Friday, May 22, 2015

More 18th c. Hats from Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, May 22, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Since everyone enjoyed the white silk hat that milliner's apprentice Abby Cox was wearing in my last post, I'm sharing three more hats inspired by 18th c. portraits and fashion plates and recreated by the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.

The white hat, above left, features a silk-covered straw brim trimmed with silk flowers, gathered gauze, a coyly trailing silk ornament, and red silk ribbon to tie it all up. You can see the inspiration for this hat in the 1776 print A Bagnigge Wells scene, or, No resisting temptation here.

The extravagantly striped silk hat, right, with a tall crown is similar to hats found in French fashion plates of around 1787. Built on a frame of wire and buckram, it's trimmed with white cock's feathers, but also popular were hats that featured similar plumes made from more exotic (and now considered endangered) vulture  feathers. This hat was recently worn with the appropriately full hairstyle of the era by Nicole Rudolph, who also works in the shop - see her here on the shop's Facebook page. No one said "wow" in the 18thc., but that IS the proper response.

Abby models a hat of black silk taffeta and gauze of around 1781, lower left, that's a close cousin to the white hat she was wearing in my post earlier this week. Black silk seems to have been much more popular for this style of hat than the white, perhaps because it was easier to keep fresh, or simply because it seemed more elegant. (I know it's much harder to photograph, which is why there's a second picture of it, bottom left.) As Nicole Rudolph said, the black silk hat is the Little Black Dress of late 18th c. Britain.

If you were a Georgian lady visiting the shop, which would you choose? I warn you: Abby can be very persuasive behind the counter. You might end up with all three....

Many thanks to Abby Cox!

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Fox Under the Hill

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Fox Under the Hill
Loretta reports:

Continuing my nerdy history tidbits about The Last Hellion*—

The characters appear in a number of London eating and drinking establishments, most of which I discovered in the works of Charles Dickens. One interesting place is the Fox Under the Hill. This tavern (not to be confused with others of the same name) was at No. 75 in the Strand, and vanished when the Victoria Embankment was built.

Fox under the Hill

You can read more about it here and here.  More images here and here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

*Recently released in audio format

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keeping Cool in 18th c. Style in Colonial Williamsburg

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg this week, where it seems as if the Tidewater's usual steamy, sultry summer weather has already descended.

Of course no visit to CW would be complete without stopping by to see our good friends at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop. Here's how the shop's two apprentices - Abby Cox, milliner's & mantua-maker's apprentice, and Mike McCarty, tailor's apprentice - dress for hot weather in 18th c. style. The key is natural fibers in light colors, and eliminating extra layers like linings.

Abby is wearing a short sack, made of a light-weight, high-end cotton in the style of the 1770s. The sleeves are unlined, and the sack's loose-fitting, pleated back gives it an airy feel. Her petticoat is made from a cotton that's woven in a mock quilted pattern, and her apron is sheer cotton muslin. Beneath it she's wearing her usual linen shift, linen-lined stays, and cotton stockings.

Worn over a ruffled linen cap, her extravagant hat will keep her shielded from the brightest sun (and it's so much more beguiling than a baseball cap.) Made of crisp silk taffeta, it has a wired brim to keep its shape - if you look closely, you can see the ridges of the vertical wires (much the same principle as a modern lampshade.) It's a style that's often found in prints and portraits from the 1770s.

Mike is dressed in unlined linen breeches (casually left unbuckled at the knees) and an unlined linen coat, popular attire for 18th c. Virginia gentlemen. His shirt is a fine, lightweight linen, and he's wearing cotton stockings and a printed cotton kerchief around his head. Bright red backless leather slippers complete the look.

To modern eyes, it still looks like a lot of fabric for hot weather. But keep in mind that all that linen worn close to the body absorbs perspiration and carries it away from the skin, while many 21st c. summer clothes rely on synthetics that trap body heat and moisture, or leave the skin uncovered to bake in the sun. Abby swears she's more comfortable in the heat than her modern counterparts dressed in the Lycra-rich yoga pants and tank-top. It's all relative. . . .

A (foot)note: I know readers often pine after the clothes we feature from the Margaret Hunter shop. Alas, everything is made by hand by the staff for themselves, and isn't for sale. But the shoes that Abby is wearing here are: a new collaboration between Colonial Williamsburg and the historical footwear company American Duchess. These black cloth shoes are called the Dunmore, and will soon be available through American Duchess and Colonial Williamsburg.

Many thanks to Abby and Mike.

All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the archives: The Bridewell Pass-Room

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Loretta reports:

In connection with the release of the audio edition of The Last Hellion, I'm offering a slightly revised version of an early blog post. The Bridewell Pass-Room plays an important role in the story.
This illustration of the Bridewell (one of London’s prisons) Pass-Room comes from Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, which was printed in three volumes from 1808 to 1810.  You can read about this splendid publication at the University of London’s Senate House Library site and at the Eighteenth Century Reading Room.  Wikimedia Commons has all or most of the illustrations posted and the Internet Archive has Vol 1, Vol 2, and Vol 3), but my favorites are the large-scale, very sharp images at Spitalfields Life.

Many of you will recognize immediately the work of Thomas Rowlandson.  His collaborator Augustus Pugin drew the building interiors and exteriors and Rowlandson, basically, put the people in them.  I used this print of the Bridewell Pass-Room,* as I so often use Rowlandson and his contemporaries, to create a scene in a book.  In this case, I sent the heroine of The Last Hellion to Bridewell on a rescue mission. 

From the Microcosm:  “The annexed print gives an accurate and interesting view of this abode of wretchedness, the PASS-ROOM.  It was provided by a late act of Parliament, that paupers, claiming settlements in distant parts of the kingdom, should be confined for seven days previous to their being sent of to their respective parishes; and this is the room appointed by the magistracy of the city for one class of miserable females.**  The characters are finely varied, the general effect broad and simple, and the perspective natural and easy.”

From the Introduction to Fiona St. Aubyn’s Ackermann’s Illustrated London (a modern, shorter edition which contains plates and excerpts from the Microcosm): “Ackermann kept a check on Rowlandson’s more outrageous drawings, and made him change an unmistakably pregnant woman in the preliminary drawing of the Bridewell print to a less obvious condition in the final version.”

*See pp 92-97 of the Microcosm online.
**single mothers

Sunday, May 17, 2015

From the Archives: Recycling a Silk Gown, from 1740 to 1840

Sunday, May 17, 2015
Isabella reporting:

This is a travel day for me - I'm on my way to Colonial Williamsburg for a few days, and will be sure to report on what I see. In the meantime, enjoy one of our more popular posts from our archives. 

Recycling is a hot trend in fashion right now, and we're all urged to make-over and make-do for the sake of the planet and our wallets. It's hardly a new idea, of course. Stylish (and thrifty) folk of the past were as conscious of changing trends as we are today, and they often took older clothes to their mantua-makers and tailors to follow the latest looks from London and Paris.

But sometimes the remodeling created an entirely new garment. In a time when the largest cost of clothing production was in the material, not the labor, older clothing was often picked apart so that the fabric could be reused. One of the reasons that banyans like this one are so rare today is that they contained considerable tempting yardage for re-cutting, and with their wide, pleated petticoats and bodices, 18th c. gowns often met the same fate.

The Victorian ballgown, above left, was made around 1840. While the sloping shoulders, v-shaped bodice, and bell-shaped skirt are all in the latest fashion, the over-sized floral pattern of the silk damask and its brilliant red were popular a hundred years before (as in these silk designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite.)

Most likely the Victorian gown began its life as a Georgian gown like this one, lower right. No one now knows if the older gown's silk was reused a hundred years later because the wearer was economizing, or if the damask was a sentimental choice from a treasured family gown, or simply a color she liked. Whatever the reason, the results are beautiful.

Above: Dress (Ball Gown), British, c. 1842. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009.
Below: Gown, British, c. 1740s, Costume Collection, Leeds Museum.
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