Victorian Mourning

Victorian mourning
A Woman Dressed in Widow Weeds, Authors Collection

Victorian mourning was an art form among the upper crust in nineteenth century England. There were many complex rules and mourning was expected to be exteriorized, not only by obvious sorrow but also by wearing black clothing that was sometimes worn for months and months. In addition, superstition often accompanied mourning and included such things as covering mirrors to prevent a person’s spirit from becoming trapped or stopping clocks at the time of a person’s death. Continue reading

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour was a trip through Europe that began in the 1640s. It became extremely popular during the 1660s and remained so until the 1840s when large-scale rail transit arrived. It was first introduced to the public by a Roman Catholic priest named Richard Lassels in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. Designed for the young elite, it was established as a traditional rite of passage among wealthy upper class Englishmen, although eventually it burgeoned into a trip that included the fairer sex. Continue reading

Masquerade Balls

Masquerade Ball
Masquerade Ball, Public Domain

Masquerade balls began in the fifteenth century and were similar to a carnival atmosphere with dancing, drinking, and gambling. By the seventeenth century they were introduced to London. The first of these promiscuous and fashionable assemblages organized by “Count” John James Heidegger and held at London’s Haymarket. Anyone who could afford a ticket could attend a masquerade ball and that meant masked commoners were allowed to hobnob with the masquerading elite. The masquerade balls were described as “a figurative leveller [sic] of society,” as sharpers and prostitutes attended and nightly scenes of robbery, heated quarrels, and scandalous licentiousness occurred among party-goers. Yet, despite the robberies, quarrels, and licentiousness, “Heidegger was caressed by the court and the nobility, and gained both money and honors.” Continue reading

The Term Dandy

Dandy Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell, Courtesy of Wikipedia

“Dandy” was first used between the 1770s and 1780s, but the idea of a dandy began with the Greeks. They called a dandy, “a ‘vain and shallow fellow.’ The Romans … named him a ‘trifler,’ a ‘silly fellow, &c.’ The Italians declared him a ‘loiterer.’ The French proclaimed him a ‘noddy or ninny.’ And, finally, the English, after bestowing upon him two names, ‘dandiprat’ and ‘dandy,’ defined him, according to Webster, as ‘a male of the human species, who dresses himself like a doll, and who carries his character on his back.'”

By the Regency Era, the famously glib but elegantly charming George Bryan “Beau” Brummell represented the word dandy. Brummell created simple male fashions, shaved his face several times a day, and wore perfectly tailored clothing — immaculately pressed linen shirts, intricately knotted cravats, and full-length trousers. Brummell gained an iconic reputation and was considered an original. However, before him there was much conjecture as to where the word dandy originated. Continue reading