Monday, May 19, 2014

1857 Observations of Fashion

From time to time I like to put in a tidbit that is a bit longer but is delightful to read. It helps us understand the language and terms being spoken during our time periods. Below is an excerpt from "The American Gentlemen's Guid to Politeness and Fashion" ©1857

Sketches And Anecdotes.
My Dear Nephews:
In accordance with the promise with which I concluded my last letter, I will give you, in this, narrated in my homely way, some anecdotes, illustrative of the opinions I have expressed upon the subject of dress.
Liking, sometimes, to amuse myself by a study of the masses, in holyday attire and holyday humor, —to see the bone and sinew of our great country, the people who make our laws, and for whose good they are administered by their servants, enjoying a jubilee, and wishing also to meet some old friends who were to be there (among others, Gen. Wool, who, though politicians accused him of going to lay pipe for the presidency, is a right good fellow, and the very soul of old-fashioned hospitality), I went on one occasion to a little city in western New York, to attend a State Fair.
On the night of the fete that concluded the affair, your cousins, Grace and Gert6, to whom you all say I can refuse nothing, however unreasonable, insisted that I should be their escort, and protested warmly against my remonstrances upon the absurdity of an old fellow like me being kept up until after midnight to watch, like a griffin guarding his treasures, while two silly girls danced with some " whiskered Pandoor," or some "fierce huzzar," who would be as much puzzled to tell where he won his epaulettes as was our (militia) Gen. , of whom, when he was presented to that sovereign, on the occasion of a court levee, Louis Philippe asked,"where he had served /"
It would not become me to repeat half the flattering things by which their elegant chaperon, Mrs. B. seconded the coaxing declarations of your cousins, that they would be "enough more proud to go with Uncle Hal than with all the half-dozen beaux together," whose services had been formally tendered and accepted for the occasion.
"Yes, indeed," cried Gerte, "for Uncle Hal is a real soldier!" And I believe the wheedling jade actually pressed her velvety lips to the ugly sabre scar that helps to mar my time-worn visage.
"Col. Lunettes is too gallant not to lay down his arms when ladies are his assailants!" said Mrs. B. with one of her conquering smiles. "Well, ladies," said I, "I cry you mercy—"
' Was ever colonel by such sirens wooed,
Was ever colonel by such sirens won !'"

I have no intention to inflict upon you a long description of the festivities of the evening. Suffice it to say upon that point, that the "beauty and fashion," as the newspapers phrase it, not only of the Empire State, but of the Old Dominion, and others of the fair sisterhood of our Union, were brilliantly represented.
When our little party entered the dancing-room, which we did at rather a late hour, for we had been listening to some good speaking in another apartment —the ladies declared that they preferred to do so, as they could dance at any time, but rarely had an opportunity of hearing distinguished men speak in public—the "observed of all observers," among the fairer part of the assembly, and the envy, of course, of all the male candidates for admiration, was young "General ," one of the aids-de-camp of the governor of the state. In attendance upon his superior officer, who was present with the rest of his staff, our juvenile Mars was in full military dress, and made up, as the ladies say, in the most elaborate and accepted style of love-locks (I have no idea what their modern name may be), whiskers and moustaches. The glow that mantled the cheeks of the triumphant Boenerges could not have been deeper dyed had his "modesty" like that of Washington, when overpowered by the first public tribute rendered to him by Congress, " been equalled only by his bravery!"
"He above the rest in shape and gesture, Proudly eminent," but apparently, wholly unconscious of the attention of which he was the subject, was smilingly engrossed by his devotion to the changes of the dance, and to his fair partner; and the last object that attracted my eye, as we retired from the field of his glory, were the well-padded military coat, the curling moustaches and sparkling eyes of "Adjutant-Gen.!"
True to my old-fashioned notions of propriety, I went the next morning to pay my respects to Mrs. B., and to look after your cousins,—especially that witch Gorte, whom her father had requested me to "keep an eye upon," when placing her under my care for the journey to the fair.
I found the whole fair bevy assembled in the drawing-room, and in high spirits.
After the usual inquiries put and answered, Grace cried out, " Oh! Uncle Hal, I must tell you! Gen. has been here this morning! He was wearing such a beautiful coat!—his dress last night was nothing to it!—it fairly took all our hearts by storm!"
At these words, a merry twinkle, as bright and harmless as sheet lightning, darted round the circle.
The master of the house entered at that moment, and before the conversation he had interrupted was fairly renewed, invited me into the adjoining diningroom to " take a mouthful of lunch."...

If you would like to read the rest of this article Click Here for Letter II in "The American Gentlemen's Guid to Politeness and Fashion"

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