Thursday, May 29, 2014

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

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

Or summery to a degree. Our darling dear in her walking dress is wearing full-length, lined sleeves and a high ruff around her collar, along with a "Persian mantle" -- fashion chat for a long shawl -- over the pelisse. Little white muslin summer dress with elbow-length or short sleeves this is not. It bears reminding that during these years Europe was a little colder than normal, and we can imagine that an English June might be a little on the cool and damp side.

As we are entering the halcyon days, the time of the beach novel, the silly season, watch out, because there's a bit in here about spices used in a really unusual way. Tell me whether you believe it or not. 

Please 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 May issue contains two articles, from pages 268 to 269. Here are the articles, transcribed below, with a few comments and thoughts in a Notes section beneath the transcription.



A pelisse of pale pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.


A frock of white crape, ornamented with white satin in a leaf pattern, the bottom of the dress trimmed with pale French roses and a plaiting of green and rose-colored ribband mixed; short bell sleeves; Persian fringed sash; long white kid gloves; stockings much embroidered; the hair plaited, and twisted with a double row of pearls.


Nothing can be a stronger proof that there is a way of setting off native beauty with ease and innocence, which will charm without the danger of turned outward ornaments into folly and extravagance, than the present mode of dress affords; never were ladies so simply attired, so divested of all the unnecessary trappings of finery, as at the present day, -- and when did they appear half so lovely, so attractive? Fashion is always aiming at perfection, but never finds it, or never stops where it should, otherwise this would be the precise point, when ease and elegance, nature and propriety, are all combined to contribute to the grace and loveliness of the female person.

We scarcely ever remember that in any season white was so universally prevailing as at the present; it is not exclusively confined to the under garb, for we have observed several pelisses, mantles, cloaks, tippets, and spensers innumerable in white sarsnet, trimmed with broad Mechlin lace; and for the higher order of the promenade nothing can be more elegantly bewitching, though scarcely more attractive, than the pelisse of a dark but bright green sarsnet unconfined, and negligently flowng back so as to display a high dress vying with the lily in whiteness, and worn with a cottage bonnet oif white chip, tied with white. Small sarsnet cloaks sloped to a point in front, and trimmed with broad black lace, are very prevailing, as are lace cloaks of a like form, with a small tippel of sarsnet worn underneath. Short sarsnet pelisses trimmed with lace, or long pelisses of the most transparent muslin lined with pale pink or blue sarsnet, spencers in muslin lined are likewise very general. Crape mantlets reaching only to the point of hte elbow, bound and trimmed with satin ribband, with satin turban caps ornamented with a long white willow feather, are elegantly appropriate for the evening select promenade. Within these few days gipsy hats have appeared, they are extremely becoming to a light airy figure: the slouched riding hats, with pointed rims in front, are much worn, but becoming too general, they have among a few select fashionables given place to the gipsy bonnets with dome crowns; but nothing can supersede the cottage bonnet, either in straw, chip, or satin, ornamented with a white ostrich feather; so long and so universally prevailing have they been, that a foreigner might suppose them a national bonnet.

Morning dresses are universally of white plain or stripe jacconots, made in the pelisse form, buttoned from the throat to the feet, with small raised buttons; the sleeve is gathered and set in to the cuff, clasped at the wrist with small gold snaps; the collar is ornamented with crimped ribband, crossed so as to form a diamond in the middle, and at the edges vandykes.

Dinner, or home dresses, are mostly of soft mull or cambric muslins, made square and rather high on the bosom, the backs plain, and sleeves short, trimmed with lace or ribband, and worn with small crape or embroidered muslin aprons, fancifully relieved with ribband; figured gauze, Opera nets, and sarsnets, are still worn by many elegant people; cambrics printed in small chintz patterns, trimmed with green ribband, and worn with a muslin apron trimmed with the same, have a most fascinating appearance, particularly when worn in the country; if we had not observed it on a lady of undoubted fashion, we might not have been led to suppose so, yet how bewitching this modest, this apparently unassuming mode of dress is, every one will be more or less able to determine; such are the recreations often of fanciful elegance.

For full, or evening dresses, crapes blended with satin, white sarsnet, and white figured gauzes, are the most approved; coloured bodies of sarsnet or satin, are likewise a pleasing relief to a petticoat of white crape or India muslin: the bosoms of the dresses are worn low and square, trimmed with broad Mechlin lace, set on rather full, or large white beads; the sleeves are made short, terminated with satin of a correspondent colour with the dress, cut bias, and laid in an easy fold; the bands are of the same, confined to the waist by a pin where least observed. Black and white lace dresses are too elegantly appropriated to have suffered any diminution of favour; lace or sarsnet tippets are still a requisite appendage to full dress. The head-dress is made flat to the head in the long Grecian form, with small raised fronts, and one or two ostrich feathers; beads are still a prevailing ornament placed much over the temples, and tassels suspended from one side; lace handkerchiefs are worn placed at the back of the head, and merely large enough to pin at the ear. Artificial flowers belong to a second order of dress, from whence too they are likely soon to be banished, not bearing the contrast of nature; flowers of stamped or camped satin and lace are now a more approved ornament for hats or caps. Feathers in every rank of dress are most esteemed by fashionable people. Crimped satin and ribbands are at present the rage, but nevertheless considered as less genteel than those of plain satin or sarsnet. Shot silks, except pale colours shot with white, have fallen quite into disrepute. Small trains are worn except for dancing. Short sleeves are universal. The waists maintain their length behind, but are something shorter in front. Some young ladies have appeared with their shoulders absolutely bared; if this be intended to charm, we would ask them if they are sensible of how much greater attraction they lose sight when they depart from that modesty (a breach of which no fashion or custom can sanction) which alone gives lustre to beauty in women; it is of itself so beautiful that it has a charm to hearts insensible of all others; an innocent modesty, a native simplicity of look, eclipses all the glaring splendours of art or dress; but how can such a look coincide with such a dress? In a word, it is a wantonness scarcely to be tolerated in an Indian slave market, much less in a Christian woman. Such exposures remind us of cheap fruit stripped of their husks, or rinds, in order to prove an incitement to purchasers.

The hair is now worn strained back from the side of the face, twisted behind, and brought round the head on one side and confined in full round curls, the front hair is curled in thick flat curls. Ornamental combs are not much worn; pearl wreaths are considered as remarkably elegant; many ladies have nothing on their heads.

In jewellery but little variation is observable at this season, rustic ornaments as usual prevail; necklaces and crosses of coral, amber, Indian spices, &c., worn long, prevail; pearls, diamonds, &c., in necklaces or any fancy devices, innumerable.

The prevailing colours for the season are yellow, deep green, blue, pink, lilac, and amber.


Ball dress. The ball dress in this month's plate, spelled "Parisien" in the French manner on the plate itself but in English in the text, has a dramatically low-cut vee back. The back neckline appears to nearly reach the back waist, and if it doesn't, really it still would appear to, courtesy the satin trim. We don't know for sure, of course, but it would not be surprising at all if the satin leaf shapes were simply cut in pairs out of a single layer of satin, and the edges perhaps painted with gum arabic to retard fraying, and tacked to the dress at the join between the two leaves. Can you imagine the leaves fluttering, the satin glimmering in candlelight, with every move of the dress? It's the epitome of summery dress, and it would be stunning too in a dress of light green, with darker Regency green leaves, blush or yellow roses and a matching sash. I do not know if the "Persian fringed sash" is Persian because of the fringe, Persian because anything Eastern is hot in 1811, or because the sash is of silk Persian, a light silk often used for linings. 

Ball headdress.
Ball headdress. The double row of pearls twisted on at the front hairline echoes the bumps created by the braided hair. What the text does not say is that the back hair is not only braided in multiple braids, one following the curve of the chignon, and several others crossing over the chignon, but that there are curled puffs added above the comb that holds the chignon and braids in place. The puffs could be the curled ends of the hair and braids pinned into puffs, but could also be achieved with little puffs of false hair pinned into place. Some of the braids could be false as well. The short front hair is allowed to curl in tiny, short curls, and the hair at the neck ditto. The comb is metal, perhaps pinchbeck or vermeil, and topped, typically, with pearls to match the pearls worn in the hair. The hair pearls were probably false glass pearls...sea pearls were incredibly expensive, and the comb pearls as well. This is an effective and elegant headdress, one of the prettier I've seen in 1811. It is funny that the general observations sections claims that decorative combs are not much worn, when the fashion plate is showing one. Beware of depending solely on either text or image when doing your research.

Basket hat. I suppose the basket moniker is due to the plaited openings in the side of what looks like a capote-style hat with a turned-up brim. To be perfectly honest with you, it really does look like the poor thing is wearing a basket, and I cannot pretend to like it. A simpler hat in felted wool would have been a better fit with the military trimming, to my mind, anyhow.

Beads. Still a thing. Now it's beads at the temples, strung like a diadem.

Bell sleeves.
Bell sleeves. If you look closely, these are not the boufy-poufy, stand-up-at-the-top-of-the-armscye sleeves of the later Regency, but sleeves that rise just a little at the shoulder (look at the lady's right arm -- there is some stiffness at the seam), but then bell out and fold under so the cuff, and there must be a cuff to hold that fold, is hidden.

Brandenburg trimmings. These are military-style trimmings, made in what is probably a silk cord, trimmed with silk-covered beads. Note that they could be brown or pink. The pink would have blended into the dress and looked rather quieter. Also note the belt, with pendant cords or ribbons, with beads dangling. Here are more echoes of the vandyking and pointed-edged draperies we have seen in earlier months.

Advertisement in Ackermann's for cambric.
Cambric. A fabric the was originally made of linen, but later made in cotton as well. Normally, but not always, woven in a plain (tabby) weave. Could be woven very tightly and of very fine threads. The Tradesman: Or Commercial Magazine, Volume 8, p. 187 says that fine cambric is used to make artificial flowers, and the more "imperceptible" the weave, the better the result mimics nature. In sales advertisements, cambric is often classed with lawn, which we know as another fine woven, but rather limp, fabric. It is also advertised along with lace. Since lace was expensive, especially before the advent of reams of manufactured lace, the fact that cambric was sold in the same shop and classed with it, puts good cambric in the category of a finer fabric. See for instance The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures..., (Ackermann's) Volume 5, 1818,  p. 314. (See also jacconots/jaconet, below.)

Colors. For this season we see summer colors: "colours for the season are yellow, deep green, blue, pink, lilac, and amber". However, if you plan to create a evening dress for spring 1811 -- what are the chances? -- and wish to use shot silk, it had better be white shot with a color.

Gold snaps. In reference to the closure on the cuffs of a morning dress. "(T)he sleeve is gathered and set in to the cuff, clasped at the wrist with small gold snaps". Snap closures, so far as I know, were invented early in the 20th century. I have never seen an extant dress with a closure of any sort of snap-like function. A mystery awaiting a solution!

Home dresses. "(C)ambrics printed in small chintz patterns, trimmed with green ribband, and worn with a muslin aprin trimmed with the same". Here is an example of a dress made in the small sprigged patterns we often associate with the Regency. However, what we moderns don't always conjure up is the addition of a muslin apron as an accessory. Neither did the author, who commented that if he hadn't seen a reliably fashionable lady wearing such an "unassuming" ensemble -- read normally worn for work and labor -- he wouldn't have thought it fashionable. Simple muslin aprons worn with little printed dresses were workaday fashion but could be considered chic when worn as country dress. We might have guessed as much, but it's good to see it in print.

Indian spice necklace. Yes, it's true, they existed. I take this extended quotation from The Gentleman's Magazine, 1802, p. 916, in an article titled "The Dress of the Ladies Medicinally Considered". It is the only other article, by the way, that I can locate which mentions this sort of necklace, though they seem to have had a rather long run for a fad, since they're mentioned in 1811.

But yet, Mr. Urban, the dear creatures do sometimes adopt such whims as one cannot help criticizing on a little; and a fashion has just come to my knowledge, which seems singular enough to merit a place in your miscellaneous annals of the times. This, Sir, is a species of NECKLACE made of common black pepper, or, as it is called in the language of the kitchen--all-spice. I really don't joke--you may see them in every shop; the all-spice is first boiled, then strung with beads alternately, and when cold the all-spice becomes hard as before--and necklaces of this composition at present adorn the fair necks, and are pendant from the fair bosoms, of our fair ladies.

Now, in the name of wonder, Mr. Urban, who invented this? or why, out of all the substances in the creation, animal, vegetable, or mineral, should all-spice be chosen for a purpose hiterto executed by diamonds, by pearls, and by artificial beads of a thousand beautiful hues? I have in vain questioned all the females of my acquaintance as to the origin and uses of this West Indian produce, taken from our broths and our soups to exalt female beauty; but I can get no answer, no rational account, why all-spice is preferred, or why grey pease would not have been full as becoming, and more patriotic as growing in our own lands...."

Why boil the berries? I suspect to allow a needle or awl to be pushed through to make the stringing hole. Would the berries have smelled nicely? Surely the women questioned would have told their listener if that were the case. It's a mystery and I am tempted to try out the experiment, and boil some of my allspice berries, and string them with some beads.

Jacconots (jaconet). A kind of muslin, relatively heavy compared to light fabrics like lawn. The Encyclopaedia Perthensis (1816), p. 160, categorizes it this way:

However, note that the encyclopedia ranks cambrics as heavier than lawn...while another source classes it with lawn. I suspect that there are several grades of the cambrics, and probably of jaconet, too.

Necklaces. Coral and amber are considered summery and "rustic". Interesting. So are "Indian spices". This makes me wonder if necklaces were strung with nutmegs? Still, I cannot help but wonder if I have misread or misunderstood the text...but no, it's true. See "Indian spice necklace". It's fascinating. By the way, the spice used is apparently from the Caribbean, the West Indies.

Persian mantle. What makes the mantle Persian? Methinks it's probably just to decorate the idea of the shawl, and no more, but the heavy gold fringe, which appears to be composed of gold-colored beads, does have an Eastern feel. Note that the beads play off the beads on the pelisse trim. The entire outfit is closely coordinated.

Tippets. Still in fashion...

Waistline. For evening dresses, waistlines are somewhat higher in front than in back. What a change from some years before, when the front was lower than the back. It's a fallacy to assume that the high waistline was at the same height all around. It makes putting on a sash rather a trick.

White. The author's chatter about how prevalent the color white is in 1811 strikes me as a little silly, since white had been so common a color for dress for the last thirty years, from when the Chemise a la Reine made its entrance before the French Revolution. However, if you choose not to skip the section after the first phrase, you realize that the author is focusing on white know, shawls and spencers and so on. Yes, this is different, for for the last age or so, and I am exaggerating, women had been wearing little white dresses with bright Eastern or faux-Eastern shawls, or contrasting spencers in silk or cotton or wool or lace, with colored boas and so on. Now the outerwear is white too. 

More than that, the layering effects we have seen in drapery this year are carried into peekaboo color effects, in which thin white fabrics on top allow colored linings to show. We've seen this is dresses, now it's popular in pelisses and spencers, too. This is a fashion sandbox in which costumers and reenactors haven't played much, and I wish they would try it out as a variation.


Kleidung um 1800 said...

Yes, the Indian spice (pepper) necklace sounds very intriguing...even more so with reading the article from the 'Dress of the Ladies Medicinally Considered', because it's a relief that people back then also questioned this latest (strange) fashion. Peppercorns are quite small, so I wonder how many laces it took to make a lovely necklace...what exactly might they have looked like?! Very intersting...really!


Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Sabine,
I think one part of the article said that the allspice berries worked as spacers between beads. I do really want to try this, too.