Devotees of Susan Holloway Scott's historical novels will, I think, enjoy getting additional perspective on the women who populate those stories. Lucy Worsley, who has hosted a number of interesting series we've highlighted on the blog, this time takes us on a time travel adventure titled Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History For Girls. This is the first part. It's a full length program, so please set aside an hour.
Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.
I've written before about the importance of pins in everyday 18th c. life. Straight pins were widely used to fasten all kinds of clothing, from women's bodices to infant's diapers, and also used in hand sewing. Pins were considered so indispensable that when Abigail Adams wrote from colonial Massachusetts to her husband John Adams in London in 1775, the one thing she requested was for him to "purchase me a bundle of pins and put in your trunk for me." (Read the rest of the letter here.)
Pins for clothing and sewing, yes. But I hadn't realized that pins were also an essential tool for 18th c. writers. Thanks to (or cursed by, depending on your point of view) computers, most modern writers submit manuscripts electronically. Rewrites and copy edits are all conducted now through the magic of track changes and transmissions. Gone are the days of hauling manuscript boxes to the post office, not to mention pages that bristled with pink "flags", the comments and queries pasted to the edges of pages by editors. I've gotten to the point where the only words on paper I see in the entire process are in the finished book – and the way things are going, that may soon vanish, too.
But what did writers do in the days before paper clips and Post-Its? How did an early novelist who was already struggling to make sense of a handwritten manuscript mark revisions and additions? According to the librarians of Oxford's Bodleian Library, the answer is pins – and lots of them. All those notes and insertions and extra copy were handwritten on scraps of paper and pinned in the margin with a straight pin. The pins, above, were all plucked from the library's holdings, and date from 1692 to 1853.
In 2011, the Bodleian acquired a true Jane Austen rarity: the manuscript draft of her abandoned novel, The Watsons. (See here for more about the auctionand the staggering realized price, as well as a page of the manuscript itself.) In addition to the clues to cross-outs and rewrites on the draft provide, there were also a wealth of pinned-on additions. For purposes of preserving the manuscript, these pins were carefully removed with their notes, studied, catalogued, and saved – a librarian's scholarly labor of love.
But as a fellow-writer, I like to imagine Jane at work at her small writing table. I wonder: did she use the same pins she used for her clothing, or did she have another stash of pins reserved for writing? Did she keep a pin cushion on the table with a stack of scrap-paper sheets beside her inkwell, prepared and ready to make changes? Or did she tuck them into her sleeve like a hurried seamstress might, keeping them literally at hand when she needed them?
Here is the link to the original article about literary pinning by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. Thanks to Deb Barnum for first sharing this story with us.
Above: Manuscript pins, c. 1690-1850. Bodleian Library.
Jennifer Jansen of Historic Locust Grove very kindly contacted me to offer more information and a link to Adelphi Paper Hangings, which makes the the historically accurate wallpapers we can see at Locust Grove, the 1809 Hedge House, and other museums and historical sites. The wallpapers are based on surviving materials in historic houses and collections.
Clicking on Catalog will allow you to explore the stories behind Adelphi's historic wallpapers, which range from the mid 1700s to the early 20th century.
This includes information about the Bamboo and Drapery wallpaper we saw behind the commode.
The Plymouth Ashlar paper appears in the halls, and does seem like stone in certain lights.
The photo above of the parlor piano shows the dramatic play of wall covering and floor covering in natural light. The wallpaper looks to me like Plymouth Stripe and Vine, but in green. However, I'll let the wallpaper experts enlighten us, if they wish.
In 2010, I wrote the following post about the exhibition "Threads of Feeling," a sample of the 18th c. tokens accompanying children left at London's Foundling Hospital. Alas, because the exhibition was in London and I live near Philadelphia, I was unable to see it. Now a version of the exhibition has come to America, to the DeWitt Wallace Museum in Colonial Williamsburg, from now until September 1, 2014. I'll be visiting this summer, and will be sure to report then. In the meantime, I'm rerunning my original post in case any of you will be in Virginia to see it first. Click here for more information, and here for a poignant slideshow with highlights from the exhibition.
Most surviving clothing from the past belonged to upper class women, princesses and peeresses and the daughters of wealthy merchants. But one of the most important collections of 18th c. English textiles came from a far more humble group: the unwanted children given up to London's Foundling Hospital.
Created by Royal Charter in 1739, the Hospital was one of the earliest attempts to combine private philanthropy with organized charity. Led by prosperous shipbuilder Thomas Coram (1668-1741), the organizers of the Hospital had two goals: not only to offer a more humane alternative to parish workhouses (in whose dubious "care" over 75% of abandoned children died), but also to provide a suitable workforce for the growing Empire's industry, agriculture, domestic service, and the military. The project became a fashionable charity among the nobility, and was endorsed by Queen Charlotte herself. The Hospital's handsome new buildings included paintings by William Hogarth and a chapel financed in part by concerts given by George Frederic Handel. During the early years, admitted children were given excellent care by 18th c. standards, including inoculation against smallpox, and were taught marketable skills as well as how to read and write.
In the beginning, the only requirement for admission was that a child be under two years of age and in good health. Children were to be left anonymously and without questions, and at once the new Hospital became the best hope of desperate mothers. Over 4,000 infants were left between 1741-1760, and the billets cataloguing their admission (and often, sadly, their too-early deaths) have been preserved. Pinned to each child's page is an identifying token that had come with the child. In some cases, this is a tiny linen cap, sleeve, or ribbon rosette, but most often the nurses simply cut a swatch from the clothing the child was wearing when admitted. The tokens were kept in case a mother's circumstances improved and she came to reclaim her child. Almost none did.
Today the Foundling Hospital is a museum, and a selection of these admission billet pages is currently on display in an exhibition called Threads of Feeling (the show runs until March 6, 2011); the exhibition also has a Facebook page. Eighteenth century children's clothing was most often cut from adult clothing, and the swatches show a wide range of textiles, from the simplest threadbare linen to costly printed silks. While the billets are of great interest to historians and sociologists, as a novelist (and a mother), those little scraps are heartbreaking. They represent the last contact a mother had with her child, her last chance to make her baby "look pretty" for the strangers who could provide a better future than she could herself.
If, like most of us, you can't make it to London for the exhibition, a selection of the billet pages appear in the excellent book The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth Century England by John Styles. Above: Yellow Satten Flowered. Silk woven in a flowered pattern. Foundling number 13187. A girl aged about 14 days, admitted 20 June 1759. Died 2 July 1759. Photograph from the Foundling Hospital Museum.
In 1971 the U.S. moved Memorial Day to create a long weekend. This one kicks off summer for those of us living in the colder parts of the country. (In my part of New England, for instance, tomato planting may begin.) Originally observances took place on 30 May, on what was called Decoration Day. Since the sales and barbecues can obscure the real story, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to offer some photos and information about the holiday's origins and meaning.
Last year, I offered some photos of the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy in two blogs, here and here.
This panoramic photo (please scroll horizontally for the full effect) shows another American Cemetery. This one is at Suresnes, near Paris. The photo was taken at the Memorial Day ceremony on 30 May 1920. I found it very moving.
Images courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
We're back with a holiday edition of Breakfast Links - our weekly roundup of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and photographs, all gathered for you from the Twitterverse.
• What Jane Saw: amazing new site follows Jane Austen's visit to 1813 blockbuster exhibition of the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
• Why we celebrate Memorial Day.
• Photos of 1940s American cowgirls.
• The modern history of swearing: where all the dirtiest words come from.
• The rise & fall of charm in the American man.
• In honor of Memorial Day, a World War II military uniform.
• The madwoman in the attic: Mr. Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre & the treatment of the insane in 19th c. England.
• A baby carriage fit for a president's grandchild, 1891.
• Small is classically beautiful: a lovely hand-painted fan, c. 1805-1810.
• Pin-up queens: how three female artists shaped the American dream girl
• Very few women worked for the East India Company in the early 19th c., but here are two of them.
• How Emily Wilding Davison's 'suicide' at the 1913 Derby affected the Suffragette movement.
• A few little wagers: how an 18th c. gambler made money by not marrying.
• The moon and epilepsy in the eighteenth century.
• A fashionable postcard photograph, c. 1910-1913.
• In a well in Spitalfields: remnants of 14th c. London life.
• Think you know Pride & Prejudice inside out? Try this interactive text analyser.
• This weekend's the official beginning of summer, and here's an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow, red, & purple bikini to help celebrate.
• A Georgian-Regency recipe only for the most adventurous: boiled cow heel.
• Necessary for bakers: the biscuit break.
• Old faces in new places: review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new European galleries includes links to all the paintings.
• Long may it wave: a fetching coiffeur, 1940.
• The Boar's Head, Cheapside, in 1773 was no longer the wild tavern of Falstaff's time.
• The killer mobile device-Swiss army knife for Victorian women.
• Swat that fly! "Remember the female is more deadly", 1913.
• Deborah Sampson, woman warrior of the American Revolution.
• Vile poisoner or Victorian victim? The case against Florence Maybrick.
• Of captions, clerics, & queens: tweeting the medieval illuminated manuscript.
• The FBI spent two years analyzing "Louie Louie", playing it at different speeds to find any secret messages.
• "A terrible evil": Edgar Allen Poe writes about his wife's illness & death.
• The "recipe" book of an early 19th c. maker of dyes for fabrics.
• After being sealed for 100 years, a time capsule reveals pristine artifacts from the past.
• There are plenty of reasons why parents may read more with their daughters.
• Box of widows' caps, 1870s.
• A pair of luscious 1920s silk robes de style. • Punch looks at Vauxhall Garden's last days, 1859. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
What better way to start off the first holiday weekend of the summer than with an awesome mash-up? Everyone knows at least one line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet - often without knowing they know it - and this video is the proof. In the words of Geoff Klock, the video's creator, it's "198 movies and TV shows quoting Hamlet in less than 15 minutes, because I thought that was funny." We did, too.
After Loretta's post earlier this week featuring a tambour work petticoat border, I thought I'd elaborate a bit on this once-popular form of embroidery.
Although the origins of tambour embroidery are a bit hazy, it appeared in Europe in the 18th c. and quickly became a popular pastime for ladies. It was considered exotic stitchery, which contributed to its popularity, and many of the finest commercial examples were imported to Britain and France from India and Persia. The rather fanciful portrait of an 18th c. Turkish lady (or more likely a French lady in Turkish dress), left, shows her working tambour embroidery on a large hoop tambour frame.
There is only one stitch to master in tambour embroidery. Instead of a needle, very fine, sharp hook is punched through a tightly stretched fabric to catch a fine thread from beneath and draw it up, creating a linked, chain-like stitch. The name "tambour work" comes from the way the fabric is held taut between two round, fitted hoops, resembling the head of a small drum, or tambour. (Demonstrating tambour work, below left, is our friend Janea Whitacre, mantua-maker from Colonial Williamsburg.)
A pattern was usually marked on the fabric, to be followed by the embroiderer, and designs werecommercially available. Because the thread is continuous, a practiced worker could stitch more rapidly than by other traditional embroidery methods. It also required less concentration, which made it perfect for being industrious while socializing with friends. The finished work could be almost lacy – a popular effect when working with white thread on a white fabric – or dense with shades of color. By working rows of chained stitches closely together, it was possible to achieve beautifully shaded colorwork with a great deal of depth and subtlety, such as in this fragment, upper right.
With its single rows of chained stitches, the Hedge House petticoat border was likely the work of an industrious amateur, a lady proudly enhancing her own clothing. Much more elaborate tambour work was produced by professional embroiderers, to be made up into fashionable garments by tailors and mantua-makers. Sometimes this embroidery was done to a specific size, like the front of a gentleman's waistcoat, while other examples show an entire length of cloth covered with embroidery to achieve an overall pattern. The detail of the petticoat, lower right, shows how two such lengths were stitched together.
While tambour work embroidery was wildly popular from the mid 18th c. through the early 19th c., needlework goes in and out of fashion like everything else. In 1834, a French machine was introduced that could reproduce tambour-style embroidery at a rate 140 times faster than a woman working by hand. The commercial embroiderers vanished, and the ladies who were the amateur tambour workers were developing other interests as well. Victorian tastes shifted away from delicate needlework to the less demanding Berlin work in wool on canvas, and by the 1840s, tambour work was relegated to something your grandmother had done, and virtually forgotten. Top left: A Turkish Woman, by Angelica Kauffmann, 1773, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. Top right: Fragment of Tambour Work, India, 1700-1800, silk on cotton. Winterthur Museum. Lower right: Tambour Petticoat, France, 1700-1750, wool on linen. Winterthur Museum. Bottom left: Photograph of Tambour Work, by Susan Holloway Scott.
Among the 1809 Hedge House's many interesting objects are two doll houses.
A relatively intact doll house helps us get an idea of the way a home was furnished and decorated. The actual house, on the other hand, having undergone numerous changes over the years, demands quite a bit of historical detective work to restore it to the way it looked during a given era.
I'm not sure there were any descriptive placards for these doll houses. If there were, we failed to get pictures of them, and so I'm going to have to use my best guess, and invite audience participation.
The one with the dolls seems to be Victorian, given the doll's clothing. Though the floor and wall coverings are badly damaged, it has several charming pieces, like the dog. It's also retained its tiny cookware and dishes. The one without dolls may be Victorian, too, given the floor coverings and the style of the love seat and sofa. You'll note that the beds do not have box springs, or the sort of mattress familiar to us. Under the mattress are rope supports. If any of you has ever slept on this kind of bed, I think we'd all like to know how comfortable it is or isn't.
I spent a lot of time early in my career trying to get straight the matter of Where They Went. By the early 1800s, Some houses did boast lavatories, but even in many great homes, chamber pots and furniture like this prevailed.
This one is particularly elegant, and shows well against its dramatic (and historically correct, yes) wallpaper. Our guide very kindly opened it for us.
The bedroom where it's located holds many other beautiful objects, including a pristine shaving stand, a cradle, and the elegant Knapp Bedstead.
The bed hangings are still in the collection, but too fragile for display I was just as happy without them, because one can clearly see the structure of the bed. The room's darkness helps us understand why the wall paper used such bold, vivid designs.
I recently attended a Jane Austen Tea at the 1809 Hedge House, one of three historic properties the Plymouth Antiquarian Society maintains in Plymouth, MA. You’ll be hearing about it for most of this week, because Executive Director Donna Curtin and her team very kindly answered questions, and allowed me to take photographs. But as you know, photos are nothing like the real thing—so if you’re in the Northeast U.S., put this on your field trip list.
Today we’re taking a close-up look at a beautiful piece of embroidery that was once a border for a skirt or petticoat. Because of the length, we had to photograph it in sections (the photos have been cropped a little, too). Since tambour work was something the lady of the house or her daughters would do, this might be the work of the dress’s owner, whoever she was. It was not only a ladylike occupation, but a wonderful form of artistic expression.
Why do we have only the border? Maybe the dress was damaged in some way, or went out of style, and the border was meant to be used in another article of clothing. Or maybe the work was done by a loved one, and preserved out of sentiment. Whatever the reason for our having a fragment, we can get an idea of what the complete dress looked like here at the Met Museum.
It's that time again – when stars collide, and our deadlines do, too. There are some writers who plan and plot carefully in advance, so that deadlines offer no terrors for them. We, alas, are not among that group.
We're going to take a week off from blogging & tweeting to write furiously on our books, so that we, like the writing lady, left, will one day have cupids deliver crowns of laurels to us. We promise we'll be back here at the blog next Sunday night, with lots of fresh historical delights. Many thanks for understanding!
Laurels for the lady writer, S. Wale delin.; B.Torand sculp. London c. 1750. From the collection of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Happy Mother's Day! To celebrate, we're serving up our freshest assortment of Breakfast Links, our fav links of the week to other blogs, web sites, articles, and pictures, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• Edward Gibbon Wakefield twice acquires brides through elopement - or was it kidnapping?
• Everything you know about corsets is false.
• Putting on the pounds: Georgian pound cake.
• The wonderful London Sewing Machine Museum.
• How the latest version of The Great Gatsby still gets flappers wrong.
• A history of the red-and-white striped barber's pole.
• Sifting through the myths surrounding Revolutionary War heroine/legend Molly Pitcher.
• Do you have the right personality to become a secretary in 1959?
• The unfortunate demise of the flying man of Pocklington, 1733.
• How to ride the New York el tracks like a boss, c. 1877.
• Slices of wedding cakes, royal and presidential, become prized by collectors.
• The ecstasy of a modern romantic: dancer Isadora Duncan writes her memoirs, 1927.
• This week in 1813: the Prince Regent is a guest of honor at a grand commemoration dinner for Sir Joshua Reynolds.
• Liquorice: "The spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down."
• A new old look at Mother's Day.
• Bare beauties (almost) from the 1920s.
• Sweet potato (i.e., potato buns that are sweet) bun: 18th c. recipe, plus modern version.
• Under the poodle's fluffy coat is a dog with history of bravery, intelligence, and battlefield know-how.
• Vintage photos: the statues & effigies of Old London.
• Remedies for an unusual case of menstruation in 18th c. England.
• Elegant Merlot-Larcheveque day ensemble, c. 1867.
• How paid newspaper advertising started in Boston, c. 1704.
• When women ruled or influenced the Ottoman Empire: the 16th-17th c. Sultanate of Women.
• The lies you've always been told about the QWERTY keyboard.
• "She that's here interred needs no versifying": unusual 17th c. gravestone, Malden, MA.
• The ghost who ordered a hat, 1900.
• Not your ordinary sampler from the 1870s: the Obsidian Serpent.
• A series of wealthy Van Buren women retain their once semi-rural family home on 14th Street as NYC rises around it.
• Collecting a century of Girl Scout uniforms & memorabilia.
• Quick tip for 1777: If you're a Loyalist trying to pass for a Patriot, talk about "King Hancock" won't work.
• Gorgeous textile sample & swatch books from 19th c. to view online.
• True, or history myth? A deerskin was worth a dollar, hence the origin of the word "buck."
• Polychromed plumes of 1888. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls and receive fresh updates daily!
While writing my bustle posts this week (here and here), one question kept popping up: how did women sit down with an enormous false-backside to get in the way?
Coming to the rescue is fellow Nerdy History Girl Jennifer Rosbrugh, who is featured in today's video. Jennifer teaches historical and modern sewing techniques that go into creating beautiful period garments from the Regency, Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian eras for the costuming and reenacting communities. (Her wonderful web site is here.)
For a 21st c. woman, Jennifer clearly knows her way around a 19th c. bustle. Wearing Victorian undergarments with a replica lobster-tail bustle in the style of 1886, right, she demonstrates how a lady would maneuver a bustle gracefully into a chair.
Sitting in the window is her cat Finley, who has obviously seen it all before and is not impressed. We, however, are. Thank you for sharing the tutorial, Jennifer!
Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a blank rectangle or square in place of the video. To watch the video, please click here.
The following questions about Regency era fashions for plus-size ladies appeared in the comments for my Fashions of May 1810 post:
“These historic illustrations are very pretty but it seems they do the same injustice that modern day models do. They portray ultra thin women. That might be okay for even an average size woman but what was the 'larger' lady to do? How was she supposed to know what a particular fashion would look like on her? Are there any illustrations of fashions for 'fat ladies'?”
The illustration at top is typical of Regency images of women. As Susan pointed out in The Myth of the Regency Sylph, a plumper ideal of beauty (e.g, "A First Rate" in the print) held sway than what appears in fashion plates. However, this doesn’t mean that the caricaturists didn't mock fat women. The era was misogynistic to a horrifying degree. Still, as the image below demonstrates, the caricaturists made fun of fat men, too, even when that fat man was the Prince of Wales. But satirical prints were equal opportunity mockers, ridiculing skinny people as well.
Fashion illustration, then and now, can be as exaggerated as caricatures, and thin women prevail—though, as slim as the women in my 1810 fashion post are, they’re certainly not the size 00 we see in today’s fashion magazines. The less curve you have to draw around, the easier to display a dress design, apparently.
So what did the not-sylphlike ladies do? Anyone aspiring to the kinds of fashions shown in, say, Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblée, would have her clothes made by a dressmaker. This person, known by the 1830s as a modiste, would not only make the clothes but, to the extent the client permitted, act as stylist as well. A dressmaker who wanted a successful business would take care to dress her client in the most flattering way, a point I do try to get across in my Dressmaker series. (The third book, still in progress, will address directly the challenges of the less-than-fashionably-ideal figure.)
Even though fashion thrives on the new, newer, newest, even the most casual survey of fashion history shows that certain trends and styles just keep coming back for another appearance. After writing about bustles earlier this week, I began thinking of other eras when the emphasis was on the female backside. For the last five centuries or so, this emphasis has come during the '80s - the 1580s, 1680s, 1780s, 1880s, and yes, even the 1980s. It's a coincidence I can't begin to explain, but here's the proof. (As always, please click on the images to enlarge.)
Sixteenth century ladies liked their skirts large and round and shaped like drums. Their skirts were supported by hooped constructions called farthingales. By the 1580s, the most stylish ladies (like these dancing at the French court, upper left) enhanced their
farthingales further by adding a bum roll, or French farthingale: a tightly stuffed sausage-shaped pillow that tied around the waist and sat on the hips, adding an extra boost to their farthingales.
A hundred years later, and stylish seventeenth century ladies like the French countess, right, were choosing mantuas for court c. 1685. Worn over a matching or contrasting petticoat (skirt), a mantua was a trained open gown, draped at the hips, and with a long, trailing train. The mantua was worn over small hoops and stiffened petticoats, and the train was pleated and gathered into an oversized pouf to accentuate the rear view – which this caricature seems to think is the ideal place for a devil to ride.
Throughout the eighteenth century, hoops grew wider and wider (see here and here), but by the 1780s, the width was finally beginning to decrease, with the narrow columnar dresses of the Regency era on the horizon. There was one final exuberant exclamation of fullness, left, centered on the back skirts. Yards of light-weight fabric were pleated into the back waist to create the most fullness, and then supported by a pillow-like pad of cork (for lightness) that tied around the waist. This pad was inelegantly referred to as a cork rump, and inspired the caricaturists of the day like thisandthis.
Themid-1880s brought bustles at their most extreme, right. With their steam-punk blending of fashion and invention, these bustles sent a lady's skirts projecting so sharply that they turn up at an acute angle from the waist, as if trying to take flight. No wonder the children are staring in wonder!
By the 1980s, the artificial padding had settled on the shoulders, not the hips and bottom. But the emphasis on the posterior achieved a new intensity with the introduction of designer jeans. Previously jeans were the clothes of rebels, cowboys, and 60s hippies, and few were made to fit a women's figure. Savvy designers soon combined the casual feel of traditional jeans with a skin-tight fit and back pockets that featured studs, rhinestones, appliques, and fancy stitching. Brooke Shields standing with her butt angled outward in her Calvin Klein jeans, below left, caused a huge furor - even as her posture echoes centuries of past fashions. Upper left: Evening ball for the wedding of the Duc de Joyeuse, detail, c. 1582,
Louvre. Upper right: Anne Marie Francoise de Saint Hermine, comtesse d'Mailly, c.1685 Lower left: Fashion plate, from Magasain des Modes Nouvelles, Francaises et Anglaises, July 1787. Lower right: Fashion plate:Evening dresses from The Season, vol IV, February 1885. New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Bottom: Calvin Klein jeans advertisement, featuring Brooke Shields, 1980.
This post about New York City’s Moving Day was supposed to appear on May Day, but my brain experienced a technical error, and I posted fashions instead. We're going to pretend my OCD brain doesn’t care if I don’t post on the exact date, and direct you instead to this interesting saga.
Apparently starting in New York’s colonial era, 1 May was designated Moving Day. This was because all the rental agreements expired on the same day, and landlords inevitably raised the rent, and so…
…everybody moved. This practice, which foreigners found very strange, indeed, continued until after WWII.
Rather than rephrase a story told and illustrated beautifully elsewhere, I’ll simply direct you to two excellent accounts:
When I visited the Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the definite highlights for me were the dresses with bustles. Objectively I knew what bustles were: an exuberant silhouette in women's fashion that began in the late 1860s and continued for roughly twenty years, a style of skirt that offered an exaggerated backside in varying sizes, shapes, and amount of drapery. I'd seen examples before, too. But I was unprepared for the sheer size and magnificence of the exhibition's gowns with bustles from the early 1880s, when the style reached its most extreme.
For once the fashion plates and caricatures didn't really have to exaggerate. The drawing from a French fashion magazine, upperleft, shows how stylized the fashion had become, with the bustle jutting out to hold the skirts a good 12-18" behind the lady's waist. To modern eyes, the bustle appears like an extension for carrying small children, or perhaps one of those old vaudeville-style horse acts with a second person hiding beneath the skirts.
But the longer I looked at the bustles on the actual gowns like the one, right, the more I could see the appeal. (Here are two more examples from our Pinterest boards, here and here, and the rear view here of Mme. Bartholome's dress.) A woman in a dress like this would have definite presence. She would occupy so much space that she could not be overlooked or ignored. Her already-corseted waist would look tiny by comparison.
I would love to have seen the dresses on a 19th c. woman who was skilled at managing both the bustle and the train. My guess is that with practice that over-sized rump must have had definite come-hither qualities, twitching and swaying seductively with the owner's walk - and yes, this gown was considered a walking dress, meant for outdoor strolls.
Seeing the suport necessary for a bustle, lower left, is also an eye-opener. There were many variations of bustles – here's one, another, and three more – and I imagine every woman had her favorite style, or perhaps several variations to suit different dresses. The point was to offer volume and support to the skirts without excessive weight, and in the advertisements of the day they're often touted as being "hygienic" as well.
Of course, like any high-fashion style, this walking dress is an extreme example, worn by a wealthy woman who patronized the House of Worth and Parisian couture. Women who were working on farms or in factories, or as servants or nurses wouldn't have been dragging yards of costly fabric after them. But bustles were embraced as a stylish status-symbol by the middle classes, and there are many paintings and photographs of women in dresses with bustles riding streetcars, attending church, teaching school, collecting shells at the beach, playing tennis, dancing, and generally living their lives without any real hindrance from their bustle-bumps.
More thoughts on bustles coming later this week, plus a Friday Video that will feature a lesson in sitting in a bustle. Upper left: Illustration from La Mode Illustrée, May 24, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Right: Walking dress, House of Worth, c. 1885, French. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lower left: Bustle, c. 1885, American. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Here's your fresh serving of Breakfast Links – our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and videos, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• Hope this comes to US television: recreating the Netherfield ball from Pride & Prejudice.
• Science from 1912: "Mars peopled by one vast thinking vegetable."
• All-purpose explanation: the lewd women made me do it, 1752.
• Collection of cigarette ads from 1920s-30s, claiming that smoking makes you slimmer, prettier, healthier.
• "I married beneath me; all women do": Nancy Astor, first woman to sit as an MP in House of Commons.
• First book of fashion: reverse-engineering Renaissance fashion.
• America's first secret societies used rituals to build ties among members, not foster world domination.
• Photoshop portraits: how Shakespeare, Marie-Antoinette, Henry VIII, others, might look today.
• A distinctive orange wedding dress, worn by a flapper from Maine.
• Eight famous people who had the good fortune to miss the Lusitania.
• Recreating Cyprian powder, a 17th c. perfume.
• Irish Victorian writer Amanda McKittrick Ros, creator of legendary purple prose.
• "He is an asse, a peece of ginger-bread/Gilt over to please foolish girles": 17th c. gingerbread.
• American dreams: in the 18th-19th c., where did minds wander at night?
• A lush printed taffeta evening gown by Sarmi, c. 1959.
• Lovely short animated video features Pre-Raphaelite model Lizzie Siddal.
• Tales that hang from a gentleman's watch fob, 1890.
• Solving the mystery of a British soldier buried in the dunes of Holland 200 years ago.
• The Connoisseur eavesdrops at Vauxhall Gardens, 1823.
• The first of May is Chimney Sweeps' Day.
• Sidesaddles & suffragettes: the fight to ride and vote like a man.
• Slideshow featuring four centuries of food & drink in European painting, 1400-1800.
• Cautionary tales of the 18th c.: masturbation and the dangerous woman.
• The lost 1863 Empire Skating Rink, NYC.
• The 18th c. bathing dress.
• One strong Tudor woman: Bess of Hardwick's letters now on line.
• Big backsides ruled the 1800s: the progression from the Regency through the 1890s.
• Untouched for 200 years: the curse of "The Dirty Bottles" at Ye Olde Cross, Alnwick.
• Meat pie, anyone? The true story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.
• The Thames of Old London in vintage photos.
• Fascinating ear trumpet specially designed for the Victorian wearer who was in mourning.
• Other things found in old recipe books include the contents of an 18th c. jewellery box.
• Beheaded for treason in 1820: the men behind the Cato Street Conspiracy to murder the prime minister and his cabinet.
• An 18th c. wig box, indispensable aid to looking your best after wearisome coach travel.
• Pure historical silliness: truly strange fabric shows the Founding Fathers (plus Honest Abe) shirtless & buff. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!
The Tudors got their own TV show, which, from what I've seen, took some historical liberties. But I'm not sure even TV can come close to the nuttiness of the real thing. Here, Horrible Histories offers a glimpse of a few Elizabethan laws about clothing.
Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.
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.