19CBRE: The Height Of Ill-Breeding

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The Soiree by Jean Beraud

Never anticipate the point or joke of an anecdote told in your presence. If you have heard the story before, it may be new to others, and the narrator should always be allowed to finish it in his own words. To take any sentence from the mouth of another person, before he has time to utter it, is the height of ill-breeding. Avoid it carefully.

Be careful always to speak in a distinct, clear voice; at the same time avoid talking too loudly, there is a happy medium between mumbling and screaming. Strive to attain it.

This particular quote is from page 14 of the The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), source here. Warning to all: avoid the “height of ill-breeding” in the new year! And, happy new year!

19CBRE: Stick To Your Own Language

Life has been very busy of late and I haven’t any new sewing or event pictures ready to share, but I do have another installment of 19CBRE ready, so let’s go with that for now.

This one is following up on the last 19CBRE post about the use of those “I can’t remember the specific thing I’m mentioning” phrases. In a similar vein, this excerpt is also about what one should and shouldn’t say in conversation. It is from the same source, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14:

It is a mark of ill breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and, even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone; but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation.

A Trying Moment.
A Trying Moment by George du Maurier

Good advice to follow in the 19th century and even today in many situations. Of course, our modern sense of etiquette being less strict than it used to be, a modern person perhaps wouldn’t be quite as embarrassed as a lady from the 1870s, but still it seems like a situation that is unnecessary and easy to avoid.

Introduction To A New Thin-Gummy: 19CBRE

I’ve been inspired lately to read (and in some cases skim at the very least) 19th century etiquette manuals,  especially those books and sections that pertain to 19th century ballroom etiquette. What got me started was perusing various posts at the blog Recreating the 19th Century Ballroom. Barbara posts tantalizing snippets from these sorts of manuals and I wanted to see the context and read more, so I went back to the original sources.

Looking for one thing leads to another, as you probably know, and so it was with etiquette manuals. Once you find one you are led to others and it’s just one big rabbit hole. In my perusal of these manuals, I’ve come across amusing and interesting sections that I’d like to share. In addition, I’ve also started thinking about 19th century ballroom etiquette and how much or little a modern historic ballroom atmosphere can replicate. It’s really quite fascinating!

I’m planning a series of posts relating to this general topic, exploring some of my thoughts as well as sharing quotes from the manuals. I don’t want to commit to any sort of regular posting, but I’m thinking I’ll just intersperse these posts amongst my usual parade of dressmaking and event pictures with the abbreviation 19CBRE (19th Century Ball Room Etiquette) to note what these posts are about. (It’s not a typo, in these manuals, the word we now spell ballroom was separated into two words “ball room.”)

To start, here is a short quote from The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14, source here:

Never use the phrases, “What-d-ye call it,” “Thin-gummy,” “What’s his name,” or any such substitutes for a proper name or place. If you cannot recall the names you wish to use, it is better not to tell the story or incident connected with them. No lady of high breeding will ever use the substitutes in conversation.

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I am so guilty of using phrases like this in life (and at historic events…). I forget what I’m talking about within a few seconds of finishing a sentence sometimes! So when I want to continue the conversation these phrases pop right up. According to these 19th century standards, I’m of low breeding and obviously not polite… but in our modern world these phrases, while being casual, don’t mark you as being ill-bred, at least to me. I’ve spent time thinking about the fact that this very casual way of speaking is probably not appropriate for a 19th century lady, but that goes back to my currently unexplored thoughts about how far we choose to go when recreating the past at a public event such as a ball (a topic I’ll be sure to post about, someday!).

But thin-gummy is just so amusing! I really feel like I need to work that into modern conversation just because I can. In fact, I worked it into the title of this post and I hope you can imagine the grin on my face because of it!

Do you use these sorts of phrases in your modern life or at historic events? Had it ever occurred to you that in the 19th century these sorts of phrases were to be avoided?

Thankful For Suffrage

If you saw my last post, you were left guessing as to what event I was furiously sewing for. I think most you guessed that it had to do with women’s suffrage… Yay you! The entire event wasn’t really about suffrage, but suffrage was a part of it. We went down to Plymouth, MA to be a part of a historic village event that was linked to the main Thanksgiving parade in town.

The historic village contained various groups from the early 17th century, groups from the 18th century, Marines from 1812, a unit from the Civil War, my usual dancing friends and I representing women’s suffrage c. 1914, and paratroopers from the 1940s. The parade was…a parade. There were historic groups in it (including some of the military groups I just mentioned), there were marching bands, there were floats, there were unicycles, and there were horses doing various things.

And I’ve got pictures! To start, here are some images of the parade:

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Happy Thanksgiving! The giant inflatable turkey was pretty amusing, especially when he had to slightly deflate to get his head under the power lines!
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Often these guys are dancing with us, but at this event they were hanging out in the 1630s as the Salem Trayned Band.
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Some of our other friends: 1812 Marines.
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8 beautiful (and large!) Budweiser Clydesdales.
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4 spirited horses pulling…
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A fancy Wells Fargo stage coach!
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A super snazzy green car, with bright green trim!
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Red, white, and blue confetti in the cold, clear air near the end of the parade route.

Next, here are some images of our representation of Suffragists and our setup in the historic village:

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Setting up our tea table. Other setups included tents and smoking fires (it had rained the day before and everything was damp and mushy, so the fires didn’t really work…).
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Yes, we really did drink tea. In china cups. It actually was very nice to have hot beverages throughout the day given how cold it was outside!
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See, we’re drinking our tea!
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We didn’t march in the parade or parade around the historic village, but we did serenade the ducks in the creek behind us (and visitors walking by) with suffrage songs.
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Here we are making “serious suffrage” faces.
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Ok, smile for the camera.

The best part is that in addition to sharing a little bit about history with the public and getting to watch the Thanksgiving parade in all its glory, I was able to use this opportunity to build and wear an outfit showing off my recently completed 1917 Knitted Sweater of Angorina. I had to plan for cold weather, but I didn’t want to cover up my sweater! So I planned a faux fur hat to match an existing muff, a wool skirt, a polyester crepe blouse (in this case, the polyester was a great choice, because the fact that it wouldn’t breathe would help me stay warm and use up a random bit of fabric in my stash that had no other project in its future!), and did a mostly unnoticeable revamp on my 1860s/can-look-like-other-decades fur muff (which was essential, it turned out, for keeping my hands warm!). And to look stylish, I made gaiters to turn my 1920s American Duchess Gibsons into 19-teens looking spat-boots. And all of the fabrics were from my stash! The gaiters might just be my favorite part of the outfit, and both they and my fur hat will qualify for the next two HSF challenges, so you’ll see more detailed information on those soon! All in all, I managed to stay warm, except for my feet! I wore thick tights, but I didn’t think to wear extra socks, and my toes and feet were SO cold! Note to self: wear thick socks next time an all day outside event in the cold is on the horizon…

And here is my brand new 1917 outfit:

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Yay! New hat, revised muff, new blouse, hand knit sweater, new skirt, and new gaiters, worn with my Gibsons, my modern cashmere lined leather gloves, my 1913 petticoat pinned up to shorten its length, and a golden yellow ribbon in support of women’s suffrage. I was able to completely finish my accessories, but the blouse and skirt didn’t get as far as closures. You can’t tell of course, but safety pins are great sometimes. These two garments now live in the “need to be finished” section of my sewing list.
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One of the only back views. The blouse has neat collar details (see those cute points?) and neat cuff details you obviously can’t see. When I eventually finish the blouse and skirt I’ll post more details about their design and construction.

Despite last minute sewing for all of us, we all looked good and had fun wearing clothes from the 1910s while sharing a bit of important history with the public:

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Brown wool suit with fur trim.
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A wool plaid hobble skirt and jacket and a lovely black wool coat with fur collar.

The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the US, was ratified in 1920, after over 70 years of struggle. I think it’s fitting that Thanksgiving and women’s suffrage were related events for us ladies this year. In addition to many other things, we’re thankful for those who fought to get women the right to vote!

Product links in this post contain an affiliate code, which provides a small benefit to my shoe fund. This does not affect my impressions and reviews of this product.

National Museum of American History First Ladies Exhibition behind-the scenes video

This video is a behind-the-scences look at the creation of the First Ladies Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

It’s a really neat video! You get to see some insight into how the dresses and other pieces are displayed, how the dress forms that display them are created, as well as some great pictures of First Ladies and some very lovely dresses!

Of flounces and dance cards: Part II (Nahant Victorian Day 1860s Ball 2011)

Part II: …and dance cards

Dance Card from the Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011

Last post, I shared with you my latest 1860s gown: Annabelle. This gown just recently had its debut at the Nahant Victorian Day Ball hosted by Vintage Victorian.

This ball included the use of dance cards, a practice I am aware of but have never participated in. It turns out that they are much more complicated than one thinks they might be! Why are the so complicated?

Well, it all sounds quite glorious and sophisticated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “dance-card” as “a card bearing the names of (a woman’s) prospective dance partners at a dance.” In stories and books, a dance card is a memento one can keep so that after the ball is over she can muse about beaus and flirtations. Practically, a dance card might help a person remember who his or her next partner is, what kind of dance the next dance is, or allow a gentleman to ask for a dance later in the evening.

But wait! There are complications and confusions! Does everyone have a dance card, men and women? Does a person take off his or her gloves before writing in a dance card? (I attempted this both ways: it is quite challenging to write your name while wearing gloves…) Does one exchange dance cards with a prospective partner or ask the name of the person and write it herself? (It seems more effective to swap dance cards with your intended partner to allow for ease of spelling, etc. and, in a more romantic sense, so that you have that person’s handwriting in your dance card.) How does one attach the card to her wrist so that it doesn’t get lost? How does one attach the card to her wrist without the pencil sticking out (so that her white dress isn’t marked!)? Really, a lot of questions popped up that would not have made themselves apparent without practical application. Also, at least at this ball, not having a prearranged partner did not necessarily mean that you were not able to dance. I was able to dance most of the dances of the night, despite my somewhat empty dance card.

Interior of my Dance Card from the Nahant VIctorian Day Ball 2011

Below you can see a few historic dance card images and below that some images of the ball! If anyone has any research on the use or history of dance cards, please share. I’d love to learn more about the etiquette of dance card use!

1884 Dance Card
1912 Dance Card
I believe this dance is the Contradance: Hull's Victory. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)
A different view of the same dance as above.
The Grand March. (Nahant Victorian Day Ball 2011)
More Grand March.

Here’s a video of the Grand March in action!

Bolero jackets of the 20th century: 1900-1909

A few posts ago, we took a look at Bolero jackets from the mid-19th century. Let’s look at them  in another context: Boleros from the early 20th century, with a hint of information from the 1890s as well.

1904 Dress with Bolero

What exactly is a Bolero jacket? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A short jacket, coming barely to the waist; worn by men in Spain; applied to a similar garment worn  by women elsewhere, usually over a blouse or bodice.” This definition condenses the influence and origination of the Bolero down quite eloquently (of course, it is the job of the OED to eloquently distill all words down to a concise definition… but still, I do like this definition). The men’s style Spanish Bolero, with elaborate braiding and bright colors, influenced the style of women’s Boleros from the Victorian period. The following quotes from the OED provide more insight into the history of the Bolero (they also mention other styles of short jackets including the Zouave and the Eton).

“1892    Daily News 14 Nov. 6/3   The Zouave is as great a favourite as it has been for some seasons, and though it varies in form—being sometimes a bolero, sometimes a toreador, and sometimes a cross between an Eton jacket and a Zouave.
1893    Daily News 1 Apr. 2/4   The Zouave is quite as popular as it was last year.‥ Sometimes it is pure bolero.
1893    Lady 17 Aug. 178/1   Zouave Bodices are a feature of autumn gowns. (in the Zouave definition)
1899    Westm. Gaz. 6 July 3/2   Robbing the coat of its basque has created‥the bolero corsage, really an actual bodice, though appearing a bolero coat and skirt.”

The flared skirt and small waist silhouette of women’s clothing during the first decade of the 20th century was well suited to the style of Bolero jackets, as they could help to visually balance the figure by adding just a small amount of width across the chest and shoulders.  Here are a few Boleros from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One is silk velvet, elaborately trimmed. The other is lace. Can you imagine the dresses that would have accompanied these Boleros? Clearly, they were intended for different purposes. Perhaps the first was intended for evening wear and the second for an afternoon stroll or visiting friends?

c. 1905 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1905 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1907 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1907 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1907 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A waltzing Zouave?

In my last post (Returning Heroes 1860s Ball 2011) I mentioned that one of my favorite moments of the night was dancing a waltz with a Zouave. First of all, what is a Zouave? Secondly, why would I be dancing a waltz with one at at 1860s ball???

In the 1830s, the French military fighting in North Africa incorporated a tribe of fierce fighters into their ranks. These original soliders were renowned for their skills. In fact, in 1852 the French created three units of Zouaves to be entirely of Frenchmen. These French Zouaves achieved legendary status for themselves during the Crimean War (1854-1855). More detailed information about their involvement can be found in this history of Zouaves (this site also has some great pictures of Zouave regiments). The French Zouaves were quite inspirational to American forces during the American Civil War: both the Confederate and Union armies formed Zouave regiments who wore imitations of the French uniforms.

114th Pennsylvania Infantry (1861-1865)
Zouave Music Sheet 1850-1865

Now we know what a Zouave is. Why would I be dancing with one? Well, the idea of the Returning Heroes Ball is that “Gentlemen in uniforms of both sides of that great conflict are welcome.” So it is perfectly reasonable for a Zouave be dancing alongside the formally clothed men at the ball. Fun!

Returning Heroes 1860s Ball 2011

I was reminiscing recently and realized that I neglected to post about the Returning Heroes Ball hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers in March 2011! I had such a fantastic evening that I decided that late is better than never!

I have been dreaming of being in a room full of people all wearing crinolines and period menswear for years: the 1860s are my most favorite period! The night started out with all the ladies helping each other get dressed: lacing corsets, donning hoops and petticoats, fluffing skirts,  and securing bodices. Of course, it does take some time to get dressed, so while we were dressing the band was warming up and the men were standing around looking important and discussing… well, who knows what?

We were supposed to be using dance cards, but I was disappointed in that part of my dream as we wound up not using the dance cards that had been prepared. But that didn’t dampen my spirits for more than a minute or two, because the band started playing and we began to dance!

I have two favorite moments from the night: 1- dancing the Grand March in which every lady was wearing hoops (there was a lot of friction as well all spiraled around each other), the best part of which was joining in lines and progressing down the hall to “Dixie” and 2- dancing a waltz with a Zouave (see picture left).

Here’s a few more pictures (I should have taken more, but I was busy dancing!). I’ll just end with this video from the Returning Heroes Ball in 2007. It starts with a Grand March and starting at about 60 seconds “Dixie” is playing! Enjoy!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part I: Overview

My current historic sewing project is reproducing three tailor-made garments and their undergarments from the end of the 19th century. The project aims to show the development of women’s tailoring from the 1880s to the 1910s–essentially the turning point between a tailored dress and a suit.

Look 1: 1883.

This garment is characterized by its bustle. The bustle goes in and out of use, changing shape and size, throughout the 1870s and 1880s. In 1883 the bustle is at a point where I call it the “shelf bustle,” extending from the back at an almost ninety degree angle once being covered by the voluminous skirt layers. During the 1880s, in particular, “tailor-made” garments were fashionable, but these were essentially dresses, not suits.

Look 2: 1903.

This garment is characterized by its romantic figure, featuring “pigeon breast” blousing and gracefully flaring skirts. The foundation of this shape is the new corset design introduced at the turn of the century, augmented by extra padding at the bust and rear. Tailored looks of this period separated jackets from skirts, but still these do not qualify as suits.

Look 3: 1913.

This garment stands between the corseted Victorian woman of the 19th century and the independent, working woman of the 20th century. Just a few years after this the rigid corset disappears in favor of new, lighter undergarments such as brassieres, knickers, camisoles, and girdles. Clearly, this garment is a suit, not a dress, but its undergarments remain in the past where dresses, not suits, were what women wore.

More journal entries will be coming with more information about each look as well as updates on the actual construction of these garments. Stay tuned!

Sources of Images:

1883. http://www.digitalchangeling.com/sewing/periodResources/Delineator-July1883/

1903. http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam312/fashindx.html

1913. http://www2.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1910s_clothing_women.php