Category Archives: Social History

Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

I started this post soon after joining the Vernet Project, so I think it must have been in my drafts for close to two years at this point. I didn’t want to leave it in the drafts folder forever, though, so I thought I’d include it as I’m wrapping up my Vernet posts.

Throughout my research, I’ve looked through many hundreds of pins on my Pinterest boards from the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and have found only a handful of plates that show outerwear specifically labeled as witzchouras (these can be seen in this past post showing examples). There are a much larger number of other, similar, types of outerwear.

(If you’ve missed out, this post explores the origins and qualities of a witzchoura, while this past post explores witzchouras in even more depth, with multiple excepts from the first part of the 19th century mentioning them.)

Examples of garments similar to witzchouras

Common garments in this category are labeled using words such as pelisse and pardessus. Then there are also carriage dresses (example), promenade dresses (example), and redingotes (example) trimmed in fur, but it seems clear in the fashion plate descriptions that these garments were not considered witzchouras.

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

Here is another similar garment, a Russian mantle, described in The Ladies Pocket Magazine in 1838 under the chapter English Fashions and Novelties: Remarks On The Prevailing London Fashions.

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Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras

In 1849, La Belle Assembleé addresses this for us (while also mentioning yet another type of outer wear, a burnous. The Dreamstress defines and explores this garment specifically as it relates to historical fashion, which is excellent and full of images!). The author of this reflection of fashion specifically mentions the weight of a witzchoura and how that compares to the weight of a pardessus, as well as the types of outings that these garments would have been worn for. Interesting that they would be worn for carriage dress, when, alternatively, one could also wear a ‘carriage dress’.

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This next excerpt, from La Belle Assembleé in 1825, tells us one distinctive quality of a pelisse which is that the arms were not encased in the garment and could be freely moved about.

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.

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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras

Then there are garments labeled as witzchouras, but which are odd in a variety of ways. For example, take a look at the interesting witzchoura mentioned in The Lady’s Monthly Museum in 1817, seen below.

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I’m not really sure what qualities allow a witzchorua to keep one’s dress from being rumpled, but what strikes me as odd is that the witzchoura mention is lined with silk and that is has a chapeau bras attached! Also in 1817, La Belle Assembleé mentions this exact garment twice! The first is a description of the garment. The second is about the inventor, Mrs. Bell, who, if you care to read more, has a long list of other interesting things that she supplies.

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In this next case, the witzchoura is described as being lined with sarsnet (a fine plain or sometimes twill weave usually silk fabric) and only trimmed with fur rather than being lined entirely with fur. Haven’t we seen conclusively that a witzchoura should be lined and trimmed in fur? This witzchoura is also interesting because of its colors. It is quite likely a garment made for the general mourning of the death of Queen Charlotte, who passed away in November 1818.

“For out-door costume nothing can be reckoned more completely elegant than the Witchoura pelisse of black velvet lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with real ermine.”

La Belle Assembleé  in January 1818

Finally, there is this fashion plate at the LACMA which is labeled as being a witzchoura but with nothing witzchoura-like about it! A mistake perhaps? This looks like a summer garment, not a heavy winter garment.

What a rabbit hole of obscure information the witzchoura is. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now exhausted my currnet list of historical references to the witzchoura!

Sophie, 1861 Cotton Print (HSM #8)

Last week, I introduced Eleanor, a newly made plaid gown from 1862. Today’s introduction is to Eleanor’s friend, Sophie. Sophie actually came first, back during the summer when I was intending to participate in the same dance performance for which I’ve worn Georgina in the past (here are a selection of past posts about Georgina: the construction which is similar in some ways to Sophie, Georgina in action, and Georgina with a new collar).

This year, the performance was rescheduled due to rain and I couldn’t attend the new date, meaning that the new dress, Sophie, languished until October, when I was able to wear it during part of a recent mid-19th century dance weekend. The nice thing about the delay is that the pictures all have stunning fall leaves, which would not have been in the case in the summer.

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Also, had I worn this dress on the first intended date, it would not have been entirely completed. Having extra time allowed me to officially finish all the trim and closures which made this dress the perfect entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #8 “Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.” I didn’t have any pictures of the dress on a body at that point, so I submitted a rather sad picture of the dress on a hanger at that time. It’s exciting to have real pictures now!

Just the facts:

Fabric: 7.5 yards cotton print.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #701, 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices.

Year: 1860-1863 based on my extant inspiration, but I’m calling it 1861.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, muslin scraps, and narrow yarn for cording.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. This is as accurate as I can be given the research I have done and the materials I used, though the use of a facing on the front edges is guesswork. Regardless, this would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: Unknown. A fair bit.

First worn: October 23 for an afternoon tea and dance games.

Total cost: $23.

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Sophie was directly inspired by this extant dress at the Kent State University Museum. I was considering what to wear for the performance, thinking that I’d worn Georgina enough to want something new, that I’d had an 1860s cotton print fabric in my stash for a few years, and then I remembered this dress. I decided to leave off the ruffle on the skirt (and also didn’t have enough fabric), but was so pleased that my cotton print is so perfectly suited for playing with the pattern in the same way as the extant dress!

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Dresses from this period with v necks are not common, but they do exist. This Pinterest board has lots of examples. My Pinterest board has a few other dresses that helped move me along as well.

As I mentioned in my post about Eleanor, finding and making use of subtle differences between dresses from similar years brings me joy. For example, Sophie has a v neck, no boning, cartridge pleated sleeves, gathered trim, and is actually sewn together as a dress, rather than hooking together at the waistband as with all my other dresses from this period.

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In other ways, Sophie is similar to Georgina, being partially machine and partially hand sewn, having a cartridge pleated skirt, cuffs with little ruffles at the ends, and pockets.

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Personally, I love having pockets in day dresses. It brings me peace of mind to know that modern things like my keys are close by and not sitting around somewhere. Plus, chapstick, fan, gloves, etc. are also excellent choices for stashing in pockets. These pockets, which you can see the top of in the picture below, are sewn in the same way as Georgina’s pockets, shown here. I love this collection of references to pockets from the 1840s, 50s, and 60s that Anna Worden Bauersmith put together. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share it for what seems like ages.

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Here are two more interior shots of the dress. The first shows the muslin facings. I don’t have documentation for this method being used to finish a lightweight summer cotton dress, but it makes sense that this method might have been used to finish the edges nicely while keeping the main body of the dress breathable and light. The second picture shows in the inside of the top of the sleeve, particularly to show the cartridge pleats.

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In addition to the dress, I also made a new cage crinoline. I’ve been wanting a slightly smaller, less bell shaped one, particularly to wear with cotton dresses. I love my old cage crinoline (seen here) for evening dresses, but it is just a bit too much for a more practical daytime look. The new crinoline shape just looks ‘right’ with the cotton dress. The difference is subtle, but pleasing. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in its first wearing. The vertical tapes were sliding all over the place and causing the hoops to drop and be tripped on. Not good! It needs revision before being finished and shared, so for now you’ll just have to believe that I’m wearing it with this dress.

Now that you’ve heard all about the dress itself, here are some pretty pictures of it in action. These first ones are in the spirit of the development of rural cemeteries in the mid-19th century, which you can read more about in this blog post at Plaid Petticoats.

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The next few are a celebration of the autumn season. The gorgeous leaves were beckoning us to have some laughs. Incidentally, I tend to jump in the air with my arms up whenever I’m having an amazing time in this period. Take this memory, for example. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing!

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We have so many things to be grateful for. I am always thankful for the many blessings in my life, particularly at this time of year. I hope that your life is also overflowing with blessings and reasons to give thanks, in autumn and always.

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Victorian Egyptomania & Mummy Unwrapping

It is evening. The rain is pouring down outside. Hurry up the front steps, push open the heavy front door, and join the gathering of late Victorians interested in archeology and ancient Egypt that are inside. The guests have been brought together for opportunity to see artifacts, listen to a lecture on Egyptology, and finally to witness the unwrapping of a mummy.*

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The location is the Tudor style Bosworth Castle.** Dark wood, intricate detailing, and interesting artifacts abound. The rooms are filled with the light chatter of guests greeting friends and curiously examining artifacts. A pianist provides background music in the main hall. There are tables and mantels filled with artifacts and interesting objects to explore.

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In one room, the mummy rests on a table with its canopic jars. Tools are laid out, ready for the unwrapping which will occur later in the evening.

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Following the lecture and mummy unwrapping, guests are invited to ask questions and look more closely at the mummy and his amulets. It is concluded during the unwrapping that the mummy is indeed a prince, as suspected.***

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Guests are given souvenirs from the evening as they depart, including a note regarding the identity of the mummy and a scrap of his wrappings.

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*No mummies or artifacts were harmed in the course of this event. The evening included a discussion of Victorian archeology compared to modern methods and used a recreation of a mummy as well as reproduction tools.

**This event was created and hosted by the Archeology Department of Boston University. It was hosted in a building a BU actually called the Castle, though the Bosworth part was added for fun.

***Actually, the character of the mummy was decided specifically because the mummy of the prince does not actually exist, allowing for some creative liberties. In fact, the amulets were all placed just so within the wrappings to allow for their context to be explained during the unwrapping. The mummy was carefully crafted to look, and even smell, authentic while of course sticking to modern materials. It was quite impressive!

19CBRE: Following With Trust

(I thought I was very clever when I came up with the name for the post… and then a few days later I couldn’t remember what I was thinking the content should be! I guess if I confuse myself that easily I should certainly explain my cleverness so you can appreciate it, too!)

I was reading Thomas Hillgrove’s The Art of Practical Dancing from 1868 and I came across this passage on page 154:

“It is recommended that the lady, when waltzing, leave herself to the direction of her partner, trusting entirely to him, without in any case seeking to follow her own impulse. A lady who should endeavor to avoid an encounter with other dancers, would risk interfering with the intention of the gentleman, to whom alone should be trusted her security amid the crowd surrounding and crossing her in every direction.” 

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I thought, “Hm! Trusting myself entirely to my partner’s care is something I rarely do! I’m often giving non-verbal hints about my opinions on where we should go, how much we should rotate, etc… and depending on the ability of my partner, my hints sometimes come down to downright back-leading.” I’m sure this partly comes from eight or so years of competitive modern ballroom dancing, in which the leader is in charge, but the lady has the duty to do her part to see what’s going on around the floor and help ensure that crashes, etc. don’t occur, as well as my independent-modern-woman mindset. However, despite these reasons, I imagine Hillgrove would have taken exception to my dancing style!

I started thinking about whether it made sense for me to attempt Hillgrove’s method while dancing historical dances. I dance in three settings, at private rehearsals when the dance troupe I am part of is practicing for performances, during performances with said dance troupe, and at public balls when I am dancing with guests of varying abilities or with members of the dance troupe.

I think it boils down this way: when dancing in a performance there are goals of elegance, nice spacing between couples, etc. that we are aiming for, and my interpretation of our artistic directors’ instruction in addition to my own feeling is that every person dancing should contribute to these goals, so a bit of hinting makes sense for the context. I feel similarly about hinting while dancing at balls depending on the ability of my partner, and if the goal is to ensure the safety of myself, my partner, or other people who might cut us off, etc. I also feel justified in back-leading a partner who needs some assistance to stay with the music, avoid crashes, or know how much rotation to complete in a given step, etc… but it sounds like I don’t really ever  follow with trust!

With these thoughts in mind at a recent ball, I attempted to follow partners (whose abilities I have faith in) with trust. It was surprisingly uneventful! I think it really comes down to the ability of a partner in order to determine if I’m comfortable with that level of trust. Do you entirely follow your partners with trust at historical dance events? Or are you like me, picking and choosing when you feel comfortable doing so?

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Success! Time to go home.

(As another side note, it’s been just about a year since my last 19CBRE post. If you’re not sure what that’s all about, check out this introductory post. You can see all of the posts relating to 19CBRE here. Perhaps this year I’ll get around to posting more of the interesting tidbits I’ve been thinking of posting over the last year!)

1860s Flower Basket Fancy Dress

A few weekends ago now, I went to an event at The Down Town Association in New York. It was an event out of my usual ordinary line of events and so I took the opportunity to create something out of the ordinary to wear. The title of the post rather gives it away… but I only had a week to put my outfit together!

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Flower Basket, 1860s. This design was created by Jules Helleu or Léon Sault, possibly for Charles Frederick Worth.

Using this image as my inspiration, I determined that I needed to make a flower basket, but that I could use Annabelle as the base for the floral dress. I also wanted to use only items from my stash, thus limiting my options a little bit. So I spent my weeknights creating a fabric basket that fit over my hoops and then furiously pinned flowers to my skirt the day we were leaving for New York in the hopes that they would look good and at least a little like my inspiration image…

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(What does a flower basket do with her hands without a bouquet?)

In the end, I enjoyed my flower basket very much, but didn’t like the fact that my furious pinning job didn’t really achieve the cascading flower look I was going for and that Annabelle’s pre-existing flowers were rather heavier looking than I had hoped, also contributing to the lack of cascading flower look. Maybe someday I’ll try again with the same basket and a different, or differently modified dress, but it was fun to do something different even if the results were not as great as I hoped for.

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I like the basket when you don’t see the skirt flowers.

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(Maybe a flower basket holds her handles?)

As I mentioned, this event was held at The Down Town Association in New York, which was established in 1860 (perfect for my fancy dress!). As far as I can tell the association is still housed in the same building they’ve been in since 1860. It was quite lovely inside, with detailed architecture and beautiful rooms. One room was a library full of a rather random collection of books. I enjoy perusing books and so proceeded to examine the titles closely. And guess what I found? A volume of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage from 1912!

This excited me quite a bit, not only because it was from 1912, but I think also because it reminded me of Persuasion, in which Mr. Elliot is described as putting Burke’s Peerage in a position of honor in his estimation of important things in the world. Regardless, I got distracted and insisted that I needed to take pictures and look through.

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Here I am, reading Burke’s Peerage!

Burke’s Peerage certainly is an undertaking, and this volume only covered the alphabet through letter L! Unfortunately, I didn’t spot a second volume in the library, but I hope it’s there somewhere.

Suffrage Song: While We Go Marching Together

At last year’s Plymouth Thanksgiving Parade in November 2014, I portrayed suffragists with the same ladies as I did in 2013. I recently posted about the finally finished 1917 wool skirt I wore that day, but I thought it would be fun to share this video also and it didn’t quite fit in with the skirt post. It’s a little clip of us singing a suffrage song: While We Go Marching Together. For more information on suffrage songs, one of the other participants from our suffrage adventures wrote a blog post about them awhile ago that you can view here.

In addition to singing suffrage songs, we made suffrage ribbons and photocopied suffrage pamphlets, both to hand out to the public while interacting with them about the subject of women’s suffrage. We talked with men, women, and children about the value of women’s suffrage and the history of the movement, encouraging everyone to consider the importance of the right of women to vote.

19CBRE: Etiquette For The Ballroom ‘Quick List’

For your 19th century ballroom edification today, we have a list of etiquette points from The Royal Ball-Room Guide and Etiquette of the Drawing Room, 1877 (available through The Library of Congress). This is a great digest of lots of  etiquette points on a variety of topics.

I believe many modern ladies and gentlemen could take note of many of these points when attending recreations of 19th century balls. My top choices for attendees and personal favorites are numbers 4, 11, 18, and 22.

Do you have a favorite (or two)? Did any surprise you? Have you been to a recreated 19th century ball and longed for any of these points to be adopted by modern ball guests?

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