Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Guest Post: Ballooning and the Lunardi Craze, by Shelley Adina

Nineteen Teen is delighted to welcome back Shelley Adina, author extraordinaire and Regina's co-author on the Regent's Devices series, for a discussion of ... balloon fashion. Yes, really!

Balloon flight at once intrigues and terrifies me. I’ve been up in a Zeppelin airship, but that was much more exciting than frightening. The technology probably gave me a false sense of security, with its cockpit, two pilots, and propellers galore. Going up in a balloon with only a fire to heat the air and a wicker basket between me and death makes me want to adhere most positively to the ground!

Balloon flight was not invented during the Regency, but in France by the Montgolfier brothers. They had been experimenting with ascents for some time, but achieved the first free-floating manned flight in 1783. As little as a year later, a positive craze for hot-air ballooning had spread to England, where in London “the daredevil aeronaut,” Vincenzo Lunardi, went aloft with a dog, a cat, and a pigeon in a cage. (It is not clear what purpose these companions were to serve.)

As often happens, novelty and massive, fascinated crowds combined to inspire a fashion craze. Balloons might become part of one’s gown, one image showing them on the sides like external panniers, in place of the usual drawn-up outer gown. The caption in French reads, “The coquettish physicist.” And the hats! In the coquettish physicist’s hair is fixed a base that looks like a fairground, the balloon floating up out of it.  

These mad embellishments were not restricted to women—-men wore clothes with decorative homages to the new fad. One drawing of a man wearing rigging similar to that on the top of a balloon says in French, “The man of balloons, or, the folly of the day,”  A creative woman might embroider her gown’s fabric with balloons, or paint its cotton panels.

Like many fads, something that was meant to be highly visible but not very comfortable didn’t last long. The hat lasted the longest, but not the kind with actual balloons ascending from it. The Lunardi bonnet is seen in a painting dated 1782. This style lasted well into the Regency, and is fetchingly worn by Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood and Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995). Want your own Lunardi bonnet? A very nice version is available on Etsy!





No comments: