Thursday, May 08, 2014

Journal Journey into the Year 1811: La Belle Assemblée, April

This month's April La Belle Assemblée issue reports a month ahead, on May fashions in England.

Before we start, don't forget to read the London report from Ackerman's, and those from Weimar and Paris.

  • Sabine in Weimar: Journal des Luxus und der Moden
  • Alessandra in Paris: Journal des Dames et des Modes
  • Maggie, in London: Ackermann's
The April issue contains just three articles, from pages 212 to just the first lines of page 214. Thankfully, the author has -- thankfully -- chosen to keep his or her philosophical and moral thoughts to himself or herself, and our eyes and patience aren't tried by line after line about Lady Fashion's frivolity or milliners' and their client's grotesque taste.

Not that the writer wasn't on to something, because this month's general remarks include an endless sentence concerning headdresses worn for very dressy occasions that's so full of pearl twists, pearl tassels, wreaths, lappets, and thingies dangling at the temples that not only was I at a loss to find the period at the end of the sentence, but thought the entire paragraph an exhibition of grotesque over-dressing and waste. And nearly quit transcribing it.

Until I recalled the full dress fashion plate for this month, and that it's very pretty, even to modern eyes. Perhaps the turban will not please us all, of course, yet look at the silhouette, and the crisscrossings of colors and trims. Tell me that that isn't red carpet-worthy! Let Gwynneth Paltrow don that dress and she'd be on the best-dressed lists for 2014. Maybe even in the turban.

So, here are the articles transcribed below, with some notes and comments.





A robe and petticoat of white satin, with short sleeves, trimmed with green or yellow chenille; over which is worn a light green drapery of crape, fastened on the left shoulder with an amber or cornelian brooch; folded over the left side of the figure in front, nearly concealing the waist on that side; the hind part of the drapery is simply bound in at the bottom of the waist, and confined underneath the drapery in the front, entirely ornamented round with yellow chenille. With this dress is worn a Turkish turban of green crape, with trimming to correspond, with plume on the right side. The hair in small round curls, divided on the right side. Amber or cornelian necklace. Gloves of white kid. Shoes of white kid, or silk.


A complete suit of Pearl ornaments, invented and manufactured by Mr. J. H. Barlow. It certainly far surpasses any thing of the kind we ever remember to have seen. --- We understand it is this gentleman's intention to present the fashionable world with a succession of novelties every month; and, from the specimen given in this Number, we have no doubt he will meet with a patronage commensurate with his taste and ingenuity.


Notwithstanding that the weather has been in some measure ungenial, Fashion has now decidedly set out on her spring career, and with a spirit and emulation of novelty which promises the production of an infinite variety of all that can contribute to splendour, elegance, and gaiety.

For the out-door costume, short pelisses in sarsnet, trimmed with Mechlin lace, with lace capes, made to meet in front, and fitting the shape with the most minute exactness, confined to the waist with elastic bands, made on the same plan as the glove-tops were formerly, and fastened with cope de perle clasps; pelisses also in black or white lace, or soft mull muslins, lined with pale primrose or celestial blue sarsnets, are much approved. Spensers in muslin lined, or of sarsnet or white satin, are scarcely less esteemed by the fashionable fair: the lined muslin pelerines are much worn likewise by our more youthful belles. Mantles, extremely short, hard except the bounds of a large tippet, made to set plain on the back, and confined in to the waist behind, and lace cloaks with a small satin under tippet, so formed as to cover the neck and shoulders, which would otherwise be too much exposed to the sun and air, make up the list of the several varieties which we have to offer in this class of dress.

Hats in straw, nearly in the same forma as those worn by gentlemen, slouched, and the rims deep in front, trimmed with one or more ostrich features, the stalks of which are fastened into a small rosette of white satin ribband, or in satin finished with lace net, and raised from the face with a small bunch of primroses, blue bells, apple or other blossoms, with a large square black lace veil thrown over the head. Caps in the long Grecian form, brought very forward on the templates, raised above the ears, and projecting behind so as to admit the hair, and tapered in the form of a barrel, composed of lace and broad satin ribband either white or primrose. A new satin has been lately produced which has the appearance of being crimped small, or ribbed, this has a very pleasing effect when made up into bonnets, and is of the newest invention. It must not be forgotten that the deep lace veil has entirely superseded the small ones, and that the head dress, of whatever composed, must be made entirely flat on the head, so as to give the appearance of length, as we before observed in the Grecian form.

The parasols have also undergone some variation; in addition to the Chinese, or dome crowns, they are now vandyked at the edges, and these left unconfined are played by the air, and thus communicate a refreshing coolness which contributes not less to the beauty than the comfort of the lovely bearer; the sticks are of polished steel, which are so formed as to pull out to the length of a walking cane, or, on being compressed, into the length of a fan.

Morning and walking dresses are made high in the neck, with collars, in the form of a pelisse, buttoned from the throat to the feet with small raised buttons, much intermixed with lace; these dresses are deservedly much approved, as, in addition to their simple and graceful form, they possess all the convenience and answer every end of the pelisse, by the trifling addition of a silk pelerine or handkerchief; others are made high in the neck, without collars, in the Roman form; the skirts are made of one entire width of muslin, cut bias. These dresses are short, buttoned down the bosom, the skirt left unconfined, and trimmed entirely round with a pale lilac of primrose ribband, woven with a scallop at one edge only; the petticoat must correspond; and Roman sandals of white Morocco, should be worn with it. Striped muslins seem to be most admired. A cap fancifully formed at the back, the front made of a small half square of lace, the point falling lightly and negligently on the hair on one side [sic] the face, the opposite side raised above the ear by a small white satin ribband cockade, is the favourite head-dress of a military lady justly celebrated not less for her taste than rank and beauty; we think it stands unrivalled by any present mode of dress for its elegant simplicity, and is peculiarly calculated to give an air of elegant spirit to a delicate countenance.

For home, or dinner dresses, mull or striped muslins, plain sarsnets, Opera nets, figured gauzes, are the most appropriate; and the form either high in the neck, after the costume of the Romans, or low in the back, nearly stripped off the shoulders, and cut round and moderately high on the bosom. The small lace tippet, without a collar, is a pleasing apology for the handkerchief, which should not be too unceremoniously or indiscriminantly discarded.

In full or evening dress, the bosoms of the dresses are cut something lower, the back and shoulders, we are sorry to add, still more exposed, the sleeves are won invariable short and plain; the necks either trimmed with a simple chenille trimming, or beads; but if with lace, it must be Mechlin, and full two nails deep, set on full. White satin, pink jonquille, or lilac, when worn with a small antique lace, or Moravian worked apron, are highly esteemed; the stomacher of the apron should be fastened in the centre with a richly set ornament of either amethyst, emeralds, or pink topaz, with diamonds or pearls. Yellow crape over white satin, but if for candle-light, in order to be becoming, the yellow should be deep; white lace over lilac or primrose, with white figure gauze afford an elegant and appropriate variety for full dress. Silver or coloured foil wreathes; bands or twist of beds, terminating with large tassels on one side, either in beads or silver, and worn exceeding forward over the temple, but raised above the ears; a small lace handkerchief worn quite on the back of the head, brought under the chin, and confined at one ear by a knot of pearls, with two rows of beads twisted round the head, and worn forward on the face; a rich piece of joining lace thrown over the back of the head, and pendant like lappets, finished with pearl tassels, and handsome bead ornament over the forehead, or double row of large pearls terminating on one side with tassels of smaller pearls; long Grecian heads of white satin, with raised fronts, worn with one or two white ostrich feathers so placed as to fall much back, and white satin Highland caps with appropriate plumes, are all that we have observed worthy of communicating since our last.

Twilled silks are no longer even candidates for approbation, it is so generally allowed that they cast a shade over the complexion which make them extremely unbecoming. It is a singularity, however, worthy of remark, that, for this last fortnight our younger belles have declined the aid of any ornament whatever, neither necklace, earrings, brooches, bracelets, or even combs have appeared upon them.

The hair is worn dressed in full flat curls over the face, twisted behind, the ends brought forward and blended with the front hair.

In respect to jewellery, fancy necklances are by no means considered as elegant; plain strings of pearl, or rows of emeralds, amythests, garnets, diamonds, &c. continue to be alike worn; the earrings are still in the top and drop fashion, nor have we noticed any new device; brooches display all the taste of the jeweller in the formation of different flowers after nature; watches are still getting smaller, and pearl chains are advancing into favour.

The gloves are worn very short; the fans are increasing in size; trains are more laid aside through convenience than fashion.

The prevailing colours for the season are yellow, primrose, pink, lilac, straw, and blue celeste.

Feathers in full dress were never so universal.


Aprons. Oh, what an item, when clasped with gems! This month they're part of full dress: "White satin, pink jonquille, or lilac, when worn with a small antique lace, or Moravian worked apron, are highly esteemed; the stomacher of the apron should be fastened in the centre with a richly set ornament of either amethyst, emeralds, or pink topaz, with diamonds or pearls." The "Moravian worked apron" I thought at first must refer to colorful embroidery in stylized floral patterns, as so much of Moravian and Eastern European embroidery is. However, in the early nineteenth century England it turns out to refer to a form of fine whitework, which better suits an 1811 opera or evening gown anyhow. (Reference: Morris, Barbara J.  Victorian Embroidery: An Authoritative Guide. Dover Books, p. 169.

Chenille. Glad to see it's still popular. Here it's embroidered on the full dress gown in the fashion plate. In this case the designs are relatively straightforward: the dress drapery, and petticoat, are trimmed with a narrow band of chenille embroidery applied to what is probably a satin band, in the form of a wavy line (very Greek) in gold, with small leaflets growing out of each wave. The robe is trimmed with a complementary pattern of doubled wave patterns set to interwine into a series of connected ovals. Again, very Classical.  See previous months in this series for other occurrences and a definition.

Statue of a Roman woman, ca. 100–110 CE,
Glypothek, Munich. From Wikimedia Commons.
Drapery. This month's full dress fashion plate is dominated by what the writer terms a drapery. We heard about drapery last month, too, in the pretty blue-trimmed ball dress. Do you recall? In this ensemble, the drapery is both eye-catching and elegant. For the year 1811, such a year of experimentation, that's saying something. The drapery is really nothing more than a handsomely embroidered length of expensive fabric, artfully wrapped and pinned around the wearer much in the mode of the Roman palla, the signature garment of the antique Roman matron. The crape will have been a somewhat sheer silk, very popular so far this year for formal wear.

Robe. In this month's full dress fashion plate, the model wears a robe and petticoat combination, under a "drapery". It's a little bit hard to see how the robe is put together, but we know that the skirt portion crosses in front, is cut so that the fronts cut away down below the knees, with one side either pinned or tied at the waist quite far over onto the side of the waist. The bodice is tight, and extremely wide-cut, as was beginning to be the fashion, so that the shoulders are almost uncovered, and the sleeves tight. The shoulder straps must be almost strings in their narrowness. I can see that the dress would work well as a stomacher front, pinned at the shoulders, with two hidden bodice front pieces underneath that pin together as well, and give the bodice smoothness and shape.

Gracious, there's a great deal more to say, but this post is unseemly late, so it goes live as it is! The May issue is breathing down our collective necks :}


Jean | Delightful Repast said...

I don't care for that turban with plume at all. The plume looks like the foliage from my irises!

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Jean,
No spiky foliage in your coiffure? You do have a point :}

Very best,