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Archive for February, 2012

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing was published this month by Shire Library.  Small and compact, as Shire publications tend to be, this wonderfully illustrated book describes the standards of beauty popular in each era, from 1550 when alabaster brows were highly prized, to the black eyebrows that were favored by 18th century women.  As with her best-selling Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen, Ms. Downing provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the topic. She begins with the Tudor Court and ends with the delightful cosmetic advertisements of the first half of the 20th century.

Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess's Morning Levee, William Hogarth, c. 1745

Because my blog’s theme centers on the Georgian and Regency eras, I will confine much of my recap to those years.

A woman applying beauty patches, Boucher

Mirrors, once only possessed by the rich, became so popular in London in the mid-16th century that British manufacturers petitioned Parliament to ban foreign imports. The ritual of the dressing table became quite elaborate and ladies began to entertain guests as they prepared themselves for the day.

French mop gold boite a mouche patch box with brush, 1730. Images @ Etsy

Decorative patches covered skin blemishes and blotches, sometimes to such an extent that a face could be covered with a variety of dots, half-moon crescents, stars and even a coach and horses! The popularity of using patches began in the mid-17th century and did not wane until the end of the 18th century.

Woman with patches, pale skin and rouged cheeks. Thomas Gainsborough

Porcelain skin was highly prized and created with white lead-based skin cream. Blush was then applied to create a doll-like look. Cosmetics were created in a variety of ways. Here are the ingredients for one recipe for lead face powder that did not come from this book: several thin plates of lead, a big pot of vinegar, a bed of horse manure, water, perfume & tinting agent. Once can only guess how this concoction was put together and at its smell.

Marquise the Pompadour applying face powder with a brush. Boucher, 1758.

Ms. Downing describes in her book:

lead sheets were unrolled and beaten with battledores until all the flakes of white lead came off. These were gathered and ground into a very fine powder… p. 24

Gainsboroughs portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliot in 1782 shows the craze for dark eyebrows.

For a while during the third quarter of the 18th century, dark eyebrows became all the rage. Lead-based cosmetics, used over time, caused hair-loss at the forehead and over the brows, resulting in a receding hair-line and a bare brow. For those who lost their eyebrows, it became the custom as early as 1703  to trap mice and use their fur for artificial eyebrows. Sadly, the glue did not always adhere well, and a lady could be caught with her brows out of kilter. This hilarious poem was written by Matthew Prior in 1718:

On little things, as sages write,

Depends our human joy or sorrow;

If we don’t catch a mouse to-night,

Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow. – p.28

Aging beauties staved off the ravages of time with sponge fillers and rouge (sound familiar?), while many women risked poisonous side effects from using their deadly cosmetics. Maria, one of the Gunning sisters who went on to become Lady Coventry, was so addicted to her lead-based paints that she died in 1760 at the age of 27 knowing full well that she was at risk.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

The French Revolution swept away the widespread use of makeup, which was associated with the aristocracy. Defiantly, some aristocratic ladies went to their doom wearing a  full complement of make-up: pale skin, patches, rouged cheeks and rosy lips.

The more natural look of the regency woman. Note that the cheeks are still rouged.

Rousseau influenced the concept of nature and a more natural Romantic look took hold, aided by the blockade of cosmetics during the Napoleonic Wars. The death of many soldiers resulted in widespread melancholia and the affectation of a consumptive look. Ladies, nevertheless, were never far from their rouge pot.

Another Regency portrait with subtle makeup. The flower basket adds to the natural look.

As with all Shire books, Sarah Jane Downing’s trip through time provides us with brilliant insights, in this instance it is via cosmetics and how society viewed beauty in each era. By the 1950s, the success of a marriage was defined by how well a woman took care of herself. This included makeup. Beauty, as Ms. Downing wrote, “was switched from a pleasure to an obligation.”  Oh, my. I give the delightful Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 four out of five Regency tea cups.


Product Details

Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Shire (February 21, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747808392
ISBN-13: 978-0747808398
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.2 x 8.2 inches

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Gentle Readers: Amanda Millay on New Noblewoman has found modern fashions inspired by Downton Abbey. She has graciously allowed me to reproduce her article for this blog. It will lead you to her blog, The New Noblewoman, which features all things fashion.

Downton Abbey is not just successful as good entertainment. Women everywhere are clamoring for clothing inspired by the show, and finding that modern-day retail wear is not even as pretty as the show’s most simple dresses.

The longing for Downton Abbey-inspired fashions, and the very few options available at the retail level, indicate that a change is needed in women’s fashion. Most women can’t afford a $1,000 dress, and designers and manufacturers will continue to make cheap, ugly, throwaway clothing until people stop buying it. But there is one option remaining for turning the fashion tide: Making or buying only top-quality, beautiful clothes, and making do with a limited wardrobe . . . like most people did for centuries. We should bring the emphasis in fashion back to having a few quality items, rather than amassing a huge quantity of synthetic items that we grow weary of or that go out of style after a few months. Women are already realizing this, and have started searching out homemade clothing (and making their own) in the quest to bring some true style back into fashion.

So can women today find anything that’s comparable to Downton Abbey fashion (without making it, or wearing an evening gown during the day)? I’ve scoured online women’s boutiques and department stores, and after looking through thousands of dresses, here are the best options I’ve found for Downton Abbey-inspired style. There are some great dresses at exorbitant prices, but in this list, everything is less than $200.

(If you’re looking for authentic vintage style, check out the Ladies Emporium,Recollections, Etsy, or this list of retailers from Sense & Sensibility Patterns.)

Long Dresses for a Look That’s Casual or Elegant

The ladies of Downton Abbey are usually dressed to impress. But it’s possible to find empire-waist dresses and long dresses in a variety of styles that have a bit of pre-World War I British flair. Click here for the rest of the article on New Noblewoman.

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Gentle Readers, these fantastic images are by Tony Grant from London Calling. The text are quotations from the fabulous Chawton House Library site.  This site is rich with information and history. I am so impressed with the section on chickens, which were rescued and given a chicken-friendly coop for roosting and free ranging. The horses are magnificent as well. Sandy Lerner has done a magnificent job of turning this once ruin of a house into an historic library and museum. As Tony’s images show, this house is a world treasure .

Drive leading to Chawton House. Image @Tony Grant

In April 1551, the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to wish to acquire a large estate.

Front entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The medieval manor house was replaced by John Knight’s grandson, also called John, with the largely Elizabethan house that can be seen today.  – History

Window detail. Image @Tony Grant

Eaves. Image @Tony Grant

Climbing shrub. Image @Tony Grant

Side view with side door. Image @Tony Grant

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s.

Edward is introduced to the Knights. Image @Chawton House Library

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived. Image@Tony Grant

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life.

Image @Tony Grant

Sandy Lerner. Image @The Telegraph

By 1987, when Richard Knight inherited, parts of the house were derelict, the roof leaked, timbers were rotting and the gardens were overgrown with scrub. The decline was halted in 1993 with the sale of a 125 year lease to a new charity, Chawton House Library, founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation.

Kitchen garden entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The grounds and gardens at Chawton House Library continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the eighteenth century together with Edward Austen Knight’s early nineteenth-century additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. – The estate

Kitchen gardens. Image @Tony Grant

The Library Terrace was built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904-05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens.

Going round the back of the house. Image @Tony Grant

View from the gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Gravel paths are not typical of the English Landscape period and were probably introduced by Edward Knight II (1794-1879).

View from one of the gravel paths. Image @Tony Grant

According to Montagu Knight, the brick Upper Terrace was built in 1901. In the early twentieth century this was a broad grass terrace with a central gravel path, recently uncovered.

Image @Chawton House Library

In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime: in 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her brother Frank:

‘[h]e [Edward Austen Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon’s; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house’.

However, her brother’s plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817. – The estate

The grounds. Image @Tony Grant

The farm buildings. Image @Tony Grant

The fields. One can see the horses. Image @Tony Grant

The Wilderness dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements.

St. Nicholas Church. Image @Tony Grant

Church Copse. This area to the rear of St. Nicholas Church was cleared between 1999 and 2000, revealing the Knight family pet cemetery and the rear lychgate into the churchyard. Of particular interest in this area are the several large, important eighteenth-century lime trees and a yew tree, probably from the same period. – The estate

Image @Tony Grant

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Wedding dress, 1742, Image @Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Anyone who had the opportunity to see “At Home With the Georgians” with Amanda Vickery was in for a treat. The BBC series, based upon her fabulous book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, covered courtship and marriages in the 18th century in great detail. The perspectives of bachelors, spinsters, and married couples were taken into account.

One of the most intriguing portions of the series occurred when Amanda Vickery introduced A Master-Key to the Rich Ladies Treasury or The Widower and Batchelor’s Directory by a Younger Brother, published in 1742.

The witty saying on the frontispiece describes perfectly why this book of lists was compiled:

“He took his Stand

Upon a Widow’s Jointure Land.”

The author, a younger brother who had to make his way in the world by working or marrying rich, writes these shameless words to the woman of fortune he is courting:

“Begin then Madam, hasten to begin — Bless the thrice happy Compiler, make the Happiness of a Younger Brother equal to that of his Elder, — Let the Honourable Mrs. M——n in the Connubial State shine with Splendour equal to Miss F———n in the Maiden, and tell a mistaken World that the Appellation Wife bears with it every Sound of Dignity and demands an universal Reverence;…”

This book was compiled for those  men who were unlucky to follow in their elder brothers’ shadows, for the laws of primogeniture dictated that the eldest son would inherit everything. The ladies are described in its pages with their names, where they live, the largeness of their reputed fortunes and of the stocks held in their names.

Marriage was the only option for ladies during the Georgian era, since they could not control their own fortunes or possess lands. All they “owned” was held in trust for them. Many a rich spinster or widow preferred choosing marriage over living a life alone.

One can almost hear this shameless Younger Brother courting his future bride (and plying her with gifts and poesies) as he charms her into marriage and publicly worships her with these words:

I could for ever dwell on the Repetion of your Charms, if I were not in immediate Expectation of the Possession of them: Whatever Pleasures, whatever Joys we earnestly covet, we surely anticipate of; when alone I am for ever repeating one Line of Dryden’s,

Happy, Happy Pair!”

Today many a suitor would be laughed off his knees if he said such a thing, but back then marriage was a serious business. An engagement represented the best financial arrangement that the pair could finagle. A gentleman had only a few means of making a fortune, one of which was by marrying rich, and a lady had only one means of supervising her own household, and that was in attaining the status of a wife. The Marriage Mart, as the pages in A Master Key imply, was strictly business. Oh, it helped if the people involved had pleasing countenances, good manners, and gentle hearts, but none of these attributes are discussed in this short list of women on the marriage mart in 1742.

I can imagine that many younger sons found comfort in these lists and made elaborate plans to be introduced to the women described so coolly inside of them. To these gentlemen the Younger Brother writes:

Whoever has read the Advertisements in the public Papers of Mr. C—-x, and the unknown Lady who accepted of his Proposals, will instantly acknowledge the Usefulness of the following Directory: The Dilemma that Gentleman was reduced for a Partner, determined the Compiler to set about it: He resolved to spare no Pains: He carefully examined every List of the Proprietors of the public Funds; and made afterwards the best Enquiry he was capable of, into their Fortunes exclusive: As it was impossible to give the exact Fortune of every lady in so large a List as the following, he thought proper to make in his Kalender, one Column under the Title of Reputed Fortunes.”

The Younger Brother’s advice is quite straightforward and required little embellishing:

Thus Gentlemen, have I in the following Sheets I think, opened a fair Field for Action for you; a fine Choice and a fine Collection of Ladies; — Open the Campaign directly then yourselves, that my next may be a new Sett. I have one favour to beg of you, and then I take my Leave; that no one of you, of what Degree soever, presume to attempt the Lovely Charmer I dedicate to; as to the Rest, I heartily wish you all Success …”

The Marriage Mart, I imagine, was a dance of the sexes, with the younger sons finding the best situation their charms were capable of, and the women choosing among the pool of men, hoping that their choice of mate will remain charming, moral, and kind  and not turn into a selfish, wife-beating monster.

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Last night PBS showcased the Christmas special of Downton Abbey. Did you find the finale of Season 2 satisfying? Too cliched? Did you encounter unexpected twists? Or did you guess just about every plot point as my neighbor did? Warning to those who have not seen the Christmas special: This post contains nothing but plot spoilers!

Julian Fellowes with Dan Stevens and Elizabeth McGovern.

Julian Fellowes with Dan Stevens and Elizabeth McGovern. Credit courtesy Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

I found the details of how the Crawleys treated the servants at Christmas quite interesting, giving them gifts and allowing them a free day.  Sir Richard’s response to the Crawleys’ generosity towards the servants told much about him and foreshadowed the difficulties he would encounter with Mary. They are constantly at loggerheads and his jealousy towards her real feelings for Matthew bubbled over.Sir Richard’s jealousy of Matthew bubbles over. He and Mary are constantly at loggerheads. While he seemed a harsh man, in the end it turns out that he truly cared for the eldest Crawley sister. Even as they make googoo eyes at each other, an upright and uptight Matthew informs Lady Mary that they can never be together because of his guilt trip over Lavinia’s death. Her reply, “Didn’t they teach you never to make promises?” This story line, ending in their engagement, finally gives the viewer a happy ending

With Mr. Bates in prison, the viewer is beginning to wonder if things will ever go right for him and Anna.  I am beginning not to care. The trial was over the top and melodramatic, but it did showcase O’Brien’s attempts to say and do the right thing. As for Anna’s reaction to hubby’s impending life/death sentence in prison – violin strings please.

This viewer sorely missed seeing Sybil and Tom. Their absence created a glaring hole in the story line, although their good news about her pregnancy meant joy for Cora and a Fenian grandchild for the skeptical earl.

It was a delight to see Edith boldly cast her hook and line at Sir Anthony Strallan, one of the few able bodied single men left standing after the war, albeit a little long in the tooth.

In order to be thought a hero,Thomas absconded with the earl’s dog, Isis, a most foul deed that backfired. With this act he entered the pantheon of  the ten most dastardly villains in entertainment history. Isis escapes from the shack

The story of Mr. Mason, William’s father, and Daisy provided a sweet sub plot. Daisy talks to William via the ouija board and Mrs. Patmore.

Many plot points were tied up during the finale, which redeemed Season 2. I do hope that Sybil and Branson will return, for I felt their absence keenly. As for Bates and Anna, their down-in-the-luck story line is getting a little old. While a happy couple makes for boring fiction, the relentless bad luck that this couple experiences has entered the realm of the absurd. It is also time that Edith enjoys her moment in the spotlight. She’s changed this year. While she still gives Mary a couple of good digs, she has become a more rounded character. What did you think of the last episode? Alas we will have to wait 11 months before Season 3 airs. Can we even stand it?

Today I conclude this year’s coverage of Downton Abbey. Future posts will return to the Georgian and Regency eras, where this blog ideally resides. Thank you, readers, for your patience as my Downton Abbey fever ran its course.

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