Crinoline and Whales

From Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal, Volume 52, p.537-538. November 1858.

“As, (borrowing a mechanical simile) certain clocks with glass faces are cunningly devised to cheat an observer into the belief that hands move without the aid of spring or weight, actuated through clock-work to move them – so the mental clock-work of ideal association is far too much concealed now-a-days. It is a particular case of a very human quality, pride — the false pride of chafing under an obligation; even though it be to one’s own suggestive senses. When people are less chary of telling the world how they got at results, it will be all the better for the world. As long as the pernicious falsehood is implied of attributing to the creative faculty ideas which merely come by association, so long will there be a hindrance to the onward march of intellect in many a timid aspirant. It may abate somewhat of the majesty wherewith whales pourtray themselves to the imagination of certain people, as it may tend to lower the majesty of our own creative faculty in the estimation of others, if we honestly confess at this — the very outset of our narrative — that between the behemoths of ocean on the one part, and the idea which brought them into our head on the other part, the chasm, though seemingly immense, is spanned by that one step, which, Napoleon (him of the grey coat and cocked-hat, we mean) signalized by a proverb. Wandering down through Bond-street one day, we jostled against many a crinoline petticoat, and the crinoline petticoats suggested the topic of whales!

“Nothing like the material falsely called bone of the Balaena Mysticetus (Or true whalebone whale. All the genus Balaena yield whalebone; but the whalebone of the B. Mysticetus is longest, and therefore the most valuable.) for imparting that expansiveness so indispensable to the proper set of a lady’s crinoline. There were three formidable competitors when the fashion come into vogue in these latter days. Steel, vulcanized caoutchouc, and gutta percha they were. Vain illusions all: whalebone’s the thing! As to the first, steel is steel; and steel, if badly tempered (nay, sometimes be the temper ever so good), breaks short off, leaving a sharp cutting extremity. It is a matter concerning which reliable statistics are difficult to obtain; but we are given to understand that, certain lesions incidental to the rupture of steel-petticoat-springs, have thrown them into such evil repute, that, ere long they will be totally abandoned.

17 January 1857. Inflatable crinolines as seen in Punch“The idea of hollow, inflated, vulcanized hoops, was eminently ingenious; but their employment involves conditions so difficult to be commanded, that, no wonder, vulcanized india-rubber hoop-work soon went out. We would not by any inconsiderate criticism of ours knowingly abate one iota of the proper credit justly appertaining to the inventor of vulcanized rubber inflated hoops. It was an idea suggested by a master mind. In theory the notion is perfect ; but, alas! from theory to practice there is a bridge, and few there be who cross it. An application of the very same sort of evidence which has proved that out of no kind of wind-bag whatever, no matter how cunningly devised, can a practically good swimming life-preserver be made— seeing the chance of accidents from sunken rocks – might have awakened suspicion from the very first, that no system of inflated hoop-work: could be adopted as the basis of a lady’s expansive gear, without imminent peril from puncture and collapse— so long, at least, as pins are a sine qua non to the “ fixing” of a lady. Besides — sub rosa be it spoken, and sotto voce – vulcanized rubber has brimstone in its composition; and brimstone, when volatilized, comes reeking to the olfactory sense with evil associations!

Old Mrs Jamborough. Punch, 14 June 1862“In common with many others who take an interest in watching the application of means to important ends, we thought hopefully of gutta percha hoopwork once. There cannot be a greater mistake, though some mistakes may be attended with more important consequences. The quality which should dominate over all other qualities in ladies’ manufactured hoop-work, is elasticity. Gutta percha IS non-elastic: it won’t do. So long as a lady can move about on a field all her own – move without touching any body, or any thing – move in such wise that no body and no thing, animate or inanimate, shall touch her, gutta percha is available. But set the lady in a crowd though it be only for an instant, and she emerges the very instant after, a grotesque shrivelled-up-looking thing, as full of creases as a closed umbrella or a baked pippin. A certain expression, used by Horace in a figurative sense, we could apply to the lady, physically, after a trifling variation. ‘The gutta percha hoop-expanded belle is—

“Cere (a) in vitium flecti.”

“And having on more than one occasion felt it a part of our duty to call the attention of a fair sufferer to the existence of this state of bodily collapse, we can from personal experience testify that —

“Monitorbus asper (a)”

“is an expression applicable to each particular object of our attentions, in a purely Horatian sense. Depend upon it, there is nothing like whalebone, after all, for a lady’s expansion gear: so now about the whales.”

 The rest of the essay can be read in its entirety via Google Books here.

Commentary:

More crinolines! I am actually quite excited to have found this essay because in multiple sources you see references to inflatable rubber crinolines, but very little concrete evidence given to show that they genuinely existed. The only image shown is usually a copy of the 1858 Punch magazine caricature of a woman blowing into a rubber tube to inflate her crinoline, or drawings based on the caricature. Clearly, we cannot automatically presume that Punch cartoons in any way accurately reflect the reality of fashions of the day, although this particular cartoon does appear to credibly portray how a rubber crinoline might have been inflated – and this unfortunately anonymous essay confirms that they did exist. The detail about the unpleasant smell due to the vulcanizing process is particularly compelling. Although this essay does promote the use of whalebone, steel hoops became the clear overall winner in the crinoline stakes.

Previously, I blogged a 1857 Letter to the Editor about crinolines in this post with lots of great crinoline visuals.

ILLUSTRATION NOTES

Both cartoons were originally published in Punch, the first (with the inflatable crinoline) on 17 January 1858; the second (of the poor old lady with squashed hoops) on 14 June 1862; and are both hosted by Wikimedia Commons.

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Crinoline Struck by Lightning!

From The Medical Times and Gazette: A Journal of Medical Science, Literature, Criticism, and News, Volume 2, page 185, 1869

Dr. Benjamin W. Richardson on Lightning-Stroke

The Dangers of Crinoline, 1858 03“Fever of Reaction—In some instances where the body has been struck by lightning with the production of severe external injury, recovery from the prostration has been followed by severe reactionary fever and delirium. My friend Mr. Erasmus Wilson has favoured me with an excellent illustration of this condition taken from the American Journal of the Medical Sciences for April 1869, the reporter being Dr. William Holton, of New Harmony, Indiana. According to this report a tree was struck with lightning on March 26, 1868.

“‘From the tree the shaft of electric fluid darted through the wall of a shed and lighted on the knot of hair at the back of a woman’s head, attracted by the hair-pins with which the knot was fastened; it then passed on to an earring; thence to the busk of her stays; next it flashed along the wires of her crinoline to the steel clasp of her garter, and ultimately burst through the heel of one of her boots. In its course it made a semi-spiral turn, striking the left ear above, reaching the right leg by the intervention of the crinoline wires, and issuing through the heel of her right boot.

“‘The break of the current was in each instance accompanied by a burn of the skin; the first of these burns. and the most severe, occurred on the scalp, where the hair was singed; the second occupied the lobe of the ear; the third. the upper part of the chest, which presented a blistered surface three inches in diameter, with a broad crythematous areola beyond; the fourth, which was next in severity to that of the head, was a foot in length, and extended from the left side of the abdomen to the pubes; the fifth was situated on the patella immediately above the garter buckle; and the sixth along the leg below the garter buckle, the intermediate space having escaped. Her clothing was s little burnt here and there, and the lower end of the steel busk and some of the crinoline-wires partially melted.

“‘After the shock, the woman, who was 61 years of age, and had been suffering previously from indigestion. vertigo, and numbness of her limbs, remained insensible for twenty minutes, uttering an occasional groan. When consciousness returned, she stated that she felt nothing at the time of the accident; but, on the recovery of her senses, she complained of nausea and oppression about the chest, which were relieved by vomiting. Her skin at this time was cold and clammy from perspiration, and her pulse extremely weak. Subsequently she was attacked with fever, accompanied with delirium, and not until the end of ten weeks was she reported as having recovered her usual strength, the burns being at the same time healed. At this time it is stated that ‘she is quite cheerful, except when left alone. when she is disposed to sleep too much; a feeling of great lassitude announces to her the approach of a thunderstorm before its coming is perceived by others.’

“‘The case,’ adds Mr. Wilson, ‘is one of deep interest in its illustration of the influence of nervous shock, an its phenomena arc most suggestive;~ —for example, a concussion of the nervous system, the loss of consciousness, the sickness of the stomach, the oppression of the lungs, the prostration of the heart. the reactionary fever, and last, but not least, the morbid sensitiveness of the nervous system to electrical impressions, enduring for a time, and probably for life.’”

But I was intrigued. How had I not seen the suggestion that crinolines might be lightning conductors before? So I did some hunting, just to see whether there were any credible reports describing such occurrences. The above came to light.

CLOTHES FOR WOMEN

Letter to the Editor, The Day Book, Illinois. 21 July 1915.

“WOMEN’S DRESS:- Several of the writers in this great and glorious column have made the remark that men are responsible for the prostitute women of today.

“But no, if the women and men who make this accusation would stop and figure out the reason for these steps on the part of the man. Let us start with the gowns worn by the girls of today.

“They are cut so low at the neck that it is a disgrace; their skirts are so short that their limbs are exposed nearly to their knees.

“All these things go on to irritate man into doing things which are not proper, such as making advances to these girls, and using brutal force to compel these innocent girls to do wrong.

“And in closing, may I say: Women, dress properly and you will not be subject to advances of men; decent men, but irritated by your styles.

“Robert.”

Letter to the Editor, The Day Book, Illinois. 26 July 1915.

“CLOTHES FOR WOMEN:- If “Robert” were a bookkeeper and “figured” as well as he advises others to in his article of July 21 he wouldn’t hold a position long.

“I wonder what in “Robert’s” estimation “proper” clothes for women are. I dare say he’d advise us to wear high-collared, long-sleeved waists, clumsy, long skirts, shoes during the summer as well as winter season and opaque veils, so that our “limbs” and faces may not be exposed to tempt and “irritate” the so-called decent men “into doing things that are improper.” Did YOU ever stop and “figure” out that to the fellow who makes advances toward women at any time we are all dear, delightful fair ones, and he’d just as soon attack and insult one as the other.

“You are all wrong, “Robert,” and do an injustice to those of your sex who deserve to be called decent, as few as there are. It’s the indecent men who are always attracted to the extent of “using brutal force to compel innocent girls to do wrong,” and the most conservative dresser in the world is not exempt from such creatures’ advances.

Clara Podlevner.”

Laura, Clara, Dinah and Zelda Podlevner, c.1915Laura, Clara, Dinah and Zelda Podlevner, c.1920

Commentary:

I actually came across Clara”s letter via Clara’s great-nephew Max, who tells me that he remembers her being pretty much the same in old age! It’s simultaneously fantastic to read, and slightly depressing to reflect that, 100 years later, not much has changed. After reading it, I tracked down Robert’s original letter – and alarmingly, there are still people nowadays who think like this. But fortunately, these days there are more people like Clara, and less people like Robert – and long may the Claras continue outnumbering the Roberts!

ILLUSTRATION NOTES

The photograph of Clara with her sisters appears with many thanks to Dinah’s grandson Max who gave permission for it to be reproduced here.

Slit skirts and X-ray dresses in 1914

Two female tango dancers, Raphael Kirchner, 1914.
Raphael Kirchner. Two women dancing the tango, 1914.

“Not before it was necessary fashion creators are promising reform in the matter of the slit-up skirt. The topic is the burning one of the hour, and the story is going the round that at a recent Court ball in Brussels the King of the Belgians gave the wearer of a slit skirt the broadest hint that its presence was unwelcome; the Court Marshal conducted the lady to her carriage and expressed the King’s deep concern at the accident which evidently had happened to her ball dress. The grandes dames in France, too. have laid a ban on the slit skirt, and, what is likely to be still more effectual, one of the most famous of the French houses is sewing up the offending aperture, and producing new gowns intended to allow greater freedom of movement on the part of the wearer. We live in hopes, but at the moment the skirts are just as tight round the ankle as ever.

“A PROMISE.

Madame Paquin declares the slit skirt to be doomed. ‘Skirts will no longer be cut up, but they will be wider and give freedom to the limbs. Slit skirts answer to, the needs of modern life, or at least to the needs of the modern dance, but they have their faults. The wearer needs to have a very beautiful figure, and ungraceful walkers spoil the charm of the dress. There are only two sins in the making of a dress — ugliness, that exposes itself; and deshabille, that provokes attention. We have seen the danger, and the new fashions will remedy it.’

ON THE DEFENSIVE.

“M. Worth thinks the fashion of to-day ‘very pretty indeed. It dresses women closely, though not too tightly, and it suits the women with graceful figures. Of course I deplore the extravagances that have followed this fashion of close-fitting, and on that account I approve the manifesto. But these are only exceptional, and I can assure you that the majority of my clients have no such taste for eccentricity. I never advise it, but if I am ordered to lower a bodice or slit a skirt I must execute my orders. Quite recently one of my customers who was trying on a dress for Monte Carlo complained of the thickness of the taffetas lining, which, by the way, was thinner than a cigarette paper, and asked for a kind of aerial pongee. The result would be like an X-ray dress. We have had many crusades against fashions, but they never amount to much, because errors in taste are happily the exception and not the rule.'”

Commentary:

I was very excited to come across this article while working on my book Edwardian Fashion, not least because it quoted one of the biggest names in fashion of his time as using the term “x-ray dress” to describe a transparent gown – a startlingly modern turn of phrase, and one I had suspected might not be contemporary – or at least rather too vulgar a term of parlance for respectable figures to utter. I was delighted to be proven wrong. At this point, M. Worth would have been Jean-Charles Worth, who succeeded his uncle, Jean-Philippe, as house designer in 1910 (although during the First World War, Jean-Philippe came out of retirement to run the house while Jean-Charles served in the Army.)

In fact, having done some further reading/research, it appears that the term “x-ray dress” goes back even further – into the 1890s, even! – as a popular term for transparency in dress. I may need to blog further on this subject.

This is the same (rather lengthy) article from which this post on the appropriation of masculine dress came from.

ILLUSTRATION NOTES:

The two dancing ladies – in split skirts and see-through chiffon! – are by Raphael Kirchner (1876-1917) and come from WikiArt.

Salesman for Artificial Leg Concern Dances “Game Leg Trot”

From The Evening Herald, Klamath Falls, Oregon, page 2, 14 December 1916.
Advert HUN 1918By John H. Hearley
United Press Staff Correspondent

ROME, Nov. 15 (By Mail)

“C. C. Swain, a breezy drummer for an artificial limb maker of Washington D.C., had been doing his best to place an order with the hospital committee representing the Italian government. Just as he was on the verge of giving the gentlemen up as bad prospects, in came a most charming black-eyed nurse, and Charlie, taking heart, started all over again for her benefit.

“‘It’s all a question of getting used to it,’ said Swain, ‘See, I can spin around on mine like a top!’ Swain suited the action to the word. For Swain’s best sample was his own left leg.

“Swain unwound every inch of his line of talk. Over the mysterious frowns and restlessness of the committeemen he gave her much unsolicited information. He told her of his climb to the skyscraping dome of St. Peters. If she didn’t believe it, she could ask the guide who had seen his performance and had received his card.

“Afterward, he caught up a chair and danced the “grizzly bear,” gliding gradually into a “hesitation.” He ended his dancing spree with a bit of the “tangi.”

“Apparently amazed and amused at his stunts, the black-eyed nurse made her thanks and disappeared.

“The American salesman, thereupon, turned again to the committee. He met a thundering storm of wrath.

“‘Fool! fool!’ roared the chorus of voices, ‘didn’t you know that was Her Majesty, Helene, Queen of Italy?’

“‘Holy smoke!’ sighed Swain. ‘To think I had a golden opportunity and used it like a nickel-plated one!'”

Queen Elena of Italy in nurse's uniform, 1914-1918

Commentary:

While looking up dance names, I stumbled across this and HAD to share it. A good story. I was a little naughty and didn’t give the full headlines or the opening paragraphs – didn’t want to spoil the joke! They are as follows – clearly spoiler warnings weren’t a thing in 1916.

DANCED BEFORE ITALY’S QUEEN:
SALESMAN FOR ARTIFICIAL LEG CONCERN DANCES “GAME LEG TROT” BEFORE QUEEN HELENE, THINKING HER NURSE.

An image showing the dance called the “Grizzly Bear” is the main image in this Clothes in Books blogpost about my book Edwardian Fashion. Note the idiosyncratic spelling of “tango!” The original article also misspelled HRH’s name. In most cases, where possible, I reproduce spelling errors as printed, unless they are really obviously wrong and need to be corrected for clarification.

ILLUSTRATION NOTES:
The Hungarian advertisement from 1918 (apparently translating as “Are You amputed? Looking for a fine prosthesis?…” and the Italian postcard of Elena in her nurse’s uniform (clearly a bit stunned by Swain’s demonstration!) are both hosted by Wikimedia Commons.

Modern Attire and its Accessories

1857Le Journal des Demoiselles From The Times, London, Greater London, England. page 5, 19 January 1857

“TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

“Sir, — I have long nourished an ardent desire to address you on a subject fraught with pain and deep anxiety

“An abuse is daily growing around me, or rather round our wives and daughters, which has hitherto successfully resisted both the taunts of the satirists and the utilitarian influence of the age. Need I allude to the prevailing fashion of ladies’ dresses, which in form, in material, and in expense, daily exhibit symptoms of a fatal development?

“Many conflicting considerations have hitherto restrained me from any attempt to enlist your sympathies on the side of virtue and of husbands. The close of the last season gave me hopes of amendment. But the summer fashions running with a rapidity almost imperceptible through the various gradations of autumn attire, and blooming suddenly into a vast expanse of winter velvets, awakened me to my delusion. The velvets purchased, cut out and assumed, the coup de main alone acquainted me with the conspiracy when it disarmed me with success. But Sir, I am no longer to be trifled with. I am not a man easily daunted. Patiently have I waited the appointed time. With forbearance, at certain seasons, verging on despair, have I watched the increasing amplitude and paid with trembling hands the increasing bills.

“Often Sir, at ball or crowded assembly have I been tripped by the confluence of massive tissues. Often have I been suddenly and painfully compressed in a doorway by the framework of a creature whom nature had intended for a fairy, Nay, Sir, more than once have I, without a murmur, submitted during a pelting rain to banishment from my own carriage, constructed originally for the conveyance of four persons but now, forsooth, not capable of one elderly and two youthful ladies, hedged in their shells like the clapper of a bell.

La crinolomanie“But there is a limit to endurance. The appointed moment is at length arrived. Christmas-day is passed. The new year is no longer a stranger. Twelfth-night monarchs have abdicated their functions. Parliament has not yet assembled. During the interregnum I may be allowed to court your powerful assistance, as the old garments are becoming faded, and before the moment shall arrive for the conception, and alas! the purchase of new habiliments.

“Certain social disorders demand stringent remedies, By your hand alone can they be duly administered. The age is not suited for sumptuary laws; but by exposing the secrets of one respectable gentleman’s household let me hope to lead my fellow countrywomen to a sense of what is due to themselves and to their family exchequer.

“The ladies of my family are subscribers to a detestable publication, illustrated by highly coloured prints, a weekly record of the ephemeral fashions. From a number of this periodical I am enabled to gather a general idea of the manner in which ladies find it feasible to lavish the substance of their kindred on personal adornment. And first, as to the question of quality, you may expect a catalogue of silks, velvets, and laces. You will scarcely believe that these sumptuous textures are no longer sufficient to bedeck their daintiness to advantage.

Nyaste journal för damer 1858, illustration nr 6“The fabrics of Lyons and Genoa are unequal to the task unless loaded with the most minute and costly embroidery and fringes. Even those beautiful laces, which hitherto have delighted the eye not only of the coquette but of the artist, must now be overloaded with adventitious and I may say, meretricious ornament. The hair, once considered worthily adorned with jewels, permanent in their nature and of convertible value, must needs sail in the aid of gilt-powder and flowers, requiring in their close and delicate imitation of nature the costly skill of the most cunning workmen. These of course lose their freshness after the wear of a few evenings. And when I tell you Sir, that the flowers of one dress alone have been known to stand the purchaser in a sum not less than 140/, you will agree with me that such expenditure is little less than a crime even in the wealthiest of our wealthy nations, Nay, jewellery is no longer admissible in its natural and permanent character. Silver and gold, emeralds and diamonds, are no longer attractive, unless surrounded by artistic settings of no intrinsic worth, the perishable beauty of which in a short time leaves no trace behind beyond the bill of some courteous but insidious goldsmith.

“So much for quality. Allow me a few words on the subject of quantity.Fashion Plate (Court Dress) LACMA M.83.161.267

“The present exaggeration of feminine redundancy is not an abuse of contemporary origin. In 1745 it was already publicly denounced in a pamphlet entitled “The Enormous Abomination of the Hoop-Petticoat, as the Fashion now is.” Many now living can remember the hoop as a necessary component of a Court dress. This fashion was exploded, not, I think, until the death of Queen Charlotte.

“But since that period, it has recurred, like an epidemic, at certain intervals. About 15 years ago it prevailed to an extent almost equal to the present mania. I recollect two French statuettes which much assisted in suppressing the absurdity. One lady arrayed in bulky garments was represented as guarded by spikes, such as are employed to prevent little boys from travelling gratuitously on the footboard of a carriage. Another lady, neglecting this precaution, stepped stately while affording to a successful urchin the luxury of a journey dos-à-dos.

“Drapery was subsequently reduced to more reasonable dimensions. The skirts, neither to scanty nor too full, fell in natural folds, exhibiting the graces of a good figure, and not thrusting into prominence the faults of a form, less elegantly shaped. But lately, Sir, the old leaven has been at work, as we all know to our distress and tribulation. That curious preparation of horsehair, known under the classical denomination of crinoline, is now deemed inadequate to the duties of expansion, unless fortified with quaint instruments of steel and tubes of caoutchouc inflated by bellows. The result has been the enormous accumulation of breadths, as evidenced by “bill delivered.” The evil is regrettably on the increase. Women of all shades and sizes are yielding to the fascination. Beauty seems to be valued like a Crown land only by the amount of square feet inclosed.

“It is to the French Court that we are indebted for this inexplicable and ruinous infatuation. France has ever been supreme in matters of female costume, We on this side the Channel have generally dictated the form, hue and material of masculine attire.

1857-regency-fashion-crinoline-comparison-joke“And France is now attaining a height of luxury not surpassed even in the most luxurious times of her history. It is a bad sign. The reign of Louis XV., with the same characteristics, was the precursor of sad events.

I am not disposed to draw a comparison, Save in this respect none exists. But in the present state of society any approach even in such matters to a former period universally reprobated is injudicious and impolitic. Nevertheless for the French there are palliatives, not feasible, let us hope, in this country, It is well known that the Bonnes of Paris do not disdain to borrow their costly plumes from the dressmaker. The boasted luxury of ever-changing dresses does not betoken ownership. The hire is paid by the value of the advertisement.

“But should our neighbours think fit to adopt this peculiar garb, why should we servilely follow fashions supportable only in a nation the manners, liveliness and conversation of which are so essentially different to our own? These swollen dresses surely cannot add to the attractions of our fair countrywomen. With our other allies, the Turks size is an essential element of female loveliness. We however, do not measure that quality by the same standard of proportions.

“General slimness, with certain local developments, used to present to us, as to the ancients, models to elicit and inspire our admiration. Nowadays, instead of a form of natural grace, we are called upon to commend the semblance of chronic elephantiasis.Penelope- Nyaste journal för damer 1857, illustration nr 2

“Allow me to call the attention of our countrywomen to one fact which I think will give them food for salutary reflection. The hoop, I have always heard, was devised and introduced to conceal the symptoms of a state in which “ladies wish to be who love their lords,” by some ladies not endowed with the same concentration of tenderness. If the mothers and daughters of England will bear in mind this fact they will perhaps be more anxious to increase their wisdom and curtail their circumference.

“I will not say a word of milliners “coughing their own knell” in the manufacture of these garments, I will not refer to the letter of “Verbena,” published last year, complaining of want of space in the presence of her sovereign. These considerations have been argued often, ably and in vain. Let me however, conclude my letter by replying to a fallacy often advised in my home circle.

“A daughter of mine, an interesting child, but afflicted with a strangely perverted gift of political economy, endeavours to answer my remonstrances and to lay a flattering unction to her soul by the assertion of the benefits accruing to trade from the increased expenditure on articles of attire. To this I have a ready answer. And I will inform, her, Sir, and others labouring under the same delusion, that the benefit conferred on trade by waste and extravagance is but an unhealthy and transitory impetuous which, by ruining the customer, will ere long involve the ruin of the vendor.

“Many instances in support of this view have lately been brought before my personal knowledge. Wives have covertly contracted debts to the detriments of their husbands. Daughters have run up bills without the knowledge of their parents, vaguely trusting to marriage as a means of extrication from their difficulties. Meanwhile the purveyors, often women of small capital, fearing to enforce their claims, and cursing the day which has introduced them to a “West-end connexion,” seek in bankruptcy the only rescue from starvation.

“Such are the moral and political effects of excess on crinoline.

“I am Sir, yours faithfully,

“A RESPECTABLE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.

“Clayhole-manor, Jan, 15.”

The above letter, remarkable as much for its length (taking up an entire column on the page) as for its depth of detail, is one I have not encountered before in my reading. One thing, not fashion related, but social history related, that stopped me in my tracks, was this passage.

“And France is now attaining a height of luxury not surpassed even in the most luxurious times of her history. It is a bad sign. The reign of Louis XV., with the same characteristics, was the precursor of sad events. I am not disposed to draw a comparison, Save in this respect none exists. But in the present state of society any approach even in such matters to a former period universally reprobated is injudicious and impolitic.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I never thought about the French Revolution being a kind of 19th century version of Godwin’s Law but that does indeed appear to be the implication above!

Crinoline-related articles, both positive and negative, good and bad, could probably take up an entire post-a-day blog all by themselves for many years without repetition of source material. A good sampler is provided by Diarmid Mogg’s Tumblr post which transcribes a number of articles from 1861 about crinoline tragedies, although I’d like to know where he found the original stories.

I have never heard this euphemism for pregnancy before:

a state in which “ladies wish to be who love their lords,”

but it made me smile! Exactly 100 years later to the day, in 1957, identical complaints were made against the then newly fashionable sack and trapeze dresses. Lady Antonia Frazer in 1958 was smart enough to take advantage of this by wearing a trapeze dress to Ascot – successfully concealing her pregnancy from the paparazzi! The outraged male whingeing at great length and volume about clothing that does not present the female figure to his concepts of appropriateness, either by revealing too much, or by concealing too much, is an unfortunately undying (but hopefully decreasing) breed….

On The Way to Masculinity

The first image is a French postcard from 1911 showing two women wearing the ‘jupe culotte’ of the Margaine-Lacroix type (rather than the Poiret harem pant type). I found it via Google Images ages ago but have forgotten where it came from in the first place! The second image is by George Barbier for Le Bon Ton, 1914, and shows a suit by the House of Redfern, renowned for its tailoring and an early pioneer of the concept of fashionable sportswear (as opposed to clothing for sport – a fine if confusing distinction!) The third image is a toque hat from La Parisienne, Winter 1913-14. Not quite an aerophane bow, but a lace dragonfly is just as good, I think! Both these images are from Wikimedia Commons. The final image, the satirical postcard, was found on Ebay. As a 100-year old published image it is in the public domain.