Saturday, 11 October 2014

What ordinary people could wear in the 18th century

Carl Michael Bellman by Per Krafft, 1779
Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) is probably one of the most important cultural personalities in Sweden. He wrote a number of songs, many of them revolving around a set gallery of persons, most which can be identified as real persons. In the late 18th century Stockholm these very unglamorous people dance, fight, make love, get sick, die, enjoy picnics or have children, in short, doing the things everyday people have always done. The songs vary a lot in tone, some are rowdy, some achingly beautiful. I could write a lot about the songs in general, but this post is just about one of the things that makes Bellman’s’ poetry such great snapshots of 18th century life, the clothes. In most songs there are descriptions of the clothes, glimpses of cut and colours worn by people who weren’t on society’s highest levels. The examples here are just a few of them, but I hope you will enjoy them. All the examples are taken from the collection called Fredmans’ Epistles.

Epistle n: o 13, dated to 1770. At a ball, a young woman, Jeanna, is wearing a salopp and red shoes. A salopp was a short cape, often cut round, in silk or some other lightweight fabric with no sleeves, but with slits for the hands and with or without a hood. Father Berg who is one of the musicians,  is wearing a striped banyan and is generally very old fashioned in attire according to the text with shoes “like those the forefather’s wore”, a neckcloth of leather, a wide belt and a cut, or cauliflower,  wig.

Woman's cape, c. 1775. Museo del Traje

I'm not completely sure, but I think this is the kind of wig father Bergström is wearing:

Charles-François Pinceloup de la Grange by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, 1747

Epistle n: o 16, dated to 1770. Father Bergström is playing oboe while wearing a banyan, open to show breeches in leather (probably chamois leather) and the neckcloth is unbuttoned, but he is keeping his hat on. Caisa, one of the maids at the bar “Ormen” (The Snake) is wearing shoes with white heels that have been re-painted. She is also laced into stays.

Epistle n: o 59, dated to 1770. At the bar “Lokatten” (The Lynx). Two women, not of the best class, are described. The first is called a troll with a black flannel petticoat, no stockings and worn out shoes made of taffeta with a woven pattern of flowers. She is also wearing earrings with red stones of a model called boucles de nuit, a round stone on top of a tear shaped one, with two smaller stones set on each side of the point where the two larger stones meet. The other woman is wearing a calamanco bodice over a petticoat in yellow damask and no shoes. Calamanco was a thin wool fabric in bright colours, often striped and glazed. It was very popular for bodices and waistcoat in Sweden in the 18th century, though it was illegally imported from England through Norway.

Bodice in calamanco, 1760-80

Epistle n: o 28, dated to 1771, is all about Ulla Winblad, the most important woman in all the epistles, sometimes described as a muse, a goddess, or a common prostitute. In this song she is definitely the latter, she is walking through the narrow streets of Gamla stan, the oldest part of Stockholm, trying to escape the police, and she is dressed in a black jacket, laced very tightly and with some kind of decorations. She is wearing many petticoats and a hat with a veil as well. She is also wearing suede gloves. The real Ulla was a woman called Maja-Stina Kjellström and this song have a parallel in her life were she was arrested in 1767 for wearing a  red silk cape, which poor woman wasn’t allowed to wear, though she was acquitted as she could prove she worked for a silk manufacturer.

18th century jacket in silk, Lund, Sweden

In epistle n: o 33, dated to 1771, Ulla is having a lot more fun; she is taking a boat trip to the part of Stockholm that is called Djurgården, which in the 18th century was largely unpopulated.  She is wearing a sun hat with rose-red ribbons. We are not told what she is wearing on her upper body, but we are told that it is very figure hugging and that she is tightly laced. She is also wearing a corsage at her breasts. Her petticoat is made out of nopkin, a cheap lightweight fabric that could be made of linen or cotton. The petticoat has a ruffle and she is also wearing an apron. 

The steps on Skeppsbro etching by Elias Martin (1739-1818), 1800
The woman in the middle is supposed to be Ulla Winblad.

Sample of nopkin fabric, dated to 1731

Epistle n: o 66, dated 1773-81). An unknown woman, very possibly Ulla is being painted. She has dark hair in curls that are bound with a pearl string. She is laced and her breast is high and she is wearing a cross made of rubies which flashes as she breathes. Her jacket is made of crimson red fabric and she is wearing both flowers and gauze around the neckline. She is also carrying a fan. The painter eventually gets quite exited by all this beauty, especially after painting in her nipples behind the gauze.
Quilted taffeta jacket and petticoat, 1780-85, Collections Galliera.© EPV / J-M Manaï, C Milet

Epistle n:74, dated 1773-80. Madame Bergström, the owner of a bar is being painted. She is obviously quite wealthy, even if she belongs to the middle class. She is wearing a “bindmössa” a small hard cap which is still part of many traditional costumes in Sweden. It is made of green silk moiré and is decorated with silver lace. Underneath the cap she is wearing a "stycke" piece of finely pleated linen which goes down the sides towards the back. Her hair is braided with a rose-colored ribbon. She is wearing ruby earrings and a neckerchief with narrow stripes in yellow and green, which opens up at the front to reveal her breasts. She is also wearing a gold chain wound several times around her neck from which an emerald is hanging. She is wearing a jacket and petticoat made of white silk taffeta and shoes made of gold brocade. She is also very beautiful with black eyebrows, blue eyes, a red mouth and very white skin.

"Bindmössa", dated to 1767
"Stycke", dated to 1780-1820

Epistle n: o 80, dated 1789-90. Ulla Winblad is invited out to the countryside just outside Stockholm. Fashion is changing and Ulla’s petticoats are radically narrower than they used to be. She is wearing a jacket made of Nankeen cloth, a lightweight cotton fabric imported from China and made from a yellowish kind of cotton, though there were also cheaper dyed imitations. She is wearing a neckerchief and her she is no longer wearing shoes with a white heel. She is also making herself a flower wreath.

If you are interested in listening to Bellman in English there are two albums by Martín Best available at Spotify. To Carl Michael With Love and Songs of Carl Michael Bellman

Carl Michael Bellman by Pehr Hilleström, 1781 or 1790


Kleidung um 1800 said...

Thank you the post is a wonderful read! It is a perfect follow-up to your last blogpost about sources and research.
I have to admit, that I usually pick letters, diaries, journals and paintings to get an idea of our ancestors, but looking at the lyrics of their songs is indeed another amazing source (will have to pay more attention on that from now on!)


ZipZip said...

Dear Isis,
What a delightful post! I could almost hear the songs play. Clever, clever research: fashion, social history, economics, music, all bound up in one.

Very best,

Isis said...

Sabine: I'm so glad you enjoye dit! Bellman is an unusually good source for clothing refrences as he mentions them in almost every song. Some day I would like to go though all of them properly. :)

Isis said...

Natalie: Thank you so much! Themelodies are actually quite delightful- well Worth listening to. :)

Rowenna said...

Really cool resource! I giggled a little at the "troll" hehe :)

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