Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fashionable Miss Part IV: 1830-1840

Are you ready? We have a lot of fashion ground to cover today!

The clothes of the fashionable miss of the 1830s were influenced heavily by technological advances in dyes and cloth manufacture. As a result, bright colors and printed fabrics were quite popular throughout the decade, as you can see in this cheerful cherry-red dress trimmed with fur from 1830. The exuberance we saw in hats at the end of the 1820s is visible here in hairstyles...but I have to wonder what her hair looked like after an evening of lively dancing.

I see ladies' fashion of this decade also falling into two stages: the horizontal period lasting from 1830 to 1836, and the vertical period which finished off the 1830s and extended into the 1840s. Clothing doesn't get more horizontal than this green dress from 1833! Notice the cape-y, overgrown collar thing she's wearing over her shoulders? That's another distinctive feature of dresses from this period. They went by names like pelerine, canezou, mantelet, and fichu, and hypenated versions signifying their style like pelerine-fichu (what our lady in green is wearing at left). About this time, the amazing hats of the late 1820s gave over in popularity to bonnets, like the one shown here. However, as the decade went on, they too increased in size.

1835 was the height (or width) of horizontal fashion. The costume historian C. Willett Cunningham calls the 1830s a time when women's fashions went from being "exuberantly romantic" to "droopingly sentimental". I don't think you can get more exuberant than this flower-print dress at far right, with ballooning sleeves (sometimes referred to as "imbecile sleeves"!), pelerine covering the shoulders to the elbow plus a lace and cambric collar, and full round skirt. Don't forget that this is before the crinoline of the 1850s and 1860s, so the fullness in her skirt was due in large part to a lot of fabric held up by a lot of fluffy petticoats.

Between that and the enormity of the sleeves, you have to wonder how anyone could move, even to play the piano as these ladies in the print at left seem to want to do.

But in 1836, as you can see from the dress at right, the balloon (sleeve) burst and plummeted out of fashion in the matter of a few short months. In a letter to a friend written in 1837, a young debutante says this: "I hope you who are so fashionable a person have already made all your sleeves quite tight to your arm--but the question is useless for I know you would not think of going out with such an old-fashioned thing as a full sleeve at present..." Instead of being hugely wide, sleeves became snug to the upper arm (though the lower part of the sleeve could be fuller).

The droopy, sloping shoulder look came into fashion, bodices developed even more prominent points in front, and the whole look makes me wonder if the earth's gravitational field didn't sudddenly get stronger. Doesn't this 1839 miss in the picture at left look rather on the limp, languishing side?

I have to confess that after this decade, my interest in nineteenth century clothes drops off rather precipitously (along with my collection of fashion prints) because they stop being quite so much fun. So it may be a while before we continue our clothing series to later decades. However, we promise future posts on "supporting role" aspects of fashion--shoes, millinery, acccesories, and hair.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Under Where?

So here we're been discussing all our lovely young ladies in their nineteenth-century finery. You might wonder what they wore under all that.

I know some of you are.

At the very bottom layer, she’d have worn a chemise, like a loose nightgown of cotton or linen, going to about the knee. Some of the most daring young ladies omitted this so that their gowns would drape better. Next she’d wear a bodiced petticoat of cotton, cambric, or linen, although some wore flannel ones in the winter in some areas. As Marissa mentioned, later in the century the more petticoats, the better. Drawers (think cotton board shorts with draw strings at the waist and at the knee openings) were just coming into fashion and considered rather shocking.

Ask me sometime how they actually went to the bathroom in all this.

Over all this (yes over, not under) she wore a corset, also called stays. It probably didn’t have bones in the seams yet, but there would be a busk (a length of wood, ivory, or whale bone about the size of a ruler) separating her breasts. You had to have good posture wearing a corset. And, contrary to numerous films, it didn’t lace up tight like a shoe. The single string wound back and forth like a sewing needle through eyes in the stiff fabric, pulling the two sides together. There are a very few examples of stays that cross over the breasts and fasten in front. I imagine those would have been very welcome for the young lady forced to live with her father and brothers and no maid!

As Marissa mentioned in response to a comment on Tuesday’s post, they’d also be wearing knee-high silk or perhaps wool stockings held up by garters. Earlier young ladies also wore pockets under their clothes. These were fabric pouches on a ribbon that tied around your waist. Because so many of the fashionable fabrics were now sheer, pockets would have been visible, so they were considered quite passé. The idea of those sheer fabrics was to hint at the curves of the female form. There are also distressing rumors that some young ladies actually dampened their petticoats with water to allow the fabrics to cling even more.

Thinking of those cool, damp winters in England, all I can say is brrrr.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Fashionable Miss, Part III: 1821-1830

If the clothes of the first two decades of the 19th century were classically influenced (all those long white dresses that were supposed to resemble the columns of a classical temple), I’m not sure what the clothes of the next two decades were influenced by, apart from controlled substances. Think color--lots and lots of them in prints and stripes and even plaids--and richer, heavier fabrics like silks, merinos, and crepe. Hats moved from the demure turbans and bonnets of the last decade to a size and form of ornamentation that would not be rivaled in sheer goofiness until the 1890’s. Tasteful and restrained? Um, no. Easy to wear? Probably not. But fun to look at? Heck, yes!

The clothes of the years 1821 to 1830, during most of which the Prince Regent now ruled England as King George IV, now totally left classical simplicity behind. Those high waists began to creep downward toward the natural waist, and tighter lacing of corsets came back in as well. Busy was “in”: in the earlier years of the decade, the lower parts of skirts could have everything from heavy embroidery and poufs to lace flounces and artificial flowers, like the fancy ball dress on this young woman from 1821 (left). Note that her waist is still way up there, just under her breasts.

By 1825, the waist had migrated south, as you can see in this pretty yellow ball dress at right. Hems were still getting star treatment, though. I wonder if all that fluff around her feet, made of large puffs of fabric (though some dresses actually had stuffed hems!) made it harder to dance?

Over the next few years, sleeves and bodices got in on the embellishment act as well. Isn’t this 1828 ball dress at left, with its embroidered tulle skirt over an underdress of Feodore blue (named for Victoria's sister, perhaps, who got married this year), just adorably dainty and feminine?

Within a year or two dainty gave way to silly as sleeves began to balloon out into astonishing size, often requiring whalebone supports or down cushions to maintain their shape and size. And the hats! Here is a print from 1829 that will give you an idea of the size of both. And this was just the start.

On next Tuesday I’ll give you at peek at the clothes of a fashionable miss from 1830-1840, when restraint went out the window, the last vestiges of classical simplicity gave way to utterly froo-froo romanticism, and women had to go through doors sideways.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Fashionable Miss, Part II: 1811-1820

Oh, goody! More clothes!

What started out as simple, clean lines and soft, white fabrics at the turn of the century began to grow more bold. Napoleon was beaten by the middle of 1815, and more European goods and ideas began to appear in England. Perhaps most importantly for our young lady was the use of copper hooks and eyes to close clothing around 1814. No more was she completely dependent on someone else to tape, lace, or pin her into her clothes!

Between 1811 and 1820, our young miss would have had a wealth of fashions to play with. Instead of short capped or long simple sleeves for her gowns, she could request her seamstress to put on a more elaborate confection such as a Bishop sleeve (full from the shoulder down to the tight wrist) or a Marie sleeve (full from the shoulder down, but tied tight with ribbon in places). Even the names of clothing grew more fanciful. You might go out wearing a Circassian wrapper (a close-fitting cloak a bit like a long nightgown), a Kutusoff mantle (three-quarters-length close-fitting cloak worn pinned at the neck, perhaps trimmed in velvet), or a Witchoura mantle (a long cloak with a little cape over the shoulders, sometimes of fur). You might cover your upswept curls with a Semptress bonnet (a bonnet with ribbons so long you could cross them under your chin and bring them back up to the top of the bonnet in a bow) or an Armenian toque (a small turban trimmed with feathers and spangles).

The pale colors of earlier years gave way to carmine, Forester’s green, Mexican blue, and Nicholas blue. In fact, blue of any shade was quite the thing. Sheer fabrics gave way to those with more texture, such as Angola and Cashmere. And everywhere there was more decoration: more lace, more ruching, more cording, more ribbons, and row upon row of ruffles at necks, sleeves, and hems.

I must admit to enjoying the more bountiful coloration, but the excess of furbelows quite gives me the vapors. Er, that is, the bright colors are cool, but it’s all a bit froo-froo for me. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Queen Victoria Part IV: Prisoner of Kensington Palace

Dramatic title, huh? Well, this part of Victoria's story is pretty dramatic.

When we last saw Victoria, she was ensconced in Kensington Palace with her mother the Duchess of Kent, her half-sister Feodore, their governess Baroness Lehzen, various lesser servants, and the Duchess' comptroller (which means he sort of ran the household, kept the books, managed the Duchess' money) Sir John Conroy and his family.

By all accounts Sir John was an ambitious man. He took a look at Victoria's uncles and made a shrewd guess that in all likelihood, they weren't likely to produce many more legitimate children...which meant that at some future time, Victoria would become Queen regnant of England. This must have been a dazzling propsect to Sir John...the heiress to the throne of one of the most powerful countries in the world was right there before him, a child he could perhaps mold and influence...and perhaps he saw her as his ticket to greatness. Whatever it was he saw, it made him act.

His first plan was to make himself indispensible to the Duchess, and this worked; in short order she was completely dependent on him for almost everything in her life. Once Sir John had her where he wanted her, he started to play on her fears: here she was, a stranger in England yet mother of the nation's probable future queen. Her late husband's family was large and sometimes a touch irrational...what should happen if her precious Victoria should somehow fall into their hands? Sir John worked her into such a state that she began to avoid all contact with the King (George IV) and the rest of the family, fearing they might kidnap her child and bring her up at the dissolute, morally corrupt court. Which meant that her sole company was pretty much Sir John and his family, plus her sister-in-law Princess Sophia, another Kensington denizen equally under Sir John's spell.

So by the time Victoria was a girl of six and eight and ten, she lived an isolated life at Kensington, barely seeing even her cousins, and only rarely being permitted to play with the children of suitably aristocratic acquaintances of her mother. Her much older, much loved sister Feodore married a German princeling and took much of Victoria's fun with her when she left for her new home, and Victoria's only playmates were Sir John's children, especally his daughter Victoire whom she came to detest. Instead she became extremely close to her governess, "dearest Lehzen", who was fanatically devoted to her and who distrusted Sir John.

Sir John may have succeeded at isolating the little family and keeping them more or less under his thumb...but he failed drastically at influencing Victoria. Instead of cultivating her confidence and friendship, he treated her to a great deal of "chaff", blustery, over-familiar teasing that she loathed. She was always polite to him--indeed, she had no choice as her mother would never have permitted her not to be--but underneath, she seethed.

Years passed, and between them Sir John and the Duchess maintained their stranglehold on Victoria. She was not allowed her own bedroom but slept in her mother's room, and was not allowed to walk down a staircase unaccompanied (someone always had to hold her hand). She kept a diary which was read and "corrected" by her mother every evening. Dreary life for a young girl, wasn't it?

Stayed tuned for the next exciting installment, "Queen Victoria Part V: 'She Must Be Coerced!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Fashionable Miss, Part I: 1800-1810

Oh, I get to talk about clothes! No, no, you mustn’t make me . . . well I suppose I could . . . just give me the keyboard!

What did the fashionable young lady wear in the earliest part of the nineteenth century? It was a rather daring time for fashion. Gone were the hoop skirts and huge powered wigs of the previous generation. High-waisted gowns now draped the human figure in sheer fabrics that emphasized the breasts, often revealed a lot of arm, and hinted at shapely legs.

White was the in color, and muslin the in fabric, for day wear and evening. Some white fabrics had little tufts (sprigs), and many were embroidered along the hem, in panels down the front , on the bodice, or throughout the fabric. Many dresses gathered at the neck in ruffles. If the necklines were a little lower, a young lady might wear a bit of lace in the opening for modesty.
Or leave it out and be though a bit fast.

For evening, a demure young lady would still be advised to wear white, but the dresses were embroidered with gold thread or draped with gauzy overskirts. Jewels glittered in the deeper necklines, and the sheer fabrics were covered with patterned shawls and tippets (long, thin strips of material, usually swan's-down or fur). Ball gowns might be made of silk, satin, lame, or crepe. And of course every young lady had her velvet evening cape.

Shoes were flat, like ballet slippers, of fine kid leather in many colors and even prints. Fans were large and made of fabric on bone or wood. You may have seen Marissa’s earlier post on the subject. You could really whack a saucy fellow with one of these babies.

I like classic lines in my clothes, so I probably would have gone for the ruffles-at-the-throat look. A swan's-down tippet sounds like too much fun (can’t you just imagine twirling it or wrapping it about your fingers as you chat with friends?), and I’d adore a black velvet evening cape. A girl can never have too much velvet.

How about you? What would you choose to wear?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

And the Answer Is...

Thank you to all of you who sent in your guesses for my contest…I hope you had as much fun guessing as I did reading your answers!

The mystery implement is indeed a glove stretcher. Kudos to those who observed that a bone or ivory implement was probably not suitable for curling tongs...and I was impressed by the ingenuity of Robinoh's guess of corset bone extractor. But yes indeed, this funky little tool was used to enlarge the fingers of kid gloves...as Ingrid pointed out, the fine kidskin gloves popular in the nineteenth century were extremely snug and needed a bit of a stretch before it was possible to ease your hands into them.

Oh…and the winner of the contest? There were eight correct answers...and the name I drew out of my offical Red Sox 2007 World Champion baseball hat was Sarah Lindsey's. Sarah, I'll be contacting you through your Blogger ID shortly. And if you didn't win, don’t worry--I have another mystery object or two stashed away, and had so much fun this week that I'll repeat the contest with a new one next month.

The subject of gloves leads nicely into a series that Regina and I have been thinking about doing…an introduction to nineteenth century women’s clothes. When I say “an introduction”, I mean just that--a overview of what young women were wearing in the first half of the nineteenth century. We’re not going to get too technical--there are some amazing books and websites out there that can tell you all the details of how fashion changed from year to year and precisely how clothes were constructed and so on. But we’d like to give you an idea of what you might have worn if you were a young woman in 1800 or 1815 or 1830.

First, a little background…

Where did clothes come from, anyway? Did your fashionable 19th century teen head down to the galleria when she was preparing her wardrobe for the London season?

Uh, no.

Ready-made clothes sold in stores were a thing of the future. Even the concept of clothing sizes hadn’t really come into being yet. What our hypothetical teen would have done is pore over the magazines of her day looking at the fashion plates, then go with Mama to the drapers’ to buy fabric or off to a dressmaker’s shop--you’ll sometimes see them referred to as a modiste or mantua-maker. All her clothes--from undergarments to coats or cloaks--would be made specifically for her. Less wealthy girls might get last year’s gowns from better-off relatives that they would refurbish, and older sisters might hand down outgrown clothes to younger sisters. No Abercrombie. No Gap.

So keep that in mind as Regina tells us about what the well-dressed teen was wearing between 1800 and 1810 in our next post.

Friday, January 4, 2008

You Want Me to Follow That?

Wow, so many reasons to celebrate! Marissa runs a contest, and dozens of people comment. Of course, now I’m supposed to write something equally enthralling.

Tough act to follow.

So, here’s another reason to celebrate. It’s coming up to Epiphany on January 6. That could be a major celebration in nineteenth century England, depending on how seriously your family took the custom. You might have a Twelfth Night Cake, a light cake covered with powered sugar or sugar sprinkles. In it was hidden a bean, a pea, and a clove. The gentleman who found the bean was crowned king for the day; the lady who found the pea was crowned queen. Whoever found the clove was dubbed a fool or knave. If a woman found the bean or a man the pea, she or he was allowed to choose a consort for the celebration. The leaders got to decide what games to play, when to eat, and who to favor.

Some houses had masks and playacting as well. People drew from a hat the names of characters such as Captain Blunderbuss, Farmer Mangel-wurzel (oh, my beloved mangel wurzels!), the Duchess of Daffodil, Lady Bluestocking, and Lord Goldlace and had to play the part all evening. Supposedly Jane Austen once drew the name of "Miss Candour," which meant she had to be perfectly honest about her opinions all evening. "And that is a perfectly shocking dress, Miss Scott. I wonder that you do not die of embarrassment this moment to be seen wearing it."

And here’s one more reason to celebrate, for me, at least. Belgrave House’s Regency Reads line is republishing one of my older books as an electronic book. The Unflappable Miss Fairchild tells the story of a young lady who can’t be flustered, a man born to fluster any woman, and a love poem to a hunting dog. Really.

And if that weren’t enough to be happy about, today is my friend Meryl’s birthday
She reads this blog, so I’m hoping she’ll see this. Happy Birthday, Meryl! Everyone wave!

Happy Twelfth Night, everyone! And be sure to come back Tuesday to hear Marissa tell all and unveil the winner of the advance reading copy of Bewitching Season!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's a...a...what is it, anyway?

Do you know what this is?

It’s eight inches long and two inches wide at the open end. It’s made out of bone or ivory, with a spring hinge made of metal. As you can see from the photos, the handles are meant to be squeezed together in order for it to do its job, which is…what?

Hint number one…it was found on every lady’s dressing table in the nineteenth century.

Hint number two...it is not a pair of beginner's chopsticks.

Want to venture a guess as to what this item was used for? Send me your guesses in the comments column now through Monday evening, January 7. I’ll check in over the next week to drop more hints in case you're struggling. All correct guessers will be entered in a drawing to receive an advance reading copy of Bewitching Season, so if you send in a guess, be sure to check back just in case I need to get your mailing address.

Have fun! And Happy 2008 to all of you.