Animal Fads and Fashions in the 18th and 19th Century

Monstrosities of 1818, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Fashion “Monstrosities of 1818.” Courtesy of Library of Congress.

It seems as if animals have always had some effect on fashion. Beavers were all the rage in the 17th century to the point they became decimated in Europe and paved the way for North America to become the premier supplier of beaver pelts. But it was not just beavers that consumers wanted. Other animals became fashionable and all sorts of crazes for these animals appeared in the 1700 and 1800s. Moreover, these animal fads and fashions were not just popular in London or France, they were popular across the European continent. Some of the fashionable animals of these times included the stoat, giraffe, chimpanzee, rhinoceros, and various birds. 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

Dressing Order for Ladies

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

Georgian Headdresses of the 1780 and 1790s

Georgian headdresses, Lambelle Headdress, Author's Collection
Lamballe Headdress, Author’s Collection

By the mid 1780s, the towering Georgian headdresses that had been so popular in the earlier decade were slowly being replaced by less lofty creations. It was also during this time that hairstyles became wider and loaded with curls. The front portion of the hair was often styled away from the face and the top portion of the hair was either crimped, frizzed, or curled. The lower portion of the hair was usually arranged in cascading ringlets or large curls that sometimes flowed to the waist and added a note of carelessness to the overall arrangement. Marie Antoinette’s friend and confidante was princess Marie Thérèse of Savoy. She was better known as the princesse de Lamballe. She wore a style similar to the Lamballe Headdress created by the French hairdresser Henri de Bysterveld, illustrated to the right. Continue reading

Patching or Mouchets

Women with Patches or Mouchets, Author's Collection
Women with Patches, Author’s Collection

Patching was a strange fashion, and one of the earliest written mentions of the practice in England, “occurs in Bulwer’s Artificial Changeling (1653). ‘Our ladies,’ he complains, ‘have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their faces, out of an affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty, such as Venus had; and it is well if one black patch will serve to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied into all manner of shapes.'” These patches were tiny pieces of fabric — satin, taffeta, or velvet attached with glue — known in English as mouchets and called mouches by the French. The mouchets contrasted with alabaster skin and hid facial imperfections, such as pimples or pox scars. Over time, these patches, developed coded meanings. For instance, a patch on the right cheek denoted marriage, on the left cheek it signified an engagement, and near the mouth indicate a woman was flirtatious. Continue reading