Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Unnatural Natural Form


I felt that this entry deserved a big picture. With the high hair, heels, wide paniers, puffed skirts, cosmetics, and endless variety of adornment in the 18th century, getting dressed could be an ordeal. Fortunately women in France turned it into an event, called the Lever. More on that later.
Men, felt somewhat concerned that beneathe their powder and charm they didn't really know what their wives and sweethearts really might be, as this poem attests.
"Give Chloe a bushel of horsehair and wool
Of paste and pomatum a pound
Ten yards of gay ribbon to deck her sweet scull
And gauze to encompass it round.
Let her gown be tucked up to the hip on each side Shoes too high for to walk or to jump
And to deck the sweet charmer complete for a bride Let the cork cutter make her a rump
Thus finished in taste while on Chloe you gaze
you may take the dear charmer for life
but never undress her, for out of her stays
You’ll find you have lost half your wife
---The Lady's Magazine, 1777"
In response to such a possible situation the British government in 1770 proposed a law that read as follows:-
"An Act to protect men from being beguiled into marriage by false adornments. All women, of whatever rank, age, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids or widows, that shall, from and after such Act, impose upon, seduce or betray into matrimony, any of His Majesty's subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes and bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanours and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand null and void."
This wasn't the first time such a law had been proposed, or even enacted. The Italians had a similar law regarding specifically chopines (tall platform slippers) in the Renaissance. Fortunately the law in Britain was never passed. I guess the gentlemen prefered not knowing what their sweethearts might look like, confronted with definitely knowing what their wrath was like.

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