Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Video: A Prototype for a Very Early Mobile Phone, 1946

Friday, August 1, 2014

Isabella reporting,

The British Pathé archives have provided some of our favorite Friday Videos, including this, this, and thisWhile this one makes old-fashioned sexist jokes about how women like to talk and shop and men sneak out to the pub for a pint, it does seem uncannily prescient about modern cell-phone usage. The post-war walkie-talkie is a little unwieldy, true, but having a cell-phone in case of an emergency is almost always the reason/excuse most people have for first buying one, just as using them to report to friends about what's in stores is, fortunately, much more common. Still, I think I can safely say that very, very few American women today ever call anyone to report a sale on offal.

Video courtesy of the British Pathé archives.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Hackney Coach in the 1830s

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Hackney coach
Loretta reports:

My characters often take hackneys.  It wasn’t a classy way to travel, but the vehicles were ubiquitous, as one of the links in this post indicates. Also, it’s a preferred mode of transport for someone who's traveling incognito.  But what were hackneys like?

Here’s Charles Dickens’s description, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

Hackney cabriolet
At this time, there were two different varieties of hackneys.  The other is a hackney cab (or cabriolet), which looks a bit more like the hansom cabs that appear later in the century.  Dickens distinguishes between the two, but elsewhere the hackneys seem to be lumped together as a mode of public transportation.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.

**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
***more about watermen here.
Images are from Henry Charles Moore, Omnibuses and cabs, their origin and history 1902, courtesy Internet Archive. 
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source.

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:

" 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.
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