Monday, April 28, 2014

A Special Invitation to a Costume Tea at The Warner House, Portsmouth, NH.

Jonathan Warner extends an invitation to you and your friends for a special afternoon at the MacPheadris-Warner House, Portsmouth, NH.
We live in one of the finest early-Georgian brick houses in New England, c. 1716. I would not be too bold as to add that we are also among the best appointed in these northerly climes - our gardens are delightful, our murals powerful and our smalt chamber the envy of many. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, we are well-situated in downtown Portsmouth, near the mighty Piscataqua (and rather close to Maine). Our house has been a bit quiet of late - Might you and your friends be interested in a venue for costumed events such as teas or perhaps a dance?

Do join us in your costume of choice on Saturday, 21 June 2014 for an open house from 11:00-3:00. A five dollar donation covers tea, cookies and a tour. RSVP to Jeffrey Hopper, Warner House Manager at by 15 June.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Dramatic Shoe: A Selection from the Chester County Historical Society

I was fortunate to be "up close and personal" with these shoes and many others from the Chester County Historical Society at a recent conference. Colleague Professor Mary Doering, who teaches costume and textile history at the Smithsonian Masters Program in the History of the Decorative Arts (an academic partnership with George Mason University)  invited Nancy Rexford, author of Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930 and nationally recognized costume historian and me, to take part in a “shoe study session.”

None of the shoes shown here are timid. These are just a few of my personal favorites- the collection is extensive and impressive. Rich discussion and analysis resulted as part of the session, which I hope at some point we will be able to write up for you.

You have to appreciate the dramatic flourish of this over-the-top satin pleated "bow" ornament which dominates these 1876 cream kidskin wedding shoes. They were worn by Catherine Black for her marriage to Herman F. Myers and have a Marie Antoinette revival flair.

These bright boudoir slippers would have been the ideal indoor footwear for an elite woman, adding some dash beneath her wrapper. Of dark brown leather with red binding, all the emphasis is placed on the front of the slipper with its pleated pink bows, and appliqued green flowers set against a pink panel, c. mid 19th century.

There are two pairs of c. 1800 shoes which really caught my attention and inspired my pen.  If you have followed SilkDamask on twitter or facebook, you will know I have a penchant for plaid. These kidskin shoes with white/purple stripe plaid immediately captured a place among my footcandy favorites! Look at the elegant tassel ties and the impossibly pointy toes, c. 1800. Imagine how they would have looked, with accessories, visually breaking up the solid colors associated with white cotton, muslin, linen or silk of Neoclassical/Regency columnar dresses.

The second pair (pictured below) will be the subject of a future post, but until that time please do check out the excellent blog by our colleagues @2nerdyhistgirls

These are indeed rare slippers or sandals as they would have been known by the fashion forward ladies of the late 18th-early 19th century. The pink satin vamp has two pieces, laced together with a dark green ribbon. The sides and heels are open. The pointed toe has green embroidery in the form of tendriling vines, a perfect classical motif to accompany the slippers. The soles are suede and the insole features a removable quilted lining – I suspect these shoes were made for indoor wear, most likely for dancing.

All shoes are from the collection of the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.

The exhibition “Profiles: Chester County Clothing of the 1800s” is on view through 30 August 2014.

All photos are by Kimberly Alexander @SilkDamask

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Unfortunate Tale of Boston Shopkeeper Henrietta Maria East Caine, 1750s

Seeking new financial opportunities as a single woman, Henrietta Maria East arrived in Boston from London in 1743 with a rich stock of textiles (such as the c.1750 Spitalfields silk from the Metropolitan Museum, above) and other goods. She opened a millinery shop in the heart of the town, on Marlborough Street. Judging from the advertisements she placed over time in the Boston Post Boy and other newspapers as well, she kept a well-stocked shop of prized textiles and accessories.

An ad from 1750 made it clear that she had all the latest and most fashionable goods from London. She carried everything from fine silks, to tabby stays and London shalloons – items in demand from Boston residents. (Advertisement, courtesy American Antiquarian Society.)

As recounted in Patricia Cleary’s noted 2000 publication, Elizabeth Murray: A Woman's Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America, Henrietta’s  decision to marry in 1747, had devastating consequences for the young entrepreneur. Cleary reveals that Henrietta married Londoner Hugh Caine, who, as it turned out, was already married and had a wife at home. Not only a bigamist, he abandoned Henrietta in 1751, helping himself to her hard earned property.  She would later reveal that during those four years of marriage she sustained his violence toward her. Unfortunately, Hugh Caine's departure did not end the problems caused by the marriage. Henrietta Maria East Caine remained legally responsible for all of his debts and found merchants unwilling to trade with her because of her connection to a bigamist, despite his departure. The legal bonds that women experienced with marriage limited her ability to act independently. Eventually, she turned to the courts to dissolve her marriage, but once again, met without success. She was literally trapped by the legal system and her ultimate demise was not a happy one as you might expect.

Although of little comfort to Henrietta, today’s textile, costume and material culture scholars will find great interest in the items which were auctioned to cover her debts. Running to four full pages, every ribbon, button and remnant was cataloged for sale. Bundles of "babies Rowlers," women's tabby stays, scarlet calamanco, every imaginable silk and even the odd wig, were up for sale. Even some of Henrietta's household items were included at the close of page four. It is not currently known how much was realized at auction or if she regained solvency. To view the entire inventory as listed for sale in 1754 (from the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections): Henrietta Maria Caine, Catalog of Auction Goods, Boston-1754

For more on Henrietta Maria East Caine's life and career, see Patricia Cleary, Elizabeth Murray: A Woman's Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 45-46, 57, 60, 62-63, 241n.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wealthy Peek Bardwell's Pink Calimanco Baby Shoes, c. 1763

These darling infant or toddler's shoes are of a pink wool calimanco (also spelled calamanco, callimanco) and date to 1763-68. Held in the textile collection at Historic Deerfield, an 1888 note accompanied the shoes, stating that they were from the Root family of Connecticut, worn by Wealthy Peek Bardwell, c. 1763. I am currently seeking information on Wealthy, for these tiny shoes raise more questions then they answer: Who made these charming and carefully detailed shoes? Did she grow to adulthood? Did she marry and have children of her own?

Recently conserved (see link below), the wool fabric indicates significant wear, particularly at the toe. It is highly likely that these American-made (Connecticut?) shoes were made from the remnants of an earlier garment or textile. They incorporate a delicate pink silk ribbon for fastening. The shoes are bound with a lighter linen ribbon. The hand stitched leather sole is sturdy, with a slight heel.

My initial assumption was that these were toddler's shoes due to the well-crafted, layered sole, the leather insole and extensive wear on the toe. However, Wealthy's diminutive shoes are only 3.5 inches in length. By today's measure, this translates roughly to an infant's size one shoe (16, Euro; .5 UK) and would be made for a child 0-9 months - a child who may not have been learning to walk but perhaps spent time twirling in a child minder or crawling.

In addition, while the toes exhibit wear, the soles show very little. No matter how the shoes were worn, they are a rare, fragile survival and have benefited greatly by being in the Historic Deerfield textile collection, which in turn benefits the historically curious.

My thanks to Ned Lazaro, Collections Manager & Associate Curator of Textiles for his assistance.
From Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, MA.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

George III, Tartan Archer

Royal Company of Archers' Coat circa 1750

If it isn’t obvious by now, I am intrigued with Scottish History, but I hope to use that interest as a springboard for more expansive thoughts.  History is about particulars, but equally it is about the expansion of the general from the particular. A case in point is an object in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland.  While searching for information on the early Jacobite rebellions I came across an archer’s coat. It is a tartan coat of the Royal Company of Archers and according to the museum archives if is from circa 1750. At first glance that would be as wrong as anything I know.  The style of the coat is at least 75 years older than that, and in fact I have seen this same coat on the Internet dated as being from 1715, which still seems only slightly less jarring. So what is it, 1715 or 1750 and how long were the archers and their tailors living in the hills? The search was on for information about this coat, which led to the family portrait illustrated here.

The Children of Frederick, Prince of Wales, by Barthélemy Du Pan

The painting appeared in several online articles, but I couldn’t find an attribution.  Finally one posting attributed it to Du Pan, who it developed was Barthélemy Du Pan and the subjects were the children of Frederick, Prince of Wales.  The figure in the tartan archery uniform is the future George III.  His outfit is that of the Royal Company of Archers, who are the ceremonial bodyguards of the sovereign in Scotland. Formed as a society of archers in the 1670s they obtained a charter from Queen Anne in 1704 and letters patent as a royal company in 1713.  The uniform of the company was created at or about this time and is a “plainer” version of the uniform worn by the young George. This uniform was the standard though his time and then lapsed until 1789 when a more contemporary version was created. Preparing for the visit of George IV in 1822, a uniform was created using black watch tartan for the trews and short jacket.  This is a synopsis of information that comes from an article concerning the Archers on the web by Peter Eslea MacDonald and is well worth a full read. The author goes into detail about the tartan and the history of the company. He says it much better than I. 

Prince George in Archer's Attire 
What intrigues me is that without the supporting evidence of the Archer’s use of historical costume, as a uniform, the dating would look wrong.  The fact that the uniform was unchanged for decades and was stylistically dated when conceived around 1713 creates an anachronism that can confuse the modern eye. MacDonald creates a visual timeline that places this particular anachronism within a forty-year span.  How often does this happen without our awareness? Were items of clothing created for a specific purpose that were recognized at the time as being anachronistic?  In an age that saw itself as public theatre are we at a risk of dating too specifically or rather too knowingly. I’m not looking to overturn the cart, rather are there groups or events which create their own timeframe outside of the normal flow for a specific reason, that goes as of yet undocumented?

Along those lines and back to the painting for a moment, I was somewhat troubled that the future George III, a Hanoverian, was posing in a tartan archer’s outfit so close to the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. By 1747 the use of tartan was proscribed for most uses and in common parlance it was outright banned, so why record that image?  After all, if time is everything in history, George is out of cycle. In its day it was a popular print, but I was able to find the painting in the Royal Collection.  Luckily for me the curator answered my nagging thought and I think it is worth quoting the section in full,

“The inclusion of tartan (worn by Prince George) in a painting executed within months of the Battle of Culloden excited comment even at the time. In fact this is the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers, which had been fixed as early as 1713 and included the Stuart tartan; like all British regimental tartan this escaped the ban on Scottish national dress which followed the Rebellion of 1745. Indeed it is probably that this painting is a part of the process of assimilating Scottish identity as something manly and romantic, rather than threatening and rebellious.”

George IV, by Sir David Wilkie

Odd isn’t it that an archaically styled uniform of a vanquished group was seen by the victor to offer
the promise of reconciliation? This is why I often prefer history to fiction. Here is the image of the future George III, the farmer king, in a stylistically archaic tartan uniform 70 odd years before his more sartorially recognized son, George IV, wore tartan so famously in 1822. George IV and Sir Walter Scott, the marshaling force behind the 1822 visit, have been criticized for their unbridled creativity and reinvention of costume. Maybe they did, but they were hardly new to the block.

Jeffrey Hopper is an author, editor and the Manager of the Warner House, in Portsmouth, NH.