For this month’s strange objects from history guessing game I am turning to fashion. I am preparing a presentation on Regency fashion for my Romance Writers of America group so a handful of uniquely historic accessories were brought to mind. None of these are too mysterious, so I am betting those who read Austen, JAFF, and Regency romances will guess these easily. Hopefully the bit of history will present some tidbits of unknown information.
Before moving on, if you missed the previous three blogs, here are the direct links:
For the bulk of human history, even in the most advanced, cosmopolitan cities (such as London), streets were rough and downright filthy. Typically unpaved, mud was inevitable and thick. Garbage and human waste were commonly tossed from windows onto the street below, and imagine the quantity of horse droppings that must have been impossible to fully or expeditiously cart away. Not a pleasant vision, I know. Sidewalks existed and were common in developed towns and cities, at least in the finer residential districts and shopping areas. Nevertheless, it was impossible to completely avoid crossing a muck-laden street. If visiting a country village or area of the city not so well-maintained, well, let’s just say one had to watch their step or end up knee-deep in something unmentionable!
One helpful invention were pattens. Worn by men and women, they began to appear in the Middle Ages and originally were a totally utilitarian device. Constructed of wooden soles and leather straps to secure to the wearer’s boots or shoes, the main purpose of pattens was to elevate the feet above the street mud and muck. Until the 17th century, the term “patten” was used interchangeably with “clogs” and they were more commonly worn by the working-class ladies who were more apt to tread through unpaved alleys and less-maintained areas.
Around 1630, metal pattens appeared, the sole of wood or metal attached to an iron ring, as seen in two of the examples above. Generally, the shoe straps of leather, metal, or heavy fabric were simply to secure the patten in place. Adding a touch of prettiness with a bow or colorful cloth wasn’t uncommon but not necessarily the norm. Most pattens offered minimal protection for the shoe itself although some did. Examples of the “overshoe” type pattens are seen in the images below.
Over time, men gravitated to sturdy boots protected by spats (or gaiters), leaving pattens as a primarily female choice to protect her delicate, costly shoes. By the 18th century when just about every item a women wore had to be gaudily decorated and of the priciest materials, even pattens grew fancy. Thinner soled varieties made from light-weight cork with upper straps ornately stitched and decorative were referred to as a “promenade clog” or “carriage clog,” an example to the right.
Today we would more accurately call these scarf-like fashion items a boa or stole. In the past, however, a “stole” primarily referred to the ecclesiastical garment, and the term “boa” was only used for the snake! Not until 1838 would “boa” begin to supplant the garment known as the tippet.
The tippet evolved from the long, wide-opened fur-lined sleeves common in the Medieval period. Easily confused with certain narrow scarves, small capelets, and the pelerine, a true tippet was long and very slender. While seen is every possible fabric, lace, embroidered net, muslin, and so on, most commonly a tippet was fur. It was draped over the shoulders, much the same as a shawl, but generally hugged the neck, as seen in the fashion prints above. As with most garment accessories from these long ago eras, the style and look of it for the entire ensemble was vitally important. This fact, however, did not mean the item was superfluous. A thick fur tippet kept one’s neck warm, and the thinner muslin or lace tippet added a measure of concealment for the modest maiden’s décolletage.
Fans have been around for centuries, probably since the dawn of time if we include waving big leaves in front of one’s face. The first man-made fan is agreed to be the rigid type, like those above. Made of wood, thick fabrics, leather, papier-mache, or big feathers closely stitched together into a single piece, the broad, flat screen was mounted onto a sturdy handle. These fans did not fold or collapse. The surface was always exquisitely painted or stitched with an array of scenes, flowers, religious imagery, animals, and more.
Called both a fixed fan or a hand screen, the two names convey the dual purpose of these gorgeous objects. A stiff, large, flat fan is arguably more efficient at moving air and cooling a person’s face than a lightweight fan. Perhaps not as easy to carry as the folding fans to come, but a fixed fan definitely did the intended job!
As a hand screen, it was even more valuable. Until well into the 20th century, houses were heated only by open fireplaces and stoves. The lack of insulation meant that many houses were drafty, requiring flames to be stoked hot and for the occupants to gather as close as possible to those flames. A fixed fan was useful as a hand screen to protect a lady’s delicate skin from the fire’s glare and heat. Heaven forbid her cheeks get too ruddy! Worst yet, her perfectly applied wax-based make-up ran the risk of literally melting. Perish the thought! Holding an ornate, finely wrought, expensive hand screen in front of her face not only prevented the mentioned catastrophes, it was also another display of her wealth, excellent taste, and careful attention to her complexion (and by extension her whole body). We all know how critical this was, especially if she was still on the marriage market.
Folding fans came after the fixed fan, originating in the Far East, specifically Japan and China. No one knows exactly when they came into being and the inspirations for the designs are the stuff of legend. One legend is that the Japanese modeled the folding wings of a bat. Whatever the facts, it was not until the 1500s that the folding fan came to Europe by way of trade routes. It quickly became a stylish symbol of wealth and class, largely thanks to Caterina De’ Medici, who carried them in her trousseau at the French Court.
There are several different varieties of folding fans, based upon how they are constructed and designed. The cockade fan dates to the Medieval Era and is unique from the others insofar as being a hybrid. Made of broad, overlapping sticks or pleated paper attached to the two guards (as are most folded fans), the cockade fan differs by unfolding into a complete circle with the longer guards coming together as a handle. The cockade fan‘s larger surface served as a hand screen, an added bonus since it was much more portable when folded than the one-piece hand screens. A folded cockade fan could fit into a reticule, or be tied to a lady’s wrist or waist with a pretty ribbon.