Monday, March 14, 2011

A Springtime Ensemble from March 1795...and How Underskirts Could Be Worn

Plate 8, March 1795, Luxus.
"Eine junge teutche Dame in
Englischer Tracht."
I'm taking inspiration from a March 1795 fashion plate for my 2011 Jane Austen festival day ensemble. It's of a young lady wearing the latest in English daytime fashions. Given the styling, an English fashion writer would call this morning dress.

Let's hear the original writer, in Journal des Luxus und der Moden, describe this costume. Then let's have his -- for the writer is a him, not a her -- opinion on the matter of petticoats. Whether it's a rant or not, I will let you decide, but he does give us insight into the mysteries of what could be worn beneath one's dress.

First, the German in its original Fraktur typeface, from pp. 145-147:
* * den 14. Febr. 1795.
Hier haben Sie einen Englischen Damen-Anzug von andrer Art. Es ist, wie Sie sehen, kein grieschiches Hemd, sondern eine gewöhnliche Chemise von Mousselin, jedoch mit Englischer Taille gemacht, mit halb offnem Busem, unten eine schmale Falbala, hart unter dem Busem eine Schärpe von dunkelgrünem breiten Atlas-Bande, halbe Armel, mit kurzem Manschetten, und zweymal mit dunkelgrünem Bande gebunden. Um den Hals trägt meine Dame zwey Schnuren Crystall-Perlen, und die reichgelockte Frisur faßt ein breites Bandeau von wies und grünstreiftem Atlas, davon die mit silbernen Frangen besezten Enden hinten herunter hängen; und hinter demselben steigen an der linken Seite weiße and violette Schwungfedern empor.
Um zu wissen, wie denn nun eigentlich unsre Englische-grieschisch-teutschen Damen diesen modischen Conus aus sich formen, habe ich mich in die Mysterien der Toilette eins weihen lassen, und dadurch erfahren, daß der Unterrock hart über die Hüften, der zweyte Rock aber einer Hand breit über jenen weiter herauf unter die Brust gebunden wird, and dieß also bey schlank gewachsenen Figuren, wo die Natur dem Unter- und Ober-Rücke diesen nöthigen Zwischenraum giebt, das schön Abfliegende der Form macht. Bey kurzen gedrungenen Figuren aber, die, wie die Franzosen es nennen, mehr Carrure haben, und wo unglücklicherwiesse der Bund beyder Röcke auf einander fällt, giebt es freylich leider Unformen von der lächerlichsten Art. Indessen ich will billig seyn -- um mich mit dem schönen Geschlechte, um dessen Huld ich auch noch buhlen muss, nicht ganz zu entzweyen, und von ihm für einen misogynen Schuhu erklärt zu werden -- ich will billig seyn, sage ich, und beherzigen, daß die Göttin Mode von jeher neben einigen schönen Formen, eine weit grössere Menge Unformen an ihrem Altere sahe. Sezen Sie gegen einen modernen verunglückten Greischisch-Englischen Kegel die monströse Carrikatur eines weyland fransösischen ungeheurn Reifrocks under einer teutschen großen Hof-Robe, oder die steifgepolsterte, geleimte und gesteppte Glocken-Figur unsrer in Gott ruhenden Aeltermuetter, so weiß ich nicht, wem von ihnen der Vorzug in der Unform gebührt.
It translates to:
* * The 14th of February, 1795.
Here you have an English-style lady's ensemble of another style. It is, as you see, no Grecian tunic [Hemd, here rendered "shirt"], but a normal Chemise dress of Mousseline, however with an English waist [that is, a high waist], with half-open bosom, underneath a narrow flounce [Falbala], right under the bosom a sash of dark-green wide satin ribbon, half sleeves, with dark-green ribbons. Around the neck my lady wears two strands of crystal pearls, and the richly curled frisure is fastened with a wide Bandeau of white and green striped satin, from which a silver fringe-set ends hang behind; and behind the same rise upwards two white and violet ostrich feathers on the left side.

Here are some detail views of the plate. Note how full the bodice seems to have extra fabric and to NOT be pulled tightly to the chest, as would be the case a few years later. Chemise dresses retained some fullness, and when worn as a wrapfront, they might have been fuller yet. The Tidens Toj exhibit's bridal dress of this era, for instance, is quite full and rounded in the bust. (See Lauren of American duchess for one of several recent interpretations of that dress.)

The text mentions a flounce (Falbala), underneath, but I am not seeing it; instead I see a few dark lines. They are in the green color, but I strongly doubt a green underbodice, for in my experience the magazine clearly states when a garment of another color is worn underneath another garment.

I am going to check if Falbala can refer to a neckerchief, although normally the magazine refers to that as some sort of Tuch.


Details at the feet. Note the sweet frill. A few years later, bye-bye to those!

The fashion plate description ends here. In the paragraph directly following, the author continues.

In order to understand, how our English-Grecian-German women now model for themselves this modish Conus (Latin: cone shape), I have let myself be inducted into the mysteries of the Toilette, and through them find out, that the underskirt [Unterrock] [is tied] hard over the hips, the second skirt [Rock] is bound but a hands' breadth wide above farther upwards under the breast, and this too by slim figures, where Nature gives the under- and overskirts this important space, that makes the pretty "outflying" [outward moving shape] form. However, for short, compact figures, that, as the French call it, have more Carrure, and where unluckily the collar by the the skirts falls together, gives it sure enough an ill [malformed] shape of the most ridiculous kind. While I will be fair when talking about the pretty sex, to whose favor I must pay court, not profane, and from whom be taken for a misogynstic horned owl [Schuhu] -- I will be fair, I say, and take heed, that the Goddess of fashion has all along had [sahe --- I am guessing here] a few pretty shapes next to a much larger crowd of ill-shapes on her altar. Compare, you, a modern met-with-an-accident Grecian-English skittle silhouette against the monstrous caricature of the erstwhile French huge hoop skirt [Reifrocks] and a German Court-robe [Hof-Robe], or the stiff-quilted, glued, and stitched figure of our foremothers, now quiet in God, so I do not know, to whom the merit of the ill-shape is due.
My goodness! What a rip! How faux serious he is describing the current silhouette as a Conus, the Latin word for cone shape, most probably familiar to readers of the day in terms of geometry and the sciences. Later, another dig: he calls it a skittle silhouette. His main drift? It doesn't look good on most people. Not that he favors the "glued", "quilted" and "huge" fashions of the past; he can't seem to decide who or what is responsible for the current mal-shaped form now in fashion.

A Hint about Underskirts and Petticoats under Dresses

In amongst the rant, though, a gem of information: it appears that at least in Germany, the silhouette could be made by using two skirts. The underskirt, tied at the hips, pushes out the upper skirt, which is tied under the breast.

Now, here is where I do some guessing. In 1795 many ensembles, usually the more formal ones, were still composed of an open robe worn with a petticoat, with underskirts underneath that petticoat. Yet chemise dresses were very fashionable and were commonly reported in Luxus. Plus, the author is making these comments right after describing a chemise dress.

Therefore, I am going to hypothesize that the skirts he describes in his "mysteries of the Toilette" could both actually be worn beneath the the true underskirt, and the other atop that but still under the dress. During the mid 1790s and late 1790s, it was quite the thing in paintings and especially fashion plates to pull up a corner of the dress to show a pretty petticoat, or to allow it to show in a gap of the wrap dress. These petticoats were often embellished with embroidery, at least in the fashion plates.

Now to find further mentions of this sort of thing in Luxus and elsewhere! Tantalizing.

Why do I include the bit about under things? Because right now I am working on an Unterkleid, an underdress, and figuring out what other options women might also have had.


Anonymous said...


Jenni said...

Thank you, Natalie, for this translation. Did you happen to see the thread on S&S I posted in the help section about "bodiced petticoats"? The ladies thought it possible that bodiced petticoats didn't come into fashion until around 1800. Carol posted scans of very interesting articles about how children's fashions became what the adults wore, and that was when the bodiced petticoats became common. You should read it if you haven't already.

Kleidung um 1800 said...

Perfect! Your translation is truly amazing (I have honestly failed at the word "Schuhu" as I have never heard of it before, today we would use "komischer Kauz" (odd idiot) instead). And your detailed interpretation is even more fascinating! I'm sooooo looking forward to see the result of your studies transformed into a dress.

ZipZip said...

Dear folks,

Thank you!

Jenni, yes, I did read the thread about the use of bodiced petticoats in the mid-1790s under sheer dresses, and sent in a post with some evidence for underdresses circa 1798, and earlier...Eileen Ribeiro says they were a fashion in Spain throughout the decade, and I am wondering if some women wore them under earlier chemise dresses. More on that here in the blog later.

Sabine, thank you so much for saying the translation is good! That makes me really happy. I spend a lot of time on the translating. First I read the passage by itself to get a baic understanding and to train myself to think in German. Then I write it in English without use of a dictionary, then go back a third time and with the Beolingus
online dictionary to work on idiomatic phrases. Then go back a fourth time and use a 1788 German dictionary and early 19th century dictionary to go after archaic terms and idioms. Then, I go back a fifth time and rewrite the passage in smoother English, on the computer. Finally, I write out the German version on the computer. So that's six rounds of work per passage. Phew. It's a good thing it's fun!

Very best,