The Longchamp Racecourse and Fashion Promenade

Attracting enormous crowds, by the late 1800s, the Longchamp Racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris had become one of the most fashionable public venues in France.

Spectating at the races was an immensely popular and socially prestigious pastime.

A place to see and be seen, Longchamp was like a giant stage to vaunt one’s social position.

The Races at Longchamps from the Grandstand by Giuseppe de Nittis, 1883

Attended by Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie, who sailed down the Seine River on their private yacht to catch the third race, Longchamp Racecourse opened to the public on Sunday, April 27, 1857.

Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie
Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie

And it wouldn’t only be French Royalty who loved Longchamps—King Edward VII of Great Britain attended too.

The King's carriage leaving Longchamps with French Prime Minister Loubet and British King Edward VII, 1903.
The King’s carriage leaving Longchamps with French Prime Minister Loubet and British King Edward VII, 1903.

Enclosures were reserved for aristocrats and the well-connected and ladies were required to be escorted by a gentleman in order to enter.

The Races At Longchamp In 1874 by Pierre Gavarni (1846 - 1932)
The Races At Longchamp In 1874 by Pierre Gavarni (1846 – 1932)

But grabbing the spotlight was a new class of celebrity: the demimonde.

Supported by wealthy lovers, these were women on the fringes of respectable society.

The Races at Longchamp by Jean-Louis Forain, 1891
The Races at Longchamp by Jean-Louis Forain, 1891

Arriving alone, demimondaine were forbidden access to the enclosures but were as much of a spectacle as the races themselves.

Mixing with society women, they often shared the same couturier but appeared a little more chic.

1908 Longchamp

Attending the Longchamp races as the mistress of wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan was a young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Although she didn’t quite fit the mold of a typical demimondaine, Gabrielle appeared in the loose, simple dress that would later influence an entire generation of “flappers” during the Roaring Twenties.

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel

Paris had become the fashion capital of the world and it wasn’t long before designers realized that Longchamp was a goldmine.

Fashion houses outfitted models with their finest clothes, sending them to the races to show off the latest styles.

Ladies at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, Paris 1908
Ladies at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, Paris 1908

Join us as we travel back in time to the Longchamp Races from 1907 to 1935—a time of elegance and flamboyance that may never be repeated.

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1908 Longchamp
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Edwardian Photoblogging

Kensington and Chelsea Libraries in London, England, uncovered a series of images suggesting that the Edwardians might have been the world’s first photobloggers.

Amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne (1844 – 1910) was the chief cartoonist for the British satirical magazine “Punch” which was first published in 1841.

He captured a slice of Edwardian life in these amazing candid photographs.

Read more …

Young women walking to work in London; ladies and families strolling the boulevards of Paris; couples crossing the English Channel on steamships; friends enjoying the beaches of Kent and Ostende; and housemaids hard at work cleaning the steps to plush city townhomes.

Continuing the long, elegant lines of the late Victorian period, the Edwardian era was a time of transition in women’s fashion.

It would be the last time women would wear corsets in everyday life.

And as these images show, women were enjoying a new level of freedom from the rigid conventions of heavy ankle-length Victorian gowns and bustles.

Embracing leisure sports, the upper-classes drove rapid developments in more mobile, flexible clothing styles made of lightweight fabrics for more active lifestyles.

Women’s fashion would never look back.

“however far politicians were to put the clocks back in other steeples in the years after the war, no one ever put the lost inches back on the hems of women’s skirts.”

Oxford University historian Arthur Marwick.

As Oxford University historian Arthur Marwick (1936 – 2006) noted, “for, however far politicians were to put the clocks back in other steeples in the years after the war, no one ever put the lost inches back on the hems of women’s skirts.”

Sambourne’s hobby gave us glimpses into a past that looks oddly familiar.

It was 1905.

What is this woman thinking as she walks to work?

She had similar worries to most of us today—a to-do list as long as your arm, what to make for dinner, helping her little sister with her homework, whether to accept the advances of a work colleague who seemed like a true gentleman …

Apart from her hat, the practicality and style of her clothing wouldn’t change much for decades to come.

A young woman in Cromwell Road, London on July 12, 1905 in a stylish striped shirt with a belt and an ankle-length skirt

Think the Internet generation was the first to truly embrace mobile multi-tasking? Glued to a book on the walk to work in London, this woman reminds us of how much we rely on mobile devices today.

A woman in a formal white dress with black handbag walks along the street in Kensington on June 15, 1908
A woman in a formal white dress with black handbag walks along the street in Kensington on June 15, 1908
A woman in a formal white dress with black handbag walks along the street in Kensington on June 15, 1908
A woman in a formal white dress with black handbag walks along the street in Kensington on June 15, 1908

No need to look where we’re going—other people will simply adapt and move around us. As long as we don’t walk into a lamppost, we’re good to go.

This woman is a shop salesperson, walking along Kensington Church Street, on September 8, 1906
This woman is a shop salesperson, walking along Kensington Church Street, on September 8, 1906

Big hats with giant bows and cycling may not go together well today, but Edwardians made it work. Cycling was in vogue as the way to get around, but to be without one’s hat was sacrilegious.

Hats could be hazardous to one's cycling, 1908
Hats could be hazardous to one’s cycling, 1908
Two women engaged in conversation as they walk, 1908
Two women engaged in conversation as they walk, 1908

Sambourne used a concealed camera to capture candid moments. But it looks like this woman has an inkling that something is going on.

Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me, 1908
Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me, 1908

Few things in the Edwardian era were worse than being out-hatted. One had to keep a close eye on the competition.

On the lookout for photographers, 1908
On the lookout for photographers, 1908

Edwardians too had to suffer the inescapable feeling of incredulity at the various scandals of politicians and celebrities.

Shocking news
Shocking news

Imagine this woman is checking her iPhone. The little dog doesn’t seem too impressed.

A young woman carrying something. Can't be an iPhone, can it
A young woman carrying something. Can’t be an iPhone, can it
Two women talking carrying books, 1908
Two women talking carrying books, 1908
You've been spotted again, Mr Photoblogger. Kensington, 1906
You’ve been spotted again, Mr Photoblogger. Kensington, 1906
You've been spotted again, Mr Photoblogger. Kensington, 1906
You’ve been spotted again, Mr Photoblogger. Kensington, 1906
Escorting the boys down tree-lined Cromwell Road
Escorting the boys down tree-lined Cromwell Road.
The wonderful thing about candid photography is capturing people smiling, which they didn't do for portraits, 1907
The wonderful thing about candid photography is capturing people smiling, which they didn’t do for portraits, 1907

More freedom of movement in Edwardian clothing allowed these women to put their best foot forward.

The brisker the walk, the better
The brisker the walk, the better

Be careful! Having a good sense of balance was important for wearing an Edwardian hat.

A young woman on Kensington High Street with horse-drawn buses in the background
A little more formally attired, 1906
A little more formally attired, 1906

Whistle while you walk to school with Mother. A charming picture of a happy moment in time, captured forever.

The wonderful thjg about candid photography is capturing people smiling, which they didn't do for portraits, 1907
The wonderful thjg about candid photography is capturing people smiling, which they didn’t do for portraits, 1907
Putting your best foot forward, 1906
Putting your best foot forward, 1906

Confidence. Perhaps for the first time in history, Edwardian women were free to project confidence and begin determining their own future.

Enhanced and colorized brings a little more life

We move to Paris, France. Higher hemlines were a feature of Edwardian skirts that afforded women greater freedom of movement, but at least one of these ladies prefers to lift her skirt to clear the puddles just in case.

Three women walk the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 1906

Arm-in-arm. What could be more perfect than an afternoon stroll around the Tuileries Garden in Paris?

A group of young women and children walking in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906
A group of young women and children walking in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906

Black mourning dress worn for months or years was a convention carried over from the Victorian era and still widely practiced.

Two ladies in mourning dress, Paris, 1906
Two ladies in mourning dress, Paris, 1906
A fashionable woman in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906
A fashionable woman in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906
Two ladies climb the steps to Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1906
Two ladies climb the steps to Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1906
A parasol looks the part on the Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 1906
A parasol looks the part on the Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 1906

Notice the wheels on the horse-drawn cab. Inspired by the wheels of bicycles? These were interesting times—a transition from horses to automobiles was underway.

Paris in the Spring, 1906
Coming down the steps to Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1906
Coming down the steps to Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1906

Time to see and be seen at the Place du Louvres.

Fashionable Parisians at Place du Louvres, Paris, 1906
Fashionable Parisians at Place du Louvres, Paris, 1906
Crossing the boulevard, Paris, 1906
A family walking in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906
A family walking in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1906

A brisk breeze, sea air, and steam power.

This lady is aboard a steamer—a ship propelled by steam—crossing the English Channel to visit Ostende in Belgium.

Invented by Victorians, the steamship enabled the upper classes to see the world and as prices fell, the middle class were able to enjoy the occasional weekend getaway.

On board a steamer ship to Ostende, Belgium, 1906
On board a steamer ship to Ostende, Belgium, 1906
Best to wrap up warm for the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906
Best to wrap up warm for the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906

Looks like this woman found a nice spot on the ship that was sheltered from the wind.

A respite from the wind on the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906
A respite from the wind on the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906
Best to wrap up warm for the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906
Best to wrap up warm for the bracing trip across the English Channel, 1906

Hitting the beach in Edwardian times was a very formal affair.

Getting a tan was still many decades away from becoming a fashionable or even desirous thing.

On the beach in Ostende, Belgium, 1906
On the beach in Ostende, Belgium, 1906
Dressing for he occasion. Beachwear, 1906
Dressing for he occasion. Beachwear, 1906

Hidden from gazing eyes, this woman enters a Victorian bathing machine to change out of her modesty.

Better get inside the bathing machine to change out of my modesty
Better get inside the bathing machine to change out of my modesty

Hats and coats against the wind.

No weather could prevent one wearing one’s hat.

That sea breeze can be quite bracing. Folkestone, Kent, 1906
That sea breeze can be quite bracing. Folkestone, Kent, 1906

Hold onto your hats, ladies!

Hold onto your hats! Holidaying in Folkestone, Kent, 1906
Hold onto your hats! Holidaying in Folkestone, Kent, 1906
You didn't see Dad anywhere, did you. Folkestone, Kent, 1906
You didn’t see Dad anywhere, did you. Folkestone, Kent, 1906

How do we get rid of that pesky photographer, Mr Sambourne?

How about we ask him to fetch a bucket of water and a brush and help us clean the steps!

You going to just stand there watching or fetch me some more water

And he’s off …

Thought that would do the trick.

Bye bye Mr Sambourne, and thank you for this incredible journey into the Edwardian era.

One step at a time. The tedious job of cleaning the porch steps, 1906
One step at a time. The tedious job of cleaning the porch steps, 1906

Vintage Baby Carriages of Bygone Times

The year was 1847 and Queen Victoria was pregnant with her 6th child, Princess Louise.

Hearing about a new type of baby carriage with three wheels which was pushed from behind, she couldn’t wait to see one.

“Albert!” she hollered, “come along, we’re off to the city to buy a pram”.

“A pram?” inquired Albert.

“Yes, yes, it’s a new type of carriage for our babies—you’ll love it!”

“Love it? repeated Albert.

“Yes, of course!” exclaimed the queen. “You know how you love inventions—well, this is one where the babies sit and you push”.

“I see”, said Albert, realizing what was coming …

An 1847 stroller from the John Leech Archives

Prams or perambulators date back to around 1733 when the Duke of Devonshire asked English architect and furniture designer William Kent to make a carriage for his children to keep them amused while they played in the grounds of Chatsworth House.

Equipped with a harness for a goat or small pony, Kent’s shell-shaped basket-on-wheels even had springs so that children could ride in comfort.

William Kent's Baby Carriage, c. 1733. Credit Studiolum
William Kent’s Baby Carriage, c. 1733. Credit Studiolum

Riding in goat-powered carts wasn’t new—children had been enjoying that since the early 17th century.

Three Children with a Goat Cart by Frans Hals, c. 1620
Three Children with a Goat Cart by Frans Hals, c. 1620

And it was still fashionable by 1890, as the grandchildren of the 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, would attest.

Major Russell Harrison and Harrison children outside the White House, 1890
Major Russell Harrison and Harrison children outside the White House, 1890

But what Kent’s design did was to inspire an entire industry of baby carriage manufacture during the Victorian era.

Starting out as three-wheeled versions that were typically pulled along by a Nanny, a later innovation allowed prams to be pushed, making it easier to keep an eye on the baby’s welfare.

Portrait of Henri Valpinçon as a child with governess by Edgar Degas
Portrait of Henri Valpinçon as a child with governess by Edgar Degas
Pram with three wheels from the period 1840-1850. Credit Antieke kinderwagen
Pram with three wheels from the period 1840-1850. Credit Antieke kinderwagen
The Champs-Elysees, view on the Arc de Triomphe by Francesco Miralles Galup (1848-1901)
The Champs-Elysees, view on the Arc de Triomphe by Francesco Miralles Galup (1848-1901)

Arriving from France, the wickerwork “Bassinet” style of pram allowed the infant to lie flat within a basket on a wheeled frame.

Pram with mattress and blanket that could be pushed or pulled c. 1866
Pram with mattress and blanket that could be pushed or pulled c. 1866

Royal patronage helped launch a fashionable craze among the well-heeled all over Europe and the United States.

So popular were prams in London by 1855 that the Rev. Benjamin Armstrong from rural Norfolk noted in his diary:

The streets are full of perambulators, a baby carriage quite new to me, whereby children are propelled by the nurse pushing instead of pulling the carriage.

Built of wood or wicker and held together with expensive brass joints, baby carriages were sometimes heavily ornamented works of art.

Pram design in manufacture from around 1858 - 1907. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around 1858 – 1907. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around from 1882 until 1919. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Pram design in manufacture from around from 1882 until 1919. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury), Samuel Uhrdin
Promenade Baby Carriage, c. 1890. Credit Geolina163
Promenade Baby Carriage, c. 1890. Credit Geolina163

Patents for new innovations were registered on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1899, African American William H. Richardson patented a design for a reversible baby carriage, allowing the baby to face either forward or toward the person pushing the carriage.

US Patent for a reversible child's carriage
US Patent for a reversible child’s carriage

By the late Victorian era, many more people could afford a baby carriage and new coach-built luxury models came onto the market named after royalty—Princess and Duchess being popular names, as well as Balmoral and Windsor.

c. 1880s. An early wooden-bodied coach-built pram made by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross
c. 1880s. An early wooden-bodied coach-built pram made by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross

The Edwardians made perambulator design a fine art with elaborate decoration, improved maneuverability, rubber tyres, and protection from the elements.

1905 British Perambulator. Metal and wood frame, with leathercloth upholstery and reed-work decoration. V&A Museum
1905 British Perambulator. Metal and wood frame, with leathercloth upholstery and reed-work decoration. V&A Museum

And of course, babies were the big beneficiaries of all this innovation. Peekaboo!

Woman, holding umbrella, pushing baby in carriage equipped with rain cover
Woman, holding umbrella, pushing baby in carriage equipped with rain cover
Stroller used by the children of Crown Prince Gustaf Vi of Sweden. (Manufactured by Hitchings Ltd London. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury)
Stroller used by the children of Crown Prince Gustaf Vi of Sweden. (Manufactured by Hitchings Ltd London. Credit Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury)

It was definitely a baby’s world—even royal babies loved their pram rides to the park.

With a commanding position to see all the sites and a comfortable ride with someone else doing all the work, what’s not to love?

Two children of the Crown Prince of Prussia, 1907
Two children of the Crown Prince of Prussia, 1907

Waiting on them hand and foot, some siblings would go to great lengths to ensure the baby was as comfortable as possible.

c 1901. Sibling making adjustments to a pram's sun shade
c 1901. Sibling making adjustments to a pram’s sun shade

For the wealthier families, it was the Nanny’s responsibility to look after the children while the parents attended the many parties and functions on their busy social calendars.

1900. Child and Nanny walk in the Eilenriede Forest Park, Hanover
1900. Child and Nanny walk in the Eilenriede Forest Park, Hanover
1910. A pram ride in the French countryside
1910. A pram ride in the French countryside
1917. Children with their Nanny on the Paseo de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain
1917. Children with their Nanny on the Paseo de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain

Mothers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want a nanny could spend some quality time with their baby dressing them for an enjoyable pram outing.

Woman and infant posed with a baby carriage, 1913
Woman and infant posed with a baby carriage, 1913

Admiring glances and polite conversation from passers-by would be all part of the fun of owning a perambulator.

1913 Perambulator. Meissen, Germany
1913 Perambulator. Meissen, Germany

Top down, wind in the hair. Nothing quite like it.

1914. Baby Charmain, aged 7 months seated in an elaborate cane pram
1914. Baby Charmain, aged 7 months seated in an elaborate cane pram

Even fathers started to take an interest, but generally only those working in zoos.

Baby gorilla in a pram, 1917
Baby gorilla in a pram, 1917

With the arrival of the 1920s, new technology provided a way of helping to keep babies quiet—namely Radio.

Pram provided with a radio, including antenna and loudspeaker, to keep the baby quiet. United States, 1921
Pram provided with a radio, including antenna and loudspeaker, to keep the baby quiet. United States, 1921

And for the first time, babies in prams became movie stars.

The baby in the pram falling down the 'Odessa Steps' from the movie 'The Battleship Potemkin', 1925
The baby in the pram falling down the ‘Odessa Steps’ from the movie ‘The Battleship Potemkin’, 1925

Along came the 1930s and prams took on some design cues from automobiles, with shiny fenders, sports wheels, and even windows.

Baby carriage, Hungary, 1939
Baby carriage, Hungary, 1939
1930s German perambulator. Wickerwork with hardboard, wood, chromium plated metal, rubber composition. V&A museum
1930s German perambulator. Wickerwork with hardboard, wood, chromium plated metal, rubber composition. V&A museum

We’re only human and so you never know when we’ll be at war again. Best to be prepared with a gas-proof pram.

1938. Gas war resistant pram. Kent, England
1938. Gas war resistant pram. Kent, England

Fasten your seatbelts for the 1950s!

New lightweight convertible sports and luxury models entered the market.

1953 Baby Carriage. Credit Fortepan
1953 Baby Carriage. Credit Fortepan

“Mom, I think we left them for dust.”

A toddler in a lightweight sports pram, 1959
A toddler in a lightweight sports pram, 1959

Companies like A & F Saward and Silver Cross started building custom-made prams in the 1950s that were—and still are—the choice of British royalty.

1959 Baby's Royale pram made in England by A & F Saward. V&A museum
1959 Baby’s Royale pram made in England by A & F Saward. V&A museum
A period pram advertisement from the 1950s, produced by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross, portraying the classic British nanny and a Silver Cross coach-built pram
A period pram advertisement from the 1950s, produced by British pram manufacturer Silver Cross, portraying the classic British nanny and a Silver Cross coach-built pram
Modern Silver Cross Balmoral Coach-Built Pram wit a vintage style
Modern Silver Cross Balmoral Coach-Built Pram wit a vintage style


Women’s Fashions of the Late Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era, advances in technology and distribution saw fashion change from an exclusive privilege of the wealthy elites to something that could be enjoyed by ordinary people.

The Industrial Revolution inspired a flowering of creativity in architecture, literature, and decorative and visual arts, all playing a part in influencing the latest fashions.

Changing attitudes to traditional gender roles and the rising middle class meant that by the late Victorian Era, a new age of mass consumerism had begun.

Unlike earlier centuries, when it was commonplace for women to help with the family business, Victorians thought a woman’s place was in the home.

1885 Fashion plate
1885 Fashion plate

Victorian fashion wasn’t utilitarian, it was an expression of position in society.

1888 Fashion Plate
1888 Fashion Plate

The upper class wore clothes adorned with embroideries and trims; the middle class, less extravagant; and the working class, whatever they could afford.

Depicted in this painting is a middle-class woman showing off her newly purchased bonnet at her sister’s modest home.

The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876
The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876

Casting off the shackles of crinolines of the 1850s and 1860s, the late Victorian era saw several innovations to bring more practicality and mobility to fashion whilst maintaining the volume of fabric.

Introduced in the late 1860s, the bustle was a framework used to expand and support the fullness of a woman’s dress at the back, leaving the front and sides flatter for ease of movement.

Reaching its greatest extension by the mid-1880s, it was popularly boasted that the cantilevers of bustles could support an entire tea service.

1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum
1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum

With women becoming more involved in activities outside the home, fashion designers made changes to suit.

Skirts were given more ground clearance and trains were made simpler, stronger and dragged less on the ground while keeping the same overall form.

1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum
1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum

Abandoned by the 1890s, the bustle evolved into skirts with a much more subtle flow from the wearer’s thin corsetted waist.

Necklines were high, while sleeve size increased.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

Becoming bell-shaped, dresses were made to fit tighter around the hip area.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

While sleeves and bodices initially peaked at the shoulders, size would increase considerably.

1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen
1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen

Beginning in the mid-1890s, exaggerated “leg o’mutton” sleeves grew in size until disappearing in about 1906.

1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1895 Dress. French. Silk
1895 Dress. French. Silk

Skirts started to take on a graceful, curved, “A-line silhouette”.

1897 Gown. House of Worth
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum

A glittering extravaganza, the neoclassical motifs in the below dress add a texture and lighting effect to stand out at a formal ball.

1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum
1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum

Changing attitudes about acceptable activities for women also made sportswear popular, particularly for bicycling and tennis.

Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
A june Afternoon by A. B. Frost, 1898
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885

Although introduced much earlier, the riding habit became more practical, with a much simpler, more formal appearance.

Void of embellishments, it was made of tough woolen fabric in a single dark colour and worn with matching hat and veil.

1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Crucial to a respectable appearance were hats and gloves—to be seen bareheaded was simply improper.

1899 Millinery Print. France
1899 Millinery Print. France

Dozens of fanciful designs provided women with almost endless choice.

Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier
Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier

Women who wanted a more modest appearance often preferred bonnets but they became associated with a matronly appearance.

The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
Broadway stage performer and singer, Anna Held

Straw hats were essential summer wear for outdoor activities like croquet.

1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890

The widening of hats towards the end of the 19th century hinted at the enormous hats that were to follow during the Edwardian era.

A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895
A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895

The late 1890s returned to the tighter sleeves often with small puffs or ruffles capping the shoulder but fitted to the wrist.

1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation
1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation

Indispensable accessories for the Victorian lady, parasols of the late Victorian era were exuberant and lace-covered with extremely fine handle detail.

Here, the bright colours indicative of the French touch on the left contrast with the black parasol for mourning.

1895 - 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum
1895 – 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum

From the 1870s to the twentieth century, women’s shoes changed to include higher heels and more pointed toes.

Low-cut pumps were worn for the evening.

Ankle-length laced or buttoned boots were also popular.

Woman's Bar Shoes, 1898
Woman’s Bar Shoes, 1898
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1890 Eveing boots. French. Silk, metla. metmuseum
1890 Evening boots. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1892 Pair of Woman’s Bar Shoes (Wedding). Suede, sueded leather, silk gauze, silk satin
1895 Women's Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls
1895 Women’s Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls

Those of the upper class who were invited to attend the royal courts of Europe would wear something altogether more extravagant and reminiscent of the 18th century.

As the wife of Washington Augustus Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, Emily Warren Roebling ran the day-to-day supervision of the project for a period of fourteen years after husband became ill.

She wore this gown for her formal presentation to Queen Victoria in 1896.

1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather
1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather

Presentation at court was a special event for American women of Roebling’s social status and court protocol dictated the attire.

Lavishly embroidered, the sumptuous textiles and long train are characteristics of a formal gown appropriate for the occasion.

Originally intended to be worn at home for afternoon tea with family and friends, by the late 1900s, tea gowns were worn through the evening for dinner and other events.

Although just as elegant as formal wear, tea gowns were worn without corsets or assistance from a maid.

Comfortable and relaxing, they would be harbingers of things to come.

1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum
1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum

By the close of the Victorian era, women were liberated from tight-laced corsets, restrictive layers of crinolined or bustled fabric, and society’s expectation of a woman’s role.

1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum
1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum

There was a new woman in town and she was more confident, self-assured, and ready to meet her true potential than ever before.

No longer were women seen as either “fragile” or “voluptuous” as portrayed in earlier decades, but athletic, emancipated, and ready to enter the workforce.

Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898
Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898

She was the Gibson Girl, and she would fight for the right to vote in the 20th century.

Belle of the Ball: A 5-Minute Guide to Ball Gowns

Delicately and exotically trimmed, and made of luxurious fabrics, ball gowns are the most formal female attire for social occasions.

Trimmed with lace, pearls, sequins, embroidery, ruffles and ruching, the most common fabrics are satin, silk, taffeta and velvet.

Cut off the shoulder with decollete necklines, the ball gown shape hasn’t changed much since the mid-19th century.

Too Early by James Tissot, 1873
Too Early by James Tissot, 1873
Aristocrats gathering around Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause, 1900
Aristocrats gathering around Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause, 1900

The Regency Era

During the Regency era, ball gowns had the Empire silhouette, with a high waistline, short sleeves, and a fairly narrow skirt.

1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum

Widely adopted after the French Revolution, the neoclassic style originated from “chitons”—tubular garments of Ancient Greece that were draped over the shoulder and held in place with a brooch.

Drawing inspiration from the artistic notions of the Renaissance, the puffed sleeves resembled 16th-century “slashing”—a decorative technique of making small cuts on the outer fabric to reveal a brightly colored lining.

1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA

Embellished with gold thread or sparkling beads, these lavish gowns glittered in the candlelight of the dance hall.

Creating a soft dreamy look, the thin, gauzy materials were cooler to wear on the crowded dance floor.

1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victorian Era

In the Victorian era, skirts began to widen.

Layer upon layer of petticoats would provide the desired fullness but were hot and heavy to wear.

Undergarment frameworks called crinolines were developed to provide the flared look without the weight.

1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

Inspired by the court of Charles II, this next ball gown was the most glamorous of all of Queen Victoria’s surviving clothes.

The rich brocade of the underskirt was woven in Benares, India.

A copy of seventeenth-century Venetian raised-point needle lace, the berthe (fichu) was likely made in Ireland and perhaps acquired at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum

Crinolines remained popular throughout the 1850s and 1860s, reaching a circumference of up to six yards.

1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum

Beginning in the 1870s, a narrower silhouette came into vogue, and more attention was focused on the back of the skirt.

Trains would be drawn up behind the dress and fastened into a “bustle”.

1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum

By the end of the 19th century, bustles had fallen out of favour and skirts took on a simple bell-like appearance.

1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1900 Ball gown. French. House of Worth. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Ball gown. French. House of Worth. Silk. metmuseum

The Edwardian Era

In the Edwardian era, women’s ball gowns followed the distinctive “S-curve” silhouette.

1908 Ball gown. American. Cotton, linen, silk. metmuseum

Standing out from the crowd at a ball was a challenge even for the most well-heeled.

Densely sequined and beaded, this next gown worn by a member of the Astor family would have shimmered beautifully on the dance floor.

1910 Ball Gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1910 Ball Gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1908 Ball gown. American. Silk, cotton, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1908 Ball gown. American. Silk, cotton, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum

The Roaring Twenties and Beyond

During the 1920s, hemlines rose and decorations became more showy.

After the horrors of World War One, people wanted to let their hair down.

Women found a new sense of liberation from the traditional expectations of their role in society.

Donning daring knee-length dresses, they flouted social and sexual norms—some becoming known by the pejorative term “flappers”.

Formalities would take a back seat for a decade, but the dresses still glittered with glamour.

1920s Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1920s Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1921 Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
1921 Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

Every party eventually comes to an end.

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to the 1930’s Great Depression, gowns became more conservative.

1930s Evening gowns. metmuseum
1930s Evening gowns. metmuseum

After the end of World War II, Christian Dior spurred a new era of decadence with his “new look” of nipped-in waistlines and full skirts.

1950's Ball Gowns. House of Dior. metmuseum
1950’s Ball Gowns. House of Dior. metmuseum

The 1950s was a golden age for ball gown design in Britain.

Today’s Ballgowns

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The Roaring Twenties Fashions: A 5-Minute Guide

Dubbed the “Roaring Twenties” in Britain and America, the “Années folles” (Crazy Years) in France, and the “Golden Twenties” in Germany, the 1920s was a period of sustained economic growth and cultural exuberance that lasted from the end of World War I to the Wall St Crash of 1929.

Out went the rigid Victorian way of life and in came a break with traditions, a disdain for acceptable behavior, and a flouting of social and sexual norms.

Young, rebellious, middle-class women, labeled ‘flappers’ by older generations, did away with the corset and donned slinky knee-length dresses, which exposed their legs and arms.

Women everywhere spread their wings and flew free as if for the first time.

It was a glorious revolution for women’s fashion.

1920s fashion at the Industriemuseum Textilfabrik Cromford in Ratingen, Germany. Credit Geolina163
1920s fashion at the Industriemuseum Textilfabrik Cromford in Ratingen, Germany. Credit Geolina163

Coco Chanel

One of the first women to wear trousers, cut her hair and reject the corset was Coco Chanel.

The only fashion designer listed on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Coco Chanel emancipated women’s fashion.

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, 1920
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, 1920

One of Chanel’s signature techniques was to take simple designs inspired by service uniforms, riding habits, and even men’s clothing and create exquisitely tailored, expensive interpretations.

In 1926, American Vogue likened Chanel’s “little black dress” to the Ford Model T, alluding to its almost universal popularity as a fashion basic.

1926 Chanel Little Black Dress. metmuseum
1927 Chanel Little Black Dress. Silk, wool, metal. metmuseum

Paul Poiret once called her style “poverty de luxe,” to which Chanel replied, “simplicity does not mean poverty.”

The “little black dress” became one of Chanel’s most popular and enduring contributions to women’s fashion and inspired many simple designs that championed a modern lifestyle and attitude.

1920s Chanel dresses. Left Pink crepe chiffon (1925). Right Blue silk crepe (1926). Credit MFIT
1920s Chanel dresses. Left Pink crepe chiffon (1925). Right Blue silk crepe (1926). Credit MFIT
1920s Chanel Evening dress. Silk, metallic thread, sequins. metmuseum
1920s Chanel Evening dress. Silk, metallic thread, sequins. metmuseum

Carefully cut to follow the floral pattern of the textile, the dress hem and appliqués of chiffon on the jacket below exemplify Chanel’s excellence at soft tailoring.

1929 Chanel Ensemble. Silk, wool. metmuseum
1929 Chanel Ensemble. Silk, wool. metmuseum

A host of fashion designers found fame or peaked during the Roaring Twenties, including Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, Jeanne Lanvin, Jean Patou, and House of Drécoll.

1920 Madeleine Vionnet dress. French. Silk. metmuseum.org
1920 Madeleine Vionnet dress. French. Silk. metmuseum.org
1927 Evening Dress. Paul Poiret. Silk, metal, plastic
1927 Evening Dress. Paul Poiret. Silk, metal, plastic
1920s. Callot Soeurs. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Callot Soeurs. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra
1923 House of Lanvin. French. Silk. metmuseum
1923 House of Lanvin. French. Silk. metmuseum
1926 House of Patou Evening Dress. French. Cotton, plastic, glass, polyester. metmuseum
1926 House of Patou Evening Dress. French. Cotton, plastic, glass, polyester. metmuseum
1924. House of Drécoll. French. Silk, wool. metmuseum
1924. House of Drécoll. French. Silk, wool. metmuseum

Flappers

Said to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly, the slang word “flapper” had emerged in England in the late 19th century to describe lively mid-teenage girls.

But it could just as easily have referred to a dancer, flapping her wings to the Charleston dance moves of the Roaring Twenties.

Josephine Baker was one of many celebrities who embraced the flapper fashion movement, becoming a symbol of the jazz age of the 1920s.

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the Folies-Bergère, Paris, 1925
Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the Folies-Bergère, Paris, 1925

Going on to star in the major motion picture in 1934—Marc Allégret’s Zouzou—she was the first person of African descent to become a world-famous entertainer.

Orphaned at the age of four and partially raised in foster homes, actress Barbara Stanwyck began her career as a dancer at the Ziegfeld Follies in the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.

Future Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck, c. 1924
Future Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck, c. 1924

One of the most elegant and glamorous film stars of the roaring twenties, Norma Talmadge married a wealthy film executive who nurtured her career and with whom she started the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation.

Flocking to see her extravagant movies, women from around the world wanted to be Norma Talmadge.

Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge

Popularizing the bobbed haircut and noted as an iconic symbol of the flapper, American film actress and dancer Louise Brooks starred in iconic flapper movies of the late 1920s.

Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl were considered shocking portrayals of sexuality and social satire.

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks

Rising to stardom in silent films, Clara Bow rocketed to global fame in the 1927 romantic comedy “It” about an ambitious shop girl who wants to marry her handsome, wealthy boss.

Earning her the nickname “The It Girl”, the magnetic attraction she portrayed in the movie made her a sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties.

Clara Bow, 1928
Clara Bow, 1928

Besides sharing a love for Roaring Twenties fashion, what these women had in common was the flapper attitude captured in Russell Patterson’s famous illustrations—a confidence that helped empower women to defy traditional notions of their role in society and chart their own course.

'Where there's smoke there's fire' by American artist Russell Patterson
‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire’ by American artist Russell Patterson

Bob Cut

The hairstyle of the decade was a chin-length bob, which had several popular variations.

Older generations used to seeing Edwardian-era pompadour styles found the short bob cuts a shocking statement of young women’s independence.

But acceptance of shorter hair had been gaining ground during World War I.

With most men away fighting in Europe, women took over the factory work and soon came to realize just how impractical and dangerous longer hair was.

As early as 1915, dancer and fashion trendsetter Irene Castle had introduced her own version of the bob to a receptive American audience.

The flappers adopted the bob cut and didn’t look back for the entire decade.

Renée Adorée, French actress who appeared in Hollywood silent movies during the 1920s
Renée Adorée, French actress who appeared in Hollywood silent movies during the 1920s

Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore in particular started a trend that many women followed—short straight hair cut about jaw-level with a fringe or “bangs” at the front.

Louise Brooks. Credit Laura Loveday, flickr
Louise Brooks. Credit Laura Loveday, flickr
Photoplay cover for January 1926 featuring Colleen Moore, based on a painting by Livingston Geer
Photoplay cover for January 1926 featuring Colleen Moore, based on a painting by Livingston Geer

Cloche Hats

As its name implies, the bell-shaped cloche is derived from cloche, the French word for “bell”.

Usually made of felt to comfortably conform to the head, cloches were worn low on the forehead.

By the end of the 1920s, it became fashionable to turn the brims on cloche hats upwards.

A symbol of the Roaring Twenties, cloche hats became obsolete in the early 1930s.

1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Silk, metal
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Silk, metal
Cloches from the mid-1920s. metmuseum
Cloches from the mid-1920s. metmuseum
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Cotton, metal
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Cotton, metal
1920s Actresses. Top Row: Vilma Banky, Evelyn Brent; Middle Row: Joan Crawford; Bottom Row: Greta Garbo
1920s Actresses. Top Row: Vilma Banky, Evelyn Brent; Middle Row: Joan Crawford; Bottom Row: Greta Garbo

Shoes

Rapidly changing fashion meant a cornucopia of shoe designs were available in the 1920s.

High-heels were in vogue, even for dancing, necessitating straps over the instep.

Browns, greys and beiges dominated the first half of the decade, while crocodile, snake and lizard shoes became fashionable in the late 20s.

Pietro Yantorny (1874-1936), the self-proclaimed “most expensive shoemaker in the world”, was a consummate craftsman utterly devoted to the art of shoemaking.

He sought to create the most perfectly crafted shoes possible for a select and exclusive clientele.

1925. Pierre Yantorny. French. Leather. metmuseum
1925. Pierre Yantorny. French. Leather. metmuseum
1925 British. Leather, lined with kid leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1925 British. Leather, lined with kid leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1927. French. Calf leather, stamped design, lined with leather and canvas.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1927. French. Calf leather, stamped design, lined with leather and canvas.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1920s ladies shoes. metmuseum.
1920s ladies shoes. metmuseum.
1928. British. Snake skin, metal buckle, lined with leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1928. British. Snake skin, metal buckle, lined with leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Wall St Crash of 1929

The exuberance of the Roaring Twenties came crashing down with the Wall St collapse of Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.

But the profound changes to western culture, especially women’s liberation and equal rights, continue to reverberate to this day.

A Five-Minute Guide to Waistcoats and Vests

Today, waistcoats, or vests, are the essential third piece in the traditional three-piece male business suit.

Historians can precisely date their origin to King Charles II of England (1630 – 1685), who introduced the vest to the English court as part of correct dress.

Diarist and civil servant Samuel Pepys wrote:

the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how

The King of England was essentially trying to outdo the French King Louis XIV—a tall order indeed.

Portrait of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland by Thomas Hawker, 1660
Portrait of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland by Thomas Hawker, 1660

Charles II had borrowed the idea from English traveler and adventurer Sir Robert Shirley (1581 – 1628), who in turn had borrowed it from the Persian court of Shah Abbas the Great (1571 – 1629).

Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Shirley by Anthony van Dyck, 1622
Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Shirley by Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Originally a longer coat, the “vest” as it was initially called, later became the “waistcoat” as fashion demanded a shorter waist-level cut.

c1710. British. Linen, silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c1710. British. Linen, silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men often wore elaborate and brightly-coloured waistcoats.

But changing fashions in the nineteenth century demanded a more subdued palette to match the new lounge suits.

1730. Italian. Silk twill and plain weave (gros de tours) with silk- and metallic-thread discontinuous supplementary-weft patterning bound in twill (lampas). LACMA
1730. Italian. Silk twill and plain weave (gros de tours) with silk- and metallic-thread discontinuous supplementary-weft patterning bound in twill (lampas). LACMA

As the eighteenth century progressed, waistcoat skirts became shorter and eventually disappeared.

Complementing the coat and breeches, luxurious fabrics and decoration were emphasized for the visible areas, while those unseen were made of cheaper fabrics like linen or wool.

1740. British. Silk, linen and possibly horsehair, hand woven and hand sewn, silver. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1740. British. Silk, linen and possibly horsehair, hand woven and hand sewn, silver. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1750. French. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA
1750. French. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA

Reserved for the most formal occasions, the shimmering waistcoat below would have been used for court appearances or high ceremonies.

Woven entirely out of metallic threads which were difficult and costly to work with, it would have been a very expensive purchase.

1750. British. silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1750. British. silk, metal, linen. metmuseum

Troops of the regular army would wear waistcoats made from old worn-out overcoats turned inside-out so that the reverse-colored lining was on the outside.

Regular British Soldiers and an Officer. Credit Tommc73
Regular British Soldiers and an Officer. Credit Tommc73
1760. British. Cotton plain weave with cotton corded quilting. LACMA
1760. British. Cotton plain weave with cotton corded quilting. LACMA

From the inventive floral sprigs composed of different flowers, down to the bull’s-eye motif of the buttons, the embroidery on this vest is a particularly noteworthy remnant of 18th-century men’s wear.

1760. French. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1760. French. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. British. Brocaded silk. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1765. British. Brocaded silk. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Outstanding naturalistic leaves and petals and intricate floral motifs on this vest show the refinement of 18th-century embroidery.

1780. French. Silk, metmuseum
1780. French. Silk, metmuseum

Depicting Aesop’s (620-560 BC) tale of “The Wolf and the Crane”, the embroidery motifs on this vest show a crane removing a bone from a wolf’s throat.

Indicative of the status of the waistcoat as decoration was a playful style to the beautiful embroidery work.

1780. French silk, cotton. metmuseum
1780. French silk, cotton. metmuseum
1780. French. Silk. metmusem
1780. French. Silk. metmusem
1785. French. Silk satin with silk embroidery and silk grosgrain ribbon. LACMA
1785. French. Silk satin with silk embroidery and silk grosgrain ribbon. LACMA
1790. Europe. Silk satin with silver-metallic and polychrome-silk thread and silver sequins. LACMA
1790. Europe. Silk satin with silver-metallic and polychrome-silk thread and silver sequins. LACMA
1800. French. silk, linen, metal, cotton. metmuseum
1800. French. silk, linen, metal, cotton. metmuseum
1810. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1810. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum

Beginning in the 1820s, elite gentlemen of the more fashionable set—particularly the younger crowd and the military—wore corsets.

Emphasizing the masculine body shape for men, waistcoats became skin-tight and cut to give a broad-shouldered look, with pouting chest, and nipped-in waist.

1830. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1830. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum

If no corset was worn, then the fashionable male silhouette could be still be maintained with whalebone stiffeners and reinforced buttons up the front.

To help mold the waistline, the lacings in the back could be pulled tight.

1835. American. wool, cotton. metmuseum
1835. American. wool, cotton. metmuseum

Shawl collars and patterned textiles were a prominent feature of vests in the 1820s and 30s.

Vividly contrasted glass buttons and wool pile embroidery set against glossy velvet lend a unique touch to this vest.

1838. American. Silk, cotton, wool, leather, glass. metmuseum
1838. American. Silk, cotton, wool, leather, glass. metmuseum
1840. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1840. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

Popular throughout the middle of the 19th century, a padded chest and nipped in waist helped achieve the expected male body shape.

Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was known for wearing tight corsets sporting a tiny waist—a style that many men followed.

1845. American. Silk, cotton, leather. metmuseum
1845. American. Silk, cotton, leather. metmuseum
1845. British. silk. metmuseum
1845. British. silk. metmuseum

Although vests of the second half of the 19th century were more somber, the elaborate texture of this vest harks back to a more decadent era.

1850. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1850. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1855. French. Silk. metmuseum
1855. French. Silk. metmuseum
1858. American. Red and black striped wool lampas, silk twill. philamuseum.org
1858. American. Red and black striped wool lampas, silk twill. philamuseum.org

Inspired by French paisley shawls, the patterning of this vest proved very popular in the 1860s.

Adapted by Europeans from the Indian boteh form, goods featuring the paisley motif were imported from India by the East India Trading Companies in the 17th century.

Paisley has since become one of the most popular designs in fashion history.

1860. American. Cotton, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum
1860. American. Cotton, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum

Paired with a black evening suit, this vest made for a very elegant appearance, with intricate details such as the curve of the pocket mimicing the textile pattern and the embroidery detail.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Edwardian look made a larger physique more popular.

King Edward VII is said to have started a trend to leave the bottom button undone to accommodate his expanding waistline.

1885. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1885. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum

Exquisite Pocket Watches of a Bygone Time

Designed to slip into the pocket of the new waistcoats introduced by King Charles II of England, pocket watches became a luxurious accessory for correct dress after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660.

Prior to this, they had been heavy, drum-shaped cylinders fastened to clothing or worn on a chain around the neck.

17th Century

The French, Swiss, Dutch and Germans were the main artisans producing these beautiful watches that were essentially items of jewelry that incidentally told the time.

It wasn’t until 1680 that pocket watches introduced the minute hand and another 10 years before the second hand made an appearance.

Adorning the elaborately jeweled pocket watch below is a depiction of the young Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) on horseback.

One of the most important surviving watches of its period, it is thought to have been made as a gift for the young king.

1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum

It includes a miniature with the arms of France and Navarre and the Orders of Saint Michael and the Holy Spirit.

1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum2
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. French, probably Paris case with Dutch, The Hague watch. Case and dial enameled gold; Movement gilded brass and steel, partly blued. metmuseum
1645. Watch. French, probably Paris case with Dutch, The Hague watch. Case and dial enameled gold; Movement gilded brass and steel, partly blued. metmuseum
1645. Case and dial painted enamel on gold with brass hand; Movement gilded brass and partly blued steel. metmuseumFrench, probably Paris
1645. Case and dial painted enamel on gold with brass hand; Movement gilded brass and partly blued steel. metmuseumFrench, probably Paris
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum

18th Century

Britain was at the forefront of watch making in the 18th century.

Not only were half of the world’s watches made in Britain, but probably 70% of the innovation in a modern mechanical watch came from Britain.

Verge escapement in motion. Credit AlienAtSystem

Originally developed for large clocks like those of the town hall, the earlier watch mechanisms used the verge escapementverge being derived from the Latin virga for stick or rod.

An escapement is a device that transfers energy to the watch’s timekeeping element, allowing the number of oscillations to be counted.

Inherent with the verge escapement design was a high degree of friction, with no jewelling to protect the contacting surfaces from wear.

As a result, a verge watch could rarely achieve any high standard of accuracy.

How goes your watches ladies? What’s o’clock now?
First Lady: By mine full nine.
Second Lady: By mine a quarter past.

These three lines by the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton (d. 1627) sum up the unreliability of watches, which for the most part were more useful as jewelry than as timekeepers.

But with time came improvements.

Lever escapement. Credit Mario Frasca
Lever escapement. Credit Mario Frasca

The cylinder escapement invented by English clockmaker Thomas Tompion in 1695 and perfected by another English clockmaker, George Graham, in 1726, was much thinner allowing for very slim watch designs, which became the height of fashion.

But the cylinder escapement didn’t significantly improve accuracy.

Then in 1759, along came another Englishman, Thomas Mudge, with his invention of the lever escapement—the greatest single improvement ever applied to pocket watches.

With the lever escapement, watches could keep time to within a minute a day.

1720. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1720. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Enamel, silver. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Enamel, silver. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum

19th  and early 20th Centuries

Although the exquisite craftsmanship of British and Swiss watchmakers dominated the first half of the 19th century, it was the Second Industrial Revolution in the latter third that catapulted America to center-stage of watch manufacturing.

1810. Watch. Swiss, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Gold, glass. metmuseum
1810. Watch. Swiss, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Gold, glass. metmuseum
1819. Watch. British, London. Case of gold, enamel, and pearls, with floral design; jeweled movement, with ruby cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1819. Watch. British, London. Case of gold, enamel, and pearls, with floral design; jeweled movement, with ruby cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1835. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1835. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum

Demand for pocket watches rose dramatically in the late 19th century, but Britain and Switzerland were ill-equipped to seize the opportunity.

World leadership changed hands to America, with Waltham, Massachusetts and Elgin, Illinois becoming centers of mass manufacturing using standardized parts and the latest machine tools.

The rise of railroads also spread the popularity of pocket watches and helped improve their reliability.

Attributed to one of the engineer’s watches running four minutes behind, a deadly train disaster in Kipton, Ohio in 1891, in which two trains collided at full speed, prompted new precision standards and safety inspections for Railroad pocket watches.

Colloquially called “railroad-grade pocket watches”, these precision timepieces had to meet the General Railroad Timepiece Standards adopted in 1893 by almost all railroads.

Interior of Burlington Bulldog railroad watch. Credit Kevin Trotman
Interior of Burlington Bulldog railroad watch. Credit Kevin Trotman
Vintage Elgin National Watch Co. Pocket Watch with Hunter Case and Gold Chain, Circa 1901. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Co. Pocket Watch with Hunter Case and Gold Chain, Circa 1901. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Company Pocket Watch, 17 Jewels, Lever Set, 10 K Gold Filled Open Face Case Marked 'Hamilton Keystone Watchcase, J. Boss, Railroad Model', Circa 1918. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Company Pocket Watch, 17 Jewels, Lever Set, 10 K Gold Filled Open Face Case Marked ‘Hamilton Keystone Watchcase, J. Boss, Railroad Model’, Circa 1918. Credit Joe Haupt

Pocket watches remained popular until World War I when officers in the field discovered that wristwatches were easier and quicker to use.

Waltham pocket watch once owned by a World War I veteran.. Credit Ross Dunn
Waltham pocket watch once owned by a World War I veteran.. Credit Ross Dunn

A 5-Minute Guide to the House of Worth

Something wonderful happened to the world of fashion during the second half of the 19th century.

Beautiful gowns were no longer the exclusive privilege of the aristocracy …

The splendour of the Royal Court
The splendour of the Royal Court

… but were available to anyone with the wherewithal to display their finery on the boulevards, in the opera houses, and in café society.

The Boulevard at Night, in front of the Theatre des Varietes by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1883
The Boulevard at Night, in front of the Theatre des Varietes by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1883
The Staircase of the Opera by Louis Beroud
The Staircase of the Opera by Louis Beroud
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud , 1889
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud , 1889

It was a time to “see and be seen”.

Woman with Opera Glasses by Frederik Henrdik Kaemmerer
Woman with Opera Glasses by Frederik Henrdik Kaemmerer

And who was responsible for this change?

None other than the English entrepreneur Charles Frederick Worth, “the father of Haute Couture”.

Charles Frederick Worth. At ages 14, 30, and 69
Charles Frederick Worth. At ages 14, 30, and 69

Born in Lincolnshire, England, Charles Frederick Worth spent his early career working for department stores and textile merchants in London.

Besides learning all there was to know about fabrics and the dressmaking business, he would spend hours in the National Gallery studying historical portraits.

Portrait of Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Portrait of Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Mr and Mrs William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Mr and Mrs William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

It was this time in London that would inspire his later works.

As the center of world fashion, Paris beckoned, and Worth found employment with the prominent textile firm Maison Gagelin, soon becoming a leading salesman, then dressmaker.

Quai du Louvre by Claude Monet,1867
Quai du Louvre by Claude Monet,1867

Establishing a reputation for himself and winning commendations at the expositions in Paris and London, news of Worth’s skills caught the attention of the Empress Eugénie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III of France.

Appointed court designer, Charles Frederick Worth’s success was all but guaranteed.

Portrait of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920) by Franz Xaver Winterhalder, 1853, wearing a gown designed by Worth
Portrait of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920) by Franz Xaver Winterhalder, 1853, wearing a gown designed by Worth

Soon after, he opened his own design house in Paris at 7 Rue de la Paix—first in partnership with Otto Bobergh and later as sole proprietor.

The House of Worth and Haute Couture were born.

House of Worth, 7 rue de la Paix, Paris, and Paris and Biarritz salons
House of Worth, 7 rue de la Paix, Paris, and Paris and Biarritz salons

Haute Couture is the fusion of fashion and costume.

It is wearable art.

And wealthy women of the 19th century would pay handsomely for it.

With seemingly endless social engagements, clients changed dress up to four times a day, some purchasing their entire wardrobes from Worth.

Elegant Soiree by Jean-Georges Béraud
Elegant Soiree by Jean-Georges Béraud

The House of Worth was known for showing several designs for each season on live models.

Clients would select their favorites and Worth would tailor-make gowns with elegant fabrics, detailed trimmings, and superb fit.

By the 1870s, Worth’s name frequently appeared in ordinary fashion magazines, spreading his fame to women well beyond courtly circles.

I told you it was a dress from Worth’s. I know the look.
I told you it was a dress from Worth's. I know the look

Combining colors and textures using meticulously chosen textiles and trims, House of Worth produced works of art.

That so many examples have survived in such good condition is testament not only to the popularity of Worth among wealthy patrons but also the quality of textiles insisted upon by Charles Frederick Worth.

What better way to celebrate the extraordinary House of Worth than the dulcet tones of Claude Debussy.

This is one of Worth’s earlier designs when he was still in partnership with Otto Bobergh under the name Worth and Bobergh.

Skirts of the 1860s were wide, full, and bell-shaped, supported initially by multiple layers of petticoats and later by crinolines made from graduated hoops of cane or steel.

1862. Evening ensemble. Silk. metmuseum
1862. Evening ensemble. Silk. metmuseum

As the 1870s got underway, the shape of skirts changed, with flatter front and sides and the fullness pulled back and supported behind by a “bustle”.

1875. Afternoon Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1875. Afternoon Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1877. Dinner Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1877. Dinner Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1878. Two-Piece Day Dress. Silk faille and brocaded silk lampas weave trimmed with lace, silk satin, and beads. philamuseum
1878. Two-Piece Day Dress. Silk faille and brocaded silk lampas weave trimmed with lace, silk satin, and beads. philamuseum
1878. Reception Dress. Silk, linen. cincinnatiartmuseum
1878. Reception Dress. Silk, linen. cincinnatiartmuseum
1882. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1882. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1883. Afternoon Dress. Dark blue satin; dark blue satin brocaded with bouquets of coral pink to rust colored roses and white stemmed flowers; petal pink chiffon; rust satin. Credit MCNY
1883. Afternoon Dress. Dark blue satin; dark blue satin brocaded with bouquets of coral pink to rust colored roses and white stemmed flowers; petal pink chiffon; rust satin. Credit MCNY
1887. Ball Gown. Silk, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1887. Ball Gown. Silk, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1888. Evening Gown. Silk, beads, metallic. metmuseum
1888. Evening Gown. Silk, beads, metallic. metmuseum

As the 1880s came to a close, the lines of skirts transitioned away from the bustle to form a clearer shape, but the sleeves swelled to enormous proportions, earning them the nickname “elephant sleeves”.

1889. Evening Dress. metmuseum
1889. Evening Dress. metmuseum
1892. Dinner Dress. silk satin with woven chrysanthemum pattern; large velvet gigot sleeves; lace decoration on cuffs and collar. KCI
1892. Dinner Dress. silk satin with woven chrysanthemum pattern; large velvet gigot sleeves; lace decoration on cuffs and collar. KCI
1893 Evening Ensemble. Silk, linen, metal. metmuseum
1893 Evening Ensemble. Silk, linen, metal. metmuseum
1893. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1893. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1893. Ensemble. Silk, jet, metal. metmuseum
1893. Ensemble. Silk, jet, metal. metmuseum
1894. Ball Gown. silk brocade with tassel pattern; two-piece dress with gigot sleeves; silk taffeta bow at breast; silk chiffon decoration at hem of skirt. Credit KCI
1894. Ball Gown. silk brocade with tassel pattern; two-piece dress with gigot sleeves; silk taffeta bow at breast; silk chiffon decoration at hem of skirt. Credit KCI
1894. Afternoon Dress. Silk faille set of bodice and skirt; silk lace and velvet bows at neck and cuffs; apron-shaped overskirt with silk fringe at front. Credit KCI
1894. Afternoon Dress. Silk faille set of bodice and skirt; silk lace and velvet bows at neck and cuffs; apron-shaped overskirt with silk fringe at front. Credit KCI
1895. Ball Gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1895. Ball Gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
“Lily Dress” evening dress, black velvet with application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins, 1896. © L. Degrâces et Ph. offre/Galliera/Roger-Viollet
“Lily Dress” evening dress, black velvet with application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins, 1896. © L. Degrâces et Ph. offre/Galliera/Roger-Viollet
1896. Wedding Dress. Silk, pearl. metmuseum
1896. Wedding Dress. Silk, pearl. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening gown. Silk. metmuseum
1898. Evening gown. Silk. metmuseum
1898. Ball Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1898. Ball Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, glass, metal. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, glass, metal. metmuseum
1900 Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1900. Evening Dress. Pale green silk chiffon and velvet; S-curve silhouette; appliqué of plant pattern; sequin and cord embroidery with water's-edge pattern. Credit KCI
1900. Evening Dress. Pale green silk chiffon and velvet; S-curve silhouette; appliqué of plant pattern; sequin and cord embroidery with water’s-edge pattern. Credit KCI

House of Worth gowns were worn by the very wealthiest of clients.  The dinner dress (below left) was worn by the wife of the great American banker J.P. Morgan, Jr.

At night, the stars in the evening dress (below right) would twinkle as the wearer moved and the light caught the different textures.

1900 & 1905. Silk, rhinsetones, metal. metmuseum
1900 & 1905. Silk, rhinsetones, metal. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1901. Tea Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1901. Tea Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1902. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1902. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1906 Peignoir. Silk. metmuseum
1906 Peignoir. Silk. metmuseum
1910. Tea Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1910. Tea Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1911 Evening Dress. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1911 Evening Dress. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1916. Evening Dress. French. silk metal, rhinestones. metmuseum
1916. Evening Dress. French. silk metal, rhinestones. metmuseum
1918 Dinner Dress. Silk synthetic. metmuseum
1918 Dinner Dress. Silk synthetic. metmuseum
1925. Evening Dress. Silk, beads, metal thread. metmuseum
1925. Evening Dress. Silk, beads, metal thread. metmuseum
1930s Evening ensemble. Silk, plastic. metmuseum
1930s Evening ensemble. Silk, plastic. metmuseum
1940s. 'Féminité' dress and Ensemble. Silk, synthetic, beads. metmuseum
1940s. ‘Féminité’ dress and Ensemble. Silk, synthetic, beads. metmuseum

Charles Frederick Worth passed away in 1895 and The House of Worth remained in operation under his descendents but faced increasing competition from the 1920s onwards, eventually closing in 1956.

The House of Worth brand was revived in 1999 but failed to compete successfully in Haute Couture.

A 5-Minute Guide to Callot Soeurs Couture

When a young painting conservator from New York University happened upon some Louis Vuitton trunks in a 15th-century Florentine villa, she could not believe what was inside.

Undisturbed for almost 90 years were the most beautiful dresses she had ever seen, each with the label “Callot Soeurs”.

This was no ordinary find. Not many Callot Soeurs dresses have survived in such pristine condition.

They belonged to Hortense Mitchell Acton, an heiress from Chicago, married to Arthur Acton, a successful Anglo-Italian art collector and dealer.

Chicago heiress Hortense Mitchell Acton. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
Chicago heiress Hortense Mitchell Acton. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Mrs Acton had been a valued client of Callot Soeurs from the moment they opened their couture house in 1895.

The Callot sisters—Marie Gerber, Marthe Bertrand, Régine Tennyson-Chantrelle, and Joséphine Crimont—rose to become the premier dressmaking house of the Belle Époque.

After losing Joséphine to suicide in 1897, Marie, Marthe and Régine continued to run the business.

Vogue magazine called them the Three Fates, and declared they were “foremost among the powers that rule the destinies of a woman’s life and increase the income of France.”

1920s. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Among the first of the design houses to reject the corset, Callot Soeurs knew what women wanted—more freedom of movement, fluid lines, and exquisite detail.

In a male dominated business, the sisters stood out by including the word “Soeurs” (French for sisters) in their label.

For Hortense Acton, Callot Soeurs’ gowns were perfect for throwing parties at La Pietra—the Acton’s Florentine villa. She entertained everyone from Gertrude Stein to Winston Churchill.

La Villa Pietra. Credit sailko
La Villa Pietra. Credit sailko

Just how the dresses survived is somewhat of a miracle.

When the Fascists took over Italy, most of Mrs. Acton’s expatriate friends upped and left.

But not her husband. He was determined to stay, ride out the storm and look after the house and art collection.

1920s. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Poor Hortense Acton stayed with him, only to be arrested and imprisoned. The villa and art collection were confiscated.

As if from a scene out of the Sound of Music, both Actons eventually managed to escape through Switzerland.

Perhaps overlooked … perhaps fate .. these incredible gowns somehow survived.

Today, they form part of a collection at La Pietra which was bequeathed to New York University in 1994.

1920s. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Several other Museums house a collection of Callot Soeurs gowns, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris.

1915 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, pearl, metmuseum
1915 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, pearl, metmuseum

In each case, the collections show the signature elements of the house of Callot Soeurs: antique lace trimming, Orientalist textiles, lavish embroidery, and bead- or ribbonwork.

1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum

Exemplifying the fashion aesthetic of the time, this 1914 gown uses multiple layers and textures to give the appearance of an unstructured and spontaneous design.

1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, rhinestones
1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, rhinestones

One of Callot Soeurs’s greatest supporters was American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig, regarded as “the most picturesque woman in America.”

Ordering dozens of dresses at a time, she would design them herself and have them handmade by Callot Soeurs.

So exacting were her tastes that when she discovered her husband was having an affair with a poorly dressed woman, she sent the mistress to Callot Soeurs for new clothing.

She wore a silver Callot Soeurs dress for this 1911 Giovanni Boldini portrait.

Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911
Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911
1910. Robe du soir, Callot Sœurs, Paris. Satin, tulle, dentelle métallique, broderie de filé, lame or et perles. Coll. UFAC, don Debray
1910. Robe du soir, Callot Sœurs, Paris. Satin, tulle, dentelle métallique, broderie de filé, lame or et perles. Coll. UFAC, don Debray

In Marcel Proust’s second volume of “Remembrance of Things Past”, he asks his girlfriend, “Is there a vast difference between a Callot dress and one from any other shop?” To which she replied, “Why, an enormous difference. Only, alas! What you get for 300 francs in an ordinary shop will cost you two thousand there. But there can be no comparison; they look the same only to people who know nothing about it.”

1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1913. Woman's Lounging Pajamas. Callot Soeurs. Silk net (tulle) and silk satin (charmeuse) with metallic-thread passementerie and silk tassels. Credit LACMA.
1913. Woman’s Lounging Pajamas. Callot Soeurs. Silk net (tulle) and silk satin (charmeuse) with metallic-thread passementerie and silk tassels. Credit LACMA.
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1908 Callot Soeurs. Silk, bead, linen, metal. metmuseum
1908 Callot Soeurs. Silk, bead, linen, metal. metmuseum
1915 Woman's Dress. Callot Soeurs. Linen lace and silk satin with silk-knotted fringe. LACMA
1915 Woman’s Dress. Callot Soeurs. Linen lace and silk satin with silk-knotted fringe. LACMA
Callot Soeurs, evening dress, 1909-1913. Silk satin metallic tulle and silk tulle. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris photo Jean Tholance
Callot Soeurs, evening dress, 1909-1913. Silk satin metallic tulle and silk tulle. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris photo Jean Tholance

Callot Soeurs often used delicate materials in their very feminine creations.

Renowned for their exquisite lacework, such as this black, imbricated leaf pattern overlaid on pale taffeta. Finely embellished with black and silver sequins and rhinestones, this dress was exemplary of fashions in La Belle Époque.

1909. Evening Dress. Callot Soeurs. Black lace, white taffeta, sequins and rhinestones. Museum at FIT
1909. Evening Dress. Callot Soeurs. Black lace, white taffeta, sequins and rhinestones. Museum at FIT

By the Roaring Twenties, Callot Soeurs had branches in Nice, Biarritz, Buenos Aires, and London.

Ladies’ Home Journal of 1922 wrote,

Callot probably has more rich clients than any other establishment in the world. They come from South America, from South Africa, and as far east as Japan.
1926. Women's dresses. Callot Soeurs. LACMA
1926. Women’s dresses. Callot Soeurs. LACMA
1910 Callot Soeurs. Cotton, Silk, metal. metmuseum
1910 Callot Soeurs. Cotton, Silk, metal. metmuseum

One of the twentieth century’s greatest designers—Madeleine Vionnet—was Callot’s head of the workroom, or première, before venturing out on her own.

She considered her time at Callot invaluable later in her career.

Without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls RoycesMadeleine Vionnet

And she expressed great respect for the house’s head designer, Madame Gerber.

A true dressmaker and a great lady totally occupied with a profession that consists of adorning women . . . not constructing a costume.Madeleine Vionnet
Madeleine Vionnet, evening dress, Haute couture winter 1935. Silk crêpe. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo Jean Tholance
Madeleine Vionnet, evening dress, Haute couture winter 1935. Silk crêpe. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo Jean Tholance

References

Transatlantic Modernities
Twenty One Dresses by the New Yorker
Metropolitan Museum of Art

18 Halloween Pin-Ups from Hollywood’s Golden Age

The Golden Age of Hollywood was a period stretching from the introduction of sound in around 1927 to the beginning of the demise of the studio system with Howard Hughes’ agreement to breakup RKO in 1948/49.

During the Golden Age, there were eight Hollywood studios that were commonly known as the “majors”. Of these eight, five were fully integrated conglomerates, combining ownership of a production studio, distribution division, and a substantial theater chain: Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century-Fox), Loew’s Incorporated (owner of America’s largest theater circuit and parent company to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, and Warner Bros.

By 1939, there were more movie theaters in the United States than banks. The cinema industry was larger than office machines or supermarkets. It cost around 20¢ to see a movie.

The studio system of the Golden Age created many incredibly gifted actresses. Here are just a few who happen to have posed for Halloween portraits during their careers.

20 Exquisite Paintings of 18th-Century Ladies by Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA (1723 – 1792) was an influential eighteenth-century English portrait painter.

He promoted the “Grand Manner” of painting which idealized subjects to convey a sense of nobility.

Knighted by King George III in 1769, Reynolds was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Although he had little technical training as an artist, he possessed an instinct for color and composition. His figures appear in a natural attitude of grace and he gives them an air of distinction. Even the most ill-tempered sitters were elevated to a position of dignity.

Reynolds had a gift for capturing the personality of the sitter—what critics called “realizing their individuality.” Using his imagination, he would weave a story into each portrait.

His compositions have a symmetry of outline and flow of lines reminiscent of Raphael. In fact, he borrowed from many sources: Rembrandt’s lighting and color harmonies; Rubens’s splendor; Titian’s decoration.

Yet to all his works, he added his personal touch that makes them uniquely Reynolds.

Which is your favorite 18th-century lady painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds?

16 Stunning Sofas from the 18th and 19th Centuries

Today, furniture fills our living and working spaces. It makes a statement about our taste for practicality and aesthetics.

But it wasn’t always so.

At the beginning of the 18th century, only the aristocracy or merchant class could afford furniture as luxurious expressions of individuality.

Then from around 1760, something remarkable happened. The standard of living for the general population began to increase for the first time in history.

This was the dawn of the industrial revolution and the beginnings of what would become a consumer society.

18th-century luminary Sir Joshua Reynolds observed a general progression from buying basic needs to purchasing more luxurious goods.

The regular progress of cultivated life is from Necessaries to Accommodations, from Accommodations to Ornaments.

In this statement was implied the increasing importance of design, which simultaneously created and followed taste, and in so doing, helped stimulate consumer demand and foster economic stability.

Perhaps no other industry demonstrated this better than furniture making. And what piece of furniture was more prominent than a sofa?

The Georgian Era

Some think of the Georgian era as the golden age of furniture.

The drama and exuberance of Baroque, the intricate asymmetrical patterns of Rococo, the graceful lines, sensuous curves, and elegant proportions of Neo-Classical—all helped define Georgian era furniture.

The very names of the period are synonymous with timeless quality—Queen Anne, Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite.

1760 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood, upholstered in modern red velours de Gênes. metmuseum
1760 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood, upholstered in modern red velours de Gênes. metmuseum
1765 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beech, modern silk lampas. metmuseum
1765 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beech, modern silk lampas. metmuseum
1770 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded mahogany, modern silk damask. metmuseum
1770 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded mahogany, modern silk damask. metmuseum

Sofas with a wide central section and a single outward-facing seat at each end were called a canapé à confidents and were meant to be where people could share confidences.

Examples were made primarily in the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods, highly decorative, and the shape and carving were designed to harmonize with the wall paneling.

The artisan’s skill shows particularly in the carving of roses and olive branches tied by a ribbon at the top of each end.

This piece was described by comte de Salverte as the finest of its kind in the Louis XVI style.

1780 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood upholstered in modern blue dotted silk. metmuseum
1780 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood upholstered in modern blue dotted silk. metmuseum

The Regency and Federal Era

Roughly coinciding in date and style, the British Regency and American Federal styles were defined by a lighter, more delicate interpretation of the classical Greek and Roman influences.

The shape of this sofa derives from plate 35 in Thomas Sheraton’s “Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book” (1793).

1800 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, birch. metmuseum
1800 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, birch. metmuseum

The modern black horsehair and gilded tacks of this scroll-back sofa help define it as the classic New York form as it would have looked when it first came out of the workshop.

1810 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1810 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1815 Sofa. American. Mahogany, gilt brass, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1815 Sofa. American. Mahogany, gilt brass, tulip poplar. metmuseum

A highly sophisticated blend of line, detailed carving, and subtle color merge with antique legs in the shape of dolphins, hinting at the maritime influences of the time. In Greek mythology, dolphins swam to the aid of shipwrecked sailors.

1820. Sofa. American. Mahogany, ash, maple, pine. metmuseum
1820. Sofa. American. Mahogany, ash, maple, pine. metmuseum

Owned by Thomas Cornell Pearsall, a wealthy New York merchant and shipowner, the skillful execution of the details derives from Greco-Roman seating forms illustrated and described in the 1808 supplement to the London “Chairmakers’ and Carvers’ Book of Prices.”

1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany, tulip poplar, cane, gilded brass. metmuseum
1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany, tulip poplar, cane, gilded brass. metmuseum

Noteworthy in this design is the unusual trimming of rich stamped brass, rather than the woven galloon or series of brass-headed nails that were customary in this period.

1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany. metmuseum
1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany. metmuseum

Italian architect Filippo Pelagio Palagi designed this set of furniture for the principal drawing room next to the royal bedroom of Carlo Alberto, king of Sardinia.

The sculptural detail of the crest rails and the quality and refinement of the veneering help distinguish this sofa, made by Gabrielle Cappello, whose workshop produced many of Pelagi’s designs.

1835 Sofa. Italian. Mahogany veneered with maplewood and mahogany, covered with modern silk brocade. metmuseum
1835 Sofa. Italian. Mahogany veneered with maplewood and mahogany, covered with modern silk brocade. metmuseum

The Victorian Era

With the Victorians, out went the simpler classical lines of Georgian and Regency and in came a more imposing style, with elaborate decoration, heavily carved pieces, plenty of organic curves inspired by nature and glossy finishes.

1843 Sofa. French. Applewood or pearwood, ebonized walnut, beech, gilt-bronze mounts. metmuseum
1843 Sofa. French. Applewood or pearwood, ebonized walnut, beech, gilt-bronze mounts. metmuseum
1853 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1853 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum

This sofa is part of a suite of Louis XVI–style furniture that railroad executive John Taylor Johnston (1820–1893) purchased in about 1856 and used in the music room of his residence at 8 Fifth Avenue.

1860 Sofa. American. Maple, gilt bronze. metmuseum
1860 Sofa. American. Maple, gilt bronze. metmuseum

Exemplifying the Rococo Revival style, which was popular in America during the 1840s and 1850s, the sofa below combines curvilinear forms reminiscent of 18th-century France with the exuberant, naturalistic ornamentation of the mid-Victorian period.

Distinguished by a voluptuous serpentine crest with luxuriant, griffin-flanked bouquets, the central floral garland is supported by a Renaissance-style urn and paired dolphins.

1855 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1855 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1870 Sofa. American. Rosewood, ash, pine, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum
1870 Sofa. American. Rosewood, ash, pine, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum

Cléo de Mérode: the Dancer and Celebrity Glamour Model of the Belle Époque

At the age of eight, Cléo de Mérode (1875 – 1966) was already showing the talent that would make her a world renowned dancer of the Belle Époque.

Born in Paris to a Viennese baroness, she entered the Paris Opera ballet school at seven and made her professional debut at age eleven.

But it would be her beauty that stirred the public’s imagination, for Cléo de Mérode was, perhaps, the first real celebrity icon.

Before long, her dancing skills took second stage to her glamour, as postcards and playing cards around the world started featuring her image.

Cléo de Mérode, by Paul Nadar, 1894
Cléo de Mérode, by Paul Nadar, 1894

She was the talk of the town. Her new hairstyle was eagerly awaited and quickly imitated. Famous artists of the Belle Époque, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Giovanni Boldini, and Félix Nadar queued to sculpt, paint, and photograph her.

Cléo de Merode, by Charles Ogerau, 1895
Cléo de Merode, by Charles Ogerau, 1895
Cléo de Mérode, 1897
Cléo de Mérode, 1897
Cleo De Merode at the Salon by Carlos Vazquez Ubeda (1869 - 1944)
Cleo De Merode at the Salon by Carlos Vazquez Ubeda (1869 – 1944)

Even royalty courted her. In 1896, King Léopold II, having watched her dance at the ballet, became infatuated with her, and rumor soon spread that she was his mistress. The king had fathered two children with a prostitute and her reputation suffered as a consequence.

Cléo de Mérode
Cléo de Mérode

But this was the Belle Époque, a time of unprecedented colonial expansion, the very dawn of modern celebrity culture. Such indiscretions were soon forgotten and Cléo de Mérode became an international star, giving performances across Europe and the United States.

Cléo de Mérode by Giovanni Boldini, 1901
Cléo de Mérode by Giovanni Boldini, 1901
Cleo de Merode, 1903
Cleo de Merode, 1903

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Her decision to dance at the risqué Folies Bergère cabaret only served to heighten her following. And when she met artist Gustav Klimt, whose specialty was female sexuality, a romance blossomed that inspired the 2006 movie Klimt.

Cléo de Merode by Reutlinger
Cléo de Merode by Reutlinger
Cléo de Merode, by Charles Ogerau, 1902
Cléo de Merode, by Charles Ogerau, 1902
Cleo de Merode, 1905
Cleo de Merode, 1905
Cléo de Mérode, 1910
Cléo de Mérode, 1910

Continuing to dance into her early fifties, Mérode eventually retired to the seaside resort of Biarritz in the French Pyrénées. In 1955, she published her autobiography, Le Ballet de ma vie (The Dance of My Life).

Biarritz, 1930s
Biarritz, 1930s

At the ripe old age of 91, the greatest celebrity of the Belle Époque was no more. Cléo de Mérode was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her spirit still watches over her mother, interred in the same tomb.

Tomb of Cléo de Mérode, the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Credit Lebiblio
Tomb of Cléo de Mérode, the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Credit Lebiblio

Gone forever, but not forgotten.

Cléo de Mérode by Mariano Benlliure, 1910
Cléo de Mérode by Mariano Benlliure, 1910

The Beautiful French Porcelain of Sèvres

Despite a turbulent century of changing taste and technology, Sèvres Manufatory in the suburbs of Paris remained at the forefront of European ceramic production throughout the 1800s.

Founded in Vincennes in 1740 and relocated to Sèvres in 1756, King Louis XV, who had been an early investor, took possession in 1759.

With the French Revolution in 1789 came changing fortunes, with the factory losing many aristocratic patrons. It’s future looked in doubt.

Then, in 1800, along came engineer and scientist, Alexandre Brongniart (1770–1847), to run the troubled enterprise. The turnaround couldn’t have been more dramatic.

During the first decade of Brongniart’s tenure, the Empire taste was in vogue, with abundant use of gilding, rich borders, and ornate figural scenes.

1813 Breakfast Service tray. Sèvres Manufactory. metmuseum
1813 Breakfast Service tray. Sèvres Manufactory. metmuseum

Newly developed enamels enabled luxurious marble and hardstone textures as simulated backgrounds.

According to factory archives, the process of decoration began with the blue ground of the border followed by the marbled center ground, requiring two layers. Gilding for the border was then applied with the figure in the center painted last.

1807 Plate. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1807 Plate. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

To celebrate the coronation of King Charles X in 1825, a dinner set was produced, painted with famous views from each of France’s départements (administrative offices).

1827 Plate from the 'Service Des Départements'. metmuseum
1827 Plate from the ‘Service Des Départements’. metmuseum

Decorated with scenes of cacao cultivation to make drinking chocolate, this coffee service from 1836 shows how Brongniart used themes related to the objects’ purpose.

1836 Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Tray for Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Tray for Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Enormous variety in object type and decoration were hallmarks of Sèvres Manufactory. In the first half of the 19th century alone, it produced 92 different vase designs, 89 cups, every form of dinner, dessert, tea, and coffee service, as well as jugs, basins, and toiletry items.

Characteristic of nineteenth-century decorative arts was the reinterpretation of historical styles. While the form of this cup derives from Renaissance Italy, the use of vibrant reds, greens, blues, and yellows contrasts with the muted whites and browns of earlier wares.

1837 Standing Cup. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1837 Standing Cup. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Evoking the medieval Gothic style was another obsession of the 19th century. These vases illustrate the playfulness of mixing Gothic inspiration with Renaissance enamel techniques to achieve new aesthetic effects.

1832 Gothic vases. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1832 Gothic vases. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Eclecticism of design influences was matched by exuberance. This Chinoiserie tea and coffee service evokes the forms and motifs of China and the Near East.

Blending Asian forms with European decoration expressed a fascination with exoticism. The scrolling feet, double-walled forms, and simulated bamboo handles were found on Chinese porcelains sold in Paris in the 1820s.

1855 Chinoiserie Coffee and Tea Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmusem
1855 Chinoiserie Coffee and Tea Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmusem

Intended as the focal point of an elaborate table centerpiece during the dessert course, this ambitious fruit or flower basket imparts a sense of the grandeur of nineteenth century dining.

1823 Fruit or flower basket. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1823 Fruit or flower basket. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Presented to the winner of first prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1878, this cup, made in a Renaissance-revival style drew much criticism at a time when tastes were changing toward modernism.

One critic wrote “the colors are insipid and often vulgar; the decoration rarely quits the beaten track of the usual Sèvres flower and figure subjects. Sèvres is lingering in the traditions of the past. It remains deaf to the fame of living and modern art.”

1879 Standing cup with cover. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1879 Standing cup with cover. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

But it was the Art Nouveau movement that was the nail in the coffin for the traditional historicism that had been the trademark of Sèvres throughout the 19th century.

Decorative arts moved closer to nature, often capturing the asymmetry of natural forms, as evident in this coffee service from c. 1900.

Employing the form of a fennel plant, the application of enamel to the unglazed porcelain created a matte surface similar to the plant’s actual texture, and heightened the sense of realism.

Sèvres was exploring techniques that would define the ceramics industry in the 20th century.

1900 Art Nouveau-inspired Coffee Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1900 Art Nouveau-inspired Coffee Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Mr Darcy’s Shirt

In the 1995 BBC rendition of Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy includes a notable cream linen shirt. This attire takes center stage in a celebrated scene where Darcy emerges drenched from the Pemberley pond, coincidentally crossing paths with Elizabeth Bennet. Regarded as one of the most iconic moments in British television history, this particular sequence has etched itself into the collective memory of viewers.

The famous Regency period shirt turned British actor Colin Firth into an international heartthrob virtually overnight.

The shirt worn by actor Colin Firth during his portrayal of Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the Pemberley pond in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice production
The shirt worn by actor Colin Firth during his portrayal of Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the Pemberley pond in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice production. Credit Folger Shakespeare Library

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Considered by many to be the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 BBC/A&E co-production is one of the most successful period dramas ever created.

And it’s not hard to see why: superlative acting, attention to detail in costume and sets, and faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1813 novel … that is, except for one scene—the Lake Scene.

One of the most unforgettable moments in British TV historyThe Guardian

An amusing moment in which Darcy tries to maintain his dignity while improperly dressed and sopping wetWilliam Grimes, NYTimes

Although absent from Jane Austen’s novel, the Lake Scene has garnered adulation the world over from an army of fans, and spawned a host of imitations, including this reenactment by Benedict Cumberbatch for charity.

It’s one thing to see Colin Firth donning a wet shirt clinging to his well-honed physique in today’s context, but from the perspective of the early 1800s, what we’re really looking at is Darcy in his underwear. Prior to the 20th century, shirts were worn as undergarments. Not until the seventeenth century were men’s shirts allowed to show; but when they did, it carried the same suggestive undertone as visible underwear today. And as late as 1879, a shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.

Did you know?

It was quite common for men of the eighteenth century not to wear any underpants. Shock, horror! They relied instead on the long tails of their undershirts and on lining sewn into their breeches to perform the same function as drawers.

Showing the typical cut of the late 18th century, this finely finished shirt has gussets below the arm for freedom of movement and a shoulder gusset for a better fit through the neck and chest. Approximating the shape of the body, it allowed for more fullness at the front without adding bulk at the waist.

1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum

Created from linen fiber in 1816 by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings for her husband Benjamin Hitchings, a sea captain. Hand-stitching shirts for the family was common practice for wives or servants prior to about the mid-19th century. Elegant stitching was a hallmark of the care taken prior to the widespread use of the sewing machine.

1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
Do not presume to understand a mannequin’s feelings. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love youMr. Mannequin
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem

References

  • Some Thoughts on Men’s Shirts in America, 1750-1900 by William L. Brown III The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and
  • Phillis Cunnington What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten

The 17th-Century Hampton Court Beauties

Depicting the most glamorous ladies from the court of King William III and Queen Mary II, the Hampton Court Beauties are a series of portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller, commissioned by the Queen herself.

They adorn the state rooms of King William III at Hampton Court Palace.

… the principal Ladies attending upon her Majesty, or who were frequently in her retinue; and this was the more beautiful sight, because the originals were all in being, and often to be compar’d with their pictures.Daniel Defoe

Queen Mary II was a fashion trendsetter and a collector of fine china, particularly blue and white porcelain. Her household account book of 1694 lists 31 mantuas and gowns, taffeta, velvet and satin fabrics, satin shoes with gold and silver lace, gloves, furs, fringes, ribbons, and fans.

Queen Mary II by William Wissing
Queen Mary II by William Wissing

The late 17th century was a decadent, sensual era when great beauty could be an instrument of ambition, a passage to pleasure, and a ride to riches.

Handsome rewards lay ahead for royal mistresses like Nell Gwyn, the long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Her son by the King was made the Duke of St Albans and married into the established aristocracy.

Capturing beauty in portraiture became a preoccupation of portrait artists who developed their own techniques to heighten natural beauty. Dutch artist William Wissing had a particular way of bringing a fashionable blush to a lady’s cheeks. He would take her by the hand and dance her about the room until the exercise gave the desired complexion.

Vote for your favorite beauty from the court of Queen Mary.

References
Contains affiliate links
Wikipedia.org
The Royal Collection
A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe
everythingieverloved (images)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services that I believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mucha Do About Art Nouveau

The rags to riches story of Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.

Living alone in Paris in 1894, Alphonse Mucha barely made enough money to feed himself.

Alphonse Mucha Self Portrait, 1899
Alphonse Mucha Self Portrait, 1899

There had been better times. Back home in Moravia, he had worked in a castle restoring portraits and decorating rooms with murals. Those were the days. His employer, the Count, had encouraged Mucha to take formal studies and had provided financial support.

Now, at 34, with his savings gone, Mucha was scraping a living from his artwork, taking small commissions from magazine pictures, designs for costumes in operas and ballets, and book illustrations.

But his fortunes were about to change.

Just before Christmas 1894, he happened to drop into a print shop and heard that Sarah Bernhardt—the most famous actress in Paris—was starring in a new play, Gismonda.

Sarah Bernhardt by Félix Nadar
Sarah Bernhardt by Félix Nadar

The promoters needed a poster to advertise the production, and so Alphonse Mucha offered to deliver a lithograph in two weeks.

It was an overnight sensation. Bernhardt was so pleased with the success of this first poster that she offered him a six-year contract.

Alphonse Mucha had brought Art Nouveau to the people of Paris.

Poster for Victorien Sardou's Gismonda starring Sarah Bernhardt at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris., 1894
Poster for the première production of Victorien Sardou’s Gismonda starring Sarah Bernhardt at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, 1894
Poster for an evening of theater honoring Sarah Bernhardt (1896)

For the next 10 years, Alphonse Mucha kept busy with commissions for posters, book illustrations, programs, and calendars.

Abounding with ornamental pictorial elements with crisp curvilinear contours, the stylized graceful women of “Style Mucha” became synonymous with the whole Art Nouveau movement.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter by Alphonse much, 1896
Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter by Alphonse much, 1896

Mucha’s work captured the worldliness and decadence of the fin de siècle (turn of the century) and the belle époque (“The Beautiful Era”)—a time when Paris was the resplendent cultural capital of the world.

Dance by Alfons Mucha, 1898
Dance by Alfons Mucha, 1898
Zodiac by Alphonse Mucha
Zodiac by Alphonse Mucha
Poetry by Alphonse Mucha
Poetry by Alphonse Mucha
Byzantine Heads - Brunette by Alphonse Mucha
Byzantine Heads – Brunette by Alphonse Mucha
Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile by Alphonse Mucha, 1896
Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile by Alphonse Mucha, 1896
Monaco Monte Carlo by Alfons Mucha
Monaco Monte Carlo by Alfons Mucha
Bières de la Meuse by Alphonse Mucha
Bières de la Meuse by Alphonse Mucha
Advertising poster for Chocolat Idéal by Alfons Mucha
Advertising poster for Chocolat Idéal by Alfons Mucha
Flower by Alphonse Mucha, 1897
Flower by Alphonse Mucha, 1897

Mucha grew up in a small village in Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic. When he was a boy, it was part of the Habsburg Empire. Poverty and suffering were a part of everyday life—five of Mucha’s brothers and sisters died from tuberculosis.

Coming from a deeply religious family, the Church was a big influence on Mucha’s early life. From church decorations to the mysticism of religion, he remained fascinated by spiritualism throughout his life and even dabbled in the occult.

The Municipal House Ceiling by Alphonse Mucha, Prague
The Municipal House Ceiling by Alphonse Mucha, Prague
Mucha's stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral inside Prague Castle
Mucha’s stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral inside Prague Castle
An illustrated page from Le Pater by Mucha
An illustrated page from Le Pater by Mucha

After Paris, Mucha spent four years in the United States before returning to his home country, settling in Prague.

He started work on a fine art masterpiece—a history of the Slavic peoples. Called The Slav Epic, it comprises 20 huge canvases up to 26 ft wide and 20 ft high.

Mucha's The Slav Epic, 1911
Mucha’s The Slav Epic, 1911
The Slave Epic - The coronation of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan as East Roman Emperor (1926)
The Slave Epic – The coronation of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan as East Roman Emperor (1926)
Apotheosis of the Slavs history by Alfons Mucha (1926)
Apotheosis of the Slavs history by Alfons Mucha (1926)

When the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mucha was among the first to be arrested. Weakened by interrogation and suffering from pneumonia, he died shortly after being released.

But his art lived on in the hearts of admirers the world over.

Los Cigarillos Paris, Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, THe Spirit of Spring, Portrait of Mme. Mucha
Los Cigarillos Paris, Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, The Spirit of Spring, Portrait of Mme. Mucha

12 Dashing Men of the Regency Era

The Regency (1795–1837) was a period when King George III of England was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. On the death of his father in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV.

It was a time of great elegance and achievement in the fine arts and architecture, shaping and altering the societal structure of Britain and influencing the world.

Upper-class society, in particular, flourished in a Renaissance of culture and refinement.

Here are 12 men from the Regency Era—some war heroes, some artists, but all embodying the proud spirit of the age.

1. Alexander Ivanovitch, Prince of Chernichev (1786-1857) by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1818

Alexander Ivanovitch, Prince of Chernichev (1786-1857) by Sir Thomas Lawrence - 1818

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10 Fascinating Facts About Chinoiserie

1. Chinoiserie was once the most coveted fashion of the aristocracy

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans became fascinated with Asian cultures and traditions. They loved to imitate or evoke Asian motifs in Western art, architecture, landscaping, furniture, and fashion.

China seemed a mysterious, far-away place and the lack of first-hand experiences only added to the mystique.

Chinoiserie derives from the French word chinois, meaning “Chinese”, or “after the Chinese taste”. It is a Western aesthetic inspired by Eastern design.

The fact remains that four thousand years ago, when we did not know how to read, they knew everything essentially useful of which we boast todayVoltaire

To immerse yourself in the Chinoiserie experience, optionally play the traditional East Asian music.

A folding screen was one of the most popular expressions of Chinoiserie, often decorated with beautiful art.

Themes included mythology, scenes of palace life, nature, and romance in Chinese literature—a young lady in love could take a curious peek hidden from behind a folding screen.

Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742

2. Chinoiserie’s popularity grew with rising trade in the East

Rising trade with China and East Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries brought an influx of Chinese and Indian goods into Europe aboard ships from the English, Dutch, French, and Swedish East India Companies.

The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838
The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838

By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company had become the dominant player in East Asian trading, its rule extending across most of India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and British Hong Kong.

A fifth of the world’s population was under the trading influence of the British East India Company.

East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)
(British) East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)

3. Chinoiserie began with tea drinking

Drinking tea was the height of fashion for ladies of good taste and required an appropriate chinoiserie mise en scène.

Tea drinking was a fundamental part of polite society; much of the interest in both Chinese export wares and chinoiserie rose from the desire to create appropriate settings for the ritual of tea drinkingBeevers
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum

Tea and sugar were expensive commodities during the eighteenth century and this chest could be locked to secure its valuable contents.

Containing two canisters for tea (green and black) and a larger one for sugar, the pastoral scenes, and Italianate landscapes, combined with Rococo gilding against a pink ground, create an opulent effect.

1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum

4. Aristocratic women were famous collectors of chinoiserie porcelain

Among them were Queen Mary, Queen Anne, Henrietta Howard, and the Duchess of Queensbury—all socially important women, whose homes served as examples of good taste and sociability.

Wealthy women helped define the prevailing vogue through their purchasing power. One story tells of a keen competition between Margaret, 2nd Duchess of Portland, and Elizabeth, Countess of Ilchester, for a Japanese blue and white plate.

Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680

Reflecting the English factory’s focus on Asian porcelains as a primary source of inspiration, this plate with its skillfully composed chinoiserie decoration, is an ambitious work from the 1750s, the decade during which Bow first achieved commercially viable production.

1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum

Distinguished by the chinoiserie scenes painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin, these elephant vases from c. 1760 are thought to have been commissioned by Mme. de Pompadour, chief mistress of Louis XV of France. They are among the rarest forms produced by the famous Sèvres manufactory in the suburbs of Paris.

Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum
Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum

5. Chinoiserie is related to the Rococo style

Both styles are characterized by exuberant decoration, a focus on materials, stylized nature, and subject matter depicting leisure and pleasure.

Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum

Exotic chinoiserie accents in the pagoda-shaped outline of the tureen’s lid exemplify an interpretation popular in southern Germany.

1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum
1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum

6. European monarchs gave special favor to Chinoiserie

King Louis XV of France and Britain’s King George IV thought Chinoiserie blended well with the rococo style.

Entire rooms, such as those at Château de Chantilly, were painted with chinoiserie compositions, and artists such as Antoine Watteau and others brought expert craftsmanship to the style.

Highly ornamental, yet elegant, Western interpretations of Eastern themes were fanciful expressions, often with exotic woods and marbles used to further the effect.

A room furnished in the Louis XV style
A room furnished in the Louis XV style
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty's Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty’s Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820

Built in 1670 at Versailles as a pleasure house for King Louis XIV’s mistress, the Trianon de Porcelaine was considered to be the first major example of chinoiserie. It was replaced by the Grand Trianon 17 years later.

Trainon de Porcelaine
Trainon de Porcelaine. Credit Hervé GREGOIRE (top right image)

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia had a Chinese House built in the gardens of his summer palace Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.

Garden architect Johann Gottfried Büring designed the pavilion in the style of Chinoiserie by blending Chinese architectural elements with ornamental rococo.

The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort

7. Europeans manufactured imitations of Chinese lacquer furniture

Frequently decorated with ebony and ivory or Chinese motifs of pagodas and dragons, Europeans such as Thomas Chippendale helped popularize Chinoiserie furniture.

Chippendale’s design book The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director: Being a large Collection of the Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture, In the Most Fashionable Taste provided a guide for intricate chinoiserie furniture and its decoration.

1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.

8. Marco Polo was the first European to describe a Chinese garden

Marco Polo visited the summer palace of Kublai Khan at Xanadu in around 1275.

There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.Marco Polo
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742

Evolving over three thousand years, the Chinese garden landscaping style became popular in the West during the 18th century.

Built in 1738, the Chinese House within the gardens of the English Palladian mansion at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, was the first of its kind in an English garden.

Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England
Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England

Hundreds of Chinese and Japanese Gardens were built around the world to celebrate the naturalistic, organic beauty of their asymmetric design.

One admires the art with which this irregularity is carried out. Everything is in good taste, and so well arranged, that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by pieceJesuit priest Jean Denis Attiret, 1739
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi

9. Wealthy gentlemen preferred Banyans to formal clothing

Made from expensive silk brocades, damasks, and printed cottons, banyans were types of dressing gown with a kimono-like form and Eastern origin. Worn with a matching waistcoat and cap or turban, they were so popular among wealthy men of the late 18th century that they posed for portraits wearing the banyan instead of formal clothing.

Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem

10. Chinoiserie enjoyed a renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s

Intimating the most elaborate past of the Chinese court, the Chinoiserie roundels of this Lanvin robe de style alternately resemble embroidered Manchu court badge motifs or the glinting scales of Mongol armor interpreted in Western embroidery.

1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum
1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum

Stressing tubular simplicity, Callot Soeurs used the reductive rubric of Art Deco to combine Chinoiserie with other styles, resulting in an intoxicating fusion of exoticisms.

1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

Known for their Chinoiserie, Callot Soeurs also featured the long fluid vestigial sleeves of Ottoman coats.

1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

References
Wikipedia
V&A Museum
The Met
The British Museum

The History of Handbags — a 5-Minute Guide

Today’s designer handbags have a long and storied history.

Early Europeans used handbags just as we do today—to store personal belongings needed for the day. Clothing had no pockets until the 17th century, so men also carried handbags for things like coins, alms, and relics.

Worn attached to a belt, this 16th-century buckle bag had 18 secret compartments. For the aristocratic gentleman, it was a status symbol.

1500s. French. Goat's leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets, some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
1500s. French. Goat’s leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets—some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

The First Man-Purse?

The sporran played a similar role in the highlands of Scotland—part utilitarian, part symbol of wealth and status.

A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.
A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.

A 16th-Century Messenger Bag?

As pockets became an integral part of clothing during the 17th century, men no longer needed to carry handbags for anything other than the bulkiest of items—books, documents, and letters.

Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

Chatelaine Bags

From the 16th century, women often wore a decorative clasp at the waist with a series of chains attached, called a chatelaine. Suspended from it were useful household accessories such as scissors, keys, and sewing tools. Crafted from precious metals, chatelaines were considered as jewelry and status symbols.

Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.
Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.

Reticules or Indispensables

17th- and 18th-century ladies preferred to carry their particulars in small bags with drawstrings that were known as reticules in France and “indispensables” in England.

Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813. Both ladies are clutching a reticule.

Using embroidery skills learned from a young age, ladies created designs of great artistry and beauty.

c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA

The Dawn of the Designer Handbag

The Industrial Revolution brought steam railways and travel became increasingly popular.

In 1841, Yorkshire entrepreneur Samuel Parkinson, whose Butterscotch confectionary was appointed to the British royal household, wanted to treat his wife to a custom-made set of hand luggage.

He had noticed that her purse was too small and not made of a sturdy enough material for traveling. So he had leather handbags made for her in varying size for different occasions.

Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874
Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874

Besides durability, Parkinson wanted to distinguish his luggage from that of lower class passengers.

London-based luxury leather goods company H. J. Cave & Sons was more than happy to oblige. Its Osilite trunk became so famous that it won several prizes in the 19th century, including first prize in Paris in 1867.

But most importantly for Mrs. Parkinson, she got to own the world’s first designer handbag.

H. J. Cave’s designs are known to have inspired Louis Vuitton (1857) and a young Guccio Gucci (1910).

Gallery of handbags and purses through history

1700s

c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum

1800s

1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum

1900s

1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum

References
Museum of Bags
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wikipedia
LACMA

The “Beau Monde” High Fashion of the 18th Century

On August 1, 1714, Queen Anne of Great Britain drew her last breath, and the first of a series of Georges ascended to the throne, marking the dawn of an extraordinary new era of exploration, invention, industry, and art—the Georgian Era.

As the rural economy shifted to an urban industrial one, huge advances in science, design and engineering brought wealth to a new class of merchants, businessmen, and financiers.

This nouveau riche “middling sort”, or middle class, imitated the lifestyle of the aristocracy. Looking fashionable was a full-time occupation, and a tall order—since the Georgian aristocracy didn’t do things by halves.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.

Unlike the 17th century, it was parliament, not the monarchy, that held sway over governing the country.

Plush new town homes were built to house the politicians and their servants for the London season—corresponding to the sitting of parliament.

Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67
Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67

Fashion established the social pecking order. Aristocratic elites aped each other’s tastes, the middle class watched and learned, and the press fanned the public’s fascination with the glitterati.

This was the age of the Beau Monde.

Pleasure gardens, exhibitions and assemblies were open to all who could afford tickets.

Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785
Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785

At Vauxhall Gardens, London, a shopkeeper’s wife and daughters could rub shoulders with the landed gentry.

Men looked resplendent in their finery …

1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum
1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum

… a declaration of fashion on both sides of the Big Pond.

John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765
John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765

Men’s attire remained fairly static throughout the 18th century—predominantly coats, waistcoats and breeches—with stylistic changes to the fabric and cut.

Suits ranged from the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets of formal “full dress” to hard-wearing woolen garments more suitable for outdoor sport and country pursuits.

The 18th-century Beau Monde male wanted to look as fashionable as possible with seemingly little effort—exuding an air of “nonchalance.”

c. 1800. Man's ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1800. Man’s ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1755 Man's ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA
c. 1755 Man’s ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA

But it was women who really stole the show.

1750. British. Woman's Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l'anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
1750. British. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l’anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI

Between 1720 and 1780, ladies wore imposing Robes à la Française (French Dress) and Robes à l’Anglaise (English Dress).

Derived from the loose negligée sacque dress of the early part of the century, Robes à la Française had an open funnel-shaped front—often with stomacher panel—and wide rectangular skirts of expansive fabric decorated with delicate Rococo designs.

c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Woman's Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1765. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
c1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org
c. 1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org

Obtaining such a silhouette took some hidden magic—an undergarment structure of panniers.

Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA

But, oh, what power the dress held over the male of the species …

Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier
Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier

The robe à la française compelled men everywhere to declare their love on bended knee.

The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731
The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731

Court etiquette demanded an altogether higher level of commitment to fashion. Size mattered. And one name stood out across Europe as synonymous with court fashion—Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA

You may be wondering, what’s the point? Well, the whole idea behind such width was to provide a panel where woven patterns, elaborate decorations and rich embroidery could be displayed and fully appreciated.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

For the wearer of this little number, the only way to pass through doorways was literally sideways.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A variation on the Robe à la Française was the Robe à l’Anglaise, having a tight, fitted back, rather than the draped pleats of the Française.

1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk

Another popular style of gown in the 18th-century was the Robe à la Polonaise (Polish Dress).

Characterized by a close-fitting bodice and skirt gathered up into three separate puffed sections at the back, the polonaise was suspended by rows of little rings sewn inside the skirt, or sometimes ribbon ties forming decorative bows.

1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum

In the latter part of the 18th century, fashion became simpler and less elaborate. Spurred by modern Enlightenment thinking, the fashionability of Rococo went into decline.

1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
French cartoon showing contrats between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right
French cartoon showing contrast between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right

Following the French Revolution, people began dressing for individual expression rather that social status.

In trendsetting France, out went the aristocracy and in came Napoleon’s first Empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais sporting the “Empire Silhouette”. High-waisted, with a long, flowing skirt, it was a look that would take Europe by storm.

Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA

The 18th-century Beau Monde was over … but the 19th century would see its own excesses.

Parasols—the Essential Accessory for a Lady

On a windy summer’s day in 1875, Claude Monet painted his wife Camille with their son Jean out for a stroll in Argenteuil, a suburb of Paris.

Splashes of color and Monet’s use of light help capture a moment of spontaneity.

Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son by Claude Monet, 1875
Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son by Claude Monet, 1875

Holding her parasol tightly against the wind, Camille is set against an azure sky with wispy white clouds, looking down at Monet from a rise in the meadow.

Camille was modeling for a theme that Victorians loved—”Lady With a Parasol”.

Victorian poet Emily Dickinson likened a lady opening a parasol to a butterfly spreading its wings in the warmth of the sun.

Painted Lady butterfly. Credit SD Dirk, flickr
Painted Lady butterfly. Credit SD Dirk, flickr
From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged—a Summer Afternoon—
… Her pretty Parasol be seen
Contracting in a Field
—Emily Dickinson.
Young Woman with a Parasol by Winslow Homer, 1880
Young Woman with a Parasol by Winslow Homer, 1880

We most often associate the beautiful image of a lady with a parasol with the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. But as far back as the 5th century BC, the Ancient Greeks thought parasols were an indispensable accessory for a lady of fashion.

Morning Walk by John Singer Sargent, 1888
Morning Walk by John Singer Sargent, 1888
Woman and Parasol by Albert Edelfelt, 1886
Woman and Parasol by Albert Edelfelt, 1886
A Walk by the River by Andre Brouillet (1857 - 1914)
A Walk by the River by Andre Brouillet (1857 – 1914)
The White Parasol by Robert Lewis Reid, 1907
The White Parasol by Robert Lewis Reid, 1907
Summer by Colin Campbell Cooper, 1918
Summer by Colin Campbell Cooper, 1918

The Ancient Chinese attached collapsible parasols to their ceremonial carriages and the Ancient Egyptians used a fan of palm-leaves on a long handle, similar to those now carried ceremoniously in papal processions.

Terracotta Army. Exhibition. Credit Tomasz Sienicki
Terracotta Army. Exhibition. Credit Tomasz Sienicki

Roman maid-servants saw it as a post of honour to carry a parasol over their mistresses.

According to Ancient Indian legend, in around the 4th century BC, a skilled bowman named Jamadagni practiced shooting arrows and his wife Renuka helped recover them so that he could continue practicing and become the best bowman in all India. Jamadagni fired one arrow so far that it took Renuka a whole day to find it, the heat of the sun exhausting her. In anger, Jamadagni fired an arrow at the sun. Begging for mercy, the sun gave Renuka the gift of a beautiful parasol.

Nature has been providing us with parasols since the dawn of mankind. Tree canopies absorb the sun’s ultraviolet rays, providing natural shade.

Woman Sitting with a Parasol by Aristide Maillol, 1895
Woman Sitting with a Parasol by Aristide Maillol, 1895

Parasol Pines are native to Southern Europe and the Middle East, their shape resembling a parasol.

View of Cannes with Parasol Pines by William Stanley Haseltine, 1869
View of Cannes with Parasol Pines by William Stanley Haseltine, 1869