Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Christmas! We Come Bearing Gifts!

Happy Christmas, my dears!  Marissa and I will be taking the next two weeks off to spend time with family and friends, but before we go we wanted to wish you a very merry Christmas and a wonderful, productive, prosperous New Year! 

And bring you presents.  J

The first is my usual Christmas bonus, but this year with a twist.  While I contributed to the bonus, it was actually conceived and created by the talented authors at the Historical Romance Network, of which I am a member.  For your perusing pleasure, we have an annotated list of more than 60 historical romance novels set around the winter holidays.  The list is organized by era, title, and heat level, so you can find just the right book for you!  

The second is a must-see online exhibit called Beauty, Virtue, and Vice from the American Antiquarian Society library describing how women and beauty were perceived based on prints from the nineteenth century.  Fascinating!

Finally, we offer this short video showing the places key to Jane Austen’s life.  I do love the narrator’s dry voice, particularly where he talks about the “gloriously overgrown” kitchen pump at Steventon.


Enjoy your holidays, my dears!  We remain, as always, your humble servants.  See you on January 6th.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fashion Forecast 1832

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1832? As I said for 1831, BIG was in...and that trend would continue for the next several years. The dresses on this plate from February’s La Belle Assemblee’s aren’t too enormous, but I would like to know how the lady at right got her puffy dress sleeves into the sleeves of that coat! Note also the white fur boa in center:

Also from La Belle Assemblee are an Opera Dress and an Evening Dress. Note the interesting sleeves on the Opera Dress with its lappets, and the pleating on the deep ruffle edging the Evening Dress’s skirt. I’m glad to see that the Opera Dress doesn’t include a large hat or headdress, as several earlier Opera Dresses from Ackermann’s did...for which I am sure opera-goers seated behind were grateful! (April):

Prints were truly coming into their own, as can be seen in this trio of dresses from June’s La Belle Assemblee. The Carriage Dress at center is of especial interest, with an elaborately dagged pelerine capelet over gigot sleeves. And the hats! Millinery would also follow the trend of exuberance in the next few years, with lots of plumes, frills, ribbons, and flowers:

Here are a charming Ball Dress, again with sleeves in lappets and a pink overskirt, which must have been lovely when its wearer was in the middle of a lively dance. And I’m trying to decide what the seated lady in the Opera Dress is holding in her hand—doesn’t it look like a feather duster? (Court Magazine, July 1832):

Here’s a print of great interest, from the September issue of Court Magazine: a bride and bridesmaid, probably inspired by the marriage in August of King Leopold of the Belgians (Victoria’s uncle and husband of the late Princess Charlotte of Wales). And yes, the bride is wearing white with a veil draped around her hat, contrary to those who say that Victoria herself established the fashion with her own wedding in 1840). Both dresses are in the current style with full skirts and sleeves, but show a good deal of restraint in ornamentation:

Also from September’s Court Magazine are a Dinner Dress, Evening Dress, and Morning Dress, with their descriptions: Dinner Dress. A pink watered silk dress, à colonnes satinées; body with pointed folds, and bow of gauze ribbon; short sleeves, with epaulettes trimmed with blonde; white tulle Zephyr scarf. White crape hat, and pink feather. Evening Dress. A gauze muslin dress, striped green and pink, with a small running pattern over the stripes; body with small pelerines, trimmed with rouleaux. Cap open behind to show the hair, and trimmed with green gauze ribbon. Morning Dress. A chaly [challis, maybe?] dress, with small bouquets over a white ground; high body, crossed over, and epaulettes on the sleeves. Blue watered silk capote [a type of bonnet], with an alöes.[the plant, perhaps?]

Aren’t these Court Magazine prints wonderful? From October’s number are a Ball Dress and Evening Dress; the skirt of the Ball Dress decorated with quite outrageous bows around the skirt, and the green Evening Dress with enormous gauze oversleeves and a pink polka-dotted turban:

This plate from December’s Court Magazine is described as a Carriage Dress, but it’s hard to see anything of the dress because of the enormous caped and fringed mantle covering most of it, with a definite paisley design around the hem—perhaps made from an Indian textile or at least copied from one?

What do you think of 1832’s fashions?

Friday, December 12, 2014

How a Smart Lady Dressed Well

Marissa’s new series on fabrics got me to thinking about how a lady in the nineteenth century went about choosing her gowns.  I will admit that a large percentage of my closet was built from other people’s castoffs.  Goodwill, Value Village, Bargain World, and the local Methodist Church rummage sale have decked me out in fine style for many years.  In nineteenth century England and America, a lady had several choices for finding the perfect outfit.

If she had enough money, she might hire a seamstress, taking designs in her favorite ladies magazine to show the seamstress what was wanted and picking out fabric and notions.  If the seamstress was sufficiently famous or the lady and seamstress had a longstanding relationship, the lady might allow the seamstress free rein in coming up with both design and fabric, and spend the requisite amount of time being pinned and fitted so the gown was exactly what she wanted.

If a certain amount of economy was required, and the lady was handy with a needle, she might instead make the gown herself, perhaps going by patterns handed down from mother to daughter.  If new material was too costly, she might pick apart an older gown and repurpose the pieces.  This exhibit from Carlyle House in Alexandria shows how easily a heavy-skirted gown from the late eighteenth century might have been made into the more narrow-skirted fashions of the early nineteenth century.

Though “store-bought” clothing was still a ways away, a thrifty lady might consider going to a second-hand shop to purchase a used gown.  We've talked before about how ladies maids might sell their mistress’s castoffs for extra income.  If she was certain she ran in different circles from the lady in question, she could feel free to purchase a gown and refurbish it as needed.

But I bet she didn't get as good a deal as the five-dollar-a-bag sale at the local Methodist Church rummage sale.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ack’s Back! Or, Regency Fabrics, Part 1

One of the coolest bits of my dear Ackermann’s Repository is that for about the first six years of its existence, from 1809 to some time in 1815, it not only published fashion and other prints of various scenery, but also plates which had actual fabric samples from British cloth manufacturers, in an effort to support the cloth industry. As was stated in the first issue in January 1809 (which alas I do not own), “Patterns afford the manufacturer an opportunity of circulating a new article more extensively in one day, than can be done by sending a dozen riders with it through the country. It will likewise afford persons at a distance from the metropolis the means of examining and estimating the merit of the fabric, and of being made acquainted with the tradesman from whom it may be purchased.” In other words, advertising is a beautiful thing. ☺

These plates included both dress fabrics and upholstery or household use fabrics; in addition, there were a few plates with paper samples for artists. So if a young lady was smitten with a certain figured sarsenet, she could go directly to the warehouse that carried it (addresses of where to purchase them were thoughtfully included) and buy her new spring dresses.

I thought it might be fun to take an up-close look at some of these from my collection. I’ll periodically post them in chronological order, and include the printed description if I have them. Quality and state of preservation will vary—remember, the art of dyeing was not advanced—and I’ll try to give you an idea of both, as well as my observations of the weight and feel of the fabrics, which might not always translate via a scanned image. I hope these will be of use not only to writers of historical fiction, but also to anyone with an interest in early 19th century fashion and textiles. And, you know, they're just kind of cool to look at. Enjoy!

From April 1809—overall condition appears to be good, without much fading or change in 200 years:  


The pattern No.1 and 2. is a new description of furniture calicoes, and the scarlet colour is equally novel and striking. For many years genius and ingenuity have been employed in devising the best means of producing a scarlet dye for calicoes; and with the aid of perseverance, they have at length triumphed in achieving so valuable a discovery. In this stuff the scarlet is judiciously contrasted with a grey blue design, which not only gives it (when made up into curtains or bed furniture) an extremely rich and noble appearance, but also produces a most desirable relief to the matt and burnished gold ornaments which generally accompany them. This splendid article is the manufacture of Mr. Allen, whose private ware-rooms No. 61, Pall-Mall, contain a great variety of the most beautiful furniture cottons ever shewn in this country, after new and chaste designs of his own; and, as we understand, at very reasonable prices.

My comments: Today, I would call this a very lightly glazed chintz--it is about of that weight and slightly glossy appearance

The new and elegant article, No. 3. is denominated Scotia silk, from being manufactured in Scotland. It is a mixture of cotton and silk. The extravagantly high price of the latter, which still continues on the advance, must render an economical article like that before us, a most desirable object, as it exhibits all the appearance and face of silk, at very little more than half the price. It is half-yard wide, and is in great request for pelisses and dresses. It has been introduced by Mrs. James, inventor of fashions for ladies, 15, New Bridge-street, Fleet-street, where it may be had in a variety of colours. 

My comments: The scan isn't adequately conveying the sheen of this sample, which is quite lovely. It's a fairly light-weight fabric but tightly woven and completely opaque, and would probably drape nicely.

No. 4. a spotted muslin, is a very fashionable article; it is either worked by the hand, which of course must render it very expensive; or, like the pattern exhibited in our work, is the produce of the loom; in which case, it comes very little higher than plain muslin of the same quality. It is furnished us by Messrs. T. and J. Smith and Co. No. 34, Tavistock-street, Covent-garden. 

My comments: This almost reminds me of a dotted swiss, but with the dots on lines. It's a lighter muslin weave, so would definitely require a lining.

What do you think?  Do you want more of these?

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Nineteenth Century Book Readers Want for Christmas

And the shopping season is upon us!  In case you have yet to make your list for your family and friends or yourself, I thought it might behoove us to look at some of the lovely things out there for aficionados of the early nineteenth century.

No writer epitomizes early nineteenth century England more than Jane Austen, so it’s no surprise to find a plethora of Austen-themed items in the offing.  Take this cute tote bag from Café Press.  And yes, I do on occasion randomly (mis)quote the great Jane. 

The Jane Austen Gift Shop in the UK is also offering a number of lovely pieces, including a tea towel that says “Keep calm and read Jane Austen.”  Watch for timing of overseas purchases to make sure they will arrive in time for your gift-giving.

Then again, if you simply want to live like Jane, you can find modern merchandise recreating the era, such as these reticules on Etsy.  

Then there are gifts for those of us who write, whether our thoughts on the day or the great American novel.  Try this fountain pen-inspired necklace, also on Etsy. 

Or perhaps a journal with that old-fashioned feel.  

Finally, for the geek in all of us, I give you the perfect glasses, with lenses that angle 90 degrees so you can read in comfort from any direction.  

Please add to the list, my dears!  What are you hoping for this Christmas?  What else should savvy readers of stories set in the nineteenth century long to receive?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

And Speaking of Bandalores...

A few days after I discovered (to my enormous glee) that yo-yos were all the thing in the 1790s, I happened upon an article in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts magazine MFA Preview. There’s a very fine exhibit of the work of Spanish artist Francisco Goya on display there right now, but what really grabbed me was a reproduction of a sketch he made some time in the mid 1820s that’s part of the exhibit—I don’t have permission to reproduce it here, but you can see it in the exhibit preview slideshow on the Museum of Fine Arts website. The sketch was made sometime between 1824 and 1828, when Goya was living in Paris, and is entitled “Locos Patines”... or “Crazy Skates”—and it shows a rather alarmed gentleman wearing roller skates. Yes, roller skates—and if you look carefully at the background, you’ll see someone riding a hobby-horse, the precursor of the bicycle.

So of course I had to look into the history of roller skates, which actually date back to the mid-18th century and were first seen either on the London stage in 1743 (presumably in a dance number!), or in the Netherlands at some point in mid-century on the feet of an anonymous gentleman who wished to go ice skating in the summer, depending on who you ask. A John Joseph Merlin seems to have been making an early form of in-line skates in England in 1760, and the first patented skates appeared in France in 1819, also with an in-line wheel configuration (which makes sense, if you consider that people were indeed trying to ice-skate without ice.) An English patent followed in 1823 for the Volito, another in-line skate design, with wheels in graduated sizes which enabled easier turning (that's it, above right.) By the late 1850s, public roller skating rinks were opening in London.

Curiously, all the internet sources I researched state that skates with four wheels situated two on either side of the foot weren’t invented until the 1860s in New York...but there in the Goya sketch in the 1820s we have skates with just that configuration. I have the feeling there was a great deal of experimentation going on with their design...but who knew that roller skating was another popular 19th century pastime!

I wonder if the young Princess Victoria ever tried roller skates? :)