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 belts gave the participants that romantic look of adventure which we usually don’t associate with sports.
Archive for the ‘fashion’ Category
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
Visit the richly illustrated Crinoline Review 1850-1859
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.
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.
Note: For the month of April, I’m preparing a 3-part series about the lifestyle of Parisians of all classes.
An art which has been recently brought to an astonishing degree of perfection in Paris, is that of dyeing, cleaning, scouring, and restoring almost all descriptions of habiliments; this has been effected by M. Bonneau, but not until he had visited the principal manufacturing towns, and had passed many years in studying the art scientifically, aided by persevering researches into the depths of chymistry, to which he is indebted for being able to perform that which has not until now been accomplished. I have seen instances of a soiled, faded, cashmere shawl, almost considered beyond redemption, committed to his charge, and reappear so resuscitated that the owners could scarcely believe it was the same dingy, deplorable-looking affair they had sent a fortnight before. The same power of restoring is effected upon all descriptions of satin, even that of the purest white, which, although so soiled as to be of a dirty yellow colour, is brought forth perfectly clean and with all its original lustre; with silks, merinos, gros de Naples of the tenderest tints, the process adopted is equally successful; blonde, guipure, and all descriptions of lace, no matter how discoloured, are restored to their original whiteness. With the apparel of men, the same advantages are obtained, silk, cashmere, velvet, and other waistcoats that many would throw aside as totally spoiled, or too shabby to be worn any longer, by being sent to M. Bonneau, are returned, having the appearance of being quite new. His establishment, at No. 17, Rue Lepelletier, just facing the French Opera, is well known to many English families; but having heard so much of the wonders he performed in reviving the lost colours of the elaborate borders of ladies’ cashmeres, and rendering them their pristine brilliance, I determined to visit his premises, upon which he carried on his operations, in the Rue de Bondy, No. 40. I there found everything conducted upon a most methodical system of regularity and order each room was appropriated to its peculiar department, and heated and ventilated by a certain process, and that which does M. Bonneau much honour, is, that all is so arranged, with the utmost consideration for the health of his work-people, by taking care that they shall be kept as dry as possible, and that a proper degree of warmth and air shall be admitted into every chamber. When required, M. Bonneau sends his men to clean furniture at persons’ houses, which would be rather incommodious to remove. When any article is sent to him, the bearer is informed what day it will be completed, and is sure not to be deceived, and he has an apartment so arranged for preserving whatever is confided to him, from any injury which might be caused by moths or other insects.
From How to Enjoy Paris in 1848 by F. Herve
The corset set aside, one of the greatest follies of the Victorian Era fashion was the oversized cage crinoline. Generous skirts were favored since the 1830’s, but the invention of the hoop crinoline in 1858, which allowed women to discard heavy petticoats, gave birth to a monstrosity never seen since. Women suffered the discomfort while the cartoonists were delighted with the situation.
This drawing of tarts in a low-class brasserie provides food for thought. In the Victorian era, destitute women had few choices for making a living: servitude, drudgery in sweat-shops or, failing that, prostitution. I think that in our time the four women in the scene could be a real-estate agent, a hairstylist, a marine biologist and a police officer. Or perhaps they’d be tarts again. Who knows? The difference is that women have more choices now.
In July 1865, one of the Goncourt brothers (more about them in a future post) records his visit to a brothel where both the surroundings and the women were a step above the previous bleak picture:
“Just past the Ecole Militaire, a front shop with white curtains. Another story above a large number on the door. The Big 9. A large room lighted from above by the van daylight. Some tables and a bar lined with bottles of liquor. There are Zouaves (*), soldiers, and workmen in smock and grey sitting at the tables with tarts perched on their knees. The girls wear white or colored blouses and dark skirts. They are young and pretty, with pink fingernails and their hair carefully dressed with little ornaments in it. Smoking cigarettes or drawing on a friend’s Maryland, they walk up and down in pairs between the tables, playfully jostling each other, or else they sit playing draughts. Singers turn up now and then to sing some dirty ditty in a bass voice. The waiters have big black mustaches. The girls call the pimp who runs the establishment “the old marquis”. A negress goes by in a sleeveless dress.
“One the first floor, there is a long corridor with a lot of tiny cells just big enough to contain a little window with broken blinds, a bed, a chest of drawers, and, on the floor, the inevitable basin and jug of water. On the wall there is one of those colored pictures entitled Spring or Summer that you win at a fair and, hanging from the mirror, a little Zouave doll.
“These twenty-sou women are not at all like the terrifying creatures drawn by Constantin Guys, but poor little things trying to ape the language and dress of the higher class prostitutes.”
Moving up the scale of prostitution to the very top, the Goncourts report the following:
“April 7, 1857
“Rose [Goncourts’ housekeeper] has just seen in the concierge’s lodge the night-clothes—or morning-clothes if you prefer—that our neighbor La Deslions (see the post Dinner with Courtesans) sends by her maid to the house of the man to whom she is giving a night. It seems that she has a different outfit for each of her lovers in the color that he prefers. This one consists of a white satin dressing gown, quilted and pinked, with gold-embroidered slippers in the same color—a dressing gown costing between twelve and fifteen hundred francs—a nightdress in batiste trimmed with Valenciennes lace, with embroidered insertions costing three hundred francs, and a petticoat trimmed with three lace flounces at three or four hundred francs each, a total of some three thousand francs taken to any house whose master can afford her.” (For comparison, the daily wage of a maid was one franc.)
(*) Zouaves: Body of light infantry in the French army, composed of Algerian recruits, popular for their exotic uniform.