19CBRE: Prudent Dance Planning

In 2014, I started a series of posts using the acronym 19CBRE, meaning “19th Century Ball Room Etiquette”. (You can read about my reasons for starting this series of posts in the original post here.) I’ve been on-and-off-again posting in this category (the last post was in 2016…), but I’ve had some further ideas in mind despite not actually posting them.

This quote reminds me of the final ball I attended at a mid-19th century dance week in Denmark in 2017. It is sound advice if you prefer to maintain calm composure and not follow an evening’s ball with a day of recovery!

“If you are prudent you will not dance every dance, nor, in fact, much more than half the number on the list; you will then escape that hateful redness of face at the time, and that wearing fatigue the next day which are among the worst features of a ball.

The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen. London: Hogg and Sons, 1859. 343. (Available online here)

The reason the quote reminds me of Denmark is because I most certainly did not escape “that hateful redness of face”! That’s a tall order in a warm room. I was also exhausted the next day, but that was due in part to a wonderfully long week of dancing all day each day. As evidenced in this case, sometimes these evils are worth facing… and sometimes I find that I would rather conserve my energy for the dances I really enjoy and not dance every single dance. My choice often depends on the venue, the special qualities of the ball, and the skill level of my partners. Facing a challenging set of dances in a special ball at a special place is more likely to lead me away from the etiquette manual’s guidance. What choice would you make?

If you’d like to read more of the snippets of etiquette I’ve highlighted over the years you can do so here.

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1890s Women’s Bicycling Clothing: Patents & Advertisements

There’s still a post coming soon about the construction details of my 1896 Cycling Ensemble, but I have quite a bit to say so it’s taking a bit of time to write. While working on it I found some great examples of other ingenious bicycling clothing for women patented and advertised around this time.

I mentioned the skirt variations in the introduction post for the cycling ensemble:

“Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).” 

I thought it would be fun to share the patents I found that illustrate these other styles of skirts!

First, an example of a bicycle ‘skirt guard.’ The ‘skirt guard’ is visible on the back wheel on the bicycle. Here is a patent from 1898 showing a skirt guard, as well.

Next, I have a patent from 1896 for a skirt with an ‘elevator’ which would allow the skirt to be raised with cords to make cycling safer. You can see the bloomers she is wearing underneath when her skirt is raised. This would allow the cyclist to be appropriately clothed while not riding and safely clothed while on the bicycle.

The next patent from 1895 shows the ‘skort’ style. This looks like a skirt in the front but is split in the back. The back is quite full, so that the appearance is that of a skirt.

Then I also came across this unusual method of a skirt with pieces that button on and off in front and back to reveal a bifurcated style underneath from 1895. It looks like this was designed so that the folded up pieces will hang from the front of your bicycle so you have them handy when you arrive at your destination. But I wonder how hard it would be to twist and bend in your corset to button and unbutton all of these connection points? My guess based on personal experience twist and bending in a corset is that it would be quite a challenge to do by yourself!

Here’s another interesting patent from 1896. These very full ankle length trousers that look like a skirt can be buttoned up around the knees to turn into knee length bloomers.

This image shows a women clearly wearing bloomers, but with a knee length skirt on top to still give a nod to the 19th century aversion to women opening wearing trousers (or bloomers).

I love that most of these women are shown wearing their gaiters! It’s justification for my own pair. I came across this advertisement for ‘bicycle leggings’ as well. Neat!

Finally, here’s an example of a corset intended specifically for sportswear and athletic pursuits. It makes use of some stiffness as well as some elastic and is expressly made for activities such as bicycling.

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!

c. 1920 Bathing Boots

I had already decided this spring that a 1920s bathing suit was on the sewing list for this summer when Gina, of Beauty From Ashes, contacted me and asked if I’d like to test an Edwardian bathing boot pattern for her. I’m pretty sure I squeaked! “Of course!” But then I realized that there was no way I was going to have time to work on the boots before summer when I returned from my trip to Versailles. Luckily, that timing was just fine.

217ca1fa-bbe6-4199-8273-16e146a188bfGina had taken the boot pattern from a pair of extant boots that she owns, sized the pattern for her own feet,  and then made a pair herself (of course with a lot of work on the pattern  along the way). To the right are Gina’s boots, which you can read more about in her post, here.

The idea coincided so closely with my plan for the 1925 bathing suit that I really wanted to push the boot date towards the 1920s and wear them together. I did some digging into bathing boot history in Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930 and found some great info supporting my plan, including information about the wearing of stockings with swimsuits and how that practice changed from the end of the 19th century through the 1920s. The following are excerpts from pages 137-139. There’s lots more detail about stockings and bathing shoes in the late 19th century that I haven’t included here, so if that interests you I highly suggest you get your hands on the book.

Bathing shoes were always optional, depending on how rough the terrain was and how tender the feet…

The most common bathing shoe at all times is a low slipper fitted with tapes that cross over the instep in varying arrangements and tie round the ankle. These are shown as early as 1867…

As long as bathing garments covered most of the legs, that is until the late 1870s, stockings were not considered absolutely necessary…

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, black stockings were very often worn for bathing without any shoe at all… When bathing shoes are shown, they are usually lighter than the stocking…and the commonest style is still the low slipper, presumably cork-soled, with tapes to cross once or twice and tie round the ankle…

About 1915, a new style of bathing footgear appeared, a mid-calf high boot, solid on the sides and back of the leg, but open down the front and laced across the opening… [and] the acceptance of real swimming (as opposed to splashing in the waves) brought about changes in bathing costume… Closer-fitted knitted suits appeared in the 1920s, and gradually the long black stockings were discarded (the last fashion picture I find including them is from 1922). In the late 1910s and early 1920s, short stockings were worn gartered someplace below the knee, but soon even these disappeared and bare legs began to appear in the early 1920s. Bathing shoes were still worn over bare feet when rough ground made them desirable, but they were a matter of utility, not modesty.

Such useful information when deciding what accessories I wanted to wear with my swimsuit and boots! I thought of taking pictures with stockings and without but decided that was too much of a hassle and settled instead for pictures with boots and without. You’ve already seen the pictures without boots. Now for a few with! (Yes, a friend also joined the pattern testing and wore her bathing boots to the beach, too!)

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After wearing the boots in the water I took them off for pictures of the suit, but then decided to put them back on. As you might expect, they are less exciting to put on when feet and boots are already wet and covered with sand… though I think all the sand in the boots did give my feet a good exfoliation!

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As for construction, here’s a quick run-down. I chose to make my boots out of navy cotton twill and white cotton canvas. Despite the fact that green boots exist, I didn’t want to try and match my greens. Plus, both the navy and white fabrics were in the stash and are neutral enough to wear with any future bathing suit I might decide to build.

Each outsole has two layers of cork bound in bias. Nice and sturdy for walking, but too thick for a sewing machine, which meant a lot of unexpected hand sewing for this project.

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The insoles are a single layer of cork with the fabric glued in place. I just slipped in insoles into the boots for wearing, which meant I could take them out to let them dry after wearing. Given that they were soaked through this was great.

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The uppers were fully finished before attaching them to the soles. This part is all machine sewn.

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Finally, I hand sewed the uppers to the soles.

(I’ve made this all sound very easy and speedy, but I’ll admit that I took a shortcut and purchased cheap eyelets and a cheap eyelet setter to get the right look with high hopes for the quality. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The eyelets were such a pain! The setter squashed them unevenly and then I needed pliers to make them look somewhat reasonable and trim off sharp bits. There are 44 eyelets. It took a long time. And it made my hands hurt. It would have been faster for me to hand sew the eyelets. Plus, they rusted after just the one wearing the water! And they got rust on my shoelaces, which was also a pain because the standard round shoelaces barely fit through the eyelets and getting them laced was hours all by itself. Ugh! For next time, I found narrower laces that will be so much easier to use, so I can at least take them out after wearing the boots without it taking forever. Or maybe I just won’t wear them in the water. Anyway, I don’t suggest you follow my example on the cheap eyelet front.)

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I am so grateful to Gina for sharing her pattern with me! It takes a lot of work to perfect a pattern and I probably would not have attempted bathing boots without having one already made and in hand.

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!)