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Archive for the ‘Fashions’ Category

by Brenda S. Cox

When Emma encountered Mrs. Elton visiting Jane Fairfax, “she saw [Mrs. Elton] with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side,”—Emma, Volume 3, chapter 16, Cambridge edition

If you’ve ever made yourself a Jane Austen-era costume, you know that a reticule is an essential accessory. These lovely small purses hung by a drawstring from the lady’s wrist.

In previous generations, wide skirts had allowed for two huge pockets, one on each hip, to hold essential items. But with the slim new Regency style, there was no longer room for pockets. So the pockets were externalized and made small and beautiful.

If you have a reticule, you realize that it doesn’t hold nearly as much as a modern purse. Nowadays we might put our phone and a credit card, driver’s license, and little cash in the reticule. But what did Jane Austen’s ladies carry in theirs?

Candice Hern recently gave three lovely presentations for the JASNA AGM*. She showed her collection of items an Austen-era lady might have carried in her reticule. First, she pointed out that Jane Austen would probably not have used the word reticule! This little purse was more often called a ridicule.  This was the word used in ladies’ magazines of the time. That’s why, in the quote above from the original 1816 edition of Emma, Mrs. Elton has a purple and gold ridicule, not a reticule.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists sources calling it a ridicule from 1799 to 1999, and sources calling it a reticule from 1801 to 2004. So the terms were used interchangeably for a long time. Both words apparently came from the French word réticule for a small handbag. That word came from the Latin rēticulum for a small meshwork bag. Ridicule may have been a pun on the French word, though no one seems to know for sure.

The only time Jane Austen mentions a reticule, or ridicule, is in the above passage from Emma. Mrs. Elton slips a letter into her ridicule, which is, of course, a showy purple and gold one. Austen may have purposely chosen the form ridicule because Mrs. Elton is so often ridiculous! But modern versions usually change it to reticule.

So, we know that reticules could be used to carry letters. The Cambridge edition of Emma tells me that reticules might also hold handkerchiefs, snuff boxes, or sweets. However, snuff boxes seem to have been a gentleman’s item, so I doubt ladies would have often carried them. (Though some ladies did take snuff, though not as widely as men did.)

Candice Hern tells us that Regency reticules might range from only two inches long up to about ten inches long. So everything that ladies carried began to be made smaller. This created some lovely, tiny treasures.

Here are some of the items Candice showed us, with photos she kindly provided from her collection:

Reticule Essentials: the Fan, the Coin Purse, and the Vinaigrette

Fans

For hot evenings in the “crush” of a crowded ball or party, women carried fans. In Austen’s novels, she says Catherine Morland carried a fan at a dance. At Fanny Price’s ball, it seems her brother fanned her with his partner’s fan. Austen talks about her own “white fan” in a letter of Jan. 8, 1799.

Before and after this period, fans were about 10-12 inches long. (This is the length of the fan sticks; the open fan would be almost twice that in width.) But, to fit in the reticule, fans were made smaller, only about 7 inches long. They were most often made from ivory. Some were pierced with a tiny jeweler’s saw, to give a lacy effect. This was called brisé (pronounced bree-ZAY). Here are two of Candice’s (and my) favorites:

This gorgeous brisé fan is made of mother-of-pearl. It would shine and sparkle in a candlelit ballroom. The guard sticks, at each end of the fan, are made of faceted and polished steel. It also sparkles like jewels. Each stick is pierced identically, but the sticks are placed in alternating directions to form a pattern. c. 1810-1815.

The top section of this fan is painted rather than pierced. The birds and butterflies are made of real feathers. The flowers were created with tiny pieces of velvet.

On the lower part, sticks of three different pierced patterns are arranged to form a more complex pattern. The sticks are 6 ½” long. c. 1810-1820, or earlier.

For more lovely fans, see Candice’s website.

Coin Purses

Regency women didn’t have wallets like we carry today. In small reticules, they may have carried loose coins. But in larger reticules they kept coins in a coin purse so they could find them easily. Ladies usually made these purses, which might be beaded, knitted, or netted. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley marvels at the accomplishments of young ladies, who can all “net purses.”

Some coin purses closed with drawstrings, while others had a metal closure at the top. The closure might be made of pinchbeck—a cheap metal alloy that looks golden—or other metals. Ladies also made coin purses for men. Austen’s favorite poet, William Cowper, wrote a poem thanking his cousin for making him a network purse. Gentlemen’s purses were sometimes called miser’s purses.

A lady probably bought the sterling silver frame (dated 1816) for this coin purse, then netted it with pink and silver metallic thread. It is 3 ¾” long, plus the tassel.

Vinaigrettes

If a woman began to swoon, in an airless room or when she learned something unpleasant, a vinaigrette was pulled out of a reticule and waved under her nose. These tiny metal boxes held a sponge soaked in vinegar and perfumed oils, with a grille over the sponge to let out the fumes. The grille might be dotted with holes, or might be pierced in a lovely design. Vinaigrettes were made of various materials and in many shapes and designs; those in Candice’s collection are silver.

The sponge might alternatively be soaked in something sweet-smelling, like rose water or lavender water. Many places in the Regency era stank, and a sweet smell could help the lady tolerate them.

Austen doesn’t mention vinaigrettes, but she does mention smelling salts, which were used similarly. Candice thinks these salts would actually have been a solution in vinegar, kept in a vinaigrette.

Regency vinaigrettes were tiny and delicate; Candice’s range from ½” across to 1 ¾” across.

This vinaigrette is made of silver but gilded inside, so the vinegar did not discolor the silver. It still contained a ratty sponge when Candice bought it. It could be carried in a reticule, or, with the metal ring, attached to a chatelaine: chains used for hanging things to a woman’s belt. Marked 1802, made in Birmingham.

Other Items That Might be Carried in a Reticule: Perfumes and Cosmetics

Perfume étuis

Perfume also counteracted bad smells. In Austen’s age, when bathing was not very common, perfumes were essential. However, perfume bottles were breakable, easily spilled, and too large to carry in a reticule.

So a lady would carry a perfume étui (pronounced ay-twee), a tiny container that could hold a glass vial of perfume and be fastened tightly shut. (Other types of étuis were used to carry sewing materials, writing materials, eating utensils, and other items; the word is French for any portable case.)

Perfume étuis were made of enamel, metal, tortoiseshell, shagreen, or other materials. Shagreen was a cheap option. It was shark’s skin, usually dyed green, with a knobbly texture. Shagreen étuis were probably used by middle-class women, while upper-class women used more expensive materials.

This painted enamel étui with brass fittings is about 2 ½” high. It held a tiny glass bottle of perfume with a screw-on metal top. 1760s to 1780s.

This shagreen étui is only 1 ¾” tall. It holds two tiny bottles of scent, so the lady can choose which she wants to use.

Cosmetic Cases

Some ladies also carried small cosmetic cases in their reticules. These were similar to today’s compacts. When open, the top was a polished mirror, and the bottom might contain rouge and/or lip color, and an applicator.

This 2 ½” wide cosmetic case still had traces of rouge in it when Candice bought it. The applicator brush is made of ivory. The outside of this case is shagreen (dyed shark skin), with silver decoration. 1770s or 1780s.

Next time, in Part 2, we’ll look at some other fun items a woman might have carried in her reticule. What else do you guess a lady might have carried?

*JASNA AGM—the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, which this year was held online in October.

Candice Hern writes Regency-era novels.

To find out more about her and her work, look for her on:

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Regency World

To see more of her lovely collections, go to her Regency Collections.

Links in the article above take you to Candice’s articles about specific items.

All images courtesy of Candice Hern, used by permission.

For more information, see also:

Fans: Essential Accessories, including the language of the fan

Reticule: The Regency Purse

A Fashionable Accessory

The Reticule and Purse

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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Inquiring readers,

Kevin Lindsey, who frequently comments to posts on this blog, forwarded the link to this 5-minute YouTube video. He writes:

As a long time subscriber to your blog, I thought you might be interested in this. It’s from a British group called Crows Eye Production. They create excellent, tasteful, and informative videos on historical clothing. They released this one on Jane & Cassandra Austen today. I thought it really well done, and thought I would share it with you, in case you wanted to pass it along. Below is a link. If you would prefer not to use that just got to YouTube and look up “CrowsEyeProductions”

Enjoy!

More on Regency Fashions: Jane Austen’s World category on fashions

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fashion-3aIn the fashion world everything has already happened. Moreover, that phrase is suitable not only to the latest fashion week shows releases. History confirms that fashion constantly balances between the past and the future for ages. The greatest proof of that is the Inaugural Exposition „The Fashion Repeats Itself. The revival styles in the XIX century ladies fashion” on view at the brand new Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland. On March 29th, 2019 we are going to witness the Grand Opening event of the first that kind of museum in Poland. We are going to be able to admire the most unique and original ladies dresses and accessories from XIX century!

fashion-1

Image courtesy of Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland

XIX century brought significant changes and innovations, not only in the technology and scientific world. It is also brilliant time of creation fashion itself, in the meaning that we are using nowadays. It is the moment when the first haute couture was born, from the concept of its creator, French designer – Charles  Frederick Worth.

However, the luxury fashion designs for royals stayed in the opposition to the daily utility dress code reform. The revolution in the history of fashion and costume had came! From the one hand, XIX century fashion was splendid and shined with the splendor of the highest quality materials and eccentric designs. From the other hand, it became highly utility product with the practical use and started to be seen as an applied art. It had to become more simple to wear and easier to take care of. Women started to be liberated and fashion needed to respond to that request. Almost in every ladies magazine were embroidery patterns for household linens, children clothing and underwear. Many woman basing on this printed supports created custom embroidered works of art, which in many cases we can admire until this day.

fashion-2

Image courtesy of Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland

That is why XIX century fashion is characterized by its diversity and innovations. And that is what the visitors of the Museum of Historical Costumes in Poznan, Poland are going to see, having a tour around the new exhibition „The Fashion Repeats Itself”. From extravagant dresses from the belle epoque to more simple, daily dresses with clear antiques inspirations.

The Inaugural Exhibition at Polish Museum of Historical Costume is going to show us that XIX century fashion styles made a loop – it had started and ended with antiques influences. Even though the existence of variety of styles among this age are very visible, also during the XIX century the circulation impacts from the past were very much alive – such as dresses from 30. and 80. XIX century have variety of similarities.

fashion-3

Image courtesy of Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland

The extraordinary exponents from Museum of Historical Costume are coming from the private collection of Anna Moryto (XIXgallery). Polish collector was compiling ladies original dresses and accessories from XIX century from auction houses from the US and London, over the years.

Previously, XIXgallery was known for the traveling exhibitions around the country. Today, the gallery has transformed into the museum and the true educational mission became highlight. The Founder of the Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Anna Moryto, explains:

I’ve decided that XIXgallery deserved to become an official museum. I would like the museum to be thematic and that fashion would be only a fragment of the exhibition and part of the bigger message”.

The plans for the museum are to bring thematic expositions about the historical lifestyle, habits and position of the woman in the society. The mission of the museum is to educate the visitors, including engaging children and youths, as well as everyone interested in this amazing field of human life and history.

This exclusive journey back to the XIX century will be even more empirical thanks to the uncommon location of the museum. Beautiful, XIX century tenement house, will certainly help to immerse yourself into the classical spirit of the Museum of Historical Costume. Located at the Kwiatowa Street 14/2 in Poznan, just in the hearth of one of the oldest and the most charming cities in Poland. Visitors will surely enjoy a magical tour between the cosy corridors, high and spacy rooms with wide windows and to step on the antique wooden floor.

In the fashion everything has already happened but never in the exact same way. You can admire that inspirations loop and the unique and original dresses and ladies accessories from XIX century in the Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland. Grand Opening and Inaugural Exhibition „The Fashion Repeats Itself. The revival styles in the XIX century ladies fashion” is starting on March 29th, 2019.

Practical Info:

Museum of Historical Costume
Kwiatowa 14/2 Street
Poznan, Poland

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Image courtesy of Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland


Vernissage (private view) on invitations only on March 29th, 2019
Exposition opens from March 30th, 2019

Visiting the museum with the curator on March 30th/31st, 2019

Exciting Meeting in the Museum – we invite you to the first event in The Museum of History Costume combined with a curator’s visit to the current exhibition. Guiding guests (and above all, telling about the history of fashion) will be the author of the exhibition: Anna Moryto.

The tour will take place on 30th and 31st March 2019 at full hours from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
FB event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1896634873797062/?event_time_id=1896634880463728

Visiting hours:

Tuesday – Friday 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Saturday – Sunday 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Monday closed

Tickets:

12 PLN / 3 EUR adult

8 PLN / 2 EUR kids and seniors

Kids under 7 years free admission

Tuesday day free!

Follow the Museum of Historical Costume in Poznan, Poland:

www: https://en.xixgallery.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheMuseumOfHistoricalCostume/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/xixgallery/

 

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Ah, the internet. I am happy to spend hours searching, researching, and sharing ideas as I crawl through thousands of fascinating sites each week.

The Victoria & Albert Museum website seldom fails to please. Enter this interactive V&A site on Georgian wigs designed which teaches as well as encourages you and your child to create a fashion of the past. We all know about the over-the-top wigs worn by Marie Antoinette and her court. Does hyour child? The V&A gives us an opportunity to design a wig virtually and to share the results with the world. create wig

Before each step, the V&A provides some information about the zaniness of wig creations in the late 18th century. The instructions then ask you to drag out the hair to start your wig.

make wig

I came up with this. Hah! I tried a number of variations. Such fun. This would be a great teaching activity with your children. Let them go NUTS, I say.

decorate

You are then asked to decorate with the usual ornaments – a ship, a fan, feathers, jewels, flowers, bows and tassels. Go crazy! I did.

powder

Add powder in the final step, which I did not find quite as intuitive, and, voila! Your own bewigged work of art.

Could this interactive site have been more sophisticated? Oh, yes, but it’s free. Within the limitations of the site, the activity is quite informative and fun. Bring in a few paintings, caricatures, and illustrations of the day, and you’ve brought a fun history lesson into your child’s life. One can even show some modern influences.

Thibault Carron

Photographer Thibault Carron imagines what modern life would be like if our fashion was from the 18th century in this playful series And if Fashion Was…, the Montreal-based creative juxtaposes scenes from contemporary culture with a woman whose outfit and hairstyle recall a time from centuries past.

I’ve collected quite a few Marie Antoinette images on my Pinterest board, Marie Antoinette’s Hair and Other French 18th Century Inspired Fashion – Splendor during, before, and way after the French Revolution. Some images are historical, others are tongue in cheek.

As an online advent calendar gift, this V&A site can’t be beat. I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season.

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The House Servant’s Directory: An African American Butler’s 1827 Guide by Robert Roberts is the first books written by an African American to have been published in the

Gore Place, Waltham MA

Gore Place, Waltham MA. Image @Wikipedia

United States by a major publisher. Roberts worked as a butler and major domo for Christopher Gore (a U.S. Senator and governor of Massachusetts) from 1825-1827 at Gore Place. Robert’s book, a remarkable feat, was also popular, for it was to have two more printings in 1828 and 1834. His advice gives us a glimpse into the life of an early 19th century butler.

Here are his instructions for taking care of a gentleman’s clothes:

if your gentleman’s clothes should happen to get wet or muddy, hang them out in the sun or before the fire to dry. Do not attempt to brush them when wet, or you will surely spoil them, but as soon as they are perfectly dry, take and rub them between your hands where there are any spots of mud, then hang them on your clothes horse, which you must have for the purpose; then take a rattan and give them a whipping, to take out the dust, but be careful and don’t hit the buttons, or you will be apt to break or scratch them.

Image @Wikipedia

Image @Wikipedia

He goes on to describe how one should then carefully brush the coat, starting with the back of the collar, moving to the shoulders, and then to the sleeves and cuffs.  Roberts’ instructions for folding the coat are equally meticulous and given so that “you will find the coat folded in a manner that will gain you credit from any gentleman, and will keep smooth for any journey.” Clothes, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were quite expensive, and taking care of them and keeping them in good shape was a major undertaking.

Man's suit, American. 1810-1820. Museum of Fine Art

Man’s suit, American. 1810-1820. Museum of Fine Art

Hats were another part of a gentleman’s wardrobe that required great care lest they begin to look shabby. A soft camels hair brush is the preferred instrument to brush hats with, for it will not injure fur or scratch it off. Wet hands should be handled with great care or “you will put it out of form.” Using a silk handkerchief and holding the hat carefully (hand inside and fingers extended) “rub it lightly all round, the way the fur goes”. Roberts was most likely talking about beaver hats, which were quite the rage and expensive.

Hat 1820-1830, Snowshill Manor. Image @Nationa Trust/Richard Blakey

Hat 1820-1830, Snowshill Manor. Image @Nationa Trust/Richard Blakey

There are some people that think brushing a hat while it is wet, certainly spoils it; but it is quite the contrary; for the hatters themselves always brush and finish off their hats while damp, so as to give the fur a brilliant appearance. Likewise they set them to their regular shape while damp. I have received these instructions myself, from one of the best hat manufacturers in London.”

This last statement demonstrates Roberts’s worldly and educated background. It is no wonder that his advice still holds up well today.

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