Shoe Styles Old and New

Shoe Worn by Catherine de Medici, Public Domain
Shoe Worn by Catherine de Medici, Public Domain

Shoes can be traced back to early man, with the simplest shoes being nothing more than a sole fastened to the foot with straps. Over time, shoes became more substantial and eventually a fashion statement for the feet. Similar to other fashions, shoe styles faded and revived with the era, and the modern shoes of the 1880s and 1890s were often based on fashions created long ago, reaching back as far as the 1400, 1500, and 1600s and using shapes and styles popular from those early times to create the new modern styles. One revived fashion in the 1880s and 1890s was ornamentation with beads, buckles, and small rosettes garnishing the footwear “with a view to making the shoes of the ‘summer girl’ more comely.” Continue reading

Men’s Fashions Winter 1867

George Stanhope, 6th Early of Chesterfield, Courtesy of Wikipedia
George Stanhope, 6th Early of Chesterfield, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Men’s fashions for winter 1867 included a wide variety of coats, such as Over Coats, Chesterfields, Frock Coats, and Morning Coats. Some coats tended to be heavier, such as the Chesterfield, which according to several sources, acquired its name from George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield, a passionate horse racer who lead a lavish lifestyle and was “a conspicuous figure in fashionable circles.” Because the Chesterfield Coat was long, light-weight and thinner fabrics were often chosen, and, if a gentleman needed extra warmth, another coat was worn under the Chesterfield. Additionally, to keep winter coats affordable, like the Chesterfield, coats were often lined with inferior fur, such as “raccoon, fox, or opossum,” while the borders, collars, cuffs, and facings used richer furs, such as beaver or sable. Trousers continued to have straight lines in 1867 and colors were mixtures of “granite, grey, or brown,” with brown considered the most fashionable color for the winter season. Vests were also another fashionable accessory for men at this time. Continue reading

Horseback Etiquette For a Gentleman Riding With a Lady

Riding Couples in 1882 at Uppsala Castle, horseback etiquette
Riding Couples in 1882 at Uppsala Castle, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Proper etiquette infused every part of people’s lives in the 1800s. It was required at balls, when visiting friends, or when sitting down to eat. Proper etiquette could not be overlooked when a gentleman escorted a lady on horseback as it was considered one of the most exhilarating amusements and enjoyable activities indulged in by nineteenth century people. Moreover, one person noted of horseback riding that it is “calculated to develop the physical health and animal spirits, [and] nothing is more conducive to pleasure of a rational character, than the ride on horseback … every pleasant day.” Continue reading

The Irish Giant – Charles Byrne or Patrick Cotter “O’Brien”

Irish giant Patric Cotter "O'Brien"
Patrick Cotter “O’Brien,” the “Irish Giant”, Courtesy of Wikipedia

If England claimed Edward Bright, John Love, and Daniel Lambert to be the fattest and heaviest men in England, Ireland claimed Charles Byrne also known as Patrick Cotter to be the tallest. In fact, Byrne, who adopted the stage name O’Brien, was the first of 13 people to be verified as being over 8 feet tall. He was a remarkably large man and by far exceeded the ordinary standard for height in the late 1700s. O’Brien, commonly called the “Irish Giant” or the “Bristol Giant,” was said to stand 8 feet 7 inches tall. One article claimed that “Mr. O’Brien is a modern striking instance of extraordinary size,” and because of his extraordinary size he began exhibiting himself throughout the United Kingdom.

O’Brien was born in Kinsale, Ireland, in 1762 to parents of ordinary height. So, it must have been a surprise when O’Brien  grew “more rapidly than ordinary.” O’Brien grew until he reached the age of 25. From that point forward his growth somewhat abated. One person wrote:

“[H]e continued growing … till he attained … the enormous height of eight feet seven inches. His hand measured twelve inches, and his head and face was large in proportion; but the rest of his body, particularly his legs, were remarkably disproportioned; and he was far from being a well made man, but his figure … struck the beholder with the greatest astonishment, and he was considered to be the tallest man ever exhibited in England.” Continue reading

Toads and Toad Doctors

Toads and Toad Doctors: Michael Ettmüller, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Michael Ettmüller, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Toads were thought to have medicinal qualities from early times, and in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the witches made “their ‘hell-broth’ ‘thick and slab;’ … [and] employed both toads and frogs in pharmacy and medicine.”  However, before Macbeth, Roman physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, prescribed cooked frogs “in salt and oil as an antidote for the poison of serpents.” Dioscordies seemed to be on to something because by the 1600 and early 1700s, other physicians and medical scientists, such as Michael Ettmüller or Antonio Vallisneri, suggested the toads could be used to cure illness and disease. Later, toad doctors began to deal exclusively with toads, and they furthered the idea the toad had medicinal properties. Moreover, toad doctors offered a specific medicinal folk magic that remained popular in western England until the end of the nineteenth century. Continue reading

Diligence Coach

Traveling in France in a diligence coach, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Traveling in France, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The diligence coach was a Frenchman’s main public conveyance. It was equivalent to its English counterpart, the stage coach. It falls into the category of a traveling coach and was used in the 1700 and 1800s to travel long distances throughout continental Europe. It was a solidly-built coach pulled by four or more horses. One early description of the diligence coach stated that “the body of the carriage rests upon large thongs of leather, fastened to heavy blocks of wood, instead of springs, and the whole is drawn by seven horses.” Eventually, however, diligence coaches traveling between Paris and Lyons were the first to be “fitted with springs.”

The diligence coach also traveled at six or seven miles an hour, and how they traveled that quickly is amazing as the diligence was usually laden down with people and luggage:

Upon the roof, on the outside, is the imperial, which is generally filled with six or seven persons more, and a heap of luggage, which latter also occupies the basket, and generally presents a pile, half as high again as the coach, which is secured by ropes and chains, tightened by a large iron windlass, which also constitutes another appendage of this moving mass.

To drive the moving mass and steer the horses, the coachman’s spot was described as “every where — sometimes on the dickey — then on the top — then on one of the wheel-horses; and, in going up hill, two or three rods behind the diligence.” That was partly because early diligence coaches placed the coachman’s perch well behind the rear axles. Continue reading

Men’s Fashions Fall 1867

The Top Hat in Some of its Various Styles in 1830, Public Domain
The Top Hat in Some of its Various Styles in 1830, Public Domain

Fall men’s fashions of 1867 included trousers with “the perpendicular line pattern…the most prevalent, but the lines [were] broader and wider apart than they were in the spring.” Silk-mixed trousers and fancy cashmere vests were also popular with their “small checks, mixtures, and lines,” and the most fashionable and popular coats were “black and blue diagonal ribs.” Some of the more popular fabrics for fall and winter in 1867 included those with “lines about one inch apart, and the intermediate space filled with small spots of various colors.” Another popular men’s fashion was hats, as seen in the fashions illustrated below. Men wore top hats, which were at varying points called everything from beaver hats to chimney-pots to stovepipes. Continue reading

The Dandies of White’s in the Regency Era

Dandies of White's: Exquisite Dandies, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Exquisite Dandies, Courtesy of Library of Congress

Thomas Carlyle wrote a dandy was little more than “a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes.” Physical appearance was extremely important to a dandy, who despite being born into a middle-class family, attempted to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle with his fine clothing, refined language, and leisurely pursuits. Dandies emerged after the Macaroni reached his pinnacle of popularity in 1775.

Dandies first appeared in the 1790s, and although they may have been little more than clothes-wearing men, by the Regency period many earned at spot at a special table inside an exclusive London gentleman’s club on St. James Street, known as White’s. This special table was located directly in front of a large bow window and became known as a “seat of privilege.” Among the dandies that occupied the “seat of privilege” were men such as William Arden, Joshua Allen, Thomas Raikes, Ball Hughes, and, of course, the most well-known of them all, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell. Continue reading

The Fattest Men in England

Mr. Hermanes Bras, Public Domain
Mr. Hermanes Bras, Public Domain

In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, being tremendously fat was an anomaly, and the men known for it became famous. One famous overweight gentleman was a Prussian fellow named Hermanes Bras. He was designated the “gigantic Prussian Youth.” At nineteen years of age was said to have weighed five hundred pounds and stand nearly six feet tall. When he was “presented to the Emperor of Austria, the Kings of France, Prussia and the Netherlands, the Prince of Orange, and most of the nobility of the different kingdoms, … [they] pronounced him to be the greatest prodigy of nature now extant.” However, there were several corpulent men in England who won the title of the fattest or heaviest and among them was Edward Bright of Maldon, John Love of Weymouth, and Daniel Lambert, a resident of Leicester. Continue reading

Umbrella Mishaps and Fatalities

Umbrella Mishaps: Parts of an Umbrella, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Parts of an Umbrella, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Umbrellas were deemed a “crude and curious invention” when they first appeared in England in the 1600s. It took at least fifty years before women began to carry them, and at least another hundred years passed before men used them. One reason men did not immediately unfurl these rain protectors was umbrellas were considered effeminate. If a man used one, he endured name calling, jeers, and “for many years those who used umbrellas in the streets were exposed to the insults of the mob and to the persistent and very natural animosity of the hackney coachman, who bespattered them with mud and lashed them furiously with their whips.” Eventually, however, the idea that the umbrella was not effeminate and was a functional and utilitarian tool, grasp London men just as heartily as London men grasp the umbrella on gray stormy days.

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