Gloves of the 1800s

Pair of gloves, 1603-1625, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Pair of gloves, 1603-1625, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Gloves have been around since the time of antiquity and were once called “the clothing of the hands.” One writer described gloves of the 1800s as “an object of luxury, elegance, and refinement,” but gloves were worn for many other reasons than fashion. Besides being used for fashion, they were also worn for comfort or protection from the elements and for recreational reasons, such as when driving, skating, or playing croquet. One source noted that new styles of gloves were appearing every year with elastic wristbands being one of the latest fashions of the early 1850s. Gloves also came in variety of colors and were produced from a variety of materials that ranged from beaver, calf, or lambskin to cotton, worsted, or silk. Continue reading

Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club

Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club: Jacob Tonson by Sir Godfrey Kneller
Jacob Tonson by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club was an early eighteenth century London club, both “literary and gallant, as well as political,” and it was the stronghold of the Whigs. An eighteenth-century English bookseller and publisher, Jacob Tonson, sometimes referred to as Jacob Tonson the elder, is claimed to have founded the club. But how the club got its name seems unclear. One possibility is that the name came from where the Club meetings were first held, which was “a house in Shire Lane, … at the sign of the ‘Cat and Fiddle.'” The second possibility is, “The cook’s name being Christopher, for brevity called Kit, and the sign being the Cat and Fiddle, they very merrily derived a quaint denomination from puss and her master [resulting in Kit-Cat].” The third suggestion comes from The Spectator asserting that the club’s name was derived “not from the maker of the pie, but from the pie itself, which was called a Kit Kat.”

At any rate, Christopher Cat (although some sources claim Cat’s last name was Katt, Catt, or Catling) was the pastry cook or tavern keeper who furnished club members with “delicious mutton pies … [until] they became a standing dish at the meeting of the club, which at length, in 1708 obtained the name of the Kit Cat Club.” Continue reading

Oil Lamps and the Lamp Trimmer

Oil Lamps and the Lamp Trimmer: Aimé Argan, Public Domain
Aimé Argand, Public Domain

Oil lamps were an alternative to the candle, and, in 1780, the Argand lamp replaced all oil lamps that had been used since ancient times. The Argand lamp, created by François Pierre Aimé Argand, a Swiss physicist and chemist, had an output of 6 to 10 candela — a base unit to describe the luminous intensity of the light. After Thomas Jefferson saw it in Paris, he brought one that burned whale-oil and gave it to his good friend Charles Thomson.

Although Charles Thomson may have owned the lamp, he was not necessarily, the person who maintained it. Most lamp owners hired a lamp trimmer for this job. The lamp trimmer was responsible to clean the lamp’s glass, fill the lamp with oil, and trim the wick (a braided cotton that held the flame of the lamp).

Lamp trimmers performed this type of job both on land and sea. However, the job was particularly important on ships, as lamps were the main source of light at sea. They were also the only lighting below deck, which was why it was imperative to keep below-deck lights burning constantly. Moreover, usually, the larger the vessel, the greater the number of lamps required, and the more lamp trimmers needed. Continue reading

Stories of the Trousers Known as Inexpressibles

Inexpressibles: A Young George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, Author's Collection
A Young George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, Author’s Collection

“That part of the dress which it is now unlawful to name, seems of old to have had the singular virtue of discomfiting witches and demons. Every one may have heard how the bare vision of St. Francis’ inexpressibles put the devil to flight,”[1] was one nineteenth century description of men’s trousers, known as inexpressibles. They likely acquired their name because they were extremely erotic and fit so tightly they showed every nook and cranny of a man’s sexual organs, posterior, and muscular legs. In fact, they would have accentuated a man’s sexual organs even more if extra room had not been allowed in one thigh, which created a pocket where a man could position them.

Even with the pocket, inexpressibles left nothing to the imagination. Wearers created the image of a naked Greek God, as inexpressibles were usually pale in color. At least one person noted inexpressibles were a natural evolution:

“[They emanated from] small clothes to tights, from tights to inexpressibles, from inexpressibles to unspeakables, and from unspeakables to unmentionables, from unmentionables to shorts, from shorts to etceteras, from etceteras to continuations, and so on through antifeminines, remainders, masculines, and nether integuments down to the Quaker periphrase lower garments!”[2]

But whether or not that was true, one fact was true, eighteenth and nineteenth century inexpressible wearers had a variety of opinions about them. Continue reading

Mary Impey and the Impeyan Pheasant

Mary Impey by Thomas Gainsborough 1786, Public Domain
Lady Impey by Thomas Gainsborough 1786, Public Domain

Mary Reade, daughter of Sir John Reade and Harriet Reade, was the oldest of three children. She was born on 2 March 1749 in Oxfordshire, and, when she was nineteen, on 18 January 1768, she married Sir Elijah Impey, a hard-working barrister. After their marriage, the couple quietly resided in a house on Essex Street and the Strand, and it was there that their four children were born.

Five years after their marriage, in 1773, Elijah was considered “worthy of filling the new and important post of Chief Justice of Fort William, Calcutta.” So, in the early part of April 1774, Elijah and Mary set sail on the “Anson” for India, and, once there, to understand Indian culture, Mary became intrigued with the country’s flora and fauna and soon immersed herself in India’s natural history. Similar to the curiosity expressed by Governor-General Warren Hastings about India’s wildlife, Mary and Elijah’s curiosity was ignited and they established a private menagerie and aviary on their estate and filled them with unique animals and rare birds. Continue reading

Coachbuilding or Coach Making in the Late 1700 and Early 1800s

1879 Coach Maker’s Exhibition, Author’s Collection

Coachbuilders or coach makers created “those numerous and elegant vehicles which modern refinement … invented as speedy and luxurious modes of traveling.” In building a vehicle, a coachbuilder usually relied on artisans, “wheel-wrights, smiths, painters, carvers, joiners … [and] harness-makers,” and assembled together the parts the artisans created by making a body and a carriage.

Coachbuilding also ensured the coach was adapted to the places for where it was destined to be used, whether that be town, country, or continent. According to one coachbuilder, coaches had to be built stronger for town driving than for country use, and it was even more important they be built “stronger for the continent than even for the town, as the badness of their roads obliges them to use six horses to what on a well made road two would draw with equal facility.” Although coaches had to be built sturdy, they also had to be built as lightly as possible so as not to create an additional burden on the horses destined to pull them. Continue reading

Hat Fashions for December 1896

Hat Fashions for December 1896: Ladies' Turban
Ladies’ Turban, Author’s Collection

In the winter of 1896, medium and high crowned hats prevailed with large hats being particularly in vogue. Flowers and foliage were seen on nearly all winter hats no matter what size and were also associated with fur. Birds and feathers were also another important millinery decoration at this time. The Delineator, a well-known fashion magazine, noted this stating, “birds, supplemented by the graceful tail-feathers of the Paradise bird … are perched on both large and small hats against the crowns or wherever they will appear most advantageously.” To secure these birds, wings, quills, or feathers to the hats, they were tacked in place or inserted firmly into ribbon nests, “made usually with outstretched loops.” Continue reading

Glove Etiquette in the 1800s

Glove etiquette
Woman Wearing Gloves, Courtesy of Wikipedia

One writer noted, “a glove is an object of luxury, elegance and refinement,” which made them a frequent fashion accessory. In fact, both men and women wore gloves in the 1800s. But when wearing gloves required people to follow all sorts of etiquette rules. One etiquette book demonstrated this perfectly. It advised women in no uncertain terms to “never go out without gloves; put them on before you leave the house. You should no more be seen pulling your gloves in the street than tying the strings of your bonnet.” Women could also not button up their gloves after they left their house. Their toilette was supposed to be complete before they opened the door to step outside. Other glove etiquette rules required men and women to navigate them, as well as consider the rules for glove etiquette indoors and out, in warm or cold weather, and at funerals, balls, or dinner parties. Continue reading

The Parisian Quack – Dr. Mantaccini

Parisian Quack: Visit to the Quack Doctor by William Hogarth
Visit to the Quack Doctor by William Hogarth, Courtesy of Wikipedia

“A young man of good family, having in a few years squandered a large estate, and reduced himself to absolute want, felt that he must either exercise his ingenuity, or starve … He soon perceived that charlatanism, or what is commonly termed ‘quackery,’ was that on which that blind benefactress — Lady Fortune — lavished her favours with most pleasure and in the greatest abundance. An adroit and loquacious male domestic was the only remaining article [the young man] … possessed of all his former grandeur; he dressed him up in a gold laced livery, mounted a splendid chariot, and started on his way at once, under the name, style, and title of ‘The celebrated Dr. Mantaccini, who cures all disease by a touch, or a single look!'”

Such was the description given  about Dr. Mantaccini when he and his valet left Paris for Lyons. Continue reading

Tying Cravats or Ties

Tying Cravats and Ties: A Young George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, Author's Collection
A Young George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, Author’s Collection

Cravats were the forerunner to the modern necktie and originated in seventeenth century Croatia, with “Cro-at … easily corrupted into cravat.” The first cravats were thought to have originated either to hide unclean shirts or to provide psychological protection by covering a man’s exposed neck during spear battles, and, later, in at least one case, a cravat saved a General’s life when it stopped an enemy’s bullet. Charles II in the 1660s used the word cravatte, which he described as “being nothing else but a long towel put around the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow knot.”

By the late 1600s the bow knot cravat morphed into the Steinkirk, a long, narrow, neckcloth worn initially by military men. The Steinkirk became by the 1770s the flowing cravat worn by the Macaroni, and although “many varieties were introduced; … a fine starched linen cloth acquired … ascendancy over all other[s].” But it was the fancy, well-tied cravat that captured men’s heart and became the item worn by fashionable dressed nineteenth-century men.

This cravat originated with the English wit and arbiter of fashion, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell. He was the first man to tie it around his neck and also the first man to dress in such a fashionable way. His style became known as dandyism. Continue reading