Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Archives: Frothy, Fashionable Caps, c.1780

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Susan reporting,

Since I'm in Colonial Williamsburg this week, it seemed like a good time to revisit this popular post from 2015. Then,  the mantua-makers had just finished two complicated sewing projects, and their form of relaxing was to replicate several silk gauze caps of the late 1770s-early 1780s.

Caps had been part of an Englishwoman's day-time wardrobe for many generations before this. Ostensibly to cover the head and hair for modesty's sake, they were worn by nearly all women of every age and rank. For working women, linen caps kept hair tidy and out of the way, and offered extra protection around open fires. For the more fashionable, caps could also provided a base for the wide-brimmed hats worn out-of-doors.

By the last quarter of the 18th c., however, caps had evolved into notable fashion statements on their own. Trimmed with ribbons, bows, and ruffles and enhanced with fine stitching and embroidery, caps inflated into frothy confections to match the towering hairstyles ("heads") of the time.

These stylish caps were made of the finest silk gauze, a translucent fabric with a crisp hand much like modern organza. The narrow rolled hems, pleats, and tiny stitches were a test of skill for the mantua-makers, as Nicole Rudolph, above left, demonstrates. The original caps were so airy and insubstantial that few survive in collections today. (Our CW manuta-makers report that even after a single careful laundering, the caps
begin to wilt, and after two, they're pretty much done.)

But longevity wasn't the caps' point. They were a trend-driven fashion, with new variations appearing frequently in the London shops. They could be further personalized with different bows, as the back view of the example, lower left, demonstrates (though it could use some equally fashionable big hair beneath it for proper height.) Compared to a new gown, caps were also inexpensive, and an easy way to update an older wardrobe.

Looking at the satirical prints of the time, right, it's easy to assume that the size and foolishness of the caps was exaggerated (along with everything else) by the artists. They weren't. Former apprentice Abby Cox models one of the caps copied by the shop from a print, lower right, and there's no denying its exuberant charm. Yes, the cap is extreme, and more than a little foolish to modern eyes, but to an 18th c. lady - and more importantly, to an 18th c. gentleman - there were few things more unabashedly flirtatious than a pretty young woman in a sweet ruffled cap.

Above left: Photo copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
RightDetail, Deceitful Kisses, or The Pretty Plunderers, from an original by John Collet, printed by Carrington Bowles, 1781. Collection of the British Museum.
Lower right: Photographs copyright 2015 the Margaret Hunter Shop.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feasts and Feats of Drinking

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Midnight Modern Conversation ca 1732
Loretta reports:

Though Easter Tuesday comes rather later this year, I’m working with Hone’s date, since it seems equally applicable to all feast-days. I think, too, this offers a good example of phrases that sound modern, but actually have been around for a long time. Unlike so many other expressions, “hair of the dog” is as familiar to us as it was to Hone’s readers in 1826.  The OED traces it to the 16th century.

As to the “feats of potation”—given the level of drinking in Hone's time, one can only imagine what his ancestors might have consumed, to impress him so deeply.
Easter Tuesday

Unknown artist after William Hogarth, A Midnight Modern Conversation ca. 1732courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Accession No. B1981.25.351

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dukes and More Dukes

Monday, March 27, 2017
Loretta reports:

Because my computer hates traveling, and thinks every new WiFi it encounters is out to get it, my Casual Friday blog post comes on a Monday.

Warning: Unseemly boasting to follow.

On Tuesday last, while visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I received word that my 2016 historical romance, Dukes Prefer Blondes, is a Romance Writers of America®  RITA® Finalist in the Long Historical category. The Rita is the RWA version of an Oscar, and being a finalist is like being an Oscar nominee. In short, it’s a very big deal, and I feel deeply honored.
You can find the other finalists here.

End of boasting; beginning sigh of relief.

Readers have asked about my new book. It’s finally done. A Duke in Shining Armor, the first of a three-book series, will be a December 2017 book. This means it will go on sale 29 November. I’ve been so busy trying to get it written and revised, that I haven’t yet updated my web page, but something will go up shortly after I get back home to Massachusetts. In the meantime, there’s a description on its page at


Barnes & Noble

… and I can’t find the link to iBooks.

At some point, my publisher will have a cover reveal. Meanwhile, you can stay updated on details about my books and related matters if you subscribe to my erratic website blog. It will not clutter your inbox. As you can see, months can go by. But this is where the news goes first, usually, unless I am on the road and my computer...(see above).

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of March 20, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The chef who cooked for Winston Churchill.
• In March 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John on the evacuation of Boston.
Aristotle's Masterpiece: what to expect when you're expecting, 17thc style.
• The first Texas-set novel was written by a Frenchman in 1819.
• The "Edinburgh Seven", the first women to study medicine and matriculate at a British university in 1869.
• How America smuggled its way to revolution.
• Two 19thc stables for the horses of millionaires are all that remain on a NYC block that was one lined with them.
Image: When you need something stronger: an 18thc flask.
Charles Byrne was an 18thc marvel at 7'7" whose dying wish was to rest in peace; scientists had other ideas.
• The black soldiers who biked 2,000 miles over mountains and out of American history.
• Who was Moses Hazen, and why didn't George Washington share his name with Congress?
• Searching for Connecticut "witch" Hannah Cranna.
• Victorian fat-shaming: harsh words on weight from the 19thc.
• Fortune telling through moles.
Image: Better to be a cow-banger than a fatuous pauper: unusual occupations from 1881 census.
• St Patrick's Confessio: a medieval autobiography.
• How 18thc crowds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey expressed their views through festivities and protests.
• A tale as old as time: earlier versions of the Beauty & the Beast story have the woman as the ugly one.
• After George Washington's death, his wife Martha moved to an upstairs bedroom under the eaves: explore it in this virtual tour.
• A guide to the Atheneums of New England.
Image: "Please accept this curl": poem and lock of hair from Craigleith Military Hospital, 1917.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Alexander Hamilton's Powdered Hair, c1796

Thursday, March 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

Yesterday I wrote here about how Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (the heroine of my new historical novel, I, ELIZA HAMILTON) followed the latest fashion for hedgehog-inspired hair, a style made popular by Marie Antoinette. Curled and frizzled, pomatumed and powdered, the hairstyle would have been the work of a skilled hairdresser, and probably taken considerable time to achieve, too.

For her husband Alexander Hamilton, that same powder and pomatum was a near-daily ritual. Today we look at portraits of the Founding Fathers and think the American Revolution was the work of a bunch of old men. This wasn't the case: many of the members of the Continental Congress were in their thirties, or even their twenties, and the soldiers fighting in the army were even younger. Even George Washington was only in his early forties when he became the Commander-in-Chief. However, many of the portraits of the Founders that we see today were painted when these men were much older and more venerable. In addition, many of them powdered their hair, which made them appear prematurely grey.

While many 18thc gentlemen wore wigs - signs of status as well as fashion - American military men often took their cue from Washington, who always wore his own hair instead of a wig. Washington's hair was naturally reddish-brown, but always hidden under a thick coat of pomatum and white powder, exactly as used by the ladies (more about powder and pomatum here.) But while the ladies were hoping for plenty of big-hair-volume, Washington expected his pomatum regimen to hold his hair neatly in place and out of the way, sleeked back from his forehead, clubbed, and bound in a queue at the nape of the neck with a black silk bow. He expected his officers to do the same, a show of military uniformity and neatness, and many of the men continued to wear a variation of the style long after the war was over and their military days done, or at least as long as they still had the hair for it.

Among these officers was Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Washington's most trusted aide-de-camp during the war and a bonafide hero in battle, Hamilton always enjoyed the display of a well-cut uniform, and was proud of retaining his military bearing throughout his life. By the 1790s, many American men had already abandoned wigs and the now-old-fashioned pomatum and powder except for the most formal occasions. Younger men were cutting their hair short, too. But Hamilton preferred to retain the smart military look of well-dressed hair from his days as a young man in the Continental Army, much the way some modern former soldiers continue to wear very short or shaved haircuts even after returning to civilian life.

Hamilton's hair was serious business, with payments to his barber listed in his cash books. His third son, James Alexander (who was born in 1788, making this recollection likely from the late 1790s, when Hamilton was working as an attorney in New York City), recalled his father's ritual with the barber:

"I recollect being in my father's office in New York when he was under the hands of his hair-dress[er] (which was his daily course). His back hair was long. It was plaited, clubbed up, and tied with a black ribbon. His front hair was pomatumed, powdered and combed up and back from his forehead."

The pastel drawing, above, was a portrait that the Hamilton family regarded as one of the best likenesses, showing his handsome profile and half-smile. It's also a splendid view of that well-dressed hair tied with the black ribbon. It appears to cut shorter and fuller in front, with the back long (I'm resisting mullet references.) I especially like how there's a dusting of hair powder on the collar of his black coat - once the sign of a well-groomed gentleman.

Fun fact: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette were all described by contemporaries as having various shades of red hair. Who knew, under all that powder?

Above: Alexander Hamilton by James Sharples, pastel on paper, c1796, New York Historical Society.
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