Category Archives: Fashion Hurts

The Advantages of Wearing Muslin Dresses

Keeping with the theme of ladies’ mishaps from yesterday, I thought I’d share with you an even funnier incident with the fireplace.

Advantages of Wearing Muslin by James Gillray (1802)

When this print was published in 1802, the fashion of wearing muslin was reaching new heights and men did not approve, at least not publicly. Muslin was skimpy, clung to curves, and could have used some fire retardant to keep it from attracting flames. Élégantes, however, would not be persuaded, and Gillray capitalized on their silliness. He should be applauded for coloring the shoes and accessories exactly the right hue according to fashion of the day.  Orange, scarlet poppy, cherry and rose were heavily favored, although I’m not sure either of these ladies would flatter the trendsetters’ view of themselves.  Gotta love Gillray for that.

P.S.  In comparison to yesterday’s Fragonard, notice the cat running away from the fire?  Yes, felines are smarter than ladies.

Come back tomorrow to see the real fashion Gillray was interpreting through satire.  I’ll be posting some colored fashion plates from 1802, one with an absolutely gorgeous embroidered dress.

Aubrey Beardsley’s ‘Albert in Search of His Ideals


What dandy wouldn’t appreciate Aubrey Beardley’s 1897 comic work? The title of the illustration indicates dear Albert will find his niche sooner or later, but right now he’s taking caricatural cues from both lady and ancient gentleman in the backdrop. His ensemble begs for the precision styling of Regency fops and calls to mind quips by Oscar Wilde (Beardsley illustrated some of Wilde’s novels and was member of the Aesthetic movement with the writer).

What do you think of Beardsley’s grotesque dandy? The illustrator was known to push the limits of eroticism and decadence, relying on polarities for dramatic effect. He liked to scandalize, but was also, somewhat ironically, clinging to a precipice of traditional authority. Beardsley died at 25 from tuberculosis, leaving art enthusiasts to speculate on the sublimity he might’ve accomplished through maturation, but his youthful body of work is impressive. He was definitely a unique talent.

Dueling Fashionistas: Lady Jane Harrington v. Jane Halliday

The latest edition of Dueling Fashionistas is fresh from the press, and ready for a vote.  First though, let’s see where the ladies who bear confusingly similar names stand in Reynolds’s portraiture:

The two Janes before you are painted in a pastoral style by the great Sir Joshua Reynolds.  In both portraits one hand is outstretched, as if directing the viewer toward the majesty she alone has seen.  Their flowing gowns are reminiscent of their muses.  Whereas Halliday’s whips on a violent breeze, Harrington’s seems composed, an extension of her easefulness.  The scenery around Harrington is also less elemental than her opponent’s disturbed backdrop of air and shadowed land.

In terms of movement, I find Halliday’s portrait irresistible.  A pale wrapper streams across her arm; her coiffure is romantically askew.  The wind is an influence she cannot control, and in rippling with it she becomes sylph-like.

Harrington’s portrait possesses more restraint.  Her hair is partially undone where it grazes over her shoulder and her gown puddles where she stands, but her general appearance recollects sublimity.  Overall, her tableau is gentler and dignified, the urn and Grecian style robes a nod to classicism over naturalism.

Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | SIr Joshua Reynolds
Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds

Which style do you prefer, and, moreover, does the triumph go to Lady Harrington or Jane Halliday? Which Jane is fairer and why? And do you think Reynolds did the ladies justice?

I’d love to hear your opinion! (Especially regarding Lady Halliday’s shoes — they’re sandals, right?)

Lady Elizabeth Foster v. Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway v. Countess of Lincoln

Another Round of Dueling Fashionistas Begins With . . . 

Source: Gibe, Wikipedia
Source: Gibe | ‘A Young Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)’

The 18th century was a glorious time for coiffures.  They were absurdly tall, sausage and pin curled, stuck with feathers and baubles and ribbons.  They housed ships and birdcages, were tools for storytelling or political/personal commemoration.  In short, they were EPIC.  Arrive at the 1780s, however, and ladies’ hairstyles fell flat.

I blame it on the hedgehog wig.   Compared with the glamorous, albeit headache inducing pouf, I’d slap the style with an ‘uninspired’ stamp, but they must have held some charm.  They were widely favored for almost two decades, from the 1780s to the 1790s.  Early adoptees touted them as a return to a more natural, effortless appearance, and they kind of are.  Maybe it’s the color–dishwater grey, like a wig that’s been trampled on in the street–or the fact that, as the name suggests, they resemble a hedgehog placed atop one’s head with a dignified curl underneath.  American Duchess replicates it with her own hair, and I must say, it’s attractive.  But the 18th century versions are frowsy.

The Analysis

If we pick the hairstyles below to pieces, Lady hedgehog #1 separates herself from #2 and#3 by wearing crown frizz.  Yes, the nemesis of modern curls was fashionable in the 1700s.  For all that I’ve lambasted this hairstyle, I believe #1’s wig is slightly more becoming.  Ladies Hedgehog #2 and #3 have smoothed their coiffures from the crown, coiled half the hair into a top knot, and curled the bottom.  The style is neater but looks like it would require a can of Elnett to keep it in place.  Hardly natural.

The Verdict

I bear a strong dislike for one and all, but I’m wondering if I’m alone here.  What do you think?  Thumbs up?  Thumbs down?  And what about the clothes? They’re pale affairs, ruffled and feminine down to the empire waist (#1 and #2) or past the fichu on #3, but not objectionable in and of themselves, right?

Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781

Let your vote be heard!  Who wins this edition of Dueling Fashionistas and why?

Borovikovsky’s Blue Sashed Ladies

It’s been ages since the first Lady Brawlers of Sarah Siddons v. Anonymous Lady v. Mary Robinson and I think it’s about time we’ve another taste of dueling fashionistas.  This offering, I admit, relies on simplicity and is not so much a copied look as it is composed of basic fashion staples.  The ladies each don a white gown, two of muslin or lawn, and one of satin.  The sashes range from sky blue to royal blue, and the similarities might be blamed on Borovikovky, who we can assume favored the look and maybe even conceived of it before he acquired his sitters.  I do have a surprise for you, however, with the entry of a young sitter by Gainsborough.  This sitter, in addition to the necessary white gown and blue sash, has added a black hat and red shoes to the ensemble.

Fashionista #1 – Docile Young Lady with Pearl Arm Band

Portrait of Elena Aleksandrovna Naryshkina – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1799)

Fashionista # 2 Precocious Young Lady  with Golden Bracelet

Portrait of Marie Ivanovna Lopukhina – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1797)

   Fashionista # 3 Young Mother with Brocaded Shawl

Portrait of E.B. Rodzianko – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1821)

Fashionista #4 Young Master with Saucy Red Shoes

Master John Heathcote – Thomas Gainsborough (1771/1772)

Time to vote ladies and gents.  Who wore it best?

Sarah Siddons v. Anonymous Lady v. Mrs. Robinson

Ever since Fashion Police gained a weekly spot on E!, I’ve been watching the show religiously.  “Bitch stole my look” is among my favorite segments and I thought it might be fun to take an occasional break from longer posts by comparing 18th century look-alikes.  We’ll call them Lady Brawlers and categorize them under Fashion Hurts.

This week I have two (or three depending on your opinion) ladies sparring for top props.  While Sarah Siddons and anonymous lady are copycats from the neck up, anonymous lady and Mrs. Robinson could very well be the same person.

Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

Portrait of unidentified English lady after a painting by Hoppner or Reynolds (late C18) © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Telegraph identifies the print as Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner, 1782

Clearly, anonymous lady and Mrs. Robinson are sporting similar poses and ensembles, but they can’t steal each others’ look if they are indeed the same person!  Going on a facial comparison alone, I see two different women, but they do resemble one another with the anonymous lady slightly more pinched in her features.

What say you?  Is there some sartorial thievery going on here?  And, of course, the essential question: who wears the look with the most panache?