Friday, April 30, 2010

Musings on a Meissen--Sleeveless Ensembles


This little figurine raises a lot of questions for the intrepid costume researcher. Often, when researching historical clothing, "pop" art like these types of figurines as well as pastoral paintings and prints are not used. Why? They're not meant to be realistic--that is, they aren't representing an actual scene or real people, so they become a bit untrustworthy. For instance, common wisdom tells us that women didn't scamper about wearing only their stays--they covered them with a jacket or gown except in extreme circumstances (ie, baling hay in midsummer). Yet, many of these pastoral prints and figurines show women in clearly sleeveless garments.

What to make of that? Well, for one--much of what we call "normal" is taken directly from what is "normal" for the region we study. For most Revolutionary War reenactors, that's the English colonies or merry old England herself. Could it be that norms *changed* when one set foot on the eastern side of the Channel? Yes, indeed--many travelers to the Continent noted that the women there wore looser, softer stays that were dubbed "corsette" (we English speakers seemed to call them "jumps"). So, perhaps, that norm of always covering them shifted a bit, too.

Of course, much of our "normal" also comes from societal elites. Of course it was normal for a lady of leisure to cover her stays. But for the working woman--perhaps we don't have her normal on record.

Finally, a fun factoid about this particular figure. She is part of the Gallant Orchestra, a collection of figurines depicting musicians. And they were based on live models from the Dresden opera.
And she has fabulous red shoes on...but color and pattern in a subject for an entirely different musing on Meissen.

5 comments:

Isis' Wardrobe said...

I think you are on to something. Regular differences are quite neglected. Most costume books focus on the clothes worn in France and England. I remmeber been told off many years ago about 18th century caps- the type I was talking about "didn't excist". It did, in Sweden, which I had said from teh beginning, but despite evidence, that didn't matter, because it wasn't worn in England...

If you look at early 18th century painting you see a clear difference between the fashions in Germany and Sweden to England and France. Those fashions aren't as well researched, but they are valid nevertheless. I find that the more I read up, the more I get interested in what was worn in the part of the world I'm from (Swedish, as you may have guessed). Though I don't re-enact a persona, I do find satisfaction in making clothes that correspondence with my family, which happen to be very provincial aristicracy. :-)

As for your figurines, in Sweden rural women wore a bodice that strongly resembled stays, but with few, or no bones.

Rowenna said...

So true! I was chatting with another reenactor, and we both do quite a bit of research on French colonies in the American interior. She had such a good line--so often researchers and reenactors approach eighteenth-century fashion "with English eyes." Yes! Even the French fashions--they're looking at the high fashion as interpretted by the English. Scandinavian, Germanic, and other regions get dismissed entirely. Thanks for sharing what you've found in Sweden--I love seeing all the differences! And then, of course, speculating on what happened when all these people mushed together in places like New York and Philadelphia...

Isis' Wardrobe said...

I think it's partly because that is what is easily aviable and pretty well documented. One only have to remember that even if you can't find it in Janet Arnold, doesn't mean it wasn't around, just that your research may be a bit more difficult.

I realize my reply is getting a bit long-winded. I think I shall mull it over and make a post over it instead. :-D

Isis' Wardrobe said...

But I get a little bit longer. :-D If you want to see examples on 17th century bodices you can see some here:

http://modemakt.se/modedatabas/popup-modemakts-modedatabas.html

In Swedish, I'm afraid, but if you click on "Tidslinje" and then choose 1700 and scroll forward, you'll some nice examples.

Rowenna said...

Thanks, Isis! I've been (oddly) obsessed with the sleeveless garment issue--as a reenactor, it's been a hot-button topic (even to the point of sleeveless "bodice" like garments being dubbed "mythical" by some of our better-respected individuals). Being the ever-cheerful dissenter, I've been researching the defense of the bodice--and how it might have been worn so that we can recreate it today. I look forward to reading your post and really appreciate your resources! Best!