Domestics and the Crinoline in 1862
Yesterday we went to an estate sale at a huge ranch. Thousands of items were being sold, but most of them were just ordinary things like throw pillows or boxes of glassware from Walmart, priced as if they were brand new retail items. We weren’t interested in buying plastic candy bowls or lawn chairs, but we had fun wandering around. In one of the barns I found some old books in very bad condition, but a quick flip-through showed me some illustrations of women in hoop skirts, so I paid my five dollars and took them home.
When I got a good look at them, I realized they were bound issues of the London magazine Punch, from 1861, 1862, and 1865! Punch was a weekly magazine that poked fun of politicians, the Church, other countries, and what we would call pop culture. There is so much of interest in these issues that I am going to share small bits in a series.
First, a quick look at some portrayals of domestic servants. Fashion plates for this era are easy to find, but I especially love illustrations of ordinary people and what they wore. All of these are from the 1862 volume.
I love the look on her husband’s face. He is enjoying the situation but he is too wise to say a word about it. Also, nice checked pants.
I love her bonnet and the way her apron is strapped around her.
The publishers of Punch found the fashion for crinolines ridiculous, and returned to it in just about every issue. Here is a typical small article:
To the Ladies of Britain
The British Manufacturers complain that they are allowed very insufficient space at the International Exhibition, and that they shall be able to do no justice to themselves. The directors do not know what to do, and heartily wish that they had constructed the building of India-rubber, so that it might have been stretched out to Hammersmith, if necessary. One idea has occurred to them in their despair. Sheffield, where steel is chiefly manufactured, is earnest in its complaints of want of room. The directors appeal to the ladies of England on behalf of the town that “Forges those bars of steel that arm Aurelia with the shape to kill.”
In a word, it is in contemplation to announce, that room must be made for the exhibition by the exclusion of Crinoline. The official notification is not yet out, but Mr. Punch, who is in the secret, at once gives his lovely friends the hint. Surely, between this and May, their exquisite taste will enable them to devise a dress that shall not, like Mars, cover nine acres of ground. Why should Venus — but we have mislaid our Lemprière, and may mull the classical compliment. We trust, however, that the ladies will do us the justice to admit that we told them what was coming, and if they don’t believe us, let them wait until they see the turn-stiles now in course of erection. They are those from the Parisian Bourse, which the Emperor has ordered to be taken away, and which M. Fould has disposed of to the Commissioners here.
If you are interested and want to read this for yourself, this volume is free as an e-book on Google books.
As I looked at the book more carefully, I noticed that the cover was coming apart and the layers of paper and cloth constructing it were showing.
It looked like the paper layers were some old club or restaurant invoices. And of course I had to get a good look at the cloth. You can see the selvage here!
It seems to be cotton, with about 40 warp ends per inch (16 per cm). Of course by 1862, with the American Civil War going on, cotton had become hard to get and the Lancashire Cotton Famine was causing great hardship for textile workers, as I have written about here. The 1865 Punch volume cover is made only of cardboard and paper, with no cloth lining. I wonder if the difference in covers had anything to do with the difficulty of getting cotton, or if it was just a coincidence.
Next up: some commentary on men’s fashions.