Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

“A lock of the General’s hair”

On February 22, just in time for George Washington’s birthday, an article in the newspaper announced that an archivist at Union College (Schenectady, NY) library had found an uncatalogued volume, its brown pages frayed, on the shelves. A ho-hum moment you may think, but, upon closer examination, it seems that the book, an almanac from 1793, had belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, son of General Philip John Schuyler, a Revolutionary War hero and a founder of the College. Hidden inside the pages was an envelope with the words “Washington’s Hair”—indeed there was a lock of hair! Although we may view this type of souvenir as a bit odd today, in the 18th century, hair clippings were commonly taken as souvenirs to be placed in rings or lockets. They were tokens of friendship as well as remembrance.

When John Jay was named minister plenipotentiary to Spain in late September 1779, his wife Sarah Livingston Jay was determined to accompany him even though she would be leaving her family, her young son Peter Augustus, and her home, perhaps never to return. (Ocean travel, especially in time of war, was not for the faint of heart.) The Jays and George Washington were friends but Sarah may also have been showing her patriotic support when she wrote General Washington a letter requesting a lock of his hair. Washington had a good head of hair as can be seen in Gilbert Stuart’s portrait. He replied:

West-point Octobr 7th 1779General Washington presents his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay. Honoured in her request . . . he takes pleasure in presenting the inclosed,* with thanks for so polite a testimony of her approbation & esteem. He wishes most fervently, that prosperous gales an unruffled Sea & every Thing pleasing & desirable, may smooth the path she is about to walk in.

*Sarah noted on the letter, “A lock of the General’s hair.”

Sarah probably took the lock with her to Europe but we don’t know in what. In a frame, or even an almanac? John Jay had the lock of hair incorporated into a pin while in London in 1784.

The General was generous with gifts of his hair during his lifetime. When he retired from the presidency in 1797, Elizabeth Stoughton Wolcott, wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott, requested a lock of his hair as a memento. The story is that Martha Washington took out a pair of scissors then and there and cut off not only a lock of her husband’s hair but also of her own to give Mrs. Wolcott.

From Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), p. 61. Pin with hair, John Jay Homestead, Katonah, N.Y. Lock of hair in a locket, at Mt. Vernon Collections, W-1150. Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), unfinished, 1796, Boston MFA.

posted March 12th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion,Friendship,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Washington, George,Washington, Martha,Wolcott, Elizabeth Stoughton

“Lucy Locket Lost her Pocket”

I couldn’t resist recommending a recent Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on “pockets” because of the charming video of the song “Lucy Locket Lost Her Pocket” that is included, courtesy of Pauline Loven.

For 18th century women, “pockets” were a separate part of their attire, not built into clothing as they are today. They were attached to a ribbon which was tied around the waist rather like an apron, usually worn under the skirt, and accessed through a slit. They could be capacious or small, plain or fancy, and hold a multitude of things. See my earlier post here. The dimity pocket pictured belonged to Abigail Adams. More information about it can be found here.

For those inclined to make a pocket, follow the instructions issued by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. After 1800, the type of pockets described were not suitable for the slimmer fashions, and women took to carrying reticules or purses.

posted March 8th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Clothes,Fashion

“a fashionable Muff & Tippet”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL kept up her correspondence with George Washington in 1798. She delivered to him a set of prints from a friend that she added to. She also did some shopping for him.

Market Street [Philadelphia] Decemr 3d 1798My dear Sir
I have the Pleasure to send the Book of Prints that you were so obliging as to accept from your Friend. I have also taken the liberty to add a few that I admire on a presumption that the Mind capable of tracing with Pleasure the military Progress of the Hero whose Battles they delineate will also have the associate Taste and admire fine representations of the Work of God in the human Form.

As you wish to take Miss Custis a Testimonial of your recollection of her, I really know not of any Thing more appropriate at this Season, than a fashionable Muff & Tippet; and such may be procured for less than Thirty Dollars, a Pattern of Muslin for a Dress such as you would choose to present will I find cost Sixty dols. at least——a Pattern for a half or undress may be bought for 23 dols.; but let me know what will be most agreeable to you and I will purchase it with Pleasure and pack it up in a manner the least inconvenient for you.

I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your long unpleasant Walk in the Rain on Sunday last. My best wishes ever attend you as I am always Your sincere Affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

The image shows a fur muff on the left and a fur tippet on the right, popular during the 1790s. Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242.]

posted October 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Fashion,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

Items from Martha Washington’s wardrobe

Searching through information about MARTHA WASHINGTON I came across two items of clothing that reveal something of her as a woman. The slippers, in purple and yellow silk, are the ones she wore when she wed George Washington in 1759. They signify her status as a wealthy woman and reflect her youthful flair: Martha, the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, was just 27 years old.

Also shown is a simple brown silk satin gown, the only dress of Martha’s wardrobe that has survived intact. It is constructed of narrow brown satin-weave silk, likely of English manufacture.

The SLIPPERS are shown courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The gown can be seen HERE. (accessed April 24, 2017).

posted April 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Fashion,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

The Adamses: “quite out of their element”

MARY HILL LAMAR wrote again from London to her brother Henry Hill in Philadelphia this time including a couple of catty remarks about John and Abigail Adams as well as Ann Willing Bingham and her husband, said to be the wealthiest man in America.

London, March 18, 1786. . . . Please make my affectionate compliments to my sister Mrs. Hill, with my thanks for the nice cranberries. Before this gets to hand you will probably see Mr. and Mrs. Bingham, whom I have not seen since their return from France, although I called twice after I heard of their being in London. I am told the extreme of the French fashion, or her own taste, has made great alteration, while on the continent, in her manners, &c. When I mentioned her own taste, it was because she appeared at the opera in a hat unlike anything that ever made its appearance there before or since; fond as they are here of the French fashions. She has been introduced to their majesties, by Mr. and Mrs. Adams, our American plenipo [plenipotentiary], who, by the by, the girls have been to wait on several times, with myself. We have had them to a party of cards and tea, and she has been asked a second time, but as they have not returned the compliment, I think it unnecessary to pay them any farther attention.

They seem sensible people, one and all, but quite out of their element. Mrs. Adams has been very handsome, but an indifferent figure, being very short and fat. Miss [the Adams’s daughter Nabby], by some, reckoned handsome. . . .

Excuse haste, and believe me, my dear brother,
Your sincerely affectionate sister,

John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854), 260-61. Anne Willing Bingham (above) was the model for an early coin design. More than 23 million non-gold coins of Bingham were introduced into circulation from 1795 to 1808.

posted February 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Hill, Henry,Lamar, Mary Hill,London,Paris,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

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