Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Cool and Beautiful, 1810 Edition

A couple of weeks ago we saw an amazing summer dress from the early 20th century. Now let’s jump back another hundred or so years—to 1810—and have a look at another delightful summer costume.

This Promenade Walking Dress from La Belle AssemblĂ©e for August, 1810 may be less airy than last week’s dress, but after all, London can be chilly even in summer.
The description reads: A plain cambric round morning dress, made high in the neck, with short train, let in round the bottom with two rows of worked trimming. A pelisse of green sarsnet, made to fit the shape, trimmed round with a narrow fancy trimming, cut with two scollops on the left side, on the right with one; fastened on the neck with a gold brooch, and confined round the waist with a girdle of the same, with gold clasp. A Lavinia unbleached chip hat, tied down with a broad white sarsnet ribband; a small white satin cap is worn underneath, with an artificial rose in front. The hair dressed in full curls. A plaid parasol; with York tan gloves; green silk sandals.

I have to say up front that I adore this pelisse: I love the contrasting trim and the neck treatment, and those asymmetrical scallops blow me away. It completely dresses up the “plain cambric round morning dress”, which I am all in favor of: it means our hypothetical young lady could hang out at home quite comfortably, then toss on this awesome pelisse and be all set for a shopping exhibition, some informal visiting, or a constitutional through Green Park to visit the cows.

Speaking of cows—I also love the informality of her chip hat (known to us today as a straw hat), unadorned and held down with a simple ribbon. This ensemble is the height of relaxed summer wear…at least as relaxed as it got in 1810.

Are you as captivated by this print as I am?

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Library for London

It’s no surprise that I love reading, and libraries have always been one of my favorite places to hang out. So, when I was reading this week and came across a story about the origin of the London Library, I was intrigued. Especially about this statement:

“The London Library was established in 1841 at a time when there were no lending libraries in London.”

Scratches head.

Hatchard’s has been around since 1797 and had a subscription-based lending program that has featured in many a Regency romance. But that apparently wasn’t what Thomas Carlyle was looking for. A historian and author, he convinced literary friends that more was needed. (I am sad to report that he was also a racist—supporting slavery even though friends tried to argue him out of it.) On the literary front, he was joined by luminaries such as Charles Dickens to raise funds from more than 350 founding members for a subscription-based library of books about “all departments of knowledge.” They considered books held in the typical circulating libraries to be in the “lighter departments of literature” and vowed to be “more discriminating” in developing a serious library.

They started out with 2,000 books and the patronage of Prince Albert. Within a year, they were up to 13,000 books. While their first address had been associated with a gambling hell, they moved on to better digs on St. James’s Square and soon attracted the likes of Charles Darwin and William Thackeray. By 1855, Alfred Lord Tennyson had been appointed President.

And Carlyle? According to the London Encyclopedia, he was a terrible patron of the library he’d envisioned. He returned books late and wrote scathing comments in the margins! Maybe that’s why he had to found his own library?

And I will be hiding out in my own library over the next 2 weeks—stepping out to celebrate my wedding anniversary and Labor Day. See you September 11!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Retro Blast: Fun in the Sun...Not

Not being fond of being out in the sun, I very much embrace wearing one of my large, floppy hats whenever I stir outside in summer. Maybe I should consider a parasol as well; it would certainly help with physical distancing. This post originally appeared in 2008...enjoy!

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This parasol is not Victorian—I’m guessing it’s ca. early twentieth century—but the tassel and beautiful repoussĂ© silver handle (I wish it showed up better in the photo) are a definite reminder of earlier days.

The ideal of feminine beauty up until the early twentieth century was a fair, white complexion. To some degree, this probably had its origins in economics: if you were pale and soft-skinned, it meant you didn’t spend your time out of doors working in the fields or taking care of farm animals...which meant your family could afford to have other people do that work for you.

Of course, that didn’t mean you never stirred out-of-doors...but it did mean that when you did go out for a stroll around the garden or a gentle trot down the Ladies’ Mile in Hyde Park, or for a visit to the seashore, you used a parasol, wore a hat (and often a veil swathed over your face) and wore gloves to keep the skin of your hands equally white. Like this young lady of 1815, attired for walking.

And if (oh, horrors!) you were negligent and let your parasol drag behind or used it to keep obnoxious suitors at bay, then you rushed home to apply one of the dozens of commercially prepared lotions, like “Godfrey’s Extract of Elder Flowers...To be had of any respectable Perfumer or Medicine Vendor in Bottles at 2s. 9d. each” which promised to “...communicate a refreshing coolness and softness to the skin, and completely remove Tan, Pimples, and cutaneous Eruptions....”

By the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, this attitude had changed. As more young women of the lower economic classes took jobs in factories and shops and offices, having a tan (a light one, mind you—just a glow) implied that you had the leisure time to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits like tennis or golf or riding and weren’t stuck indoors all day, working for a living...in other words, a completely opposite attitude!