The Tricorne or “Cocked Hat”

French Tricorne
French Tricorne of 18th Century, Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The tricorne hat, which was initially called a “cocked hat,” became popular in the 1700s but was falling out of fashion by the 1800s and eventually evolved into the bicorne. The tricorne was actually an evolution of a broad-brim round hat worn by Spanish soldiers in Flanders in the 1600s. When its brim was pledged (bound), it formed a triangular shape. The triangular shape was the shape favored by Spanish soldiers. Thus, when war broke out in 1667 between France and Spain in the Spanish Netherlands, the triangular hat found its way to France. Continue reading

Women’s Accessories in the 1700s

Fashions of 1730s, Women's Accessories
Fashions of 1730s, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Women’s accessories were the fashion item that completed their look, and in the eighteenth century, there were plenty of accessories for a woman to use or wear. These accessories included the following: chemise or shift, decency skirt, fan, fichu or kerchief, handkerchief, jewelry, millinery, pannier, parasol, petticoat, pockets or pocket hoops, shoes and shoe buckles, spectacles, stays, stockings and garter, stomacher, snuff-box, and walking stick.

Chemise or Shift—The chemise or shift was the first layer a woman wore, and it was followed by stays, the name used for a corset in the 1700s. Chemise or shifts could also be worn as nightgowns.

Decency Skirt—A decency skirt was essentially a knee-length, under-petticoat, worn between the shift and stays. As drawers or bloomers did not exist at this time, a decency skirt served to preserve a woman’s decency if she fell or if a gusty breeze lifted her pannier exposing her private parts. Continue reading

History of the Fashionable Coat, the Spencer

Lord Spencer by John Singleton Copley, 1800, Named for the Spencer coat
Lord Spencer by John Singleton Copley, 1800, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Spencer coat dates from the 1790s. It was originally a woolen double-breasted, short-waisted outer coat without tails that was “cut according to its cloth” and adopted by British military officers. Although there are varying elements in the story about exactly how the Spencer coat came about, most people claim the coat originated from a bet put forth by the British Whig and politician, George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer, who is also the person for who the coat was named.

Although the Earl was perhaps best known for his fine book collection, he was also known to indulge in a bet or two. One bet he indulged in occurred in 1795. While talking to friends, the Earl wagered he could create a useless and ridiculous coat that would become fashionable and be universally adopted. His friends being wagering enthusiasts thought it was a bet the Earl could not win, and they decided to accept it never thinking that such a coat would become fashionable. Continue reading

Georgian Clothing for Sleep

Mrs. Wheatly in her Nightcap by Francis Wheatly, Public Domain
Mrs. Wheatly in her Nightcap by Francis Wheatly, Public Domain

Georgians thought about how to best achieve a good night’s rest because a lack of sleep was claimed to weaken the constitution. Part of the way a good night’s rest was achieved in Georgian times was by avoiding colds. Colds were supposedly brought on by an “imprudence in changing clothes,” and one long time observation claimed that “colds kill more than plagues.” So, to avoid colds and to sleep well, Georgians were given several suggestions about how to choose the appropriate nighttime wear to maintain their health and get a good night’s rest. Continue reading

Georgian Hair – A Woman’s Crowning Glory and Its Care

Georgian hair
Marie Antoinette in 1785, Courtesy of Wikipedia

By the late Georgian era, gone were the towering headdresses. In its place was a woman’s natural hair, considered her crowning glory. With a more natural look and styles taken from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, women attempted to achieve a gorgeous head of hair. Hair color was one of the most important aspects. Fortunately, if a women did not like the color of her hair, she could change it. Once a woman had the right hair color numerous tips existed for washing it. One writer advised it should be “occasionally well washed with soap-and-water,” although there were also critics who opposed hair washing all together. To keep the hair glossy and shiny, combing and brushing came next, and, according to one nineteenth century writer, “the oftener the comb and brush are subsequently used in the day, the better it will be for the luxuriance, smoothness, and set of the hair.” But brushing was not the only prerequisite to luxurious hair. Sometimes oil or pomade was added, and, if the hair was styled, there were curling tongs, crisping irons, or papillotes, small pieces of paper that curled the hair and were humorously called paper shackles by one writer. To preserve the hairstyle and ensure it lasted for more than a day, women often wore nightcaps. Continue reading

Mottoes and Precious Stones During the 1700s

Gemstones - (Clockwise from top left) Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, and Amethyst, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Gemstones – (Clockwise from top left) Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, and Amethyst, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Zodiac stones have been around for a long time and thought to have a talisman influence. During the 18th century, in England and France, bracelets, brooches, rings, etc., were often set with precious stones, including zodiac stones. When the stones were combined the first letter of each stone spelled words that indicated some tender or significant sentiment or motto. Sometimes the stones also implied good fortune. The reason this was done was because it was thought that the formation of these words would “strengthen their astral or planetary influence and…render them more potent charms.”

Examples of some of the mottoes achieved from combining the first letter of stones is shown in the following list: The first column shows the motto or sentiment, the second column shows the expensive gems, and third column shows less expensive gems. Continue reading

Walking Sticks or Canes

Walking Sticks or Canes: Walking-Sticks and Round-A-Bouts for the Year 1801 by Thomas Rowlandson
Walking-Sticks and Round-A-Bouts for the Year 1801 by Thomas Rowlandson. Author’s collection.

When swords fell out of fashion, walking sticks, sometimes referred to as canes, were substituted. At one point, gentlemen were wearing them “with a string, or a ribbon, dangling upon the fifth button.”[1] However, they were soon removed from the button and converted into nothing more than a switch, which hung around a person’s wrist by a thong. Then “all of a sudden they underwent a monstrous transformation, and … swelled to the thickness of broomsticks, with a nob of prodigious size; as the fashion grew older, they grew taller.”[2] Eventually, the sticks, sometimes called Hercules clubs, were four or even five feet high and functioned to support people who had trouble walking, although, one writer noted that some people carried the “sticks merely for amusement, or for show, just as others use eye-glasses who are blessed with excellent sight.”[3]

The sticks also began to be used for other reasons. They functioned as a protective tool sometimes replacing the sword and were used to keep political foes at bay. At some point, the sticks were also converted into toys. This occurred after one grandfather allowed his grandchildren to take a cane he no longer used and “stride across it and ride backward and forward to the floor.”[4] To make it even more fun for his grandchildren, he added a whistle, which “gave so much satisfaction to the little ones, that the fashion became general [and people everywhere began converting canes into amusements for children].”[5] Continue reading

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

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

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