Dress Of Women - Extravagance And Economy
( Originally Published 1902 )
AFTER having enumerated the various articles of costume and toilets and examined the contents of the milliners' and mantua-makers' shops, it is very evident that the New York woman of fashion differed slightly, if at all, from her London prototype. If anything more is needed to prove this, we may mention that when Anstey wrote his New Bath Guide in 1766, he made a list of all the articles that a belle was forced to carry with her to that gay watering-place :
"Bring 0 bring thy essence-pot,
Everything included here we have found in the shops and on the toilet-tables in New York, and many of them long before 1766. The checker'd shades, the water'd tabbies, the straw hats, the catgut gauze, the ruffs, the tippets, the mignionets, the feathered muffs and the paint and patches had been familiar for many years to the ladies of New York. They dressed for the assemblies, balls, routs and card-parties with the same interest that they did in London, and had no idea of being behind the European fashions. They flirted and ogled and chattered and amused themselves with trifles after the custom of the Eighteenth Century. The letter that "Sally Tippet " wrote to one of the newspapers gives an excellent insight into the thoughts and ambitions of a fashionable young woman,for young she certainly seems. It will be noticed that she scorns "home-bred fashions" and is quite disdainful of the dressing of many of the New York ladies. She is proud to have been the first ever to have worn a hat to Trinity Church, and that her mother had introduced " the reverent compliment of curtseying." Her description of Jenny Petulant's walk is worth noting. She gives evidence of tastes that ante-date the merveilleuses by thirty years. This letter appeared in 1761 :
"' Ladies, I cannot indulge any suspicion of your neglect, in examining strictly what is now laid before every tea-board that will be held this week, and that by any number of ladies, not less than four. My oracles, the mantua maker and milliner—have most ungratefully refused either to make or recommend a polite dress I intended for the maiden ladies at the expiration of mourning, though most exquisitely well calculated to admit the cooling zephyrs of a season.
" I first began to image taste with the short petticoat and white stockings, and have ever since been so scrupulous an observer of it that I never was the mark of a pinking-iron behind it. Nothing however looks more surfeiting to me than your home-bred fashions and complements; there is something so rustic, so Bridget-Norton-like in them, which is visible in most of our city ladies, that I believe the one-half have neither milliners, dolls, dressing-maids, dancing-masters, nor indeed pier-glasses.
" My design was to have appeared the Sunday after the 4th. of June next in a blue Persian silk long robe, without any under-dress, which I should have called a Spartan fly, because it would have been an improved pattern of the Spartan maidens' garments. These virgins, you must know, were obliged by law to wear slits or rents in their clothes, to discover the delicacy of their skins; which was judged to be a great incitement to matrimony; for the married women were forbid it. But my intent is of quite another nature: it is to let the polite public know that, as dress is upon the decline, there is one who is able and willing to be an advocate in its behalf. This suit of mine was to have six furbelowed openings, three upon each side. They were to be cut from the shoulders to within a hair's breadth of the bottom, to be scolloped and pinked all down with an edging around each of green gimp, and every breadth flounced between the openings. This most excellent Fly, my impertinent mantua-maker has refused making; she says it is for my insisting on the rights of Sparta, that she should be liable to a penalty if she made one for a married lady. But the reason is this, she has got a group of chestnut colour customers, who are flattered so much by her, with the name of brown beauties that their heads are quite addled; and as they are pretty numerous, it is not her interest to introduce a fashion that will show their tawny skins. So that by the caprice of mantua-makers, we whom Nature has brightened with the greatest delicacy, must hide all our charms of youth and beauty. Oh! intolerable!
"There are yet some things that are more noble than dress. These are regular motions in compliments, and well chosen forms.—Herein our family may boast precedence with any, for in many of the most genteel that are now used at the most elegant assemblies of fashion, we are originals. For my own part, I am the first that ever wore a hat at divine service in Trinity Church, for which I quote ancient Jerusalem as a precedent; antiquity shall be my plan. As to Mamma, she was something more of a Christian than to follow this, but would bring every-thing else to church; for that reverent compliment of courtesying was first brought in by her, which, to her immortal memory has continued (with a few innovations) ever since.
"But, Oh! could I refine the judgment, or clear the dim sight of those pretty Ardelois, who sidel us by the hand to church, I could live in peace ever after. Their errors in some things are most monstrous; no longer ago than last Sunday, as I was coming from church, who should be bouncing me, led by Lieutenant Tickle, but the erect figure of that all-of-a-piece Jenny Petulant. She was dyed into mourning from a greasy yellow, which is as rusty as a flitch of bacon. But to see her cross the kennel at the City Hall was killing, her hand was stuck out to Mr. Tickle with the same air that Mrs. Puritan gives a copper to an itchy beggar ; then up she hoisted, like Bacchus rising to bestride his tun, and slammed down again as if her foot had split a drum head. Many more of these uncouth airs could be mentioned had I room.
" Hi! ho ! I have no card ladies for the next Assembly. Well! I may guess though, Miss Buzz says, the whisper is that young Cringe has sent one to Miss Gloss; if it's true, as I fear it is, by the name of Phoebus I'll throw in his way these four lines of Ovid's that fit her so well :
"Steal to her closet, her close tiring place,
About the end of our period, the following lines appeared in the Universal Magazine, ridiculing the constant succession of changes in female attire :
"Now dress'd in a cap, now naked in none ;
This might almost be taken as a review of the whole Georgian era. Every slightest change was noted in New York. The ladies, as we have seen, had their stays cut in the latest fashion, altered the shape of the hoop petticoat every now and then ; wore a dozen ruffles at their sleeves or none at all ; adorned their heads with lappets or discarded these for a cap ;—in short, they made a business of following the fashion. In 1754, a local paper publishes the following :
"Hang a small bugle cap on as big as a crown,
The following lines also appear in 1756 :
"The dress of the year 55 that was worn
Another for the same year is called
" THE PETITION
"Artful painter by this plan
It will be noticed that in the foregoing verses the smallness of the cap was ridiculed. In 1754, a fashion journal remarked that the long lappets, the horseshoe cap, the Brussels head, and the prudish mob pinned under the chin had all had their day. " The present mode," it continued, " has routed all these superfluous excrescences and in room of a slip of cambric or lace has planted a whimsical sprig of spangles or artificial flowerets." Even when the exciting days of the Revolution were approaching, the merchants still offered at-tractive goods and the ladies were enabled to make themselves as attractive as ever. At the beginning of 1775, we find the following :
"Henry Wilmot, in Hanover Square, sells (among other things) a great variety of ribbons, persians, modes, sarsinets, peelong; broad, narrow edging and double edge blond and black laces of all prices; minionet, thread, trolly and Dutch laces, scarlet and other coloured cloak trimmings, skeleton and cap wires, black and other coloured single and double ostrich feathers, cambrices clear, flowered and long lawns, dark ground and other calicoes and chintzes, breeches patterns, white worsted, gauze and cotton hose, almost every sort of fans, earrings and necklaces; with many articles in the jewellery way. Prepared hairs of all sorts and wig-makers trimmings."
Before dismissing the ladies altogether, we may note that while they were luxurious and fond of dress, they were also economical. They understood the use of the needle and were not averse to repairing, patching, darning and remodelling old garments. Even if they kept up with new fashions, they wore their clothes carefully and frequently handed them down to the next generation. Some women actually made a business of repairing. Thus
(Dec. 4, 1749.) " Elizabeth Boyd is removed to Bayard's Street, near Mr. Cruger's, where she follows as usual new grafting and footing all sorts of stockings, making and mending of silk gloves, mittens, muftees, and making childern's stockings, and plain work. Likewise if any young lady has a mind to learn for the benefit of their own family, they may, in a short time, for a reasonable price."
Two years later, she was next door to the Widow Hogs, near the Long Bridge, where she "continues to graft pieces in knit Jackets and Breeches, not to be discerned, also to graft and foot stockings, and Gentlemen's gloves, Mittens or Muffatees made out of old stockings, or runs them in the Heels ; She likewise makes children's stockings out of old ones." Muffatees were, of course, for the wrists.
Ladies, probably, did the most of their repairing themselves. If they wanted to wash their laces or any other cherished articles, they could procure from Hugh Gaine some very fine crown soap which he imported and sold. This was specially recommended for the washing of fine linen, muslin, silk, lace, chintz, calico, and for the use of barbers.
There were also many cleaners, scourers and dyers that the ladies patronized, taking to them not only their garments, but bed-curtains and hangings and various household furnishings. One of the most important of these in 1750 was thus announced :
Thomas Davis, Dry Scourer from London, now lives at the house of Mr. Benjamin Leigh, School Master in Bridge Street, near the Long Bridge where he cleans all sorts of Gentlemen and Ladies Cloaths, Gold and Silver Lace, Brocades and embroidered work, Points d' Espagne, Cuffs and Robings, wrought Beds, hangings and tapestry, flowered velvets and chints without hurting their flowers, at a reasonable rate."