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In your Easter Bonnet

The Pink Bonnet by Edmund Blair Leighton.

Easter is still two weeks away, and yet, somehow the delightful tradition, begun in childhood, of having something new to wear Easter Sunday morning, has me scrambling. The girls (8 and 10 respectively) plead their case last year, not to have to wear gloves and hats to church, but one still feels the need to be turned out fresh and new to celebrate not only the Saviour’s triumph over death, but also spring’s triumph over the cold of winter.

A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.
A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.

In Jane Austen’s novels and letters, Easter is seen more as a time of travel (Mr. Collins to be ordained, Darcy travling to Kent, Mrs. Rushworth staying in Twickenham, along with Jane’s mention of herself, Henry and Edward all traveling at different times during Easter) rather than a season for new clothes. However, the long held habit of beginning a new season with new clothes can be dated back at least to the 16th century, with only a look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (“Did’st thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?”) or even the great Samuel Pepys, who wrote:

30 March (Easter Day) 1662
Having my old black suit new furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes to-day, and my boy, his (more…)

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Create a Custom Hatpin

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While there is some debate over the date of the original hatpin (vs straight pin),we do know that women have been using pins to secure veils, wimples, hats and bonnets for hundreds of years.  Until 1820 hatpin making in England was a cottage industry in which demand far exceeded supply. One solution was to import crafted pins from France. In order to support Britain’s crafters, in 1820 a law was passed allowing pins to be imported ONLY on January 1 and 2! Some suggest the phrase “pin money” was so called because it was spent by the lady of the house on her hatpins, dress pins and brooch pins!


2008’s The Duchess featured exquisite costumes (and hatpins) by Michael O’Connor. Photo by Nick Wall

All pins were still handmade at this point, and remained so until 1832 when a machine was invented in the United States, which could mass-produce the pins. After this prices dropped considerably as machines made pins were crafted England and France, soon after.

When styles began favoring the hat over the bonnet in the 1880’s, hatpins became both more fashionable and more elaborate. They remained as essential accessory until the age of flapper style bobs and cloche hats made them unnecessary. Still the Edwardian hatpin was regarded as a thing of fear among lawmakers of the day, who passed legislation in 1908 (in (more…)

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Prussian Blue

The South Galleries in 1823, from John Nash’s The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, 1826.

Considered the first artificial pigment, Prussian Blue was created in the 1700’s, ironically, by an artist seeking to create a new source for red paint. It rapidly gained popularity as first an artist’s medium, and later as a color fast dye. It is the traditional “blue” in blueprints and is used as an antidote for certain kinds of heavy metal poisoning

A sample of Prussian Blue pigment.
A sample of Prussian Blue pigment.

Prussian blue was probably synthesized for the first time by the paint maker Diesbach in Berlin around the year 1706. Most historical sources do not mention a first name of Diesbach. Only Berger refers to him as Johann Jacob Diesbach. It was named “Preußisch blau” and “Berlinisch Blau” in 1709 by its first trader. The pigment replaced the expensive Lapis lazuli and was an important topic in the letters exchanged between Johann Leonhard Frisch and the president of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, between 1708 and 1716. It is first mentioned in a letter written by Frisch to Leibniz, from March 31, 1708. Not later than 1708, Frisch began to promote and sell the pigment across Europe. By August 1709, the pigment had been termed “Preussisch blau”; by November 1709, the German name “Berlinisch Blau” had been used for the first time by Frisch. Frisch himself is the author of the first known publication of Prussian blue in the paper Notitia Coerulei Berolinensis nuper inventi in 1710, as can be deduced from his letters. Diesbach had been working for Frisch since about 1701.

In 1731, Georg Ernst Stahl published an account of the first synthesis of Prussian blue. The story involves not only Diesbach but also Johann Konrad Dippel. Diesbach was attempting to create a red lake pigment from cochineal but obtained the blue instead as a result of the contaminated potash he was using. He borrowed the potash from Dippel, who had used it to produce his “animal oil”. No other known historical source mentions Dippel in this context. It is therefore difficult to judge the reliability of this story today. In 1724, the recipe was finally published by John Woodward.

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Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

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Though not specifically mentioned by Jane Austen, it does not take much reading up on the Regency come across descriptive terms for generalizing a young man’s London habits. Bucks, Beaus, Dandies, and Corinthians make their appearance throughout fiction set in this era. It can be hard to decipher just which character qualities are inherent to such, now obscure, terms. The following definitions, excerpted from Jennifer Kloester’s 2005 book, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, give a more complete picture. Heyer, herself, was known for her meticulous research and knowledge of the era and is considered one of the foremost experts in the field. This book is based on her own catalog of facts and historical insights.

Northanger Abbey's John Thorpe is an ideal Regency Buck.
Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe is an “ideal” Regency Buck.

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The Bandeau: Hairbands, Regency Style

This untitled portrait shows two young ladies with an estimated date of 1805-1815.

During Austen’s era, fashion leaders looked to the past for inspiration. Anything that resembled ancient Rome or Greece was bound to be popular, from sandals and nymph like gowns, to short hair cuts for ladies, like the Titus or Brutus.

The woman in this painting from Pompeii wears a narrow ribbon bandeau.
The woman in this painting from Pompeii wears a narrow ribbon bandeau.

One accessory that remained popular from the late 1700’s through mid 1800’s, was the bandeau (plural=bandeaux). The name comes from the French word for “strip” and  involved wrapping ribbon, pearls or a length of fabric though one’s hairstyle, or around one’s head (sometimes even the forehead). The result was often styled “à la Grecque”, no doubt heightening it’s appeal all the more.

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Polemoscope: Georgian “Jealousy Glasses”

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fatwomanspy This article, by author Laurie Benson, originally appeared on her blog, Laurie Benson’s Cozy Drawing Room. It is used here with permission.

Imagine attending a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and you discover the object of your affection is sitting in a box to your right. You have no desire to make a spectacle of yourself by leaning out of your box to see who they are with, so you take out what appears to be a straight-barrel spyglass and point it at the stage. While it looks as if you are focusing your attention on the performance, the ingenious spyglass you are holding is allowing you to watch the people in the box to your right. Now you can stare to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.

While researching a pair of antique opera glasses this past week, I stumbled across a fun accessory I’d never heard of known as the “jealousy glass.” It looks like a single barrel opera or field-glass, but it actually contains an oblique lens and side aperture that allows the user to discretely see what is happening to their left or right.

Georgian Polemoscope
Georgian Polemoscope

The jealousy glass, also known as a polemoscope, was invented by the German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1637. Hevelius believed his invention could have military uses, but the viewing angle was found to be too narrow. During the 18th century, the general population began using the polemoscope to spy on other people.

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Made in France, 1750-1770

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The Well Dressed Clergyman

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As the daughter and sister of Anglican clergymen, Jane Austen was intimately familiar with the rites, rules and habits of church ministers. Clergy members and their families were among her closest friends and feature strongly in all her novels. What, however would a clergyman of her time have worn?

Portraits of the era give a good idea of what they would have had in their closet:

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Clockwise srom top left: James Austen (Jane’s brother), George Austen (Jane’s Father, circa 1764), Henry Austen (Jane’s Brother), John Wesley, Parson Woodforde.

The well dressed Clergyman, then, would have dressed somberly, in a black suit, with with stock or cravat. Over this, while preaching, he would have worn the black Cassock, mandatory to his office. Many clergy chose to augment this sober attire with white bands, also known as Geneva bands (named for the birthplace of the reformation). Additionally, while performing some sacraments, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals he might add a white surplice (hence the fee paid for such services was called a “surplice fee”.) Continue reading The Well Dressed Clergyman

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A Little Sea Bathing Would Set me up Forever!

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During Jane Austen’s day, taking a holiday by the sea was no uncommon thing. The popularity of towns such as Brighton inspired Jane to write her last, unfinished novel, Sanditon, about a small town with big city aspirations.

The Sea air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every Disorder…
Sanditon, pp.329-30

Sea bathing in York in 1814
Sea bathing in York in 1814

Sea bathing itself, would prove to be an interesting experience for any young lady bold enough or ill enough to be encouraged to attempt it. Wagons, called Bathing Machines, were invented especially for the purpose, and would be drawn out into the water by sturdy women, who might then assist you down into the water where you could paddle about or swim in relative privacy, shielded from view of the shore.

A period Bathing Machine

Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide and her son Hastings spent part of December 1790 through part of January 1791 at the seaside town of Margate. She wrote of her time there, as quoted from JASA’s Jane Austen at the Seaside:

I had fixed on going to London the end of this Month, but to shew You how much I am attached to my maternal duties, on being told by one of the faculty whose Skill I have much opinion of that one month’s bathing at this time of the Year was more efficacious than six at any other & that consequently my little Boy would receive the utmost benefit from my prolonging my stay here beyond the time proposed, like a most exemplary parent I resolved on foregoing the fascinating delights of the great City for one month longer … Was not this heroic? … Hastings grows much & begins to lisp english tolerably well, his education is likewise begun, his Grandmamma having succeeded in teaching him his letters. The Sea has strengthened him wonderfully & I think has likewise been of great service to myself, I still continue bathing notwithstanding the severity of the Weather & Frost & Snow which is I think somewhat courageous.
Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’, pp 97-99

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