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The Arrival of the Midinettes by Jean Béraud

 

In the earlier Parisian fauna, we met the grisettes and the gigolettesThe former were independent working-class girls often romantically involved with students. The latter, the equivalent of gangsters’ molls, were mostly full-time prostitutes. Generally speaking, while the grisettes centered in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, which housed the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic School, and other important educational institutions, the gigolettes inhabited the working-class neighborhoods on the city periphery.

The Right Bank, around the rue de la Paix, saw a rapidly-growing number of couture houses and luxury accessories workshops populated by young and fashion-conscious female workers. At noon -midi – these girls hurried out to take a light meal – dinette – in a cheap restaurant or simply on a public garden bench. The age of the midinette extends from around 1850 to the 1960s, when the haute-couture business began to fade.

la modiste

The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Béraud

Both the grisette and the midinette were steady figures in the romantic imagery of Paris. They acted as the muses for writers and painters. Poems, songs,  novels, and later movies, paid homage to them. The tragic Mimi, from the opera La Bohêmeimmediately comes to mind.

The midinette is painted as she trots the streets delivering a dress or a new hat. She is immortalized dancing in public balls or enjoying a Sunday picnic. Little is said about a 12-hour day and insufficient wages. The girl, who wants to be fashionable, may resort to prostitution to pay for her finery.

The temptation is ever-present. At noon, the predators are waiting. Old men in the pursuit of youth gather at the entrance of the couture houses, offering the treat of a luxury lunch; men with dark intentions roam the public gardens, where the girls rest.

 

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“With no regard for your white hair, you run after the midinettes. Merry Spring finds Winter scary – don’t bother the young girls,” says this postcard

 

Paris honored her working girls. The washerwomen became queens for a day.  As for the midinettes, once a year, they participated in a grueling competition known as The Race of the Midinettes.

 

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The course started on the Place de la Concorde and led up the Champs Elysées, and past the Arc de Triomphe, to end after 12 kilometers (approx. 8 miles) in Nanterre. A newspaper describes the event in 1903:

All these young ladies, competing first, in the most varied costumes, some, not all, very successful: then the crowd of relatives, friends, and finally innumerable, thick, the troop of the curious. The departure was laborious. At last, at half – past eleven, a real army sprang from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe; cars, cabs, bicycles, motorcycles, struggled in the midst of all this and, although preceded by Paris guards on horseback, the Midinettes sometimes had to play fists to make their way. The first arrival was Miss Jeanne Cheminel, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old brunette who shot her 12 kilometers in 1:10, which is meritorious. This sturdy walker is a milliner, and that somewhat upset a few seamstresses, who, behind her, nevertheless obtained the best places. Here, in fact, were the first: Jeanne Cheminel, milliner; Lucie Fleury, seamstress; Marie Touvard, seamstress; Louise Balesta, seamstress; Alice Brard, seamstress; Mathide Mignot, seamstress; Kugel, seamstress; Marguerite Pradel, seamstress; Jeanne Brederie, seamstress.

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A competitor in the race offered a pleasant sight: a chic naval hat sitting on freshly curled hair, a dress with a lace collar, the waist squeezed with a corset. A bouquet of fresh flowers pinned at the shoulder completed the outfit

 

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The end of the race shows considerable damage to the outfit and the hairdo. The sport was in its infancy and so was the fashion for the competitors. See how men dressed for this type of events here

 

Related posts:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

La Grisette

Parisian Prostitutes (2): La Gigolette

 

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chaleur

You would not want to experience a sultry summer in the 19th century, of that I’m sure. Look at the picture of suffering Parisians. No tank tops for the women, no short pants or sandals for the men. The fashion did not allow for such a relief. The only human being happy with the situation is the lemonade vendor, who is doing brisk business while carrying a pack of ice on his back.

Our ancestors fought back without air conditioning. Some  ways of staying cool are described in Mrs Daffodil’s post How to Keep Cool: 1860 – 1902. The post is an amalgam of heat remedies of the past: some efficient, others humorous if useless, and some downright ingenious. Who would have thought of serving ice cream inside a hollowed out rose? Do read the post and see whether you can find something useful should modern technology fail us.

 

 

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1860

The previous post dealt with the duel – a very masculine endeavor of two men killing each other for the sake of honor. Unlike the male population, women did not carry swords or pistols to assert themselves. They used fashion to that end. The 1850s and 60s was the era of expansion in every way including the fashion. Railways expanded around the world, an undersea cable was laid and the telegraph carried instant news across the Atlantic. Machines and bridges were built that required chains of links the size of a human body. International expositions united goods and people from every corner of the globe. Women in their ever-increasing skirts took more and more room at such gatherings. A dress made of 15 to 20 yards of fabric covered with an ample mantle in the winter made women look like moving pyramids. Fortunately, the sewing machine was invented just then to help with assembling the abundant material.

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1858 Italian gownAlthough I published a few posts on the 19th-century fashion, especially on the infamous 1850-60s crinoline, none of them can compete with Mimi Matthews’ meticulous work The 1850s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade. Mimi is working her way through the century post by post, each decade a careful assemblage of museum collections photos: a visual feast not to be missed. You’ll find some fashion atrocities like the Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition gown with cancerous satin growths, but also things of stunning beauty, of rich materials and clever use of sewing skills. The winning entry is the orange Italian court gown. Do click on the photo to enlarge the gorgeous gold embroidery. You will be taken directly to the Metropolitan Museum fashion collection. But do come back to read Mimi Matthews’ remarkable post!

Update: Sorry, the links are no longer functional. The author of the blog promised to look into it.

Second update: Since no links are coming, I managed to find Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition gown (1851).  Visit The Royal Collection Trust for more here.

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Related posts:

The Hoop Crinoline: Dying for fashion

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a Cage

 

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sports belfort

One hundred and twenty-five years ago—and four years before the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896—the first long distance course was organized by a Parisian newspaper. It was all new and nobody had the slightest idea how the participants would behave during the 500-kilometers long journey. The vast majority were ignorant of the first principles of physical training. However, of the 840 men who gathered in Paris, about 250 reached Belfort – not a bad result at all considering that they had neither experience nor the comfortable sportswear we enjoy today. One has to admit though that the assortment of jackets, jerseys, naval uniforms, and the variety of headgear, scarves, and bright sashes gave the participants that romantic look of adventure which we no longer associate with sports.

For womens’ fashion in sporting events, see The Noon Girl: La Midinette.

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The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage post, published here earlier, discussed the encumbrance of this fashionable accessory mostly in a humorous way. Yet there was a serious—one may say tragic—side to the matter.

When the crinoline had reached its greatest degree of expansion, it was extremely hard—indeed, practically impossible—for more than two ladies to manoeuvre their skirts in one small room. “It was necessary,” remarked a lady of the Empress Eugénie’s court, in later years, “to watch one’s every movement carefully, to walk with a gliding step, and to supply the elegance lacking to the outline by a certain yieldingness of figure.   It was not easy for a woman to walk with such a mass of material to carry along with her. But as to sitting, it was a pure matter of art to prevent the steel hoops from getting out of place. To step into a carriage without crushing the light tulle and lace fabrics required a long time, very quiet horses, and a husband of extraordinary patience! To travel, to lie down, to play with the children, or indeed merely to shake hands and to walk with them—these were problems which called for great fondness and much good will for their solution.”

Women, moreover, with the introduction of the most advanced Victorian fashions, had become highly inflammable. Though gasoliers now lighted ballroom and drawing-room in place of the crystal chandeliers and silver sconces, candles and oil lamps were still set in dangerous proximity to flimsy shawls, sleeves and skirts, and the chronicles of the nineteenth century are full of stories  of dreadful deaths by fire – of how the Duchess de Maillé was burned to death at her friend’s fireside; how the Archduchess Mathilde, discovered smoking, attempted to hide the surreptitious cigarette in her petticoat and went up in flames; how a French actress was incinerated on stage; and how Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Royal, narrowly escaped death by the same agency.

Source: Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell

Further reading:

Visit the richly illustrated Crinoline Review 1850-1859

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Fashion is based on volume, or the lack of it, and the repartition of said volume. Nothing illustrates this fact better than the rapidly changing silhouettes of the 19th century dresses. A century that began with a healthy, unconstrained approach to the female body ended with the grotesque distortion of the S-shaped corset.

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 Related article:

All About Corsets

 

 

 

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A Bird of Prey, Punch 1892

If you are interested in 19th century fashion, I suggest a visit at The Victorianist blog. An in-depth, richly illustrated article reveals little known ugly facts behind the image of the fashionable Victorian woman. You don’t want to miss that.

Related posts:

 The Fashion Empire of Charles Worth

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a Cage

All about Corsets

Note: For the month of April, I’m preparing a 3-part series about the lifestyle of Parisians of all classes.

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