Category Archives: Fashion

Elizabethan Fashion: Any Way You Slash It

A recent reader comment sent me on a journey to discover the history of the style you see below.  If you’re a regular around here, Lady Diana Cecil may look familiar to you (she’s the lady in the punchbowl).  When I first wrote about her, I had no idea what to call the cut-outs on her gown.  Now that I have been educated, I can confidently say they are called slashes, and their history is fantastic.

Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger's House, Suffolk Collection)
Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

According to popular legend, it all started with a chappie called Charles the Bold.  he was the Duke of Burgundy and in 1476 the Swiss beat his ass on the battlefield.  Ever enterprising, the Swiss looted Charles’s possessions and stumbled on an idea: why not turn the loser’s luxury fabrics into patches that could repair the soldiers’ uniforms?German mercenaries thought this a practical solution to fixing their military garb, and the French court swooned at their unwitting panache.  By the 1500s, slashing was seen all over Europe, brightening ensembles and adding relief to the density of ornate fabrics, as shown on the sleeves below.

Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens
Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens (1620-25)

Another possible origin of slashing describes soldiers cutting strategic lines in their leather tunics to improve maneuverability/breathability but it’s a much less colorful history than Charles’s story.  Whatever way the trend came about, slashing emerged from military fashion and was adopted by both men and women.  Pinking or dagging, which is to say cutting shapes and pulling the bottom fabric out to contrast with the top, was also popular but can you guess which country sported the most elaborate interpretation?  I would’ve said France, but it’s Germany.  A brief exploration of 16th century German portrait painters did not illuminate exactly what this would have looked like, but I did discover that Albrecht Dürer could moonlight as Jesus. In other words, if you happen to know of a good example of the German slash style, do send it my way.

Portrait of a Lady by a follower of  Francesco Salviati del Rossi
Portrait of a Lady by a follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi

The lady above represents what I’m going to call the entry point into slashing. If you were a fan of subtle, you could go for a few slashes in the shoulder like her, but the style really runs the gamut. I’ve shown you sleeves, shoulders, and the fronts of gowns. That is just the beginning. Shoes and boots were given the knife to add color to otherwise simple designs, and anything that could be slashed was slashed.  The moral authority in Europe even called the peek-a-boo trend depraved. Fashionistas, however, knew there were few upgrades easier than cutting a hole and adding a stitch to keep it from tattering. Even Robert Dudley was a fan.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)

So what do all of you think of this style? Love it?  Trash it?  Willing to resurrect the 1980s style of wearing tights under ripped jeans?

The Whims of Fashion, October-December 1802

Happy Monday everyone. I’m back for the last day of fashion plates in 1802, which will take us all the way to December.  You can rejoice about these plates because color has returned.  Yep, yesterday’s black and white plates have gone packing.  Hallelujah!  If you missed any of the previous posts, find them here: January-March, April-June, July-September.

October of 1802

In Paris:

What do you guys notice about this month? A star-printed dress. Love it! Can’t say I’ve seen that before. Yellow has obviously been making strides as there is no pink or rose to be seen. The magazines does refer to capotes bonnets (see satire here) of pink taffety being worn though.

Fashion is beginning its trickle down this month.  The black straw hat  has been adopted by the middle classes. For the elegantes, jonquil hats and sky blue dresses are now the thing. The hated cropped hair a la Titus is starting to die out, and the full bodies of dresses are being pulled in for a slimming style. Turbans have come back, but they are now made of shawls. The other headdress of choice is a veil worn at the halfway point on the top of the head. Similar to the dress pictured, black hats are ornamented with coquelicot, or corn poppy colored, stars. Feathers are less common, and instead scarlet poppies are worn. Full sleeves have also seen their moment come and go.

In London:

The only fashion of real note is sky-blue muslin dresses worn tight around the neck with white muslin sleeves. Silk seems to be the preferred fabric for bonnets, caps, and headdresses. Black remains popular.

November of 1802

In Paris:

Check out the hair. It’s tufted up top and pinned with a golden arrow. Kind of fabulous, kind of not. Hair dressing has made a leap, and there’s even a reference to the locks of hair that fall over the turban being two different colors. Hmm, wonder how they achieved that.  Artificial hair? It’s mentioned all throughout 1802, maybe as a side effect of regret from hair a la Titus?

So what’s new, you ask?  Feathers are dead, and flowers of the capuchin color are worn instead.  Based on earlier references to capuchin accessories and dresses, I take capuchin to refer to the robes Capuchin friars wore, so I think they’re talking about brown flowers–which is different.

On account of the cooling weather, black beaver hats are making an appearance. “Two kinds of dresses are also remarked in the most fashionable circles: one is kind of fold, formed by a shawl which falls down upon the neck and discovers the hair in the midst of it; the other is a turban made with a shawl, embroidered with spots of gold or silver, one point of which hangs down on the left shoulder. The accompaniments to the first dress are gold pins in the shape of arrows, caducea, or lyres combs with gold or diamonds.” Marigold, jonquil gold, rose, and pistachio green are the favored colors. Also, white fur, which was popular in winter of 1801, has returned. Something fun about November? The most fashionable ladies wear tinseled turbans with their evening dresses.

In London:
Humbug.  The descriptions are omitted this month, so we are out of luck.

December of 1802

In Paris:

Rose, white, and marigold are the colors for December, though lilac is mentioned as a “rival.” Maybe a throwback from summer since it’s now chilly outside.

Hairstyles range from simple to complicated. The most fashionable is a l’Angloise, which is described as “cut square and turned back over the forehead.” To complement this style, the hats are now high upon the head so that the hairstyle will show. Black velvet hats are gaining ground, and are worn with orange velvet bands. Orange colored velvets hats are also common. There is mention of gaiter boots “which resemble leather and stuff.” Greatcoats in whitish or drab colors appear with body coats of blue and black underneath. Is this 1802’s answer to winter wear? Beaver hats are already becoming unstylish, and I see in December the first mention of fans. They are popular in white crape, black, or Egyptian brown, and sport spangles of gold, silver, or steel.

In London:

Amber, coquelicot, green and purple are the in colors. White cambric muslin dresses are popular (still!) Lace remains popular, but cloaks are now longer worn; pelisses and fur tippets have taken their place.

And whew, we’re done. Are you guys sick of plates yet? I think I might be and that leaves me trolling through my notes about what I should write about next.  I do have something Elizabethan in the works, but I take suggestions!

If you haven’t had enough fashion plates, I have two sites for you.  The Incroyables et Merveilleuses has plates from the Directoire period here.  The Los Angeles public library also has a mind-boggling rich resource in the Casey Fashion Plates here.

The Whims of Fashion, July-September 1802

Welcome to day three of The Whims of Fashion in 1802.  If I haven’t mentioned it on the January-March and April-June posts, you can visit the selections from The Lady’s Magazine by clicking on any fashion plate within the post.

July of 1802

In Paris:

Although it wasn’t shown on June’s fashion plate, the long train is starting to shorten. By July, it has come back with full force. Robes are also getting longer in the waist too, and the colors have changed.  Apart from white, sky-blue, rose and black are popular. Wait, black? Really?  We’ve talked about black lace and black velvet caps, but dresses. Before when I looked at portraits, including the one I shared earlier this week of Lady Francis Courtenay, I have always assumed black was for mourning.  Apparently, this is untrue.

One more thing to note is the headdress. It’s similar to a handkerchief and called a fichu en marmotte. Hairstyles a la Titus (like Lady Caroline Lamb) have caught on, but The Lady’s Magazine disapproves. They refer to hair in the front being saved from the “fatal scissors,” and in the months to come will blame the style on the hot weather.

Hair a la Titus, directoire period

Pinned and plaited is the style for ladies who refuse to relinquish their long locks.

In London:

Fashions are “much copied” from the Parisian styles, but there are some differences. The Rohan hat, “made of frivolity, twist, and willow,” has been invented by a Madame Lebrun.  Green, yellow, and lilac are also the sought after colors.  Walking dresses are “short, and flounced round the bottom.”  A pretty bonnet of pink silk trimmed with black velvet and white ostrich feathers is described.

August of 1802

Again with the black and white–not nearly as fun, but July to September is colorless. Imaginations, start firing.

In Paris:

Veils are still worn, but instead of being tied under the chin, they lay flat against the hair and drape over the head. Round dresses and Marmaduke tunics prevail. Also remember when I talked about black dresses being reserved for mourning? Well, this month dresses of black crape are all the rage. They appear with full sleeves and are complemented by a black straw hat instead of the formerly favored white hat. Poppy colored ribbons, striped in black, are a common color combination–beautiful in nature and lovely on a lady:

Papaver rhoeas

In London:

Pink is in! For evening the dress of choice is a round robe of pink muslin with lace across the back. Turbans of pink, ornamented with bead and pink feathers, are worn to complete the ensemble. During the day, cambric or short dresses of nankeen, full in the front but tight in the back, are preferred. Unlike the previous Spring months, flowers are out and feathers are it. The white Spanish cloak is also worn in black now–a curious choice for the hot summer months?

September of 1802

In Paris:

Rose is back with a vengeance. I’m starting to wonder if ladies got sick of buying new things (or were reprimanded by their husbands/fathers, more like!) and simply brought back a hue that was fading a month or two before. Black and rose are the colors to pair now. As far as headdresses go, veils are used, but the style has changed. Instead of letting the fabric drape over the forehead, it’s pulled to the back of the head and pinned in place, lest it fall off.  Golden combs are used on both short and long hair. Rather than the empire waists of months past, low waists and full sleeves are everywhere. The fichus en marmotte that were so popular in July are now being worn over hair, hats, and mob caps.

In London:

I’m starting to realize London fashions change much more slowly than in Paris. For evening, pink and white round muslin dresses are still choice, but there is a mention of adding “A spencer of yellow silk, covered and trimmed with black lace.” Now that is new! Spencers are essentially boleros, short jacket that open at the bosom and have tight sleeves.  If they are pulled overhead and tightly fitted, they are called canezous or hussar vests.

early 19th century bonnet and spencerDuchess of Angouleme bonnet and spencer, early 19th century, possibly 1814, from  La Belle Assemblee.

The yellow and black spencer mentioned above is paired with a yellow hat with black lace and a yellow feather to boot.  Dresses up top are usually lighter in color to contrast with the spencer.  Daytime shows the procession of buff muslin dresses with white cambric sleeves.

One more day and we’ve come full circle in fashion plates circa 1802. See you tomorrow!

The Whims of Fashion, April-June 1802

Hello again, fashion enthusiasts! I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s January-March styles, and have come ready for another dose of what ladies salivated over in 1802. Unfortunately April’s plate is black and white, but I think the colors were primarily black and white anyway, so we aren’t missing much.  The fur trim is likely swansdown, a continuation February trend where swansdown appeared in pelisses, trim, etc.  But doesn’t April look more wintry than January, which was bursting with rose and showed the short tunic?  An odd choice for fashion plates, but maybe Parisian ladies weren’t ready to give up their frosty glamour quite yet.

April of 1802

In Paris:

So, remember when I told you aigrettes were officially so yesterday? They are back (already?)  The great thing about April is that headdresses have become ridiculous. I wish there was a picture of this because the Medusa-like effect would be amusing, but the magazine describes the new style as: “The hair not only appears but forms twisted locks and are scattered over the whole head dress. To make trial of this strange fashion without sacrificing their hair, some elegantes have ordered black wigs a-la-Medusa.”

Something like this…

Medusa by Caravaggio (1595-96)

 

Medusa by Caravaggio (1595-96)

The other designs for the head are include plaited headdresses “…adorned with a garland of flowers or a bandeau of steel beads. The Pamela hats degenerate.”  Asiatic turbans are also starting to ever so slowly fall out of favor: “A few elegantes have in place of the turban, which continues so obstinately in fashion, a mob cap a-la-Figaro in silk gold net with gold tassels.”  I like the gold tassels.  It sounds either garish or fabulous, and reminds me of Diana Vreeland’s tassel earrings.

(As a side note, I watched the documentary about her, The Eye Has to Travel, last night on Netflix streaming.  If you like outrageous, original women, watch it.  She invented and embodies the word “pizzazz”)

In London:

April’s colors would make Chanel proud: white muslin dresses with white pelisses trimmed in black lace, worn with a black velvet cap. Tres chic!  Sprigged muslin and white cambric are another option for promenade dresses.  Spanish cloaks of white muslin are replacing pelisses, which are probably too warm for April; these will become a trend for some months to come.  The colors in London are straw, lilac, blue, and green.

May of 1802

In Paris:

Cashmere shawls like the one worn above are called Egyptian shawls. They actually come from India, but are routed through Egypt, thereby gaining the moniker.  Hats of white satin are most fashionable when worn with white ribbands and white feathers (like a powder puff on the head!)  Velvet hats still reign in the same colors of orange and scarlet, but “the turban fashion is much in decline.”  The hats a-la-Pamela, which were coveted two months ago, are outmoded.  What’s great about this month?  Hair adorned with diadems of white daisies.  This would look striking on dark hair.

In London:

The black lace trim of earlier months is holding steady.  In May, it appears as a broad trim on scarfs or shawls of lilac and other colors, tied with a ribbon bow.  Watch necklaces that perform double duty as lockets–a delightful ode to gentleman’s pocket watches–swing over the bodice of round white muslin dresses.  Other popular trinkets are harps with pearls (brand new and worn on a gold chain) and crescent diamonds worn near the bosom.  There is also mention of horns of the lamp of eve (anybody know what this means?  Lamp of evening?  Literally the lamp of Eve?  Horns = sinfulness, the devil?  I googled without luck.  If you are interested, the exact reference is, “the horns of the lamp of eve cannot be supposed to refer to the happy husbands of our modern belles.”)

Although scarlet and orange are seen, the colors are lilac, yellow, and blue.  The color silver is mentioned in sprays and trimming. Straw hats, seen in previous months, are decorated with flowers and tied beneath the chin. Dutch straw bonnets are turned up, in front and behind, and sport puffed up white muslin around the brim.  The fashionably short cloak sounds beautiful: lined with pink and trimmed with broad white lace.  May’s edition has the longest description of London’s fashions.  If you’re interested in reading more, click on the May’s Parisians fashion picture, and scroll to page 265.

June of 1802

In Paris:

The style pictured has altered slightly from last month. Sleeves are shorter and worn with white gloves.  The shawl is all one color. In other news, fashionable ladies read, and turbans and antique headdresses are officially dead. The veil is en vogue; also the half handkerchief of lace. Dark green and jonquil taffetas are beginning to replace the favored rose and lilac of yesterday.

In London:

Round dresses of white muslin that wrap around are very popular. For day dresses, cambric muslin is the choice of fashionable ladies. There’s a lot of white satin, white feathers, white muslin overall, along with lace. Dresses of violet silk with white sleeves trimmed in lace are making an appearance. Can you guess what the prevailing colors are? Lilac, flesh-color, blue and puce. I didn’t know puce was still popular in earliest 19th century.  Spanish cloaks of white muslin trimmed round with lace are also continuing to be seen on ladies.  For hats, the leghorn and chip are popular.  If you wish to learn more about 18th century hats, look at Lars Datter’s page.  It provides links to museums and has most every C18 hat you will want to see.

I’ll be back tomorrow for July to September fashions.

The Whims of Fashion, January-March 1802

I’ve mentioned The Lady’s Magazine many times before.  It’s lovely as a period resource, and performs as an entertaining companion to The Gentleman’s Magazine.  Many of the articles are reader contributed, making it very popular with the enterprising ladies of the day, but there was one complaint made to the editorial staff:  fashionistas were not always satisfied with the advice on what was trendiest.  One of the reasons for this was that readers contributed the reports, but I think that gives us a nice view of the average respectable woman’s eye for detail, whether she was from the ton or the bourgeoisie.

Despite occasional complaints, the magazine had a very good run.  Distribution continued from 1770 to 1837.  I love it for its anecdotes and fashion plates.  The ones below show Parisian styles from 1802. Because the descriptions for a single month are loooong, I’ll be posting three months at a time with a selection from the original text.  If you’re a historical writer or costumer, this magazine is golden, but even if you’re not, the whims of fashion are a delight.  Each month contains a description of Paris and London fashions, with a brief description of what a la mode gentleman wore.  Maybe it’ll give you some inspiration in your own closet or maybe you’re like me and you just like pretty pictures.  Either way, enjoy!

January of 1802

In Paris:
What do you think of the short tunic? I haven’t seen them much before. The Lady’s Magazine describes them as adaptable “to almost all varieties of robes in full dress.” If anything, they were practical when a lady considered her closet full of muslin dresses.
The turbans, which are going to appear in many 1801-1802 fashions, “have a strongly marked Asiatic character… The hair distinctly separated upon the forehead, and very sleek and smooth, comes along the temples until it loses itself in these head-dresses.” Pearls are going to make their impression in the early parts of 1802, appearing in cords over the turbans. Bandeaus are also popular. They are basically headbands that are made by wrapping a fabric once, maybe twice, over the hair. The wealthiest women wear them ornamented with diamonds. As a holdover from 1801, “rose is still the reigning colour.”

In London:
Green velvet graces pelisses and bonnets, and as you’ll soon note with the English, most of the accessories on the ensemble match. Feathers this month are green, as are the flowers that appear on bonnets. The other popular colors are purple, scarlet, and buff. Also, necklines are cut low to show cleavage and the waist is short or empire.

February of 1802

In Paris:
“The head-dress for undress is frequently only a piece of muslin, sometimes enlivened with pearls; pearls are likewise the usual ornaments for head dress. In full dress turbans are principally worn…”

“Orange colour has not long enjoyed an exclusive favour. Several elegantes have resumed the rose; others have decided upon the shamoy [chamois]…” White satin hats with orange ribbands complement the look. Some ladies even sport pure orange velvet hats. The rage for orange extends to “satin square Polish hats with flat crowns. They are tied with a ribband of the same colour, under the chin, and leave a few ringlets hair visible on the back of the neck and at the sides.”

Rose is battling orange though. “The morning robes in highest esteem are calicoes of a soot colour with rose flowers. We observed at the late balls some very elegant rose coloured dominos, but the greater number were black. The necklaces of newest fashion are the necklaces a-la-Romaine with twisted branches, bearing sometimes one, and sometimes three, flat pieces cornelian or agate of an oval shape…” Combs are something else we’ll see in 1802. They are usually gold and this months are “in the shape of a diadem chased in gold with three cornelians or painted ornaments.”

In London:
The emerging colors are black and yellow and trains are long. The evening dress reminds me of Marilyn Monroe when she wore white satin with fur.  In 1802, the dress would be trimmed in swansdown (a repeated fashion in the cooler months); the mantle would also be satin.  It’s a great look in 1802, 1953, and now. But faux fur–don’t go plucking swans.

Cornelians [aka carnelians] are popping up, but wearing cornelian hearts on a golden chain is a charming fashion with a caveat. The Magazine solemnly states: “We hope this is not emblematical that ladies retain their lovers hearts by chains of gold, instead of love.”

 March of 1802

In Paris:
Gorgeous gown, isn’t it?  Although orange reigned last month, it appears rose is still beloved. Confusing for a fashionista to keep straight. Noticeably different in March is that “The robes are adorned with flowers lozenges or very close foliage.” The turbans are still Asiatic. In other news, aigrettes [sprays of jewels] are out. The cool hats are now called a-la-Pamela, but they are restricted to the “opulent class.”  What’s particularly confusing about March is that the “ribbands, which are of velvet, were at first orange colour, then cherry, the scarlet poppy, then white, now cherry color.” I don’t envy the ladies this season. Sounds like a full-time job just to keep up.

My favorite part of March is not shown in a print, but it sounds delightful: “Some elegantes appear in head-dresses of hair with diadems of foliage; others with diadems of plain steel, but the greatest number with golden arrows in the front of their heads.” Katniss would approve.

In London:
Large earrings and necklaces in the Chinese style are the thing. Popular gems are rubies, pearls, emeralds, and diamonds. For hairstyles, short curls frame the face, and silver myrtles and laurel wreaths are worn in the hair. This is an extension of the previous jewelry trend a-la-Romaine from February, except it’s gravitated upward.

That’s it for now.  Come back tomorrow.  I’ll be posting the second quarter of the year, and you wouldn’t want to miss that, would you? 

Fashion Deconstructed: Lady Francis Courtenay

Cutting historical portraits apart is just the sort of thing I like to do in my spare time, so I thought I’d start sharing it with you guys.  I don’t really know much about Lady Francis Courtenay except that she subscribed to books on Greek mythology, hung out with Mary Granville (better known as Mrs. Delaney, the botanical artist who got her start at age 72), and was married to 1st Viscount Courtenay.  She also liked ostrich feathers, but c’mon, it was the 18th century.  Who didn’t?

This portrait by Thomas Hudson has an unknown date of origin.  The lady was married in 1741 and interred in 1761, so we’ll go with 1740s to 1750s.  She also lived in Powderham Castle in Devon which was pre-tty nice.  Here’s a drawing of it from 1745.

Powderham Castle in 1745

Yeah, I’d live there.

But on to the dress…

Frances Courtenay, wife of William Courtenay, 1st Viscount Courtenay

Frances Courtenay, view of bust and sleeves

up close of pendant

Frances Courtenay,  view of feather hat

Satire vs Real Life: Fashion in 1800

Last week we looked at the satire print “A French Family” from 1792 and the newly fashionable deshabille including the chemise a la reine.  When it first arrived on the scene in England via Perdita (actress Mary Robinson), the garment  was considered shocking, and strict husbands forbade their wives from wearing a dress that resembled an actual chemise.

The problem with the garment was very simple: it was made of thin cotton fabric,  like a lawn shirt, and was bleached to resemble plain white chemises.  It effectively placed the habit of the boudoir in a public sphere, and the ton couldn’t get enough.  Not only was the fabric expensive, the cotton markets of Egypt and the United States were unavailable to England due to poor trade relations.  Increased trade with India through the British run cities of Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay introduced cotton in the 17th century but it wasn’t until the 1790s that cotton was manufactured in English mills, making it accessible and, most importantly, cheap.

The fabric shown in the fashion plates below was top quality muslin that silhouetted women’s bodies in any kind of weather, and was particularly revealing in English weather.  To the disgruntlement of many, taking a stroll through Hyde Park showed off heretofore unseen ladies assets–bosoms, bums and legs exposed in a family park.  Oh, my.

It seems ridiculous today,  but the clingy muslin dress was probably the 18th century version of a wet t-shirt contest.  I’m going to place its shock factor somewhere between the modern bikini in the 40s and the modern thong in the 70s .  Men drooled and old ladies clucked at the loose morality of youth.  But everybody fashionable wore it.

Paris ladies in full winter dress by Cruikshank (1799)

Compared with Cruikshank’s print, in reality the fashion was far less shocking.  The dresses hung closer to a woman’s natural form and must have seemed louche to those accustomed to panniers and peek-a-boo underskirts topped with yards and yards of fabric, but they were classical, simplified.  They were also a life-saver in hot, humid weather, and, as Anatole France relates almost a hundred years later in his 1893 At the Sign of the Reine Pedaque, were still appealing to men and women, albeit in different ways:

Following a discussion of war strategies:

“It is a secret I may well confide to you since there is no one to hear me but you, some bottles, Monsieur, whom I am going to kill presently,  and this girl here who is taking off her clothes.”

“Yes,” Catherine said, “my chemise is enough.  I’m so hot.”

Remarked by an Abbe to the heroine Catherine who has just experienced a drenching by a rogue:

“. . . the chemise of mademoiselle here, which owing to the wine with which it is soaked has become but a pink and transparent veil for her beauty.”

“It is true that idiot has wet my chemise,” said Catherine, “and I shall catch cold.”

  

Pale Ruby and Blossom-Coloured Cheeks: April 1814 Fashion

Spring has finally sprung in my nook of the world, and these gorgeously flushed cheeks and breezy dresses are exactly what the doctor has ordered. From Ackermann’s Repository:

walking dress April 1814

“PROMENADE DRESS A fine cambric round robe, with high bodice and long sleeves, not so full as of late; embroidered stomacher front and high collar, trimmed with muslin or lace; Tuscan border of needle-work the feet.  A Cossack mantle of pale ruby, or blossom-coloured velvet lined with white sarsnet and trimmed entirely round with a broad skin of light sable, ermine, seal, or the American squirrel; a short tippet of the same, the mantle confined at the throat with a rich correspondent silk cord and tassels, very long. A mountain hat of velvet, the colour of the mantle, finished round the verge with a narrow vandyke trimming; a small flower placed in the hair beneath, on the left side.  Half boots colour of the mantle and glove of primrose kid or pale tan.”  

morning dress April 1814

“MORNING DRESS A petticoat and bodice of fine jaconot muslin, finished round the bottom in vandykes and small buttons.  The Rochelle spencer composed of the same material, appliqued with footing lace down the sleeve, and trimmed at each edge with a narrow, but full border of muslin.  Double fan frill of muslin round the neck, very full, continuing round the bottom of the waist, where it is gathered on a beading  of needle-work.  Bourdeaux mob cap, composed of lace, with treble full borders, narrowed under the chin.  A small flower placed backward, on the left side.  Hair much divided in front, and in full waved curls on each side.  Necklace of twisted gold and pearl, with pendant cross in the centre.  Spring Greek kid slippers; and gloves of the same.”

Ackermann’s Repository, April 1814

A Carriage to Match Milady’s Dress: Ethereal blue in 1818-1819

walking dress may 1818

“Bridal morning robe of fine cambric, richly embroidered, and trimmed with puckered muslin round the border and down the front, which folds over á la Sultan.  Elizabeth spenser and bonnet of etherial blue; the spenser elegantly ornamented in a novel style with white satin, &c.  The bonnet of blue satin and fine net, crowned with a superb bouquet of full blown white roses; a Brussels lace cornertte is worn with this elegant bonnet.  Cachemire shawl drape, with a rich variegated border: triple ruff of broad Brussels lace.  Half-boots of etherial blue kid, the upper part of fine cachemire coloured cloth.” From Ackermann’s Repository, May 1818

four wheeled carriage with new patent movable axles circa 1818

“Patent moveable axles for four wheeled carriages.” From Ackermann’s Repository, March 1819

A Woman with a Parasol

Come summer I am absurdly jealous of ladies and their parasols.  What modern accessory marries charm and practicality half so well?  I have not discovered it, though I do have a tendency to reach for my collection of floppy hats once the sun rides high.  Sunscreen and my face are frenemies with a capital F, you see, and while I hope to maintain the Nicole Kidman aesthetic of limiting direct exposure whenever possible, brims that stretch to my shoulders get rather ridiculous looks, not to mention they are impossible to keep on one’s head in the wind.

Thus the want of a modernized parasol.

Vertumnus and Pomona – Jean Ranc (1710-1720)

A Bit of Sunshade History

Once an object of royal privilege, the parasol had its origins in the ancient east, migrating from China to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.  It eventually spread to the arid climes of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, but after the collapse of the Roman Empire it fell out of favor with the public until the Italian renaissance.  In the centuries’ gap in between, the parasol shaded the holy heads of popes, bishops, and doges from the eighth to the 16th centuries.  Its use was largely ceremonial.
Italy -- doges of Venice and t... Digital ID: 817921. New York Public Library

Northern(ish) Europe was late to the parasol party.  The French style mavens adopted it around the 17th century, but their early parasols were a far cry from the silk sunshades of Versailles.  When the first engravings of the parasol appeared in France in the 1620s, the parasol was still reserved for the wealthy.  These iterations, though evolved from the first creation, were unwieldy and required the assistance of a brawny servant who could manage its weight.

Measurements from the 1650s tell of parasols weighing 1600 grams or about three and a half pounds—three and a quarter pounds too heavy for a gentle lady to prop on her shoulder or hold over her head.  Stripping the parasol to its bones would have rendered whalebones at lengths of 80 centimeters that were held together by a copper ring; a handle of solid oak; and a choice of heavy fabrics made of oilcloth, barracan, or grogram.  In cheaper parasols, one might have used straw.

Around 1688 ladies parasols matured into an elegant accessory used much like a fan.  An engraving from Nicolas Arnault shows “…the appearance of a mushroom, well developed and slightly flattened at its borders, the red velvet which covers it is divided into ribs or rays, by light girdles of gold, and the handle, very curiously worked, is like that of a distaff, with swellings and grooves executed by the turner.  Altogether, this coquette’s Sunshade is very graceful, and of great richness.”
[Woman holding a parasol walki... Digital ID: 824666. New York Public Library
Luxury in sunshades became the thing.  Silk fringes and feather plumes, handles of Indian bamboos and changing silks, replaced dull practicality and fashionable ladies ran after their whims.  By the middle of the 18th century, the Parisians preferred taffety to all other fabrics and preferred the convenience of picking up a parasol along the way over the danger of going without.  In 1769 parasols were so trendy that a small business sprang up on the Pont Neuf where, at the cost of two farthings, those crossing the bridge could rent a parasol and return it on the other side.  The French, one must assume, did not walk fast.

Le Pont Neuf. Digital ID: ps_prn_cd11_155. New York Public Library

A couple under a parasol in a garden – Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1791-1793)

England’s affair with the parasol was somewhat less enthusiastic.  You may have noticed by now that I’ve excluded men from all our parasol talk.   Historical accounts claim they stuck to manly accessories like cloaks and hats to fend off the elements.  Jonas Hanway, an English doctor who must have trudged through more than one rainy afternoon with a scowl on his face, thought this prejudice absurd.  Even though parasols and their umbrella cousins were considered effeminate, Hanway was a doctor, damn it all, and he was not going to risk his health on some silly society opinion.

Jonas Hanway, the first Englis... Digital ID: 824663. New York Public Library

Above:  Jonas Hanway being heckled for his parasol/umbrella.  

Below: looking proud.

Jonas Hanway and his umbrella. Digital ID: 824683. New York Public Library

Starting in 1756 he would walk through the London streets, brash as Robinson Crusoe, umbrella in hand, recalling perhaps: “I covered it with skins, the hair upwards, so that it cast off the rain like a penthouse, and kept off the sun so effectually that I could walk out in the hottest weather, with greater advantage than I could before in the coolest. . .”  (Daniel Defoe’s lines written in 1719, one of the first references by an Englishman to the umbrella)

Robinson Crusoe brings in the ... Digital ID: 1697950. New York Public Library

Never mind that to carry a parasol or umbrella was to risk announcing that one was without a carriage.  Dr. Hanway was a thinking man who spurred on England’s umbrella revolution because he dared and it paid off.  Thirty years after his spirited jaunts about London, ladies were stepping out in the park, twirling pretty handles over their shoulders, and gentlemen weren’t looking at umbrellas so scornfully.  Well, almost.

Parasols for  1795. Digital ID: 817999. New York Public Library

Parasols for 1795

All images except except Mallet’s and Ranc’s are from the NYPL digital gallery. Go browse and discover.  Their collection is marvelous.

Also, for those who like a bit of amusement with their history:

The newest thing in umbrellas. Digital ID: 824646. New York Public Library

Hands free!  “The newest thing in umbrellas”

Some new ideas in umbrellas. Digital ID: 824678. New York Public Library

The next newest thing.  Be an umbrella

Bartine’s sunshade hat. Digital ID: 824699. New York Public Library

From 1890 . . . when gentlemen really gave in

 And lastly, which umbrella type are you?