Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Radical Change- the 1790's

The year is 1790. Two years ago, King George III of England suffered another episode of madness. Last year, the House of Commons passed a bill allowing the Prince of Wales to rule England as his father's regent, but before the regency could take place, the king recovered. General George Washington was elected President of the United States in 1789, and this year passed the Residence Act of 1790, commissioning the construction of a city that would be the headquarters for all American government. England is at war with France, and France is at war with itself.

The 1790's were characterized by many radical changes, and fashion was no exception. In fact, it's difficult to talk about the decade as a whole because clothing from the beginning of the decade differs so greatly from clothing around the turn of the century.

Aah, pretty. Source
Also pretty. Source

So how did we get from natural waists, tight corsets, and colored silks to pastels, muslins, and loose-fitting empire waist gowns? has an AMAZING two part blog post on the transition from 1780's fashion to the early Regency. It turns me into a green-eyed monster of jealousy. In a happy way. It's swell.

One thing I found in my 1790's research this week was the fichu (rhymes with 'tissue'), a triangular piece of gauze, netting, or lace pinned onto or tucked into a bodice for modesty during the day. I've seen them around in different Jane Austen adaptations educational films on the period, but I never knew what it was called. 

This and the lighter muslins and linens (in comparison to the heavier, brightly colored silks of the 1770's and 80's) appear to be some of the only things that stay the same from the beginning of the 1790's to the end.
An early decade example of a fichu. Source.


One thing that particularly interested me while researching this period was watching the waistline slowly creep up and bodices loosen as the decade went on. Two good examples of this are in the adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. Admittedly, the 2007 Mansfield Park is a little all over the place in terms of costumes (Fanny wears some mid and early decade waistlines, Mary Crawford's getups look like they're from the late Regency, the clothes worn by the Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram look like they're from the 1780's, and the costumes for the play look like they're from the 1770's, leaving me with the question, "What is this madness?"), but Fanny is a good example of waistlines that are much lower than what we'll see later on in the Regency.

She looks a little squinty here. Source
In Sense and Sensibility, the waistlines are closer to truly empire, but more structured and tailored than we'll see later.

Elinor and Mama Dashwood are both good examples in this image. Source.
Marianne, with a gathered neckline that Zipzip explains in detail. Source.
Skirts also changed, becoming more narrow as the decade wore on, and the train was becoming more and more common. 

Beautiful train. Source.

By the end of the decade, waistlines were high, sleeves were short, and hair was worn looser and curly. The hair powder that was so popular in court fashion in the 1770's and 80's was now completely out of style, and a new era of natural hair and loose clothing was ushered in. After the turn of the century, the skirt would narrow still more, and hairstyles would become more polished and tight, conforming to the inspiration of Greek statues. That's what we'll be looking at next week, when I study the years 1800-1810. And I'll probably use more Jane Austen images. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I think a man looks nothing without a cravat.

Normally, I don't take much of an interest in men's fashion through the ages. I do intend this to be a blog that focuses predominately on women's fashion (sorry, gents, that's just the way it is). But I need to confess something: I love cravats. I think they're dreamy.

For those of you who don't know, a cravat is a type of necktie worn in the 18th and early 19th centuries. For purely illustrative purposes, here's a picture of Colin Firth modeling a cravat.

Thanks, Colin.
According to the ever-handy Wikipedia, cravats originated around 1630 when King Louis XIII of France hired Croation mercenaries to protect him and the Cardinal Richelieu against the Duke of Guise and the Queen Mother. The always fashionably curious French adopted the neckties worn by the Croatians and simultaneously mangled the poor word "Croate" until it became "cravate."

The cravat stayed popular until about 1692, when it was replaced by a similar necktie called the Steinkirk. The cravat made a comeback in the 1770's, thanks to the maccaronis (yeah, those guys). They were popular once again until they morphed into neckties after 1815. They were commonly black, replacing the white linen or muslin ties of the Regency. Here's a handy tutorial on how to tie a post-1815 cravat/necktie.

A sculpture of a cravat by Grinling Gibbons. It appears to be made out of a combination of muslin and lace or netting. Source.

During the Regency, the way a gentleman tied his cravat was one of the only ways he could distinguish himself from other gentlemen in dress without being labeled a fop. A veritable smorgasbord of knots and ties existed.

A gentleman's valet often developed cravat ties for his master. A gentleman's cravat became a sign of his valet's craftsmanship. The fancier the cravat, the better the valet. This is referred to several times in Pamela Aidan's Darcy Trilogy. The valet would most likely purchase the muslin for the gentleman's cravats as well, unless that gentleman was like Henry Tilney and knew enough about muslin to buy his own (once again proving that Henry Tilney is the best Austen man of all time). (Or maybe Edward Ferrars.) (Or maybe I should just shut up about Jane Austen now.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hi, I'm Annie. Here are a few things you might need to know.

Fashion history is the name of the game in these parts. I love clothing, costumes, and history, and I want to increase my expertise on the history of fashion. As I research, I'll blog about what I find. If that doesn't already sound fun to you, I'll also serve up heavy doses of personality with a sharp slaw of witticisms on the side. Sound good to you? Then stick around for tons of girly, nerdy fun.

I hope to start something called "Decade Wednesdays" in which I research one decade a week and blog about it on Wednesday. For this first leg of the Decade Wednesday journey, I'll start out in 1790, the beginning of the Regency Era in Britain, and work my way to the 1950's. From there, who knows?

In addition to Decade Wednesday, I'll be blogging about whatever costume/fashion history subject strikes my fancy. Perhaps costume analysis of period pieces will happen. I will definitely reference Jane Austen way, WAY more than is necessary.

This blog is not going to be perfectly 100% historically accurate. I don't pretend to be a scholar, I'm just a nerd with a weird hobby. I can't promise that a bit some a lot of my information won't come from Wikipedia. I do want this blog to be a good learning tool, both for me and for anyone who happens to read it. If you spot any historical inaccuracies, drop me a comment, and I'll make it all better.

I tend to use a lot of images while blogging, and I will be drawing heavily from other articles on the web. I will do my best to credit everything that isn't mine. If you happen to be passing through my blog and see something that's yours and isn't credited, leave me a comment, and I'll fix it. Click on image and article sources at your own risk- I can control what I put on my own blog, not other people's.

Well, now that the business side of things is taken care of, I guess I should actually start working on my good intentions. Buh-bye now!