Archive | February, 2012

Your Guide To 18th Century Personal Shoppers

29 Feb

In today’s times, if you have the money, then you can have a personal closet delivered to your house where you can browse through and try on the latest fashions deciding which ones to buy and which to send back with your personal shopper. This process is actually very similar to the way that most upper class Parisian men and women (mainly women) shopped for their clothing during the 18th century. Purchasing and shopping for clothing for the aristocratic class  (namely in France) used this method with some minor adjustments.

The dressmakers and milliners would arrive  along with a collection of minture dolls known as poupees de mode made of either wood or plaster. These dolls were dressed in small versions of the latest Parisian fashions, like tiny manequines, so that clients could get a full picture of the style of dress. Well-dressed Parisians could then choose the type of fabric, the embroiderry, ribbons and other accessories to complete their ensamble. (A popular look of the day was the robe a la francaise which was a ‘cleaner’ look from the traditional court dress, slightly smaller in the hips and with an adjusted neckline.)

These little fashion dolls were protected with high levels of security, often having their own carriage for transport during long journeys to their clients. The poupees were also known as Pandoras and they would model everything from morning dress to evening and court wear. They were, in a sense, the ambassadors of fashion. Take a look at some of some of these surviving mini trend-setters below!

Isn’t the detail amazing? The same level of care in construction was used on these dolls as it would have been used on the life-sized ensembles of the Parisian elite.


(The heavy cheek rouge shown on the dolls above also reflects the makeup styles of Paris during the 18th century. They preferred white powdered faces with heavy cheek and lip rouge in red or pink, often leaving their eyelids bare but their eyebrows heavy and dark. More on makeup to come!)

The Milliner, François Boucher, 1746. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo © Erik Cornelius – Hans Thorwid (courtesy of The Getty Museum)


A Paris Breakfast in the 18th Century

29 Feb

Ahh, to be a posh Parisian in the 18th century! Breakfast would have been a time of leisure in which food was eaten slowly and savored and fashion choices were made with the utmost care.

The morning was the time in which a day was carefully planned and prepared for and a typical breakfast could often last several hours. Dressing was something of a science in Paris and it was not to be done quickly. The morning routine or toilette , encompassed dining, clothing choices, plans for the day and yes, sometimes even politics and local gossip. And here I thought that checking my e-mail while I make scrambled eggs is multi-tasking!

Only those with considerable wealth had the means (and the time!) for such an ordeal which began first in the royal court of Versailles and then was adopted by France’s nobility and aristocratic class. Never ones to be left out of the latest fashions, the morning ritual quickly caught on and was revered by those who partook in it as somewhat of an art form (perhaps this was a way of suggesting even further status above the lower classes, i.e. ‘I can take as much time as I want for I have no work to do and those who want to see me will just have to wait’).

Lady Fastening Her Garter (also known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of and © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

The ritual of the toilette was done both in private and in public. One would first awaken and refresh by a brief sponge bath or other form brief cleansing. Then a servant would arrive, during which time hair would be styled and make up would be applied (makeup concoctions varied as well as did the forms of hair accessories depending on what was currently en vogue: ribbons, lace, jewels, feathers). Jewelry would be chosen as well, though these choices could change depending on what outfit was decided upon.

A Parisian aristocrat then needed assitance in dressing which was also provided by a maid or other servant. However, by this point in the morning, it was customary to receive visitors which could range from visiting guests to members of the family and household. Personally, I don’t know how I would feel about my friends or my mother-in-law just casually strolling in my bathroom for a chat while  I have rollers in my hair and am attempting to prefect my liquid eyeliner for the dozenth time but, to each his own right?

Charles-Joseph Natoire, Psyche at her Toilette, 1745

So now that you have successful been dressed, visited with dear friends, shown off your luxorious home, dined like a king (or queen), played with your children and secured a valuable political alliance, you were now (finally!) able to greet the day (or very likely, the early evening, but that’s when all the fun starts anyway right?).

(A modern dressing table, so popularly created and used by those 18th century minxes!)

The Real Secret Garden

27 Feb

I don’t know if there is a book more dear or magical to me than Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I first read it when I was in the second grade (it was the children’s version and I’m pretty sure I got it at the dollar store but none the less) and proceeded to do every subsequent book report on it through 5th grade (miraculously, none of my teachers ever caught on). I remember staying up late with my mom making shoebox diaramas of the garden with mintures of Mary, Colin and Dicken and the little sheep and flowers. In fith grade I finally read the full version of the book and it was no less than wonderful to me.

Now at 25, The Secret Garden is still my favorite book of all time. I recently bought a children’s copy to read to my two year old son who, like his mommy, can’t get enough of books regardless of their subject matter (I read him Madeline E’ngel’s A Wrinkle In Time when I was pregnant). Also, to my joy, Chick-fil-a has recently started giving children’s classics with their kid’s meals (so now we have a chick-fil-a version of TSG as well!).

I was doing some research a few months back for my upcoming trip to England (I have around 50 cousins there along with some scattered relatvies in Scotland that I’ve mostly never met) and came across the actual, real-life garden that inspired Mrs. Burnett!! Obviously, this will be a stop on our itenierary and…I’ll secretly move my things in when no one is looking.

Mrs. Burnett apparently got the idea for the book while staying at the home between 1898 and 1907. She spent hours wandering through the gardens and observing its inhabitants. The little red robin that shows Mary Lennox the way to the hidden garden door actually appeared in real-life to Frances who found a hidden door of her own, giving her the idea for the story! (I’d like to meet this clever robin!)

This place made me instantly swoon and I think I’ll just have to take up perment residency there! (Hey, you can actually buy the apartments within the home!) The house is called Great Maytham HallTake a look at its breath-taking beauty below.

You can also (swoon!) get married there. What do you think? Can’t you just see The Secret Garden coming to life here? I personally want to buy a white cotton dress and giant garden hat and spend my days writing and sleeping among the flowers…but maybe that’s just me.

Fanny Burney on Jerry Springer…thoughts?

27 Feb

Here is a super funny video I found on youtube. It’s a ‘what-if-the-18th century-met-Jerry Springer’ version of Fanny Burney’s Play Wiltings.

What do you think?

18th Century Celebrities…Frances ‘Fanny’ Burney

27 Feb

Fanny Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, was born in 1752. From the time she was a small child, Fanny loved writing her own stories and had aspirations to become a published author. But Fanny lived in a time when a woman’s career was caring for her family, not expressing herself through words or even daring to publish said thoughts. The idea of female writers was outright scandalous which is why when Fanny was 15, she set fire to all of her manuscripts and stories (including a novel), due to strong ‘suggestions’ from her step-mother who thought writing a highly unladylike activity.

However, such a set-back did not stop Fanny from continuing to write and she finally published her first novel, Evelina in 1778. Burney was in her mid-twenties when the book was published. It was done so anonymously so that her family would not fall into disgrace for having a female writer among them.

The book became widely popular, especially when it was discovered that its author was indeed a woman. After Evelina, Burney went on to publish other books (Camilla, Cecilia, The Wanderer) and all were received with equal praise. Bureny paved the way for female writers and created lasting literature that is still enjoyable today.

I recently purchased the Kindle edition of her complete works which you can find here, and I find them extremely fun reads!

Currently Reading…The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

27 Feb

So yes, I’m reading two books at once which can be confusing except the the subjects of both (Marie Antoinette and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) are so similar that it makes the whole precess feel almost like reading one super awesome book. Really. The two famous women of the late 18th knew each other well and became close friends when Georgiana went to Paris and stayed with the Queen at Versailles.

Both women had married young and were around the same age. Both had experience with distant and rather emotionally frozen husbands and both had a deep love for fashion. Just as Marie Antoinette set the fashion world on fire in France, Georgiana was the fashion queen of England. Both women were hounded endlessly by the paparazzi of the day (the local papers) and criticized for their outlandish fashion statements.

Above, the Duchess of Devonshire is being mocked for her methods of political gain, shown kissing the butcher the gain his vote for The Whig Party. The Whigs were the political party endorsed by the Duchess and her Husband as well as their inner circle known as the ton.
Above, a scene of gambling which became infamously synonymous with the Devonshire house and their aristocratic friends. Georgiana had a known gambling problem and throughout her life, incurred large debts because of it.
This image above shows Marie Anotinette and her husband King Louis in a satire of her ‘barnyard life’. The queen was outwardly criticized for her ‘make-believe peasant life’ she created and lived out in Le Petit Trianon, a gift home from her husband.
This image shows Marie Anotoinette’s famous hairstyle in which she wore a boat atop a large pouf in her hair to commemorate a French Naval victory. Georgiana also famously wore a similar look.
Though neither woman could be called a saint, they both suffered similar feelings of being imprisoned in their marriages and both felt the constant need to ‘preform’ for the public as well as the fellow members of the aristocratic class. Both women used fashion as a means to express themselves and to gain attention and political prowess in a time where women had very little. Are you madly in love love with them yet?
Though there have been countless books chronicling the life of Marie Antoinette, none before had analysed the role her fashion choices had in the making of the woman and the hostilities against her. If you want a totally different take on 18th century life, politics and propaganda (and of course, the queen herself) you MUST read Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.
 I have already seen the movie The Duchess staring Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes but I was not a huge fan (I think I’m in the majority here but stay with me). I feel like it focused too heavily on just a few aspects of her life and didn’t really give good insight into just how insecure Georgiana felt from her upbringing (her constant need to please her parents is discussed thoroughly in Amanda Foreman’s book). Though it was a feast for the eyes and the actors did an amazing job at bringing the characters to life, the movie was very, very depressing. And I know Georgiana’s life was far from happy but it would have been nice to have given her more moments of happiness  along with showing her suffering.  Below are some images form the film version of The Duchess.
Above: A costume from the film on display, the wedding dress.
Above: More of Georgiana’s amazing costumes worn by Kiera throughout the film.
I have a major crush on this hat.

18th Century Celebrities: Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton

27 Feb
The famous war hero and subsequent lover of the infamous Lady Emma Hamilton, was a name that almost everyone would know during the later part of the 18th century into the beginning of the 19th. He was a noted Navy commander who really made a name for himself during the Napoleonic Wars.
Below is an image of Nelson (note that he has lost is right arm, this was due to an injury in battle)
In 1787 Nelson married widow Frances Nisbet (also known as Fanny) during his post in the Caribbean. Nelson’s love affair with Emma Hamilton began in September of 1798 in Naples when he returned from war in poor condition. Emma Hamilton and her husband Lord Hamilton welcomed Nelson into their home where Emma nursed him back to health. Thus began their legendary love affair, under the noses of both of their spouses. However, because Nelson was such a beloved hero and Lady Hamilton’s husband nearly twice her age, there is evidence that suggests that Lord Hamilton knew of the affair and did not disapprove of it.
[Lady Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson]
[Emma picture above in a painting by Romney; she was his muse and appeared as the subjects of numerous paintings by him]
Several years later, Nelson and Lord and Lady Hamilton took up residence together in London where Emma had two children by Horatio.
Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalger in 1805, leaving Emma alone as her husband Lord Hamilton, had died only a few years earlier in 1803.