The Metropolitan Museum of Art relaunched their website recently, and for a history nerd like me it’s like getting a new toy. The Met has one of the best collections in the world and has done an impressive job of digitizing it. You can search the collection here, and find high-quality images of everything from shoes to swords to snuffboxes. So far I’ve just been using it to do a little 18th century outfit planning (see, I even picked out a coat for my date), but I’m sure I’ll actually start doing more serious research soon. After I’m done looking at shoes. Blue ones, obviously.
Monthly Archives: September 2011
Today’s installment takes us back to one of my favorite topics, high hair. On a rainy day like today, how could you keep your towering hair dry? Why, with a towering bonnet of course:
This lovely lady is wearing a particular type of bonnet, called a calash, that was popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The calash was collapsible, so it could be raised or lowered using the ribbon ties. Apparently forward young ladies would snap their calash ribbons to attract the attention of a passing gentleman. How scandalous!
“History is not the Province of the Ladies.”
– John Adams, April 1813
Someone just fell down a few spots on the list of my favorite presidents! I can’t imagine that Abigail approved of the sentiments John Adams expressed in a letter to Elbridge Gerry in 1813. Read more about the personal grudge that may have been Adams’ motivation for writing such an untrue statement here, in an excellent post on the 18th Century American Women blog.
I’ve been saving this post for a special occasion, and I think today is it. We’re celebrating the fact that the blog has had over 2,000 page views! First, my favorite 18th century print:
This is “The Female Fox Hunter,” produced in London ca. 1770. The level of detail in this print is wonderful, from the gentleman tumbling off his horse in the background to the delicate heel on the lady’s shoe. That’s right, the 18th century version of ladies’ sportswear included high heels, which didn’t stop women from jumping fences on galloping horses in pursuit of their quarry. She’s wearing a riding habit with her heels, an outfit composed of a shirt, necktie or cravat, waistcoat, jacket, and petticoat; the riding habit was based on the cut of men’s clothes and worn as casual dress for active pursuits. Some English Ladies had habits made to match the uniforms of the military regiments led by their husbands. The most famous portrait showing this type of habit was painted in the 1770s by Joshua Reynolds and shows the scandalous Lady Seymour Worsley:
I could write a lengthy blog post just on Lady Worsley, but instead I’ll just tell you to read the book “Lady in Red” by Hallie Rubenhold; it’s a juicy story complete with gossip, adultery, court proceedings, and a May-December romance.
To view (or, if you’re like me, drool over) extant examples of 18th-century riding habits, click here, here, and here. And hopefully you’ll be inspired by the female fox hunter and refuse to let seemingly inappropriate footwear get in the way of your sporting pursuits!
The sun is attempting to peek through the clouds as I write this, but I’m not expecting it to succeed. In keeping with this week’s weather (rain, rain, and more rain), I thought I’d show you a humorous view of a few 18th century gentleman trying to protect themselves from the elements:
The artist has not given them the most manly-looking umbrellas, so they look a bit silly. For much of the 18th century, only women were supposed to carry umbrellas. Apparently reverends and doctors could sometimes use this form of rain protection without ridicule, but other men were just supposed to get wet. Be grateful that times have changed gentlemen!
Today’s Friday photo was inspired by Where’s Waldo, a series of books that used to keep the kids I babysat amused for hours. So, where’s Hammond-Harwood House in this picture:
This may be my favorite Friday Photo yet; I took it myself, from the cockpit of a plane I was flying. Don’t worry, the flight instructor took over the controls so I could take the picture.