Friday, January 16, 2009

How Much Would You Shiver for Fashion?

So, I’m a sucker for makeover shows, and I love wearing my rummage sale designer outfits. But I’m pretty good about looking at a fashion and ruling it out if it doesn’t fit my style. In the early nineteenth century, I think I’d have had a very hard time. Quite simply, I would have froze.

I came across this illustration while doing research this week. The title is “A Timid Pupil.” Look at that girl. She’s wearing muslin with a red shawl and a swan’s down tippet, barely covering her upper half in weather that was cold enough to turn a decent-sized body of water into a skating rink. She’s not hesitating with maidenly virtue. She’s frozen stiff!


Even in winter, the style early in the century was for sheer fabrics, low necks and cap sleeves, and little underneath (comparatively). And this was at a time when every room had to have a fire of some kind to warm it in winter. Even then the heat was often very uneven. Snuggle up to it, and you may have to use a fire screen like this one to keep from roasting. Sit too far away, and once again you’re shivering!

Teens then and now seem to require less clothing to function. A shame I was never that way. Layers, you say? Ah, that’s the ticket. Flannel petticoats, merino wool gowns with cashmere shawls, fine kid gloves. To my elbows. Yeah, maybe. I think I might have been able to get by with something like this February 1814 dinner dress: tightly woven fabric, long sleeves and higher neck, and enough room to stuff a petticoat or two.

Of course the farther you go into the century, the more layers you get. Who knows? By 1880, I might have been warm!

So, how much would you shiver to be considered fashionable?

9 comments:

QNPoohBear said...

Both young ladies would literally freeze to death here right now. It's 15 degrees outside today in southern New England. If I lived in the 19th century and could afford fur-lined clothing or wool clothing and outerwear, bring on as much as possible! Since I live in the 21st century, I am very happy to bundle up in polar fleece and other synthetic materials to keep from freezing. I'm not into fashion if it means being uncomfortable!

Marissa Doyle said...

QNPoohBear--Hey, fellow southern New Englander!

I do recall reading someone in some book theorizing that the less-than-adequately-warm fashions of the early 19th century led to an increase in deaths from pneumonia and consumption...

An attempt at life... said...

They also used to wet their muslin gowns so they could have that daring cling look.... lets just say there is a one way ticket to a cold!

Marissa Doyle said...

Re damping the skirts of dresses to make them cling provocatively to the legs--whether or not anyone apart from the demimondaine did that has not been acertained...Regina?

Christina Farley said...

Crazy. I love to be bundled. Flannel and wool and all. Either that or move back to Florida.

Also, I got my winner treats in the mail. Thanks so much! I loved it.

Addie said...

I'm a real sucker for warmth. I wouldn't have lasted very long at all. Here in the Midwest we got down to -15 degrees on Thursday. Brrr!

Marissa Doyle said...

Thanks for letting me know they arrived, Christina, and that you're enjoying them.

Regina Scott said...

Sending warm thoughts to those of you in sub-zero temps! Brrr!

As to damping the dresses, it's my understanding that, for a short time, some French women, ever more daring, were dampening their petticoats to allow them and the muslin dresses to cling. One or two English folks noted the custom and wrote letters home complaining. However, how many French women did it, how often, their status in society (were they "ladies"?) and whether the custom ever actually made it to England is up for debate. It's one of those "it's possible, but not probable" things. But we writers love to dream of the "what ifs."

Dara said...

I cannot imagine wearing sheer during the winter. Brr!!

But it's interesting to see how more cloth and petticoats were added as the 19th century progressed. I also cannot imagine wearing the amount of clothing that Jo March and her sisters wore during the summer...

I'm very glad for our century of air conditioning, central heat and turtleneck sweaters :)