Sunday, August 30, 2009
From this society, little Mr. Perker detached himself, on his clerk being announced in a whisper; and repairing to the dining-room, there found Mr. Lowten and Job Trotter looking very dim and shadowy by the light of a kitchen candle, which the gentleman who condescended to appear in plush shorts and cottons for a quarterly stipend, had, with a becoming contempt for the clerk and all things appertaining to 'the office,' placed upon the table.
Being a Nerdy History Girl, I didn’t just shrug and keep reading. I wondered who the contemptuous individual was and what he was wearing. I noted the phrase--incorrectly-- as “plush shorts and stockings.” Then I stuck it in a blog, and aroused the curiosity of one of our Gentle Readers.
Being a NHG, I had to put on my deerstalker’s cap, take out my magnifying glass, and heft the Oxford English Dictionary onto my desk. Here's the result of my detective efforts:
“Shorts” in this case must mean “knee-breeches, small-clothes.”
“Plush” meant the same then as now. The breeches would be plush silk or cotton.
The “and cottons”? Trickier. It could mean flannel (stockings or waistcoat?). But after studying various definitions, I’m gambling on a type of coarse or nappy wool fabric known as “Manchester cottons.”
Since this episode dealt with legal matters, I started out thinking the gentleman was connected to the law courts. There were law messengers called beadles, who wore plush breeches. But the “contempt for the clerk and all things appertaining to ‘the office’" led me to believe this was a footman (technically, not a gentleman), dressed in livery that included plush knee-breeches and perhaps a coarse or nappy wool coat. ???
I wish Norton would make a Critical Edition of The Pickwick Papers, to stop NHGs driving themselves crazy. Meanwhile, if anyone's solved the mystery, please enlighten us.
Battling quotes from London, 1673. In this corner:
Hannah Woolley (shown, left, from the frontispiece), author of The Gentlewoman's Companion; or, a Guide to the Female Sex:
"The right Education of the Female Sex, as it is in a manner every where neglected, so it ought to be generally lamented. Most in this depraved later Age think a Woman learned and wife enough if she can distinguish her Husband’s Bed from another’s. . . .Vain Man is apt to think we were merely intended for the World’s propagation, and to keep its human inhabitants sweet and clean; but, by their leave, had we the same Literature, he would find our brains as fruitful as our bodies."
Aaaand in this corner. . . .
Here's what Mrs. Woolley was up against –– an opinion from her (male) contemporary, the much-respected diarist/horticulturalist John Evelyn (shown right):
"Women were not born to read Authors and censure the learned. . . . All time borrowed from Family duties is misspent. The care of Children’s education, observing a Husband’s commands, assisting the sick, relieving the poore and being serviceable to our friends, are of sufficient weight to employ the most improved capacities among them."
Friday, August 28, 2009
“A hideous misfortune! The operation of dyeing my hair has fared so badly, the devil knows why, that this evening I had to begin all over again. Great and small misfortunes alternate with each other in such a pleasing way that I cannot become bored. But the reign of the devil cannot last forever, and if care has turned my hair white before its time, art must make it black once more, and so care will turn to joy.”
Prince Pückler-Muskau, Puckler’s Progress
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Unable to follow Loretta’s minuet chart from yesterday? Here’s an excellent video of a most accomplished couple in period dress, and though they’re performing before a group of tourists in an art museum, their talent show why the minuet was such a popular display of grace and refinement.
And also why most people at a ball couldn’t wait for the cheerful, forgiving mayhem of the country dances to begin later in the evening (such as the ball sketched by William Hogarth, right, in 1744.)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Speaking of platform shoes, how about disco?
The 18th and 19th centuries had their version of disco--and I think that might fit better than the term ballroom dancing. Yes, they danced in ballrooms. But, as Susan & I discovered at Colonial Williamsburg, they also danced wherever and whenever they could get someone to make music (a single flute was sufficient) and a group of people to step in time to the music. What makes it more like disco, I think, is that the man didn’t hold the woman around the waist. They barely held each other. They touched hands. For some moves, they hooked arms do-si-do style.
This is a chart of minuet dance steps. Here's the whole book.
Our ancestors made do with a single flute or a pianoforte. With disco, a record or tape player was sufficient. But everybody dressed up for dancing. Men showed off their grace and elegance. And so I thought of Fred Astaire, naturally, but also John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Styles change, but we can always appreciate a man who moves with grace.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
We woke this morning to find it gone, and though we searched high and low, it seems to have truly vanished. Of course we did not make a back-up, because we're Nerdy History Girls, not Nerdy Tech-Savvy Girls, and these things happen. To us, anyway.
So if your blog was one of the ones that vanished, please don't feel cheesed or put out with us. We just goofed, and we promise to rebuild our list, once we can get it back from this *&^%$ dog.
Pug Dog in an Armchair by Alfred Dedreux (1810–1860) Ain't he a beaut?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I've been doing one of my annual re-reads of Dickens. This time it was The Pickwick Papers. Plenty of laughs, lots of interesting historical detail, and some costume mysteries.
What, pray tell, are "Oxford-mixture trousers"? How about "plush shorts and stockings"? The following, though, I think will be easy for everyone to understand, after our recent Show & Tell.
'Well, I'll bet you half a dozen of claret on it; come!' said Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, resuming the conversation to which Mr. Pell's entrance had caused a momentary interruption.
This was addressed to a very smart young gentleman who wore his hat on his right whisker, and was lounging over the desk, killing flies with a ruler. Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, was balancing himself on two legs of an office stool, spearing a wafer-box with a penknife, which he dropped every now and then with great dexterity into the very centre of a small red wafer that was stuck outside. Both gentlemen had very open waistcoats and very rolling collars, and very small boots, and very big rings, and very little watches, and very large guard-chains, and symmetrical inexpressibles, and scented pocket-handkerchiefs.
In the description of the Two Nerdy History Girls, Loretta and I promised shoes. Today, we deliver history AND shoes.
A quick flip through the humungo fall fashion magazines shows that platform shoes are with us once again. As the Nordstroms website proclaims with breathless authority, "From coquettish embellishments to sky-high platform heels, fall's latest booties soar to new heights!"
Not so fast, Mme. Nordy.
The 2009 models seem positively squat compared to these towering examples from 16th century Venice. Worn by the most exclusive courtesans in Europe, these sky-high mules were not only a way to set one's gorgeous self literally above mere mortal women, but they also made a dandy display of a courtesan's financial success. While the shoes themselves were expensive, as everyone knew, the real status came from the "accessories": the constant attendance of at least two servants to help the wearer keep her balance and carry her sweeping skirts. I wonder, too, how these women ever managed to maneuver in and out of gondolas without toppling into the canal, but then I suppose that's one more mysterious art of the courtesan that's been lost to history.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Despite what Fashion dictates, there have always been plenty of gentlemen in every age who choose to go their own way, or at least choose to adapt the trends to their personal tastes. Certainly the dashing fellow with the pipe in Loretta's last post fits that bill, and I imagine Dain did, too.
I've further proof in King Charles II (1630-85), who features so prominently in my last four historical novels. (Look to my own blog to read more about him.) While most of Charles's court was sporting the latest is gaudy Parisian styles, Charles himself preferred simply cut dark clothes when he didn't have to don the ermine for state occasions. (Alas, not even he could escape those awful big, baggy petticoat breeches.) Charles even limited his everyday ornament to having the badges of the order of St. George and the Garter embroidered directly on the fronts of his coats, rather than having to wear the bejeweled versions. As one contemporary noted, "His dress was plain but very elegant and neat: no body wore his cloaths better."
Which is, of course, much easier to do when you're over six feet tall and athletically fit, like Charles. And Dain. And the gentleman in Loretta's post –– who is coincidentally standing in pretty much the same pose as Charles. Whoa!
On an entirely different note: I couldn't bring myself to crop out the little dog standing to the right of Charles. He's a genuine King Charles spaniel, and yes, this is THE King Charles for which the breed is named.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This is more like what I envisioned Dain wearing. But not the pipe, please. I like the background, though.
Here's an actual coat from the collection posted at the Republic of Pemberley. Not quite so frou-frou, I think, as the examples in fashion prints.
I agree. Beau Brummel had a LOT to do with wringing the neck of the male peacock by insisting on colorless good taste. He didn't do it single-handedly, of course –– there's that whole grave, gloomy, righteously gloomy Victorian-man-thing looming right over the horizon, cheek to jowl with the grey Industrial Revolution –– but ol' Beau can take a goodly part of the blame.
But what struck me most about those 1830s fashion plates wasn't how plain the gentlemen's attire had become, but how similar the basic silhouette was to the ladies' whacky gowns. They both have the same wide, sloping shoulders, broad chests/breasts, and tiny waists. I know I've read that Prinny and other gentlemen of the time who struggled with avoirdupois-management resorted to corseting, but these guys would give Scarlett O'Hara a run for the smallest-waist prize. Then suddenly their coats billow outward like the ladies' bell-shaped skirts, and worse, those white trousers give them...hips. I mean, who doesn't know that white pants make one's butt look big?
This 1830s cartoon (aptly callled Waist and Extravagance) exaggerates to make its point, but it's not that far from the fashion-plates. Hmmm –– maybe Jessica should have been making fun of Dain's wardrobe, too?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Funny how fashion changes. My new story required my moving out of the Regency into that no man’s land between 1820--when the Regent became King George IV--and 1837, when Victoria donned her crown and launched the Victorian era. I’m in late 1831, to be precise.
In the course of researching fashion, I noticed that while men’s dress remained relatively simple and form-fitting, women’s dress went berserk.
Here are some gentlemen of 1831, the time of my story. Notice how the man in front doesn’t look all that different from the man in the caricature or the picture of Brummell in my previous blog. 1831 guy is showing more chest, but that’s partly the need of the fashion plate to show details. Generally, though he hasn’t grown much fancier in 25 years, and he’s still showing off his figure.
Now check out some ladies of 1831.
I can’t help thinking that Brummell killed the male peacock. Is that something to regret?