Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A 1770s Dress Worn by One of the "Visitors to Versailles"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last week I previewed a major new exhibition called Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through July 29, 2018. Created in partnership with the Château de Versailles along with loans from many other institutions, the exhibition brings together nearly two hundred paintings, drawings, tapestries, porcelains sculptures, furnishings, books, and costumes (and even a sedan chair) to recreate the era when the palace of Versailles and its gardens truly were the center not only of the France, but also the world of fashion, diplomacy, and sophistication.

Versailles was a public court, drawing visitors from around the world. Yet it wasn't just courtiers jockeying for a moment of king's favor. During the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, Versailles brought together the leading artists, musicians, intellectuals, and master artisans in one place as well, and visitors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and the seven-year-old crown prince of Cochinchina (modern Vietnam). We can't go back in time to visit Versailles in its 17thc-18thc glory ourselves, but this exhibition is an excellent introduction, and highly recommended.

One of the first galleries features the lavish clothing required by the French court, and I'll be featuring some of these costumes in future blogs. The style of this beautiful silk dress was called a sack, or, more glamorously, a robe à la française. According to the museum's gallery notes:

"Characterized by free-flowing back pleats that extended from shoulder to hem, the robe à la française had been largely abandoned by the 1770s - except at court. A woman conveyed her status not only through the display of rich textiles, but also through her elegant negotiation of the cumbersome hoop under the large skirt, a learned skill intended to give the impression of natural grace."

While the dress and its matching petticoat have survived together, the original stomacher (the triangular insert that filled in the two sides of the bodice) has not. This isn't that unusual. A stomacher was an important 18thc accessory. Because stomachers were pinned into place for wearing, women could easily update an older gown or change its look by swapping stomachers.

According to the Met's website, this dress has been displayed several times before, and it has been shown each time with a different stomacher - perhaps in the spirit of that 18thc lady. For the current exhibition, the dress's fabric and trim were carefully recreated through laser-printing for a matching stomacher inspired by contemporary fashion prints. Earlier exhibitions have featured a stomacher with buttons and lace, and another sported rows of exuberant bows. It's also interesting to see the changing styles in modern display mannequins. Which do you prefer?

 Link for more information about Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789.

Above: Dress (robe à la française), French, c1770-75. Silk faille with cannelé stripes, brocaded in polychrome floral motif, trimmed with self fabric and silk fly fringe. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Top left image by Susan Holloway Scott; all others Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Neckcloth Part 2

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Loretta reports:

Last time, in tackling the immense subject of men’s neckwear, I focused on the material in the early 19th century neckcloth, and several readers were kind enough to explain further. The subject is daunting, and I’m taking Mark Hutter’s remark as my mantra: There is no “typical.”

For instance, stocks were old-fashioned, then they weren’t; “correct” colors and materials changed for both neckcloths and stocks, depending on the occasion and that capricious being, Fashion; and then, some people use the terms interchangeably.

What seems clear is that neckwear offered a way to express one’s individuality, especially after men’s clothing became more subdued in color and more uniform in style, thanks in great part to Beau Brummell.
Folding & tying the cravat
One important way of expressing oneself was in the way one tied that important length of fabric.
My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care,
For by that we criterions of elegance swear,
And costs me each morning some hours of flurry,
To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.*
Cravats for travel
I don’t know the author of this verse. It appears here, there, and everywhere, referring to Beau Brummell. He didn’t write it, but everybody stole it without attribution, as often happened/happens. Still, a great deal was published anonymously or under whimsical names. One of these days I’ll pin down its first appearance. Meanwhile, let’s look at those hours of flurry.

Many readers are familiar with Cruikshank’s 1818 illustration from Neckclothitania (top left). Like many publications of the time about neckwear, it’s a combination of fact and satire.

However, it turns out that another book on neckcloths became an international bestseller. The Art of Tying the Cravat: demonstrated in sixteen lessons, including thirty-two different styles ... (the title’s longer than the book), appeared first in France, then Italy, then England, apparently by different authors. But the names seem to have been a joke: “Baron Emile de l’Empesé, Conte della Salda, and H. LeBlanc, which translate respectively as Baron Starch, Count Starched, and H. White or Starch,” as Sarah Gibbings points out in her fascinating tome, The Tie: Trends and Traditions 1990. Nonetheless, the Art of Tying the Cravat is charming. And informative. I recommend taking a look at it.
Advice to Julia excerpt

You can also find a number of Youtube videos, but none struck me as satisfactory. For a good visual, I suggest you take a look at MY Mr Knightley: Tying a Cravat, at the blog Tea in a Teacup.





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

Monday, April 16, 2018

From the Archives: How Many Handsewn Stitches in an 18thc Man's Shirt?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

Since Loretta's last post featured men's neckcloths, it seemed like a fine time to share this post from the archives about the shirts worn with those neckcloths.... 

In the 18thc, a man's linen shirt was perhaps the most democratic of garments. Every male wore one, from the King of England to his lowest subjects in the almshouse, and though the quality of the linen and laundering varied widely, the construction was virtually the same.

Contrary to the modern belief that the people of the past were dirty slobs (a bugaboo we NHG are always trying to banish), Georgian men were fastidious about their shirts. Men were judged by the cleanliness of their linen. From laundry records of the time, it's clear that the majority of men changed their shirts daily, and in the hot summer months, it wasn't unusual to change twice a day. This wasn't just a habit of wealthy gentlemen, either. Tradesmen, shopkeepers, and others of the "middling sort" had a good supply of shirts in their wardrobes, a dozen or so on average.

While most of these shirts were purchased from tailors, shirts were one of the few garments that women could make at home for their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Eighteenth century shirts were loose-fitting, geometric garments, all precise squares and rectangles with straight seams. They weren't difficult for the average seamstress to construct - keeping in mind that everything was being sewn by hand before the invention of the sewing machine. The precision of that seamstress's stitching would make them not only more attractive, but also more long-wearing through the rough-and-tumble laundering (no gentle cycle) of the time. But how long would it take to make such a shirt? And how many stitches must be taken in the process?

When I was visiting the Margaret Hunter millinery shop in Colonial Williamsburg last month, the mantua-makers (whose seamstresses can make men's shirts just as readily as the tailors) were pondering this exact question. A chart in the July, 1782 issue of The Lady's Magazine, right, calculated the "number of stitches in a plain-shirt", perhaps to provide the amateur seamstresses among their readers with a number to impress the home-stitched shirt's wearer. The Magazine's estimated total was an impressive 20,619 stitches for a man's shirt.

The Margaret Hunter seamstresses took these calculations a step further. Working an average of 30 stitches per minute at a gauge of 10 stitches per inch, it would take approximately eleven and a half hours to stitch a shirt. Of course that doesn't take into account the time for cutting threads, finishing a thread, or threading needles, nor for cutting out the pieces to be sewn, and it also doesn't make allowances for the individual seamstress's speed. While the needles in the Margaret Hunter shop seem to fly, the ladies freely admit that they'd probably be considered slow in comparison to their 18thc counterparts who sewed from childhood.

More about 18thc shirts here and hereMany thanks to Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade, Colonial Williamsburg, for her assistance with this post.

Left: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: Excerpt from The Lady's Magazine, July, 1782.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 9, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• How much scent was too much for a Victorian lady or gentleman?
Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly solo in a balloon, 1805.
• Online exhibition: American aviatrixes: women with wings.
Image: Sample book of crochet stitches and patterns.
• "Stupid news" of the 19th century.
• The truth about Johnny Appleseed: he was "a bit of a loon" who died a rich man from planting apples to make hard cider.
• Finding "buried treasure" of the material culture variety on the grounds of an historic 18thc New England house.
• The history of church fans: a quintessential accessory in the American south, and much more in the hands of black women.
Image: Watercolor painting of George III and Queen Charlotte giving alms to the poor, Maundy Thursday, 1773.
• Medieval Arabic recipes and the history of hummus.
• Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and the war that changed poetry forever.
• One hundred forty-six people, mostly young immigrant women, died a horrific death in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911.
Image: Medieval church mermaid, All Saints, Upper Sheringham, Norfolk.
• An African abbot in Anglo-Saxon England.
• Online exhibition featuring "Silence Dogood" - the creation of a teenaged Benjamin Franklin, marking his first published pieces as a journalist.
• Dinner on horseback: a Gilded-Age party for the books.
Mary Katherine Goddard: the woman who printed the Declaration of Independence.
• In 20thc restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels: check your hat?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Video: Listen to the Earliest Known Surviving Piano

Friday, April 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

While we were away on our spring break, we missed one of those daily celebrations that the Internet so loves, and honors with a hashtag: #PianoDay. Fittingly, this was the eighty-eighth day of the year, with a day for each of a piano's keys.

But perhaps everyday should be piano day. In the world of instruments, pianos are relative newcomers. The first were invented by Venetian-born Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732), who built instruments for the Medici court in Florence. The piano in this video is the earliest known to survive today, and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. For more information and additional photos, see the museum's entry here.

In this video, pianist Dongsok Shin performs the Sonata in d minor, K.9 by Domenico Scarlatti. Enjoy!

If you're receiving this video via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Click here to view the video.
 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket