Thursday, March 23, 2017

From Paris to New York City: Hedgehog Hair, c1785

Thursday, March 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

It's a still-too-popular myth that early Americans were unfashionably plain and self-sufficient, wearing simply braided hair and clothes of homespun fabric. In this unrealistic vision of 18thc life, women not only tended the sheep, but spun the wool, wove the thread into fabric, and then cut and sewed all the clothes for their family.

Well, no. Very little fabric was produced at home, and nearly all of it was imported. People who lived along the coast were eager to follow the fashions of Paris and London, and the latest styles were imported along with fine woolens, silks, cottons, and linen. Even settlers and Native Americans living on the frontier traded for woolen cloth made in England. European visitors were surprised by how fashionable Americans were, and how the ladies in Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York followed the same trends as their sisters abroad.

These two portraits show how swiftly and thoroughly fashion came across the Atlantic. The portrait, left, of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, was painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1785. The queen wears her hair in the latest style, a la hérisson, or the hedgehog, devised by her hairdresser Léonard-Alexis Autié. Monsieur Léonard (as he was known at court) cut the front of the queen's hair shorter, brushed it with a scented "hard" pomade made from beeswax, curled it on narrow rollers or with heated tongs, and frizzed it for extravagant volume. Unlike today, frizz was an 18thc lady's best friend, and the more, the better. Loose falling side curls towards the back soften the effect. Finally the entire hair is dusted with a starchy powder to whiten it. (See here, here, and here for more about 18thc hair powder and pomade.)

The queen not only favored this hairstyle, but found it was a good "support" for the oversized turbans, plumes, and poufs she liked to wear during this period. While white-powdered hair was beginning to fall from fashion - it disappeared for good with the French Revolution - the queen continued to powder her fair hair to an even whiter pallor, the better to show off her complexion in contrast.

Variations on the hedgehog style were popular throughout the 1780s. Many of the ladies in portraits by Thomas Gainsborough sport hedgehog-inspired hair, and the hairdressers of the recent movie The Duchess gave Kiera Knightley wigs with stupendous hedgehogs.

In 1787, the style was being worn in New York City, too. The second portrait, right, by American artist Ralph Earl, is of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of then-member of the Continental Congress Alexander Hamilton; she's also the heroine of my upcoming book I, ELIZA HAMILTON. The Hamiltons were a fashionable young couple in Federalist New York City and in Philadelphia, attending the theatre, balls, and dinners with equally fashionable friends, and would have been very aware of European styles in hair and dress.

In her portrait, Eliza has clearly followed the royal trend-setter. Some historians (male, and dismissive of fashion history) describe her as wearing a wig, but that's her own hair, frizzed and powdered into an elegant hedgehog. It's a surprisingly close copy of the queen's hair, down to the horizontal falling curls at the back, although Eliza chose a simpler headdress of fine linen or silk gauze instead of Marie-Antoinette's plumed turban.

That snowy white hair must have taken a considerable amount of powder to achieve, too, for beneath it Eliza's natural hair color was described as a very dark brown, almost black - you can see it showing through the powder. So much powder made a statement of affluence as well. Hair powder was considered a luxury good, and while flour could be substituted as a low-cost alternative in a pinch, the best powder was imported, a finely ground mixture of starch, bone, and orris root for scent. It's likely that Eliza wore her hair this heavily powdered only for special occasions, and by the time she sat for another portrait in the 1790s, she'd given it up, and is shown wearing her own dark hair. There is, however, a record of Eliza receiving a gift of hair powder in 1780 from Martha Washington - a thoughtful present from another 18thc lady who enjoyed a good powdering.

Above left: Marie Antoinette with a Rose by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lower right: Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Mrs. Alexander Hamilton by Ralph Earl, c1787, Museum of the City of New York.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Amazing Angle Lamp

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Loretta reports:

As well as going under the Mound House of Estero Island, I entered the house itself, which has been lovingly restored to one of its earlier incarnations. Indoors included an immense bathroom (from a later period), which holds some fascinating exhibits for both children and adults.

But what caught my Nerdy History Girl attention was the lamp in the restored living room. A guide told me it’s an Angle Lamp, and showed me an old advertisement for it. Turns out this was a well-known type of kerosene lamp, which was around for quite a long time, and whose advertisements appeared in numerous periodicals.

Many of us tend to assume that, as soon as a new lighting invention came along, the old ones went away. But of course not. Just as today, we don’t always have the latest model refrigerator, people in the past, for the most part, kept their stuff until it didn’t work anymore and couldn’t be fixed. I exclude, naturally, the people who always have to have the latest thing, because they were around too, needing the most up-to-date caves, I’ll bet.
Angle Lamp 1907 ad

With lighting, it’s not necessarily a matter of making things last, though this is part of the story. People continued to use older types of lighting because the newfangled inventions were either suspect, e.g., for safety reasons, or simply for practical reasons. Thus gas began lighting the streets of London long before it lit private houses. In between, it blew up some buildings. Electric utilities came into being in the early 1880s, but it was a while before they became ubiquitous. And it was another while before many people deemed electric light safe, healthy, and/or not hideous.

You can read more ads and some fascinating claims (e.g., white light causes blindness!) via these links
The Mayflower, Volume 20, Issues 10-12 1904
 
The Medical Brief 1899

Watson’s magazine Vol 6 (1906)

Floral Life Vol 5-6 (1907)
—and many more by simply Googling "Angle Lamp"

Advertisement Image
American Monthly Review of Reviews Vol 36 (1907)

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Parade of Potential Nursemaids, 1827

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Susan reporting,

I recently spotted this amusing illustration on the Instagram account of Patrick Baty, an expert on the history of paint and colors (and a good friend of this blog), and he has graciously permitted me to share it with you here. It hasn't appeared anywhere else, because it's from his family papers, a drawing done by one of his ancestors to amuse the rest of the family. As always, click on the image to enlarge it.

The illustration is entitled Preparations for the Grand Review December 1827. Patrick describes it as a "piece of family satire. Drawn as a result of a letter from my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Susanna Graham, from Hove to the housekeeper at their London house. 'Get as many nurses as you can collect against our coming up' [was the order.] As Madame la Générale, she orders: 'Fall back there - eyes right.'"

To explain a bit more: moving a large family from one house in the country to another in London must have been a considerable challenge for Mrs. Graham in 1827. Here she stands, sword in hand and a feathered turban on her head, reviewing the possible nurses that have been gathered. Another lady (whose name I can't make out, but who is wearing an equally formidable hat) beats the drum and says "Rub a dub, rub a dub, who'll enlist?"

The nurses are a mixed assortment of women, wearing equally assorted attire. The caption in the upper left gives them each a brief statement, ranging from "I have a sweet voice & good lungs" to "I speak grammatically." Most poignant is the statement of the elderly woman who's first in line: "I have lived 50 years in my last place."

Whichever of the nurses is finally hired (perhaps all!), it's clear that there will be certain strict standards to maintain. The family carriage is fast approaching in the background, filled with heads that likely belong to the children, and flying a standard that proclaims "Perfection or death." I feel sorry for those nurses. . . .

Many thanks to Patrick Baty. His new book, The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, will be published this July.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of March 13, 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The tale of an unusual portrait: President John Quincy Adams painted as a hornpipe dancer?
• Noble squares and charming cheesecake: a Regency tourist's London diary.
• Who knew that corset rust was a serious washday problem?
• The cheapest bookstore in the world: James Lackington and the creation of modern bookselling in 18thc London.
Tattoos as memory-prompts: the introduction of Social Security numbers brought with it a very modern anxiety.
Image: Mourning bonnet with skeletal black lace leaves and mauve poppies, c1885.
• Fashionable blues of the 18thc.
• A tough place to work: in a box, submerged, digging out dirt from a river bed, 1873
Radical motets from a 16thc nunnery by the youngest daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.
• Martha Washington's diamond ring, a rarity in 18thc America.
• From immigrant shopgirl to multi-millionaire: how Clementine Cahn built a real estate empire in 19thc New York City.
• Erica Wilson, the Julia Child of needlework.
• How to bathe like an 18thc queen.
Image: Locket engraved on the back: "Hair of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, cut from her head Sept 6 1784 when her tomb at St Edmundsbury was opened."
• The art of silhouette (and courting) in Winslow Homer's illustrations for James Russell Lowell's The Courtin', 1874.
• A guide to choosing the right kilt.
• How preserving a 19thc opera house in Leadville, CO became one family's obsession.
Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, collaborated with Thomas Tallis to compose music to rally her husband for war.
Image: Ola Brooks of Mount Carmel, TN, placing index tabs, 1933.
• The unsung delights of a well-designed endpaper.
• Robertson's fantastic phantasmagoria, an 18thc spectacle of horror.
• On-line exhibition: postcards from early burlesque performer Miss Kitty Lord, chanteuse excentrique Anglaise, and her tour of Egypt, 1908-12.
• The advertisement of a tailor in Portsmouth, NH, 250 years ago.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Video: A Golden Music Box with a Rope Dancer, c1785

Friday, March 17, 2017

Susan reporting,

Loretta and I both have a well-documented (here, here, and here) weakness for automatons and other mechanical trinkets for the very wealthy in the 18thc. Automatons were often made as a collaboration between jewelers and watchmakers,  and it's difficult to say whether this luxurious little beauty is a music-box masquerading as jewelry, or an ornament that makes music. Imagine a gentleman taking this from the deep pockets of his coat to entertain his friends, or a lady keeping it among the other amusements on her bedside table, ready to wind up and play for a special child.

Automated music-box, gold, Geneva, c1785. Victoria & Albert Museum.

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or a black box where the video should be. To watch, click here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Mound House of Estero Island

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Loretta reports:

I guess this is the week Susan and I blog about houses.

My subject, in Florida, is by far the younger structure, dating to the early 1900s. Surrounded by a beautiful garden, the Mound House overlooks Estero Bay.

What makes this place remarkable are the ancient foundations on which it’s built: a shell mound 2,000 years old. Native American coastal people known as the Calusa built it between 100 BC and AD 700. Here they lived, fished, worked and played. Then, for reasons unknown, they stopped living here in AD 700. They would come by to the edges to repair nets and clean fish, but otherwise stopped using it. What we know of them indicates that they weren’t driven out—not that early, at any rate, because they were apparently the most powerful people in South Florida, to whom other tribes paid tribute. Centuries later, in 1513, they attacked Ponce de Leon the first time he stopped by, and are believed to have fatally wounded him on his second visit, eight years later.

May I add that every sentence here could easily be expanded into a blog post—and that’s only before 1600. The 20th century alone is filled with Mound House incident. The place, in short, has quite an exciting and not always peaceful history. But let’s stick to the shells, millions of them, in distinctive layers, which archaeologists have used to piece together the site’s history.

Ironically, we wouldn’t know as much as we do (and as archaeologists continue to learn), if one of the house’s owners hadn’t engaged in wanton destruction, bulldozing the site for a swimming pool. When, years later, the Town of Fort Myers Beach acquired the site and the pool was removed, archaeologists could study the mound site in detail.

Searching “Mound House, Estero Island” online will bring you to a number of articles about the site. You may also want to check out their blog, which includes a video of the demise of the swimming pool and what was revealed.

Note: The image of the Calusa is part of an immense mural that covers a wall of the information center.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little House that Survived a Major Battle, 1777

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Susan reporting,

One of the best parts about writing I, Eliza Hamilton is that I've been able to visit so many of the places that were familiar to my characters. Alexander and Eliza Hamilton lived most of their lives in New York and Pennsylvania, with some months spent also in New Jersey during the war. As a young man, Alexander served as an officer in the Continental Army, and was the senior aide-de-camp of Commander-in-Chief General George Washington. For obvious reasons, Eliza wasn't there on the front lines with Alexander, and since this is her book, not his, I've only now been playing catch-up and visiting "his" battlefields.

This past weekend, I braved the cold to traipse across the Brandywine Battlefield, located in Chadds Ford, PA. The Battle of Brandywine was fought on September 11, 1777. It was the largest battle of the Revolution, involving the most troops (over 30,000 men between the two armies), and the longest battle as well, with fighting that ranged over 11 hours in ninety-degree heat. It was not a good day for the Continental Army. Not only were they soundly defeated with significant casualties, but their retreat also permitted the British Army to capture Philadelphia (then the country's capital) virtually unopposed. And yes, twenty-year-old Alexander Hamilton was one of those soldiers in the retreat.

There is, of course, few signs of the battle left today. Housing developments and highways close in around what remains of the battlefield, a fraction of the long-gone open space of 1777. The word "battlefield" itself has always struck me as something of a misnomer, sounding as it does like some carefully designated and set-aside place for war. The Battle of Brandywine took place across farms and around homes, river fords, and meeting houses, and as wars always do, changed forever the lives of those caught in the middle of it.

The house of farmer Gideon Gilpin (shown here) still stands, and it is open to visitors as part of the Brandywine Battlefield historic site. Gilpin was a prosperous wheat and dairy farmer whose family had been among the first English settlers of the region. He lived with his wife and six young children in the two-story, four-room stone house shown here (the ell with the porch is a later addition.) Like most of his neighbors, he was a Friend, or Quaker. Quakers believed that war and conflict went against God's wishes, and refused to choose sides or fight during the Revolution.

It was a difficult and unpopular stand to take, especially when the war spilled over onto Gilpin's land. Standing inside the little stone house, I tried to imagine what that September day must have been like for the Gilpin family, who remained inside their house while the battle raged nearby. With shutters closed, the thick stone walls protected them to a certain extent, but considering how seasoned soldiers spoke afterwards of the terrible fighting and steady gunfire from the artillery on both sides, it must have been a horrifying ordeal.

Imagine trying to comfort your small children when you're terrified yourself. Imagine hearing the sounds of war, without knowing exactly what was happening. Imagine wondering if the next round of cannon fire will be near enough to shatter the wall of your home.

The Gilpins and their house survived, but the aftermath of the battle may have been even more difficult for Gideon. His crops - so close to harvest - fields, and trees were destroyed. Worse yet, the British had taken not only the bacon, hay, and wheat he had in storage, but all his livestock: milch cows, sheep, swine, and his yoke of oxen, the 18thc farmer's equivalent to a tractor and a truck. His farm was in ruins, and he was left with no way to feed or support his family. It was enough for Gideon Gilpin. Soon after, he chose to side with the Continental cause - and was read out (or expelled) from his Quaker community for doing so.

I think there could be another book here....

One more quick Nerdy History fact: that enormous sycamore tree in the background of the bottom photo is certified by the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture to have been standing at least since 1787, the year the American Constitution was signed. Most likely it, too, is another survivor of the battle.

The Brandywine Battlefield historic site includes not only the Gilpin House, but the Benjamin Ring House, which served as Washington's headquarters. They've just reopened for the season; their website is here. Special thanks to Andrew M. Outten, director of education and museum services, for his first-rate tour of the Gilpin House.

All photos ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Edward S. Curtis and His Record of Native Peoples

Monday, March 13, 2017


The offering-San Ildefonso

Loretta reports:

Currently I’m in Florida, living around the corner from an ancient Native American site (about which I’ll post later), which has made me conscious of how much has been lost of our history, as native peoples and their cultures were decimated or wiped out entirely, thanks to not only to Europeans, but sometimes, other Native Americans. We’ll never see photos of Southwest Florida’s Calusa tribe members, but thanks to the photographer I’m featuring today, we have thousands of images of other Native Americans.

Edward Sheriff Curtis built his own camera when he was twelve and became a professional photographer in his late teens. In the early 1900s, he embarked on a project of photographing Native Americans that lasted more than 20 years.
Lucille
The Library of Congress has a large collection of his photographic prints. Above and below are examples from the online images. But before searching for Edward S Curtis at the Library of Congress, you might want to take a look at these large- scale images at LightStalking, some of which I found deeply moving as well as breathtaking.

Images all by Edward Sheriff Curtis:
all courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Cheyenne Belle
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of March 6, 2017

Saturday, March 11, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• One woman's Boston Tea Party.
• The Great War, and great changes for women.
Avis Clarke: a female pedlar, or chapman, 1624.
• Benedict Arnold's phantom duel.
• Did Jane Austen become virtually blind because of arsenic poisoning?
Image: Pugs are just a millennial obsession: illustration from Strand Magazine, 1892.
Ada Lovelace, the first tech visionary.
• The ideal American home, c1841 according to Catharine Beecher.
Taking the waters at Buxton in 1800.
• How dishabille in 18thc portraits symbolized female empowerment.
• Springing forward into Daylight Savings Time with Uncle Sam, 1918.
Image: Suffragettes outside the Kennington Oval Cricket Ground, 1908.
• How did corsets evolve into girdles?
• In the years following World War One, women took to the skies, pushing the limits of what was possible.
Martha Washington, the first First Lady.
• A lazy but tasty recipe for Regency-era lemonade.
Image: The wallpaper from Emily Dickinson's bedroom.
Spices for the 18thc kitchen.
• The suffragette and fascist Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery.
• An upmarket new suburb for London in the late 17thc: the development of St. James's.
Image: Just for fun: 1970s men in jumpsuits.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Video: Evolution of the Three-Piece Suit

Friday, March 10, 2017
Loretta reports:

A while back, Mr. Caleb Wells of T.M. Lewin very graciously sent us this timeline for the evolution of men’s clothing. (Do zoom in. It’s an interesting overview.)

At some point, I hope to pursue nerdy historical detail for several of the timeline items, especially the coat shirt, i.e., the shirt that buttons all the way from top to bottom.* Today, however, we’re going to look a little more closely at the three-piece suit and its development, courtesy Timothy Long, Curator of Fashion at the Museum of London.



*Contrary to what we see on our romance novel covers, until late in the 1800s, men’s shirts went on over the head.

If you're having trouble seeing the graphic, here's a full-size view—with thanks to Karen Anne, for finding it!

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

From the Archives: Stealing Kisses Inside Hats, 1810

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Susan reports:

When we last saw the fashionable young Parisians of Le Supreme Bon Ton, they were swimming together with a vigorous freedom that seemed astonishing for 1810. Now the ladies and gentlemen are back on shore and dressed in their fashionable best, which, for the ladies, includes the new style of deep-brimmed hats. While the hats shown were doubtless exaggerated by this artist, the name given to the wearers ("the invisible ones") does imply that the wearer's face was well-hidden. Undaunted, the gentlemen seem determined to pursue the ladies inside their brims, and make the most of the privacy the hats provided – with clearly mixed results.

But while at first glance this print seems to be satirizing the fashionable headgear of the ladies, I believe the gentlemen, too, must be feeling the artist's sharpened barbs. Consider these amorous swains. Exactly how long must their necks be, that they'll be able to reach their ladies' lips for a kiss? And what misfortune has happened to their breeches? Over and over we read about the provocatively close-fitting breeches favored by young gentleman in this time period, and yet the ones these poor fellows are wearing are...not. 'Nuff said.

Except, of course, what's satirical sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, even in the land of the Bon Ton.

Above: Les invisibles en Tete-a-Tete, from the series Le Supreme Bon Ton, No. 16; artist unknown; published by Martinet, Paris, c. 1810-1815

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From the Archives: Dressing the Regency-Era Plus-Size Lady

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
1802 British Vessels

Loretta reports:

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 the 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.

Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room
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, Vixen in Velvet, directly addresses the challenges of dressing the less-than-fashionably-ideal figure.)

Illustration  credits:
Top: British Vessels. Described for the Use of Country Gentlemen,1802, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  Bottom: George Cruikshank, Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room, courtesy Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Abigail Adams Disapproves of French Fashion, 1800

Sunday, March 5, 2017
 Susan reporting,

I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog that one of the things I enjoy about writing books set in the past is the clothes. My next book, I, Eliza Hamilton, covers about thirty years, from 1777 to 1804, and what a period for clothes!

As a wealthy young woman and then the wife of a prominent lawyer and statesman (who wasn't above being something of a male peacock himself), my heroine Eliza's wardrobe follows the fashions of the day, from dresses worn over whalebone-stiffened stays and hoops with powdered hair to the airy high-waisted dresses of the early 19thc. It must have been quite an evolution, but it was one that she embraced. As her even-more-fashionable sister Angelica Schuyler Church wrote as the closing of a letter in 1794: "Adieu my dear Sister yours with all my heart. Remember that your waist must be short, your petticoats long, your headdress moderately high, and altogether a la Grec...."  Words to live by, indeed.

But not all American women (or statesmen's wives) were so eager to follow the latest trends. In 1800, Abigail Smith Adams was the First Lady, her husband John serving the final year of his term as president in the then-capitol of Philadelphia. Ladies there were quick to follow the latest fashions from Paris, but Abigail was having none of it. She had recently read an article (probably something of a sermon) by a lay preacher  who "thinks there are some Ladies in this city, who stand in need of admonition, and I fully agree with him." Does she ever: here's more of her commentary in a letter written to her sister Mary Smith Cranch:

"The Stile of Dress...is really an outrage upon all decency. I will describe it as it has appeared even at the drawing Room - a Sattin petticoat of certainly not more than three breadths gored at the top, nothing beneath but a chimise over this thin coat, of muslin...made so strait before as perfectly to show the whole form, the arms naked almost to the shoulder and without stays or Bodice...and the "rich Luxurience of naturs Charms" without a handkerchief fully displayed...when this Lady has been led up to make her curtzey, which she does most gracefully it is true, every Eye in the Room has been fixed upon her and you might litterally see through her....[Most of the other ladies also] wear their Cloaths too scant upon the body, and too full upon the Bosom for my fancy, not content with the Show which nature bestows, they borrow from art, and litterally look like Nursing Mothers....The Lady described & her Sister, being fine women and in the first Rank, are leaders of the fashion, but they Show more of the [word illegible] than the decent Matron or the modest woman."

In fairness to Abigail, there's probably more going on here than fashion alone. This era marked the beginning of the two-party system in American politics. Her husband John was a Federalist; the opposing party, led by Thomas Jefferson, was the Democratic-Republican Party. One of the issues dividing the two parties was the French Revolution. The Federalists abhorred the violence, chaos, and breakdown of traditional government of the Terror, while the Democratic-Republicans believed the Jacobins were simply following the precedent of the American Revolution, and the bloodshed of the guillotine was unfortunate but necessary. At the time, America was also engaged in an undeclared naval war with France, the aptly-named Quasi-War.

The unstructured, classically inspired fashions from Paris might be the latest style, but to Abigail they likely were also the clothes of the Jacobins and the French Revolution. This was a political fashion statement that she'd no wish to approve, let alone wear herself.

It's also difficult to know exactly how far the American ladies were willing to follow the French. The English fashion plate for April 1800, right, seems modest enough, and so does the portrait, lower left, of Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis (Sally Foster), whose husband was a Federalist congressman. But then there's this portrait, upper left, of a now-unknown French woman dressed in the most extreme (and extremely revealing) version of the style.

Above left: Detail, Portrait of a Young Woman in White by Circle of Jacques-Louis David, c1798, National Gallery of Art.
Right: Full Dress for April, 1800, anonymous fashion plate.
Lower left: Detail, Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis (Sally Foster) by Gilbert Stuart, c1805, Reynolda House Museum of Art.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of February 27, 2017

Saturday, March 4, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A five-minute guide to Callot Soeurs Couture.
• House of cards: the politics of calling card etiquette in 19thc Washington.
Katherine Johnson of NASA: she was a computer when computers wore skirts.
• What digital does: Queen Charlotte online.
Image: A dog who knows how to steal the show.
Marie Antoinette's daily schedule.
• Welcoming in the month: all kinds of march.
• The weaker sex? Violence and the suffragette movement.
• Was Elizabeth Jeffries really a cold-blooded killer of a victim of domestic abuse?
• A guide to commuting in Regency England.
Image: Entrance from Mile End of Whitechapel Turnpike by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798.
• Zoom in on Paul Revere's eye-witness drawing of the Boston Massacre, the only eye-witness drawing.
• Who was Benjamin Tallmadge and what was the Culper Spy Ring during the Revolutionary War?
• It's Shrove Tuesday, so ploughmen should be cooking the cockerel they won from the farmer on Plough Monday.
• James Hatfield, the mysterious would-be assassin of George III.
Thomas Jefferson and the case of the missing letters.
• The now-lost Riding Club was formed in 19thc. New York City so that the wives and daughters of millionaires could ride in fashion - just not be members.
Pancake recipe from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in a 16thc cookbook.
• What a story! Robert Smalls, former slave and Civil War hero.
• Jane Crothers, witness to the Boston Massacre.
Just for fun: Image: Whoa, there, Mrs. Morse. I'm not a Michelin chef.
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Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday Video from the Archives: Leaving Work, c1895

Friday, March 3, 2017


Susan reporting,

After posting the early film clip from 1896 of a snowball fightthe creation of the pioneering French film-maker Louis Lumière (1864-1948), I looked for more of his work to share here.

This short silent clip is known as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon), and it's exactly that. Using natural daylight, Lumière set his camera across the street from the exit of his family's factory at closing time and recorded the workers – mostly women, though there are a few men in top hats – leaving for the day, plus a single large, inquisitive dog. Lumière filmed the same scene three times, on three different days, which accounts for the varying light as well as other differences like the carriages that come through the gate.

While I love seeing the clothes worn by everyday working women (plus the hats!), this film is famous for another reason. It was one of ten short films shown together to an audience on December 28, 1895 at the Salon Indien du Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, making this the first public screening of films with an admission fee charged. Each film ran about 50 seconds, shown through a hand-cranked projector. And, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fashions for March 1822

Thursday, March 2, 2017
Walking Dress February 1822
Loretta reports:

With last month’s fashion plates, I mentioned the style change that began after Waterloo. Dresses became more structured, less drapery-like.

One of the things we start seeing is a stiffening of the hem, using wadding, flounces, etc. These two dresses demonstrate the change. If you compare the opera dress of 1813 and the evening dress of 1822, the difference is clear.

I would remind readers, though, that the dresses themselves were not as stiff and geometric-looking in real life as in the fashion plates.  Susan offered us a good example back in December.
Evening Dress February 1822

Here are some  examples of 1820-25 dresses from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
A wedding dress

A morning dress

An evening dress

1822 Dress description
 



Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
 
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