Friday, 19 February 2016

The Way We Wore: Extravagant Fashions

Madame de Pompadour: small hair

There are fashions that get more and more extreme until they vanish. Hair gets higher and higher, crinolines get wider and wider – but you wonder how people lived with some of these. A dance dress so long that you had to pick up the skirt and hold it over your arm?
Leg o’ mutton sleeves 1830s, 1890s, 1930s Sometimes called gigot sleeves - that's French for leg of mutton.

Big hair and hats 1910s These huge dos were constructed over pads made of the wearer's own hair. You kept the combings from your (waist-length) hair in a "hair-tidy", and made it into what were called "rats". Lovely!

Big hair 1770s The heroine of the novel Evelina describes having her hair curled and done up over a cushion that sat on the top of her head – and then covered with white powder. I don't know why this hairstyle is blamed on Madame de Pompadour.

Beehive hairdo 1960s Terrible tales were told of women who never took their hair down and ended up playing host to some six-legged friends. The same stories were told of ladies from the 18th century. Early 60s hairstyles were ludicrously labour-intensive - the setting on rollers, drying and then back-combing took hours. You wore a chiffon scarf over it to keep the rain off - anything heavier, like a hat, would have squashed it.

Crinolines reached new breadths in the 1860s.

Panniers 18th century They're called after the saddlebags you use on your bicycle (or horse or donkey). You end up with a skirt shaped like the back of a sofa.

Platform shoes 1970s (and 16th cent Venice). Groovy!

Corsets made waists smaller and smaller from the 1830s on (though tales of 19-inch waists are exaggerated, say fashion historians).

Miniskirts 1960s I know they’ve been back several times, but they've never been so short as they wre in the late 60s. You had to adopt a new way of sitting – knees together, feet apart. If you dropped anything you had to curtsey to pick it up again. And you couldn't bend over at all.

Trains Late 19th century You had to drape them over your arm when you danced. Sometimes they had a loop on the hem that you put your little finger through. You also had to cope with a reticule hanging from your wrist.

Stiletto heels and pointy toes 1960s, early 00s, 15th century.

Boys' shorts, or "short trousers" were originally teamed with thick wool stockings, and came down to the knee. In the 60s/70s, when hems rose and girls’ shorts became tiny, prep school boys’ shorts did too and the poor lads suffered from hypothermia.

Opera-length gloves In the late 1800s, shoulder-length kid gloves were worn with evening dress. At dinner, you removed the hand bit and tucked it into the arm bit. Their status was defined by the number of buttons.

Fontange: In the early 18th century, fashionable ladies wore a “fontange”, a lace and ribbon covered framework that stuck up from the top of the head. “Technically, fontanges are only part of the assembly, referring to the ribbon bows which support the frelange. The frelange was supported by a wire framework called a commode.” (Wikipedia) According to fashion historian James Laver, a later variation was to tilt the framework forwards like a unicorn’s horn. The whole shebang morphed into the mob cap, and as hairstyles expanded, so did the caps. Eventually the cap perched on top of an outrageous padded updo.

Did these offensively decadent fashions really exist during the French Revolution: a red string round the neck, and a hairstyle à la guillotine? Parisian women really did add straw to their coiffures, inspired by mad Ophelia in a visiting English production of Hamlet.

More clothes here.

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