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

The French Pouf

"Rose" Bertin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
“Rose” Bertin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mademoiselle Marie-Jeanne Bertin, or as she was called at court, “Rose,” gained fame as dressmaker and became known for creating complicated headdresses. These headdresses, also known as “poufs,” were called such because the hair was raised with pads, wool, false hairpieces, and pomade. Bertin’s rise to fame began in a millinery shop where through a stroke of fate she met the Princess of Conti and became responsible to create the trousseau for the richest heiress in France, the Duchess of Chartres. The Duchess then introduced her to Marie Antoinette, and before long Bertin became the Queen’s stylist and dressmaker.

Working with Léonard Autié, the Queen’s hairdresser, Bertin and Autié created some memorable teetering and towering poufs. Among the poufs designed were the pouf aux sentiments, pouf à la circonstance, pouf à l’inoculation, à loge d’opéra, and pouf à la Belle-Poule. Continue reading

The Phrygian Cap or the Cap of Liberty

Phrygian Cap or The Famous Cap of Liberty, Author's Collection
The Famous “Cap of Liberty,” Courtesy of Wikipedia

The phrygian cap — a soft, conical, brimless cap from antiquity — came to be associated with freedom and was adopted as the “Cap of Liberty” during the French Revolution. It was first used as a symbol of liberty on the 8th and 9th of May in 1790 when the red cap adorned a statue that represented the new French nation at a Federation festival in Troyes. Later that month, on the 30th, the cap also appeared in Lyon, where it was carried by the goddess of Liberty on the end of her lance. However, the history behind the phrygian cap starts with slaves in ancient times.

“In all countries the slaves were obliged to appear bareheaded; and whenever the day came that freedom was the reward … one of the ceremonies used in the manumission of the slave was the placing of a cap on the head by the former master.”[1]

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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

Georgian Headdresses of the 1770 and 1780s

French Headdresses and Fashions (between 1774 and 1780) and a Woman with a Pleated Fan, Author's Collection
Women in the Forefront Adorned in Lavish Hat and Pouf, Author’s Collection

Between 1770 and 1780 extreme hairstyles and tall headdress were in vogue in France, and these extraordinary super-structures made a distinct fashion statement that is still talked of today. This was because the French considered their hair and its accompanying headdress to be one of the most important articles in a woman’s toilet and they went to extremes to ensure this fashion stood out.

Hairstyles or headdresses, known as poufs, became increasingly large as hair was placed over pads and cushions, sometimes with wire supporting the overall creation. In addition, the hairstyles were pomaded, curled, frizzed, powdered, and secured in placed with large pins. The high dos were also laced with large eye-popping curls that were placed on either side of the head, as well as curls that often went from bottom to top. Usually, at least one curl was placed vertically or horizontally behind the ears, and sometimes chignons or plaits were added into these headdresses. Continue reading