The following are excerpts from our presentation on using period satirical prints in the development of your kit
Since the camera was invented a little too late to document the clothing and accessories of our era, we need to rely on a variety of primary sources when trying to figure out what we should be wearing as living historians for Battle Road and other Rev War events. Although, our forefathers and mothers were not able to leave us photographic images, they did leave us documentation in the form of actual artifacts, inventories, advertisements, transcripts, newspapers and journals. In addition, they left us artwork that ranges from fine portraiture to sketches. One of the richest sources of visual representations, especially for the depiction of the poor and working class, is the satirical print. This form of artwork gives us not only visual clues of what clothing was worn, but also offers us a view of some of the more mundane details of their lives. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of these available to us on-line and more seem to be surfacing almost daily.
The prints we have chosen to recreate are from the Yale University
Lewis Walpole Library's digital collection,
which can be found at http://www.library.yale.edu
and the Lewis and Clark College mezzotint website http://www.lclark.edu/~jhart/home.html.
The Ladies' Maid Purchasing a Leek
The older lecherous man and innocent young maid is a recurrent theme, second only to the naïve man being taken in by the greedy trollop. The Smiths recreate this subject complete with leering old man, innocent maiden and requisite phallic symbols. Root vegetable aside, this print shows us a contrast in social class. The lady’s maid wears a simple gown and quilted petticoat. Her gown is rucked up showing her petticoat, show here in cotton Marseilles. She has a printed handkerchief about her shoulders and a simple black ribbon around her neck.
Our leek seller, though of a lower class wears a sleeved garment, breeches, gaiters over his shoes. He like the maid, wears and apron though his is clearly is more of a utilitarian nature. His hair is tousled in contrast our our maid’s neat cap and ribbon and his hat shows the wear and tear of a workingman’s life.
Hey Day! Is that my daughter Anne?
A popular way of satirizing fashion was in prints showing a sensible country parent horrified at their child’s transformation into a creature of fashion.
This satire is an equal opportunity one and is seen in both male and female versions. In one of the male versions, "Is that my son Tom", the father is shocked by the appearance of his son Tom who is now the quintessential dandy. Though Tom’s look is clearly an exaggeration, perhaps his father’s garments in contrast, gives us an insight to the apparel of middling class country farmer from our time period.
Here’s our two Sandy’s recreate this satire. Mrs. Spector as Anne, dons a sacqueback gown with all the trimming and sports a high altitude pouf, the type made popular by Marie Antoinette. The hairdo shown in the actual satire is unattainable without an engineering miracle and the experience of a Las Vegas showgirl. Her gown is, in fact, a perfect example of a sacque of that time period. Her mother is dressed in an outfit of the middlin’ class—a black silk bonnet, of which we see many shapes and sizes during the 1770’s to 80’s, a black silk mantle, white apron and gown and handkerchief. Even her glasses—better to see you with my dear—are the typical round shape seen during this timeframe. Hey day! Is that my daughter Anne???
View original satirical prints (click below)
Old Couple from 1768
This untitled print from 1768 depicts an older couple probably just back from market. Each carry two baskets to convey their purchases, all of a different design but similar construction—and nary a haversack handbag to be found. The woman portrayed by Colleen Humphreys wears the lappet cap similar to the style she probably wore when she was younger. Her hat, simply decorated with only ribbon. The woman’s handkerchief is tucked into her apron and you can even see the ends of her shift finished off in a simple band. Colleen interprets her gown in brown linen and hat in brown felt.
Our older man portrayed by Abe Fisher carries himself with a certain dignity but appears to have seen better times as evidenced by out-at-elbows frock coat. His once fashionable cane appears now to be a tool of older age. He appears to have a variety of goods in his basket.
This timeless print could be a view of almost any decade of the 18th century and shows how slowly changes in common clothing progressed.
The Old Man’s Wish
If I live to grow Old as I find I go down.
Let this be my Fate in a Fair Country Town.
May I have a warm House with a stone at my Gate,
And a Cleanly young Girl to rub my Bald Pate.
This is an earlier example of the dirty old man with ingénue theme.
Our older man from 1720 wears a similar coat waistcoat and breeches to our 1770’s gentleman though with slightly different styling. Our head rubbing young maid’s gown is not too dissimilar from those later in the century. He wears a neck covering, in this case a neck cloth, as was typical throughout the century and his sleeve ruffles hint as to his more comfortable socio-economic status.
The Man of Business
Some satires are timeless in their subject matter, as in this one entitled “A Man of Business” from 1774. Our cad seems to have gotten around—something not lost on his latest paramour. This print is a great example of the flexibility of 18th century woman’s clothing construction which could accommodate pregnancy, hence not needing a maternity wardrobe. The use of the mantle and handkerchief to help disguise the baby bump is employed by all of our expectant mothers. Our Man of Business portrayed by Gary Gregory, fashionably dressed in his well fit suit of clothes, appears to have found a more affluent honey as evidence by her more stylish dress, hat and mantle. Lest we be jaded by our erstwhile Victorian point of view—that our man is just a cad and has impregnated a bevy of innocents—in 18th century context, these ladies might have been willing participants and probably couldn’t control their desires given the attentions of this handsome successful gentleman. Gary! Gary—wake up, it’s only a dream...
The Abusive Fruitwoman (Who is now done with her abusing)
Here is a print where we are not entirely sure of who or what is actually being satirized. Is the woman on the left a lady or a well dressed prostitute or is this a variation on the “my daughter Ann theme? Nevertheless, we can get some very useful information from this print, I give you the Abusive Fruitwoman. One of the first things we can’t help but notice is the Fruitwoman’s apparent lack of stays. Though we believe most women wore stays or other supportive undergarments, this woman did not. We don’t know if this is symbolic of her coarse attitude or what. Despite the difference in their appearance, there are similarities in their dress. Both wearing quilted petticoats, although most likely of different quality and fabrics. Here we are showing the Fruitwoman in a worsted quilted petticoat and the well dressed woman in one of silk marseilles.. Our woman on the left wears a silk mantle our fruitseller a short cloak, and a we see a gown on the left gown versus the jacket of the vendor on the right. Both woman wear aprons, however, our well dressed woman’s probably never gets dirty. Lest we forget our urchin—dressed in the clothing of young boy—jacket or coat, neck covering and hat, he’s looking to distract the fruit woman and secure a tasty treat for himself.View Original Satirical Print (click here)
We encourage you to closely examine period prints that are appropriate for the sort of personae that you want to portray. When we look closely at these prints we can observe a wealth of details from material culture. In addition, they offer us a snapshot of 18th century life.
Take the time to explore period prints in conjunction with other primary sources. Increasing your own personal knowledge of the 18th century will make you feel more comfortable and confident in your reenacting and your interactions with the public.
Looking at these prints we need to be cautious in our conclusions—but adventurous in our search for knowledge.