Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Wisp of a Bandeau Bra, c. 1920

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Fashion thrives on change, and one of the most dramatic shifts came with the end of the 19th c. and the second decade of the 20th. The red silk corset from 1889 that I featured earlier this week and this bandeau bra, left, from the 1920s are both from the exhibition Exposed: A History of Lingerie, now showing at the Museum at FIT, and I can't imagine two other pieces of clothing that would make the change more vivid.

The corset belongs to the 1890s, an era that prized an hourglass figure, accentuated by whalebone, bustles, and lots of tailoring and drapery. The 1920s ushered in a boyish silhouette with a minimum of feminine curves. As the placard on the bandeau bra explains:

"Bras of the 1920s bore little resemblance to the bust supporters introduced during the late nineteenth century. In correspondence to the increasingly slender body type of the fashionable woman, most bras were designed to flatten and de-emphasize the bosom. Although the styles varied widely, the bandeau bra was the most modern in its simplicity."

This change happened in the course of only thirty years, a not unrealistic span in a woman's fashion-lifetime. Imagine the response of a woman who had worn the red corset under clothes like these, right, as a twenty-year-old newlywed, confronted in her fifties with a stylish granddaughter who'd adopted the latest flapper-inspired styles, lower left.

The same dismay must have been felt by 18th c. women who'd worn stays all their lives and were abruptly faced with the minimal support and gossamer muslin gowns of the early 19th c. Another generation of women who likely felt similarly betrayed would have been those who'd been proud of their curvaceous, bombshell figures in the 1950s – until Mary Quant's Youthquake appeared in the 1960s, and Twiggy replaced Jayne Mansfield as the fashionable ideal.

All of which supports one of my personal theories about fashion: To be a fashionable beauty, you have to get lucky, and be born into the right time period for what Nature gave you.

Above left: Bandeau bra, silk and lace, 1920s. Museum at FIT.
Right: "Dress for a New Year's Reception, Modes Parisiennes", Peterson's Magazine, January, 1890.
Lower left: "Evening at the Casino," fashion plate from Art-Goût-Beaut magazine, Paris, 1920s.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hair care in the 1820s-1830s

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Hair for evening 1828
Loretta reports:

Susan’s recent posts (here and here )about 1770s hair care sent me to my beloved The Lady’s Stratagem by Frances Grimble.* to see how much had changed (or not) in the 1820s-1830s, the setting for my books.

For those fluent in French, the text from the original, Elisabeth Celnart's Manuel des dames (published between 1827-1833), is here.  Those, like me, who aren’t fluent, will be grateful for Ms. Grimble’s translation.  You will note that, as Isabella pointed out, clean doesn’t necessarily mean what a modern reader thinks it means.  Recipes abound for oils and pomatums.  Shampoo?  Not so much.  It’s more or less a last resort, as you’ll see.

“Your principal task must be to keep your hair extremely clean.  Every morning, before arranging your hair, disentangle it with a large comb, holding it upright in a straight line in order not to break the hairs...When your hair has been well cleansed*...rub it with a square brush with a handle, whose bristles are very soft, or better yet are replaced with fine rice roots...

“When night comes, very gently undo your coiffure, first removing all the black pins which you find there, and shaking out the locks as you let them down.  These steps are especially necessary when your hair has been dressed by a hair-dresser.”


After this the lady is urged to comb her hair well and plait it.  Unplaited hair becomes damaged.  It also easily escapes one’s night cap and soils the pillow.
Hair product c. 1860

“When by nature, or by the prolonged or exaggerated use of oils and pomatums, your hair is greasy to the point of being dull, dense, and flat, you must resort to soap solutions.  Pour a demi-tasse of lukewarm water into a saucer.  Soak a very lightly-perfumed toilet-soap in the water for a few moments, and stir it a little.  Soon the water will be foamy.   Then spread the locks of your hair well apart, and with a sponge dampened with the soapy water, wash them well from all sides.”

You dry the hair with warm linen, then brush it with the rice brush.

Madame recommends that blond hair be “washed very rarely.”

*More about this fabulous compendium here and  here and here and here.)

**by combing







Sunday, July 27, 2014

A "Healthy" Corset in Red Silk, 1889

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Isabella reporting,

One of my favorite galleries in New York City is the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Drawing from the museum's own extensive collections, their exhibitions always offer thoughtful and fascinating perspectives on fashion, and their latest show, Exposed: A History of Lingerie is no exception. From stays to bustles, 20s camiknicker to 80s thongs - the secrets of Western women's most private attire and underwear drawer are all on display.

This small (it measures only 33"-22"-32") red silk corset, created by the Warner Brothers Company of Bridgeport, CT, in 1889, intrigued me because it was advertised by its creators as a "healthy" style. Here's an excerpt from the exhibition label:

"Although this vibrant corset is especially alluring, it was likely marketed as a 'healthy' style. Its curvaceous silhouette was achieved using coraline, a plant-basted material marketed as a more flexible alternative to whalebone or steel."

Intrigued, I did a bit of research. A Warner Brothers company sales piece does in fact tout the healthy benefits of their corsets, especially in comparison to that great villain, whalebone:

"Coraline...is more pliable and yielding to the movements of the body. The object of stiffness in a corset is not to convert the form into a rigid statue, to paralyze the action of the heart and lungs, to destroy a woman's comfort and to ruin her health...All the benefit a corset can give is to afford just that degree of rigidity to the waist and chest which shall give graceful curves to the contour of the body, and enable the dress to fit smoothly...[with] the ease, comfort, elasticity and grace of action which come from wearing a Coraline Corset...[in place of] her former instrument of torture."

Hmm, that sounds suspiciously similar to the modern sales pitch for Spanx.

But wait - there's more! A lady could purchase this corset comforted by the fact that De Ver Warner & Lucien C. Warner were "regularly educated physicians" who had seen first-hand the "effects of badly fitting corsets upon the health of women." The brothers had made it their personal mission "to extend the blessing of properly fitting corsets to the entire community," even "giving up a large and lucrative practice" to do so.

The altruism of these good doctors knew no bounds. Not only was their factory a model building in which to work, with "all the rooms heated by steam, and abundantly supplied with light and air," but the majority of their workers were women. And such women, too:

"They are mostly New England girls, and very many of them know how to teach school as well as to stitch a corset. We find it is only by employing intelligent help that we can secure the superior quality of work which we demand."

Really, how could you not buy one of their corsets?

If you'd like to read more, the entire sales piece is online here. If you'd like to read how the Warner Brothers Corset Company eventually evolved into the giant textile and clothing corporation known as The Warnaco Group, here's a link to a short history of the company.

Better still, visit the Museum at FIT yourself.  Exposed runs through November 15, 2014. If you can't get to New York, highlights of the exhibition are online here. Even better will be a lavish companion book to the exhibition by Colleen Hill, with an introduction by Valerie Steele, to be published by Yale University Press in September. See here for more information about the book, which is already on my wish-list.

Above: Warner Bros. Corset, red silk satin & coraline, 1889. Photograph courtesy of Museum at FIT.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 21, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014
Ready for your browsing pleasure! Our weekly round-up of our fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
Summertime women in late 19th c.- early 20th c. paintings.
• Why no man should marry a lady of learning, 1708.
• The best insult you'll ever read thanks to Julia Allen in 1931 Australia.
• If it's not hot enough for you, here's Eugen Sandow, the "perfect man" of the 1890s.
Image: Indian suffragettes in London, 191l.
• A classic quiz: do these names belong to Muppets - or 18th c. Connecticutians?
• Wearing "my own dear lace": the wedding of Queen Victoria's youngest daughter.
• George Washington liked ice cream so much that he bought ice cream-making equipment for the new capital.
• Wood block illustrations from Charles Hindley's "Street Cries of London," 1884.
• This week in 1903, Ford Motors shipped their first car, a bright red Model A, to a Chicago dentist.
• The Cannibal Club: racism and rabble-rousing in Victorian England through lurid secret societies.
• Dollhouses, skully, and puddles: Lower East Side NYC children of early 1900s, having summertime fun.
Image: The Old Curiosity shop in the 1890s, made famous by Charles Dickens, and still standing today.
Coats of arms of great knights, including Galahad and Lancelot, c. 1460.
• The secrets of the 17th c. Banqueting House, London, and its potentially lifesaving weathervane.
• Photographs of Scotland and Ireland c. 1894.
• The best television costume designs of the year, on display at FIDM Museum.
• Who's up for Leo Tolstoy's 1874 family recipe for mac & cheese?
• Grave matters: early body-snatchers unearthed.
Image: Regency prizefight champion Jem Belcher: "His agility, speed, and craft earned him the nickname Napoleon of the Ring."
• The curious mark that appears on every City of London bridge.
• Bums, tums, and downy calves: Georgian fashion enhancements.
• What does this 18th c. French work table have to do with the privacy of women?
Image: For cheeky fashionistas: "Ladies dress, as it soon will be," by Gillray, 1796.
The Health-Jolting Chair, advertised in Harper's Weekly, May, 1885.
• The strange life and adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew (1690-1758.)
Venus revealed in a beautiful English garden in Italy.
Image: The Green Sofa, by Sir John Lavery, 1903.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Casual Friday: Weird Al Sings the Grammar Blues

Friday, July 25, 2014
Loretta reports:

Do incorrectly placed apostrophes drive you to distraction?  Do you wish severe penalties could be imposed on people who use quotation marks for emphasis?  Then this video is for you.









The illustration, of my own well-used copy of Fowler, offers a clue about my feelings. I’m even in the dwindling minority who refuse to stick an e on the end of chaperon and firmly believe that the whole comprises the parts.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.
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