Wednesday, December 22, 2010
A Glimpse of Fashion
I used to knew a delightful picture framer. We became good friends and enjoyed many happy conversations about this and that whenever I brought a picture in to be framed. One day, he presented me with a large brown envelope. Inside were nineteen assorted costume prints from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries.
He told me that a neighbour was just about to throw them out and he’d rescued them. ‘Give them to me!’ he’d cried. ‘I know a lady who would just love them!’ The neighbour was glad to get rid of them and this lady was thrilled to have them. Here are two of them.
The first is a Promenade Dress of 1809 from Ackermann’s Repository. The lady is gazing out to sea, shielding her complexion from the injurious effect of the sea breezes with the latest Pagoda parasol, fringed around the edge. I just love that shawl with the sophisticated dark red design on the petrol blue.
The other one is dated 1829 and comes from Costumes Parisiens. There is no other identification. My guess is that the couple are in evening wear: both are wearing the de rigeur white gloves. The lady holds a fashionably small fan and her skirt is shorter than a day dress would be to allow her freedom of movement to dance – and the gentleman to catch an intoxicating glimpse of her ankles. The gentleman himself is definitely wearing dancing pumps with the distinctive bow at the front – and note how he sports the very latest in beards – little more than a trim around his face. Very 1829, my dear!
But it’s the lady’s hair which fascinates me. It’s obviously dressed for an indoor activity because she couldn’t possibly wear a hat with a hair-do like that! Just look at it! All those curls, twists and knots. How on earth did it stay up? Such a distinctive hair-style must surely have a name – any help here would be gratefully received. And how on earth does she get her breasts (delicately suggested by the shading) up so high? According to my research, the bodice was kept in place simply by its tight fit and was without bones.
I’m wondering about the colour, too. Wasn’t pale mauve a half-mourning colour? In which case, why was the lady preparing to dance at all? Going to a ball whilst in half-mourning was surely not on. However, in my copy of The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine of 1831, I see that ‘lilac’ is noted as a fashionable colour, so perhaps it’s a question of tone, and the skirt’s colour is certainly quite bright.
Or perhaps her tiresome elderly husband popped off a year ago, and she’s making up for lost time. Her finger is pointing towards the gentleman in a somewhat indiscreet manner, so possibly…
Happy Christmas, everyone.