building which may be considered as peculiarly ecclesiastic, from the extensive patronage that architecture once received by the munificence of church government. The parts of this design were selected from the church itself to which the vicarage-house belongs, and with which it would correctly assimilate, particularly as the building was intended to be placed in its immediate neighbourhood. The practice of designing the residence of a clergyman with reference to the characteristics of the church to which it belongs, where the style of architecture is favourable to such selections, is desirable, not only as relates to a tasteful advantage, but as it becomes another and visible link of connection between the church itself and the pastor who is devoted to its duties, and also leads the spectator very naturally from contemplating the dwelling, to regard the pious character of its inhabitant. This association has occurred to a poet, whose works indeed are nearly obsolete.
—Ackermann's Repository, 1816.
The poetry referred to having fully earned its obsolescence, I've taken the liberty of leaving it out. It's enough work getting through the prose. Readers have no doubt noticed Regency-era writers' fondness for the passive mood.
My apologies for the lateness of today's post, the fault of a missing internet connection. Here's a quickie featuring a wonderful on-line resource:
Historians come in many forms. Richard Rutt (1925-2011) was an Anglican bishop, scholar-missionary, and, late in life, a Roman Catholic priest. While his interests ranged from Classical Chinese to Korean history, he was also passionately interested in the craft and history of knitting. He wrote what many consider the definitive book – A History of Hand Knitting – that is fascinating reading even for non-knitters. Armed with careful documentation, he wasn't afraid to debunk well-treasured myths about the craft, including the "legend" of the Irish fisherman sweater.
His extensive collection of early knitting manuals and books is now held at the Winchester School of Art Library, University of Southampton, and has recently been digitized. These early "how-to" books are a treasure not only to adventuresome knitters who wish to make the projects (though be forewarned: terminology has changed over the years, and early patterns often don't make sense to modern knitters), but to costume historians as well. They also show the many ways that needlework is viewed by society: a necessary skill to help clothe a woman's family; a lady-like endeavor; "good works" via charity knitting; patriotic effort during war-time; and artistic expression.
Above left: Cover, The Seventh Book of "Hows": or How to Knit and Crochet Wools, 1911, London. Right: Cover, Ladies Work for Sailors, late 19th c. published by the Mission to Seamen, London. Both images courtesy of The Richard Rutt Collection: Winchester School of Art Library
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.