Bonnets of the 1830s

1830s bonnets
Dinner Bonnet, Author’s Collection

Bonnets were one of the most popular types of headgear during the nineteenth century. Bonnets were worn for numerous occasions from social events to dinner parties to evening carriage rides. However, 1830s bonnets were not just pretty headgear or fashionable displays for women’s heads. They were also considered the only proper headgear when going outdoors. Bonnets protected women from nature’s harsh elements, such as the sun, wind, or cold.

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between a bonnet and a hat, people generally use the word bonnet when describing styles made from soft materials that are brimless. Bonnets also tied underneath the chin whereas hats do not. Bonnets of the 1830s had those characteristics but they also tended to frame the face with their wide, semicircular brims and decorative trimmings. They also functioned as fashion statements and were created from satin, silk, tulle, velvet, wool, and straw and decorated with ribbons, lace, crepe, flowers, and an occasional feather. Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter M

The following are slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter M and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.

M-4541SmMACCARONI (now spelled macaroni) was not only an Italian pasta made from flour and eggs but also a term used to describe a fop. It was claimed that certain well-dressed and fashionable gents, who established men’s styles, were members of what was loosely termed the Maccaroni club, and which by contraction, styled them MACCARONI. If you are interested to learn more about macaronis, click here.

MACE mean to swindle or cheat, and MACE COVE referred to a swindler, a sharper, or a cheat. Continue reading

The Bicycle

Draisienne, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Draisienne, Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is controversy over who invented the bicycle. Some people claim it was a French carriage maker and blacksmith named Pierre Michaux. Other people assert it was Michaux’s son, Ernest. Still other people maintain it was not Michaux or his son, but rather another Frenchman entirely. His name was Pierre Lallement and he lived near Nancy, France, in 1862 and repaired baby carriages. Thus, because of the disagreements over who invented the bicycle, Pierre Michaux, his son Ernest, and Lallement, have all at one time or another been called the “father of the bicycle.” Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter L

The following are interesting slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter L and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.

L-7893SmA prostitute was referred to as LACED MUTTON.

LAG FEVER was a term of ridicule applied to men who feigned illness to avoid being transported from the gaol (jail) to the hulks (ships deemed unworthy for the sea that served as prisons).

LAND LOPERS or LAND LUBBERS were vagabonds lurking about the countryside and subsisting by pilfering.

Highwaymen were also known as LAND PIRATES. Continue reading


Phaetons: Phaeton No. 1
Phaeton No. 1, Author’s Collection

Phaetons were stylish, four-wheeled carriages, with or without tops that usually had no side pieces in front by the seats. The name phaeton comes from Phaëton who was the mythical son of Helios (the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology).  Phaëton was said to have driven the Sun Chariot so dangerously he almost caught the earth on fire. Fortunately, before Phaëton destroyed the earth, Zeus struck him down with a lightning bolt. Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms for the 1700 and 1800s – Letters I, J, and K

The following are interesting slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letters I, J, and K and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.


An INDIA WIPE was a silk handkerchief.

INEXPRESSIBLES were bum hugging, extremely tight pants that showed off a man’s muscular legs—similar to women’s leggings today. But, by the 1850s, INEXPRESSIBLES referred less to tight pants and more to underwear or unmentionables.

IRISH APRICOTS was another name for potatoes, because it was a common joke on Irish ships to say the vessel was loaded with fruit and timber.

IMPOST TAKERS were usurers who frequented gaming tables to lend gamblers money at exorbitant premiums.

IMPUDENT STEALING was when the back of a coach was cut out and the seats stolen.

A false witness was known as IRISH EVIDENCE.

IRISH TOYLES pretended to be pedlars selling goods, such as pins, lace, and other wares, but in reality they were house thieves.

IRISH UP or GET ONE’S IRISH UP meant to become angry.

ISLAND referred to the rising bottom of a wine bottle before the bottle was emptied because the center rose out of the wine similar to the way an island rises out of the sea.

ITCHLAND or SCRATCHLAND was a nickname for Scotland, and a Scotsman was referred to as an ITCHLANDER.


Jack Adams was a simpleton and lived in Clerkenwell on the Green during Charles II’s reign. He had a notorious reputation as a fool, and, in fact, Adams was constantly mentioned in pamphlets for his idiocy and foolish behavior. So, if you were called a JACK ADAMS it meant you were a fool.

A poor hackney parson was known as a JACK AT A PINCH.

JACK IN A BOX was a reference to a cheat, to a child in a mother’s womb, or to a child’s toy.

JACK IN AN OFFICE referred to an insolent fellow of authority.

An executioner or hangman was also known as JACK KETCH after the infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II of the same name.

JACK NASTY FACE was a nautical term used to signify a common sailor.

An unusually tall man was called JACK OF LEGS. The appellation comes from the folk hero named Jack O’Leggs. He was a giant who lived in Hertfordshire, England, and, similar to Robin Hood, he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

Supposedly, in the 1700s, a man named Jack Robinson would call on his neighbors and before his name could be said he would disappear. Thus, JACK ROBINSON is an expression for a very short period of time.

Jack Sprat and his Wife, Author's Collection
Jack Sprat and his Wife, Author’s Collection

JACK SPRAT referred to a dwarf or diminutive thin fellow, but JACK TAR referred to a sailor.

A fat man might be called a JACK WEIGHT, but a large masculine wench was called a JACK WHORE.

Someone called JACOB was a fool, and JESSAMY was a reference to a dandy or a fop.

JIBBER THE KIBBER was a decoy method that used lights to deceive ships. One such method involved placing a lantern around a horse’s neck so that in the dark it gave the appearance of a ship’s light, which then encouraged ships to bear towards it. However, the ship would run ashore and local inhabitants would plunder it.

JINGLE BRAINS was a wild, thoughtless, rattling fellow.

JINGLERS were horse dealers who frequented country fairs.

JINK meant to cheat, trick, or swindle.

Your head might also be called a JOBBERNOLE.

TO JOCK or JOCKUM CLOY meant to enjoy a woman in a sexual way.

A polite lady would never say Jack ass as Jack was vulgar and ass was an indecent thing to say. Instead, she said JOHNNY BUM.

JOLTER HEAD referred to a dunce or stupid fellow.

A rough and rutty lane was known as a JUMBLEGUT LANE.


KEEL BULLIES were men employed to load and unload coal from ships.

If you pretended to keep a mistress for your own use, but in reality she was available for sexual dalliances with the public, you were said to be KEEPING CULLY.

KELTER was another term for money.

KENCH meant to laugh loudly.

KENT-STREET EJECTMENT was a method used by landlords on Kent Street when a tenant was more than a fortnight in arrears. The landlord would remove the street door so as to prevent the tenant having any privacy.

KETTLEDRUMS was a reference to a woman’s breast.

To be KID LAY was when a young apprentice committed to the care of certain goods, and, then a rogue, observing this commitment, would prevail upon the apprentice to deliver a trifling message, which then allowed the rogue to steal the goods.

KILKENNY referred to an old frieze coat, and frieze was heavy, coarse, woolen fabric with a one-sided nap that was manufactured in England and exported to Ireland in the nineteenth century.

KISSING CRUST referred to the part of the bread that touched the oven.

KITTLE PITCHERING was constant contradiction so as to impede and interrupt a long-winded storyteller’s progress.

If you were a KNIGHT OF THE BLADE you were considered a bully, but if you were a KNIGHT OF THE POST you were a person, who, for payment, would swear to false evidence.

A coachman was considered a KNIGHT OF THE WHIP, but a person with a large appetite who ate enormous portions was called a KNIGHT OF THE TRENCHER.

KNOCKED UP meant tired, but a KNOCKER-UP or KNOCKER-UPPER was a person who rapped on the door or tapped on your window to awaken you in the morning. If you are interested in learning more about a knocker-up, click here.

KNOCKERS were small, flat curls worn at the temples by thieves and costermongers.

KNUCKLES were superior pickpockets who frequented public places and stole watches, pocketbooks, or other valuables with careless abandon.

TO KNUCKLE ONE’S WIPE was to steal a handkerchief.

Bailey, N. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1737
Barrere, Albert, etal, eds., A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, Vol. I, 1897
Clerkenwell, on British History Online
Davies, Thomas Lewis Owen, A Supplemental English Glossary, 1881
Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811
Grose, Francis, Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence, 1811
Halliwell, James Orchard, Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1881
Slang and its Analogues Past and Present, 1902

Evening Gowns of 1839

Evening Gown No. 1, Author's Collection
Evening Gown No. 1, Author’s Collection

Victorian era evening gowns of 1839 emphasized a woman’s figure with their bodices that tapered to a small point at the front and the skirt’s low waistline. Gown bodices were also tight and form-fitting, but beneath them were even tighter and more constricting garments. Corsets with gores made it almost impossible to breathe but women wore them because it gave them curvy feminine figures and accentuated and lifted their breasts. Skirts were also designed to make waists seem smaller as they were wide, conical in shape and low-waisted. In addition, at the time, the petticoats worn underneath skirts tended to bell out and that brought attention to the tininess of a woman’s waist.

Evening Gown No. 2, Author's Collection
Evening Gown No. 2, Author’s Collection

Evening gowns tended towards wide necklines decorated with lace, pleats, or gathering, and another fashion trend was puffy sleeves that fell near the elbows, as well as mid-length gloves. Gowns were also made from satin, silk, and combinations that included organdy, wool, and cotton. They were frequently trimmed with ribbons, bows, and lace, as well as flounces or large bands of lace that hung in various configurations at the bottom of the gown.

The following evening gowns were some of the latest Parisian styles that emerged in 1839.

Evening gown no. 1 is a typical evening gown from 1839. In this case, the gown is a pale pink satin and ornamented with two folds of satin, knots of ribbons, and Brussels lace at the shoulders. The tight sleeves fall at the elbow and are trimmed with bands and knots of ribbons. Note also that the mid-length gloves are tied with ribbons at the top and that the bottom of the gown is trimmed with a Brussels lace flounce.

Evening Gown No. 3, Author's Collection
Evening Gown No. 3, Author’s Collection

Evening gown no. 2 is an azure blue gown with a low corsage and is trimmed with a pelerine-mantilla of silver blond lace. Bouffant sleeves fall below the elbows and are another distinguishing factor, as the sleeves are looped at the bend of the arms with flowers. Again mid-length gloves are worn. The skirt is raised by flowers on either side at the front in drapery style and its train is trimmed with double flounces of silver blond.

Evening gown no. 3 is a rose-colored satin. The skirt is trimmed with two flounces and a single knot of ribbon is placed at the upper front on one side. The corsage is draped across the front and descends a little at the center and the drapery is sustained by a breast knot, which is moderately pointed at the bottom. The gown also sports short tight sleeves, similar to evening gown no. 1 and 2, but the bottom of the sleeves are rendered full by a triple manchette-like shape and a full knot of ribbon. 

Evening Gown No. 4, Author's Collection
Evening Gown No. 4, Author’s Collection

Evening gown no. 4 is a crepe and satin combination created in a brilliant shade of green, which was likely one of the new green shades of this period. Triple bouillons trim the bottom border of the gown and its below-the-elbow-length sleeves. The gown’s corsage is low, and once again the woman is wearing the fashionable mid-length gloves.

Georgian Headdresses of the 1780 and 1790s

Georgian headdresses, Lambelle Headdress, Author's Collection
Lamballe Headdress, Author’s Collection

By the mid 1780s the towering Georgian headdresses that had been so popular in the earlier decade were slowly being replaced by less lofty creations. It was also during this time that hairstyles became wider and loaded with curls. The front portion of the hair was styled away from the face and the top portion of the hair was either crimped, frizzed, or curled. The lower portion of the hair was usually arranged in cascading ringlets or large curls that sometimes flowed to the waist and added a note of carelessness to the overall arrangement. Marie Antoinette’s confidante was princess Marie Thérèse of Savoy, better known as the princesse de Lamballe. She wore a style similar to the Lamballe Headdress created by the French hairdresser Henri de Bysterveld shown to the right. Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter H

The following are interesting slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter H and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.


HABERDASHER OF PRONOUNS was a schoolmaster.

A person hired to write for booksellers or for attorneys was known as a HACKNEY WRITER.

If you were HALF SEAS OVER you were almost drunk.

HAND BASKET PORTION was used to describe a woman’s husband who received frequent presents from his father-in-law or her family. Continue reading


Yellow Canaries
Yellow Canary, Author’s Collection

Canaries were brought to Europe by Spanish sailors in the 1600s and named after the Canary Islands. Only the richest Spanish and English courts bred them at the time, and they did so with great difficulty as canaries were not understood and because males were primarily imported. After monks began to raise them, the monks sold male canaries only and this kept them costly and in demand. Continue reading