Garters And Stockings - The Elaboration Of Feminine Mystery
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Francois Rabelais we find to be a great friend of Marjorie's. With explosive belly laughs he tells her some of his best jokes, which he intends to put into a satire he is writing called Pantagruel.
This learned man, who examines every subject, one day writes out a description of Marjorie's apparel from the skin out. He mentions, first, "scarlet or crimson" stockings. "The said stockings," he adds with nice accuracy of observation, "reaching three inches above the knee, and the edge thereof, finely embroidered or cut out." Marjorie's garters he described as of the same color as her bracelets, and "fitted tight both above and below the knee." This seems a bit confusing. Can it be that sixteenth century Marjorie of France wears two pairs of garters? We know, from other sources, that sometimes she wears flowered garters.
Rabelais says that Marjorie's "shoes or slippers of crimson, red or violet velvet" are "snipped like the edges of a crab's claw." Doubtless she began her dressing with her stockings and garters and slippers.
He tells us next that she puts on a chemise, and over this "a fine vasquine of rich silk camlet"—her corset. On the vasquine she places her "vertugade of white, red, salmon-colour, or grey silk." Above this "the cotte, in silver tissue, embroidered in fine gold needlework."
So we now meet Marjorie in the oddest innovation in the history of feminine costume—the vertugadin (not quite as spelled by Rabelais) or hoop. Her skirts are stretched over wide, stiff petticoats mounted on hoops of iron, wood, or whalebone, resembling the hoops of casks. A band of coarse linen, supported by wire, jacks them up round the waist.
There is a story that this extraordinary contrivance was invented to conceal the illicit amours of a Spanish princess. In this costume Marjorie lives forever, of course, in her portraits by that unique master of bygone splendor, Velasquez. But as Velasquez did not paint her until the next century, this does not identify the original vertugadin with his native land. Further, Velasquez painted Marjorie in Italy also. However, the evidence seems to prove that the vertugadin came to France direct from Spain about 1530.
It is the reign of Francois I. A very liberal monarch, far beyond any of his predecessors, it is his fancy to make presents of clothes. That gossipy courtier, the Abbe de Brantome, spreads the tale that Marjorie, as one of the lady friends of the king, rejoices in wardrobes and coffers so full of clothes presented by him "that it is a great fortune."
At any rate, Marjorie soon acquires extraordinary power. Everything comes into the hands of the fair—even the appointing of generals and captains. It is an age of euphuism. The meeting of the French and English kings has just been staged at the "Field of the Cloth of Gold." The phrase gives the note of the time, which is reflected in its dress. Feminine dress is coquettish and, generally speaking, very graceful in form. Exaggerated conceits dictate the form of its rich embroidery. The "robes" of gentlemen, loaded with jewels, are not less sumptuous than those of the ladies. Thus there is a struggle for preeminence in attire between the sexes.
Upon this brilliant and artificial scene, then, appears the astonishing new fashion—the vertugadin. The effect of the tapering waist achieved by advancing corsetry is vastly enhanced by the addition of the beehive expansion below. With the distention of her lower section Marjorie loses practically all resemblance to a human being. Her graceful body, which had reminded so many poets of a slender amphora, takes on the contour of the water-bottle.
Songs and satires ridiculing the vertugadin abound. It goes right on swelling, however, until in the latter half of the century skirts attain, as one observer puts it, "to very ample size." Bodices are now laced in front, and an embroidered stomacher is in fashion. As the hoop takes more and more hold, royal edicts are issued against it by Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV. A seditious width is proscribed. Though in the provinces certain parliaments strictly maintain them, in Paris the royal edicts fall into disuse.
The fashion touches deeply the hearts of women of humble birth. Hordes of little shopkeepers imitate great ladies in their likeness to pyramidal towers. Even this does not kill this extraordinary conceit of Fashion, for lo! it blooms ever more voluminously from the time of Francois I through the great days of Queen Elizabeth. As time goes on it is realized that the vertugadin had, indeed, attained to no extraordinary size under the Valois. In the succeeding period, from 1589 to 1643, during the reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII, the hoop requires an appreciable time to pass a given point. Marjorie is likened to a church bell.
A gay time it is, an opulent spectacle. Marjorie is an apparition in a pageant. It is the age of the elaboration of feminine mystery. Marjorie continues to use a mask, so convenient for amorous tricks and escapades of all kinds. Lace is lavished on every part of her gown. She frequently wears long-pointed bodices, partially open in front and coquettishly revealing her white chemisette elegantly trimmed with embroidery or lace.
Marjorie of sixteenth century France goes clothed in enticing colors. Great are their numbers and lively the names by which they are called. D'Aubigne, soldier, poet, historian, and statesman, at work on a Histoire universelle in which he intends to reflect the mind of his epoch, notes such terms as "rat-color," "widow's joy," "envenomed monkey," and "chimney-sweep."
Renaissance Marjorie wears far more underclothes than ever before. There is, besides, something subtle about her that heretofore we have not noticed so much. In addition to all her allure of color, laces, and embroidery, together with her fantastic silhouette, she appeals to a sense other than sight. She is artificially fragrant. She carries an aura of violet powder, of cordial water, of Chypres, civet, musk, ambergris, roses, and orange-flowers.
But withal, though it is hard to have to confess it, her underwear is not so clean as it used to be. She had kept loyal to the bathing habits of classical times fairly well through the Middle Ages. But more recently her standards of personal cleanliness have become lamentably, astonishingly lax. Charming in architecture, in sanitation her chateau is inferior to her former Gothic donjon or abbey. In short, though it is distressing to speak of Marjorie with a sardonic accent, she now depends much more on the perfumer than on the plumber. "Anything that she could do for society she did," a witty lady has said, "short of the desperate step of the frequent bath."