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
Parasols are different from umbrellas in that umbrellas protect a person from the rain and parasols shade a person from the sun. Before sunscreen was invented, the parasol was the primary way a woman maintained her creamy, spot-free complexion. Parasols were used everywhere and at all times: Women carried them when riding in an open carriage, walking down a city street, admiring a garden, enjoying the seashore, or visiting country relatives.
Parasols also came in all shapes and sizes and could be found in a rainbow of colors. Just like dress fashions, parasol fashions suffered the same whims of popularity. For instance, in the mid 1800s, an eccentric, square-shaped parasol of two colors was presented to the public. It was so unique and remarkable every woman wanted one, and they were soon seen everywhere. But the square, two-colored sun protectors proved impractical and were highly ineffective in shading a woman’s face from the sun. Moreover, one critic described them as “stiff and ugly.” The following season they were out of fashion, and tradesmen who invested heavily in them found they had to almost give them away. Continue reading
The Jolliffe (also sometimes spelled Jolliffee or Jollife) was not your common hat. It got its name from Hylton Jolliffe (1773-1843) who an English politician renown for wearing oversized head gear. In fact, Jolliffe’s hats were so large, the Sporting Magazine humorously observed that “he will punt three or four of us over…his hat.” The magazine also noted how Jolliffe regularly wore large hats stating, “Who has not seen him walk up St. James’s-street with his venerable white head covered with a huge punt hat…he looks like what he is, a country Gentleman and a fox hunter.” Continue reading
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
“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,” 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!”
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
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
Top hat history became exciting when John Hetherington became known as the first person to wear the “high” hat. The idea that anyone should do so supposedly caused his family to strongly advise him against wearing it. But, he could not be deterred and “forth he sallied.” It happened on a freezing January day in 1797 around noon. That was when Hetherington stepped into the street from his haberdashery shop on the Strand.
In the 1700s, the Strand was one of the busiest streets in London, and when people saw Hetherington and his unusually high hat they “stopped and gazed in wonder.” He had not gone far when a large crowd surrounded him, and before long the crowd grew into a “howling mob.” Reports are that two women fainted, dogs howled, and children screamed. All this commotion attracted the attention of the constable, and after a boy fell and his arm was broken by the crowd, Hetherington earned an arraignment before the Lord Mayor for “breach of peace and inciting to riot.”
When Hetherington was brought before the bench he declared that “in extenuation of his crime … he had not violated any law of the kingdom, but was merely exercising a right to appear in a head-dress of his own design — a right not denied to any Englishman.” Continue reading
Tea in Great Britain did not become popular over night. Nor did everyone believe it a beneficial beverage. In fact, Jonas Hanway, the first man brave enough to carry an umbrella in London, was a vociferous proponent against it. Hanway became so upset at Samuel Johnson for his vocal enjoyment of tea, he responded saying:
“I have long considered tea, not only as a prejudicial article of commerce; but also of a most pernicious tendency … and very injurious to health … Tea causes the diminution of our Numbers.”
He also wrote as essay titled Tea and its Pernicious Consequences. In the essay Hanway declared tea would ruin the nation. However, rather than ruin the nation, tea became a quintessential part of it.
Once tea became a common beverage, a number of tea times in Great Britain emerged. In addition, the word “tea” began to connote a meal rather than just a drink and there were differences between these teas: Teas had different foods, different times, different levels of sophistication, different names, and different expectations. There was breakfast tea, low tea, afternoon tea, great tea, little tea, handed tea, kettledrum tea, high tea, meat tea, and royal tea. Continue reading
Throughout the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras, ladies were required to wear numerous layers of clothing. These layers served a variety of purposes from hygiene to warmth to ornamentation. To help you understand the complexity of dressing and what was required for a woman to put on and take off in a single day, I have compiled a list of the pieces normally worn and have arranged them in the approximate order of how a woman might dress: drawers, chemise, corset, busk, corset cover, decency skirt or under-petticoat, crinoline or hoop or bustle, petticoat, suit, garniture, and, finally, the accessories. Continue reading