Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

The origins of Haute Couture are English!  Charles Frederick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris in 1858, championing exclusive luxury fashion for the upper-class woman and coining the term ‘fashion designer’ and upgrading himself from a basic dressmaker. Ten years later Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was first established as the safeguard of high-fashion. Designers were required to earn the right to label themselves a couture house according to certain specifications although at the time the requirements were rather vague but being male was certainly an essential part of the package

The phrase “haute couture” was used for the first time in 1908 and shortly afterward, in 1910, Gabrielle Chanel set up her milliner’s studio at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, and in 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville devoted to hats and a small range of clothes, made predominantly from jersey. In 1915 she reached new heights when she opened her Maison de Couture in Biarritz, in the Villa Larralde just opposite the Casino.

From the gamine fashions of the 1920s, Coco Chanel progressed to the womanly fashions in the 1930s: evening-dress designs were characterised by an elongated feminine style, and summer dresses featured contrasts such as silver eyelets, and shoulder straps decorated with rhinestones – drawing from Renaissance style. In 1932, Chanel presented an exhibition of jewellery dedicated to the diamond as a fashion accessory; it featured the Comet and Fountain necklaces of diamonds, which were of such original design, that Chanel S.A. re-presented them in 1993. Moreover, by 1937, the House of Chanel had expanded the range of its clothes to more women and presented prêt-à-porter clothes designed and cut for the petite woman. Among fashion designers, only the clothes created by Elsa Schiaparelli could compete with the clothes of Chanel.  Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her couture house closed in 1954. Her brand has recently been revived led by designer Bertrand Guyon.

It is now over a hundred years since Coco Channel challenged convention, the key feature of today’s fashion is gender neutrality but there is nothing neutral about who’s in charge in these bastions of fashion and wealth. “Who’s Who in Fashion,” a directory published by Fairchild Publications, is split 60-40 in favor of men, and “The Encyclopaedia of Clothing and Fashion,” published last year by Charles Scribner’s Sons, included entries on 36 female and 69 male designers. There is still a glass ceiling for women when it comes to the fashion industry.

With two films and several books about her life and legacy, Coco Chanel has become a style icon. In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were many female designers — Alix Grès, Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel — but after World War II, the big names were male — Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin even though the number of women entering the profession is more than ten to one in favour of the girls they are not making the progress they should.

Karl Lagerfeld has been the artistic director of the House of Chanel since 1983. He said of the brand founder,” Coco did a lot, but not as much as people think – or as much she herself taught at the end of her career.  She wasn’t only a designer – she was a woman of her time.’ He said didn’t like women and that she made two great mistakes towards the end of her long career; that she believed men did not like to see women in miniskirts and she took against blue jeans.

Coco Chanel was certainly a talented and controversial character, she spent the Second World War in bed with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklagea at the Hotel Ritz. In 1939, she took revenge on her staff who had struck for fairer wages in 1936 by closing her shops making 4000 of her mainly female staff redundant and she was well known for her dislike of Jews believing them to be a threat to Europe because of the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union. I would say that not taking the blue jeans was the least of her mistakes.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Royal Ascot – Horses, Hats and Lots of Money

Royal Ascot – Horses, Hats and Lots of Money

Ascot Racecourse pronounced /ˈæskət/, by those in the know is close to Windsor Castle and is the Queen of England’s favourite racecourse. The most famous and prestigious race is The Gold Cup.

Ascot Racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne. The first race, “Her Majesty’s Plate”, had a purse of 100 guineas, was held on 11 August 1711. Seven horses competed, each carrying a weight of 12 stones (76 kg). This first race comprised three separate four-mile (6437 m) heats. It’s changed a lot since then.

Every year Royal Ascot is attended by Elizabeth II and other members of the British Royal Family such as The Prince of Wales, arriving each day in a horse-drawn carriage with the Royal procession taking place at the start of each race day and the raising of the Queen’s Royal Standard. It is a major event in the British social calendar, and press coverage of the attendees and what they are wearing often exceeds coverage of the actual racing. There are three enclosures attended by guests on Royal Ascot week.

The Royal Enclosure is the most prestigious of the three enclosures, with recent visits from the Queen and Royal Family members. Access to the Royal Enclosure is restricted, with high security on the day. First-time applicants must apply to the Royal Enclosure Office and gain membership from someone who has attended the enclosure for at least four years. Those in the Royal Enclosure have the options of fine dining and hospitality, and a selection of bars. The dress code is strictly enforced. For women, only a day dress with a hat is acceptable, with rules applying to the length and style of the dress. In addition, women must not show bare midriffs or shoulders. For men, black or grey morning dress with top hat is required.

Over 300,000 people make the annual visit to Berkshire during Royal Ascot week, making this Europe’s best-attended race meeting. There are eighteen group races on offer, with at least one Group One event on each of the five days. The Gold Cup is on Ladies’ Day on the Thursday of the meet, hats are the order of the day – the more outrageous the better.

In 2012, the Golden Jubilee Stakes was renamed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. In 2013, the Windsor Forest Stakes was renamed the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, with the Queen’s consent, recognising the new title given to Prince William; in 2015, the newly created Commonwealth Cup became the eighth Group One race at Royal Ascot, replacing the Buckingham Palace Stakes. In 2016, total prize money across the five days of Royal Ascot was £6,580,000. This year the prize money is expected to be higher. Races with notable prize money increases for 2016 included the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (£750,000 from £525,000), the Queen Anne Stakes (£600,000 from £375,000) and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (£600,000 from £525,000), while the other Group One races all had their prize money increased to £400,000. The Gold Cup in 2016 was run as “The Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen’s 90th Birthday”.

Ascot racecourse closed for a period of twenty months on 26 September 2004, for a £185 million redevelopment funded by Allied Irish Bank and designed by Populous and Buro Happold. As the owner of the Ascot estate, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth reopened the racecourse on Tuesday 20 June 2006. Upon re-opening the new grandstand attracted criticism for failing to provide sufficiently raised viewing for patrons to watch the racing, and devoting too much space to restaurants, bars, and corporate hospitality facilities. At the end of 2006, a £10 million programme of further alterations was announced to improve the viewing from lower levels of the grandstand.

 

 

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Sinclair is a second chance romance set in Georgian London and Yorkshire with horse racing and doctors that puts women to the fore. Available on Amazon – in Paperback and o Kindle. Also available on:

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Madame Staël – A woman who abored all that was tyrannical, cynical, or passionless

Madame Staël – A woman who abored all that was tyrannical, cynical, or passionless

Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baronne de Staël-Holstein, 22 April 1766 – 14 July 1817, was the daughter of the second most important man in France, Louis XVI’s Minister of Finances, Jacques Necker. Madame de Staël was born into a world of political and intellectual prominence. Later, she married Sweden’s ambassador to the French court, and for a span of twenty years, she held the limelight as a political figure and prolific writer. Despite a plain appearance, she was notoriously seductive and enjoyed whirlwind affairs with some of the most influential men of her time. She always attracted controversy and was demonised by Napoleon for her forthrightness, the sheer power of her intellect, and the progressiveness of her salon, which was a hotbed for the expression of liberal ideals. The emperor exiled her, on and off, for the last fifteen years of her life.

Her most famous novel was published in 1802. The story of Delphine tales place in Paris between 1789 and 1792. Delphine d’Albémar, a young widow, arranges a wedding between one of her distant relatives, Matilde de Vernon, and Léonce de Mondoville. But she falls in love with Léonce, and as he is engaged with Matilde, their love is impossible. The story ends tragically with Delphine killing herself.

Germaine grew up in France and was Protestant. Her parents became impatient for her to marry, and they are said to have objected to her marrying a Roman Catholic, which, in France, considerably limited her choice. There is a legend that William Pitt the Younger considered marrying her. The somewhat notorious lover of Julie de Lespinasse, Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert, a cold-hearted fop of some talent, certainly paid her attention but she finally settled on Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, who was first an attaché of the Swedish legation to France and then minister after 1783. For a great heiress possessed of great ambition, the marriage did not seem brilliant, but Germaine had wealth and her future husband had considerable political and social standing. The marriage took place on 14 January 1786 in the chapel of the Swedish embassy in Paris. A singular series of negotiations secured from the king of Sweden a promise of an ambassadorship for 12 years and a pension in case of its withdrawal. At the time of her marriage, Germaine was 20, her husband 37.

On the whole, the marriage seems to have been acceptable to both parties at first, although neither had any affection for the other. The baron obtained great financial benefits, whereas his wife, with the rank of an ambassador’s consort, obtained a much higher position at court and in society than she could have secured by marrying almost any Frenchman, without the inconveniences that might have been expected had she married a Frenchman superior to herself in social rank. In spite of the mutual benefits that each could claim for many years, the marriage did not last. It ended with a formal separation in 1797, although the two remained legally married until the baron’s death in 1802.

Her novels were bestsellers and her literary criticism was highly influential. When she was allowed to live in Paris, she greatly encouraged any political dissident against the regime of Louis XVI. On the day before the September massacres of 1792, she fled writing a florid account of her escape. The fall of Maximilien Robespierre opened the way back to Paris. She reopened her salon and threw herself into opposition to Napoleon Bonaparte. During the years of the Empire she travelled in Germany and Austria and after the death of her husband in 1802 she married a man called Rocca.

In June 1816, she was visited by Lord Byron and she developed a warm friendship with the Duke of Wellington, whom she had first met in 1814. By 1816 she had become confined to her room if not to her bed. She died on 14 July that year. Rocca survived her by little more than six months. Her deathbed conversion to Roman Catholicism surprised many, including Wellington, who remarked that while he knew that she was greatly afraid of death, he had thought her incapable of believing in the afterlife.

Madame de Staël— a force of nature, exuberant idealist, and ultimate enthusiast—waged a lifelong struggle against all that was tyrannical, cynical, or passionless in her time, and left Europe a legacy of enlightened liberalism that radiated throughout the continent during the nineteenth century. There are a couple of notable biographies of this colour woman, Madame de Stael by Maria Fairweather, 2006 and Madame de Stael: The First Modern Woman by Francine du Plessix Gray, 2008.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback and Kindle. Also available on:

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Did Marie Antoinette Say ‘Let them Eat Cake?’

Did Marie Antoinette Say ‘Let them Eat Cake?’

Did Queen Marie Antoinette ever say ‘Let them eat cake’?

‘Let them eat cake.’ is one of the most famous quotes in history, but did the queen ever say it and what was going on in France for such a quote to become so popular?

Love her or hate her Marie Antoinette is one of the most famous women in French history but was she blamed for things she never said or had any control over?

 

The Weather in 1788

Agriculture, Wheat Field, Clouds, Summer, Cloudscape

Historians and archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware of the influence of weather on the world’s significant events and as someone who has been researching life in the 18th century Britain and France I was amazed to find that the weather could be said to one of the causes of the French Revolution.

In the spring and summer of the year before the Revolution France suffered a drought. Although there was no drought in England the summer of 1788 was an unusually warm one in London. As temperatures soared in the capital, the incidence of Scarlet fever and Typhus spread through the city. In August over 1000 deaths were attributed to fever alone.

As Londoners sweltered the French baked. The French were not particularly competent farmers at the time, the aristocracy and major landowners were not interested in developing and improving their land for agriculture and food production, unlike their British counterparts. Consequently, food production was already pretty miserable when the drought struck.

The drought of 1788 ended when the skies opened and hail the size of fists fell from the sky bashing the fruit from the trees and the smashing the crops in the fields to smithereens so when the French entered the winter of 1788-9 food stocks were at an all-time low. The storms of July caused damage in parts of the country. To make matters worse, the disastrous harvest was followed by months of freezing weather. The temperature barely rose above freezing for three months through November, December and January. In London, the river Thames froze.

The bad weather was most likely caused by the eruption of the Laki volcanic fissure in southern Iceland which spewed out ash for eight months from 8 June 1783 to February 1784 killing much of the livestock and perhaps a quarter of the Icelandic population at the time. The British naturalist Gilbert White described that summer in his classic Natural History of Selborne as “an amazing and portentous one … the peculiar haze, or smokey fog that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man.”

The State of French Agriculture

Potatoes, Tubers, Arable, Agriculture, Garden, Harvest

Tobias Smollett wrote about Boulogne near Calais in 1763. As much as he hates France he can see that the peasants and landowners around the town have adopted some English farming improvements unlike in the rest of France.  ” I am certain that a man may keep house in Boulogne for about one half of what it will cost him in London; and this is said to be one of the dearest places in France. The adjacent country is very agreeable, diversified with hill and dale, corn-fields, woods, and meadows. There is a forest of a considerable extent, that begins about a short league from the Upper Town: it belongs to the king, and the wood is farmed to different individuals. In point of agriculture, the people in this neighbourhood seem to have profited by the example of the English. Since I was last in France, fifteen years ago, a good number of inclosures and plantations have been made in the English fashion. There is a good many tolerable country-houses, within a few miles of Boulogne; but mostly empty. I was offered a compleat house, with a garden of four acres well laid out, and two fields for grass or hay, about a mile from the town, for four hundred livres, about seventeen pounds a year: it is partly furnished, stands in an agreeable situation, with a fine prospect of the sea, and was lately occupied by a Scotch nobleman, who is in the service of France.” ( Project Gutenberg’s Travels Through France and Italy, by Tobias Smollett.)

 

High Prices and High Taxes

Image result for tax burden france 1789 commons licence

The poorer classes, 95% of whose diet consisted of bread and cereals and which before the drought had to spend about 55% of their earnings on bread, were forced by the famine conditions of the first half of 1789 to spend now 85% and over of their income on this staple food. In France rural taxes called “privilege seigneriaux” or seigniorial privileges, severely burdened farmers.The clergy and nobility exercised a preeminent right over all land property but evaded most of the taxes and financial burdens of managing it.  By 1789, some 90% of the population were hungry by the beginning of 1789. The famine added to the woes of the French people who was also suffering  from a 10 year economic slump with its attendant unemployment.

 

The Riots and the Queen’s Response

Food, Chicken Pot Pie, Crust, Pie Crust, Chicken, Pie

When the riots did come, they were triggered by a chance remark by a wallpaper manufacturer named Reveillon, who said in a public meeting that the government should lower grain prices so that wages could be limited to 15 sous. Rumours of impending wage reductions swept the restless capital and set off the train of events we call The French Revolution.

Queen Marie-Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake,” on hearing there was no bread to be had in Paris but it was just the sort of thing the crowd thought her capable of saying.  As was expected of a woman of her class and position she was remote but she was also totally unaware and untroubled by the plight of her people. She was, as all 18th century monarchs in Europe were, living a life of secluded luxury in their palaces. Marie Antoinette was of course living at one of Europe’s most opulent homes, the Palace at Versailles.

The phrase,’Let them eat cake’  first appeared in a slightly different form about Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660. Marie-Thérèse allegedly suggested that the French people eat “la croûte de pâté” (or the crust of the pastry or the top of the pie – this was usually discarded as pastry was designed to protect the meat while it cooked). Over the next century, several other royals had the phrase attributed to them including two aunts of Louis XVI as it was a phrase that spoke of the royal family’s callousness to their people.

Land Reform

Tomatoes, Garlic, Greens, Market, Outdoor, Vegetables

The Revolution brought the repealed feudal tenures, freed all those bound into serfdom, abolished feudal courts, and cancelled all payments not based on real property, including tithes. Once the reforms were in place; however, the peasants seized the land and refused to pay rent to the government, and in 1792, all payments were finally cancelled. Property of the clergy and political emigrants was confiscated and sold at auction, together with common land. The terms of sale, however, often favoured the wealthy, which may explain the rise of a new class of large landowners among the supporters of Napoleon I. The redistribution of land became the basis of French democracy and the small family farm has been the main feature of French agriculture ever since. Having secured their piece of land, there was little incentive or money to improve it for the peasant owners and so the economic benefits of the reforms were limited, France still struggled to feed itself and agricultural improvements that were being introduced in England were slow to be adopted.

France was a rural nation as late as 1940. After the creation of the land owning peasant class after the Revolution a next major change came in with the railways in the 1850s according to Peasants Into Frenchmen (1976), by historian Eugen Weber. Weber traced the modernisation of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern and possessing a sense of French nationhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He emphasised the roles of railways, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces, a view that has been called into question by several writers. Nevertheless, he gives a good account of the development of rural France in the 19th century. Reforms brought in after World War II and France’s engagement in the European Union has transformed agricultural production again.

Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/land-reform/History-of-land-reform

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_peasants

Great Historical Events That Were Significantly Affected by the Weather: The Year Leading to the Revolution of 1789 in France, J. Neumann, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Drought and the French Revolution:The effects of adverse weather conditions on peasant revolts in 1789, Maria Waldinger (London School of Economics)

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle

Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.

Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street.  Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.

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18th Century Smuggling Fact and Fiction

 

 

 

 

The Landscaped Park

The Landscaped Park

The landscaped park was a British style which would influence gardens throughout Europe from the 18th century onwards.

The style at a glance:

  • Informal layout designed as a classical Arcadia
  • Lakes created to reflect the landscape as well as for recreation
  • Cascades add drama and animation to the scene
  • Temples, grottoes and follies doubled up as tea rooms, and viewing towers
  • Clumps and shelter belts to provide shelter and privacy to the park
  • Shrubberies planted with the newly introduced exotics from abroad
  • The Ha-ha, an invisible boundary to keep livestock away from the house
  • Circuit walks taking you on a tour around the park

It drew inspiration from paintings of landscapes by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. The new style that became known as the English garden was invented by landscape designers William Kent and Charles Bridgeman, working for wealthy patrons, including Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and banker Henry Hoare; men who had large country estates, were members of the anti-royalist Whig Party, had classical educations, were patrons of the arts, and had taken the Grand Tour to Italy, where they had seen the Roman ruins and Italian landscapes they reproduced in their gardens.
William Kent (1685–1748) was an architect, painter and furniture designer who introduced Palladian style architecture to England. Kent’s inspiration came from Palladio’s buildings in the Veneto and the landscapes and ruins around Rome—he lived in Italy from 1709 to 1719, and brought back many drawings of antique architecture and landscapes. His gardens were designed to complement the Palladian architecture of the houses he built. Charles Bridgeman (1690–1738) was the son of a gardener and an experienced horticulturist, who became the Royal Gardener for Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, responsible for tending and redesigning the royal gardens at Windsor, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, St. James’s Park and Hyde Park. He collaborated with Kent on several major gardens, providing the botanical expertise which allowed Kent to realise his architectural visions.

Kent created one of the first true English landscape gardens at Chiswick House for Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. The first gardens that he laid out between 1724 and 1733 had many formal elements of a Garden à la française, including alleys forming a trident and canals, but they also featured something novel: a picturesque recreation of an Ionic temple set in a theatre of trees. Between 1733 and 1736, he redesigned the garden, adding lawns sloping down to the edge of the river and a small cascade. For the first time the form of a garden was inspired not by architecture, but by an idealised version of nature.

Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, (1730–1738), was an even more radical departure from the formal French garden. In the early 18th century, Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, had commissioned Charles Bridgeman to design a formal garden, with architectural decorations by John Vanbrugh. Bridgeman’s design included an octagonal lake and a Rotunda (1720–21) designed by Vanbrugh Stowe is frequently used as a setting for TV dramas and films. Here are just a few scenes filmed at Stowe Park:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations: Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon (1975), Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice (2005),
Film director, Amma-Asante and Star Gugu Mbatha-Raw filming Belle (2013).

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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Toxic Beauty

Toxic Beauty

White skin was a must for the most fashionable boys and girls about town in the 18th century.  What we would call a healthy sun kissed complexion was a sure sign of being a peasant labouring on the land and not the sign of a lady or gentleman of leisure and so was to be avoided if one could afford it.

Although the 18th century is known as the Age of Enlightenment, most fashionable men and women poisoned themselves with make-up. Unbeknown to these fashionistas the lead based powder they were using to show their class and their wealth contributed to much of the poor health they suffered. It inflamed the eyes, attacked the enamel on the teeth and changed the texture of the skin causing it to blacken; it also made the hair fall out and it became fashionable to shave the front hairline to disguise its worst effects.

Both men and women of fashion applied bright pink rouge in circles and triangles to their powdery white faces in the form of Spanish wool; this was a pad of hair rather like a pan scourer impregnated with pink coloured lead. Lips were painted to appear small with the same pink powder or with carmine [a bright-red pigment obtained from the aluminium salt of carminic acid] to give a bee-sting effect.

Hair was powdered with the same lead based concoction and some women also powdered their shoulders and breasts. A pure white breasts was the vogue and was accentuated by painting veins onto it with blue paint making the bosom a toxic one. The eyes and eyelashes were mostly ignored.

To make white lead powder it was necessary to take plates of lead, and cover them with vinegar in a bowl. The bowl was left in a heap of horse manure – the manure gave off a slow gentle heat as it rotted (if you’ve kept a compost heap you’ll know what I mean). Three weeks later the lead is soft enough to be beaten to a powder and mixed with perfume and dye.

Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry was the 18th century equivalent of Angelina Jolie; a celebrity who caused men to faint in awe of her beauty.Her beauty regime led to her nasty demise; the same toxic make-up is said to have killed well-known actress Kitty Fisher. Maria entered the social whirl of the Georgian Court in December 1750; within a year, her sister Elizabeth had married the Duke of Hamilton and in March 1752, Maria married the 6th Earl of Coventry and became the Countess of Coventry. For their honeymoon, the Earl and Countess travelled around Europe accompanied by Lady Petersham, but neither lady enjoyed it much, especially Maria who particularly disliked Paris. The Countess’s ignorance of the French language and her husband’s decision not to allow her to wear red powder as make-up (which was fashionable in Paris at the time) intensified her dislike of the city and the trip. On one occasion, her husband saw her arrive at dinner with powder on her face and tried to rub it off with his handkerchief but it was no use she was a make-up addict and it killed her.

Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone

Dressing one’s hair was time consuming and expensive and had to last as long as possible. Rich women rarely wore whole wigs, instead, they hired professional hairdressers (coiffures) who added false hair to their natural hair to big it up and then they added padding, powder, and ornaments, as a women’s hair was supposed to remain “natural” and not have the obvious artificiality of men’s wigs.

Styles sometimes lasted several weeks or months, which could make sleeping difficult, sometimes a wooden block was used as a headrest instead of a pillow to prolong its life. Long scratching sticks were needed when hair became infested with lice. The fashion in France, where all fashions began and were the most extreme, led many men and women to shave their heads for ease and comfort preferring to wear nothing but wigs in public.

Men in particular needed wigs for work and business. There was the Campaign Wig, worn by military men, vicars, lawyers and just about everyone who held a profession or public office needed a wig so the trade was huge and most towns had a thriving trade in wig making. Highly fashionable fops, known as The Macaronis chose elaborate high wigs, sometimes worn up to 18 inches high, they carried men’s fashions and men’s cosmetics to a new extreme. Town and Country Magazine 1764 described them: “They make a most ridiculous figure… it is a puzzle to determine the thing’s sex.”

As the century progressed hair styles and wigs got simpler. The most popular became the Tie Wig where the hair was drawn back from the face and tied at the back of the head with a black ribbon; the tied hair was called a ‘queue’, meaning tail. Men were always clean shaven; beards and moustaches were unpopular, except with the military.

Illustration: Maria Gunning Countess of Coventry, National Trust.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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