With Rings on Her Fingers

Rocking Renaissance Bling

I thought I’d give the Renaissance tradition of wearing as many of my rings as I could a try (Okay, so not all of them are SCA appropriate, but they look darn spiffy). Count ’em: 1..2..3..4..5! Nothing says overindulgence like squeezing 5 rings onto four fingers. Notice how I snuck in that fifth gem on my second knuckle. Wearing rings like this dates back to Roman times and spilled over well into the Renaissance. Wearable wealth was extremely important in a world with modern banking methods. Having a gold ring meant you had a handy bargaining chip to get you out of tough times (Wedding rings weren’t just a pledge of fidelity, but financial insurance as well). The fact that your insurance policy doubled as a flashy fashion statement was a bonus.

I’ve included a few examples of how Renaissance ladies and gentlemen wore their rings below. You’ll notice that there are a variety of rings worn in a variety of ways, including double rings, thumb rings, rings on necklaces, and special gloves with slits to show off the jewels beneath. Each image links to the full version of the portrait, so get clicking!









For more information about rings (and everything else) from the Middle Ages through the Elizabethan era, you can visit the amazing archive at the Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture website (this link leads to straight to more Renaissance rings). This website is sublime and if you haven’t visited it and clicked on every single link inside, you are missing out!

The rings I have aren’t all perfectly historically accurate at first glance, but most are pretty Renaissance in spirit (except for the ruby paste one, which is a Victorian piece I almost never go without!). Here are a few existent examples of the amazing array of ring designs created between 1475 and 1600:

There is such a wide variety of styles to choose from, I sometimes get dizzy! My favorite part of Renaissance Faire season (besides an excuse to buy a new bodice) is getting to empty out my jewelry drawers and wear everything at once! :)

The Secrets of a Chopine

An X-Ray of an Italian Chopine

Chopines are the epitome of the platform shoe and are somewhat mysterious. How do they get to be so huge? What are they made of? Now you can see! Thanks to the X-Ray, this chopine’s secrets are revealed: it is constructed out of two blocks of wood held together with long iron spikes. If you look closely at the bottom of the shoe, you will see another iron nail at the peak of what looks like a little tent. This is a hollow, made to help stabilize the shoe. When you turn over a peanut butter jar or a water bottle, you will see a similar concave bump. You see, if the bottom was solid, it would not only be heavier, but the shoe would wobble horribly if the bottom wasn’t perfectly level.

The trim of this shoe is probably gilded, since it glows bright white in the X-Ray (you can see that the fabric and leather are a ghostly grey) and is held on by smaller finishing nails or tacks.

Wondering what this shoe looks like on the outside? Here’s a very similar pair at the Bata Shoe Museum:

You can learn even more about Chopines, History’s Greatest Shoes (in my humble opinion!) in The History of the Heel or Recreating Shoes from 1500-1910. Itching to make your own? Check out Francis Classe’s Make Your Own Chopines tutorial!

Little Miss Medieval: Baubles and Gems

Little Miss Medieval

Part I: Baubles and Gems

Let’s talk about jewelry! Specifically, medieval jewelry from about the 5th Century AD (400) to about the 15th Century (1400)– a wide swathe of 1000 years that offers plenty of fun gems to hunt for or make! Since the Middle Ages saw the rebirth of skilled crafts, jewelry began to regain popularity and began to be ever more elaborate as the Renaissance drew near. Jewelry in the Middle Ages was a definite sign of wealth and nobility, so don’t plan on pairing your grey peasant kirtle with a giant gold cross unless you’re costuming for sheer enjoyment rather than accuracy.

It’s actually really easy to find new or vintage pieces to use with your cloak or gown! Favorite medieval jewelry motifs include saints, crosses, and circles decorated with enamel, mosaics, carving, and rough or cabochon gems (gemstone cuts beyond the flat table cut had not yet been developed, so rhinestones and sparkly diamonds are out). These are universally popular even today.

I combed through the V&A Museum archives and found some amazing period pieces and paired them up with similar vintage and handmade items you can buy for yourself.

_______

Pendants

Own it!

Pendants in the Middle Ages were worn by men and women and often featured saints or gemstones that were believed to offer the wearer protection. Charms were popular with everyone, nobility to peasant, and were made from bone, wood, iron, silver, ivory, stone, and gold.

_______

Pins, Brooches, and Badges

Own it!

This is the most versatile piece of jewelry ever! Hold up your cloak, disguise a stain, close a seam, add a chain for a necklace, tame a piece of drooping trim–the list goes on and on! The most popular pin style is the ring brooch. They often had words engraved on them, but plain circles or wire twists are perfect for everyday use. Originally, brooches did not have the pin in the back, but rather in the front, center. Older cloak and kilt pins were a circle held in place with a separate pin. The later Middle Ages and Renaissance saw the transition from these fibula brooches to pin-backs.

_____

Reliquary Crosses and Crucifixes

Own it!

Crosses and Crucifixes are some of the most popular pieces of Medieval jewelry, especially if they contained a relic, like a piece of the True Cross or a lock of saint hair.

________

Rings

Own it!

Simple gold bands to giant chunks of precious gems, rings varied as much in the Middle Ages as they do today. It’s really easy to find medieval-style rings in sterling silver, thanks to the traditional crafts revival of the 1960s and 1970s. Those regal vintage rings are awesome! Look for cabochon stones in the smooth/rubbed bezel or claw settings.

_____

Medieval jewelry is surprisingly modern looking. With a good eye, I’ll bet you can find plenty of yard sale treasures to add some sparkle to your Baroness costume!

Hair To Dye For: Radical Redheads

Famous Red, Orange, and Auburn Haired Ladies
Flaming hot since 1558!

I’m a sorta-redhead. My hair can’t decide whether it wants to be mousy, dishwater blonde or a snappy strawberry (which makes picking out outfits a drag since some colors look good with redheads, but not with blondes and vice versa). My hair’s indecision began when I was just a baby; I have a natural pink mohawk in most of my baby photos thanks to my light strawberry blonde curls piling on top of my ivory skin. My hair turned blonde and straight when I was two, then switched back to curly auburn when I was 16. By junior prom, I was sick of my hair flip-flopping from red-to-blonde-to-brown-to-all-three. L’Oreal Excellence Creme in it’s cute, pink box promised to even out my hair color in just 30 minutes and a shower. Who was I to refuse? Dousing my unruly hair with dye disguised my hair’s spotty nature, and it’s pretty historically accurate at that!

Natural redheads are mutants (with recessive variant genes). Our superpowers are sticking out in a crowd and looking awesome. Many have scorned our powers by flogging us with insults (“Gingers have no souls!”) while others have venerated our hair’s glory with paintings, festivals, films, and flattery. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, redheads are the most flattered of all hair colors: Sixty percent of women who dye their hair do so at home. Of them, twenty six percent choose to go blonde, twenty seven percent go brunette, and over thirty percent choose to become redheads! Feel the power!


Jean Grey: Exploring both sides of the redhead stereotype since 1963.

The see-saw between scorn and veneration has been going on since redheads were first documented in Greek writing. Boudica, the warrior queen, is said to have had long red hair that–in addition to her stature–was a terrifying, powerful sight on the battlefield. The idea that redheads have fiery tempers stems not only from the flame coloring, but also from the politically powerful redheaded women like Boudica who were just as powerful and intelligent as men (if not more). This was naturally unnerving to a society in which women were expected to be subservient. Throughout history– even through the 1950s– redheaded ladies have been breaking rules and changing social norms!

Queen Elizabeth I

Perhaps the most famous redhead in history is England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Born to Hanry VIII’s most notorious wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth inherited her father’s golden-red hair. When she took the throne in 1558 at the age of 25, she brought wit and unprecedented political prowess with her. She refused to marry and actively participated in the jurisdiction of her country. Though she was affectionately called the “virgin Queen,” she is reported to have taken many lovers and favorites throughout her long reign. Beloved by her subjects and lauded for her role in England’s victory over the Spanish Armada, Queen Lizzie changed red hair from a fashion faux pas (blonde was the previous preferred color) into England’s must-have shade.

Elizabeth’s striking red hair set off the creamy whiteness of her skin. Light skin was considered to be the most important aspect of beauty and since the recessive gene that creates red hair also causes paler skin and lighter brows, natural redheads in Elizabethan England became suddenly fashionable. Creamy skin and ruby-tinged hair also meshed well with the rich jewel tones and heavy golden ornamentation that prevailed in courtly fashion. Ladies who weren’t in the lucky 4% of the population with the variant gene, there were all sorts of hair treatments:

For coloring the hair so that it is golden. Take the exterior shell of a walnut and the bark of the tree itself, and cook them in water, and with this water mix alum and oak apples, and with these mixed things you will smear the head (having first washed it) placing upon the hair leaves and tying them with strings for two days; you will be able to color [the hair]. And comb the head so that whatever adheres to the hair as excess comes off. Then place a coloring which is made from oriental crocus, dragon’s blood, and henna (whose larger part has been mixed with a decoction of brazilwood ) and thus let the woman remain for three days, and on the fourth day let her be washed with hot water, and never will [this coloring ] be removed easily.

I’ve highlighted the word henna because this particular plant was the primary source of red hair colorant since the age of the Pharaohs! Henna is mostly famous as a skin pigment, but this semi-arid shrub also works as a semi-permanent hair dye and was the most popular way to get red hair until synthetic dyes were invented in the late 1800s.

Queen Elizabeth herself dyed her hair as she aged and her hair became white. The auburn-red of her earlier portraits fades into a light pinkish-orange since henna is a naturally orange dye that only reddens the base color. If the base color is a brown, it tints it red. If the hair is blonde, henna creates a golden strawberry. By the end of her reign, Queen Elizabeth’s hair was fine and white, so the true color of the henna is revealed in her portraits.

______

The Pre-Raphealites

Red hair gained popularity again in the mid-1800s, culminating with the Pre-Raphealites and their beautiful models like Fanny Cornforth, Alexa Wilding, and Elizabeth Siddal: ladies with deep burgundy and  ginger-flamed hair. The Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, a group of artists, began in 1848 and lasted for an all-to-brief decade. Their influence on artistic style and fashion was much longer lived. The mauves, greens, and blues of dreamy pre-raphealite paintings were perfectly suited to complement cascading red hair.

Paired with swaths of roses and loosely draped gowns, pre-raphealite paintings recreated classical Greek, Medieval, and folk fashions with a heavy dose of dreamy fantasy quite unlike the rigid world of corsets and hoopskirts in the 1850s and 1860s. There was plenty of controversy surrounding these sensual models, especially considering that many were mistresses of the painters themselves! These ladies appear unfettered by any social, sexual, or fashion restraints in their pictures: clinging silks drenched in rain hug every curve, a corsetless waist is girdled softly with gold, and hair flies around their shoulders freely. Though the fashions might be too much for the everyday Victorian lady, glowing crimson locks were well within the average woman’s reach. The red-haired beauties filling the canvases inspired women to once again run to their nearest druggist for the reddening power of henna dye.

_____

Lucille Ball

No list of spunky, game-changing redheads would be complete with Ms. Lucy! The saucy sit-com queen is famous for her brilliant red mound of spunky curls. From 1951 to 1960, Lucille Ball entertained the world on her TV shows I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Though these are her most famous accomplishments, Lucille’s resume includes much more, including modeling, a brief stint as a Broadway chorus girl, and acting work in films alongside the Three Stooges, Ginger Rogers, and Katherine Hepburn. She’s known for being outspoken and participated in a few small tiffs with social norms, most famously her marriage and divorce to Desi Arnaz.

Ball met and eloped with the Cuban bandleader in 1940. Lucy was 6 years older than Desi, sparking a little social friction since some people thought an older woman marrying a younger man was improper. During her first pregnancy, Lucille continued to film I Love Lucy even though she was showing, but the broadcasting company forbade any mention of Lucille’s “condition” on-air.  Lucille’s and Desi’s first child, Lucie Désirée Arnaz, was born when Lucille was almost 40 years old! Lucille’s second pregnancy, however, is the one she is most famous for. TV in the 1950s was heavily censored and everything that went on air had to be approved by a committee. This time around, Lucille’s real-life pregnancy was worked into I Love Lucy’s plot. In a magnificent segment, she appears on camera, glowing, to surprise Ricky with the news. It was a huge moment in television history.

Even though much of her film and TV work was done in black and white, Lucille Ball’s hair was a key part to her personality and characters. In fact, we associate the color red with her so much, it’s hard to recognize her with any other haircolor:

Here’s a bit of a surprise: Lucille Ball was not a redhead. Lucille Ball was actually a natural brunette/dark blonde, but she dyed her hair using that fabulous plant dye, henna. As her fame grew, so did the demand for red hair dyes, driving the sale of  natural henna color through the roof. The queen of mid-century comedy continued to dye her hair throughout her life, maintaining the titian tint that came to define her.

_______

Today, most hair dyes are synthetic and can be done at any hair salon, or at home with a box kit. The coloring agents come in liquids, foams, brushes, and sprays in every color under the sun! With all these magic concoctions so readily available and inexpensive, it’s hard to imagine that such a seemingly innocuous thing like dying your hair for prom or using a color rinse shampoo before a date could have such a huge impact on fashion and society. What if Elizabeth had been raven-haired? What if Pre-Raphealite painters preferred blondes? What if Lucille had never dyed her hair that brilliant orange-red? Knowing that so much of who you are as a person can be linked to something as simple as hair color makes me wonder: What’s my “true” color?

Fashion’s Least-Sexy Accessories: The Coif

Fashion Misconceptions, Part I

I’m too Sexy for my Coif
(Oh no you’re not)

This is a coif. The word has rapidly changed meaning during the 20th Century, and it now is used vigorously by celebrity websites to describe hair-dos (usually bad ones) or in reference to any headdress or hat. In the past, however, coif referred to a small, bonnet-like cap usually made from linen or silk  that fit close to the head.  It’s name is pronounced “qwaf,” a sound which, if it was an onomatopoeia, summons visions of rotten fruit hitting the ground or the delicate suppression of a full-bellied burp.  How can anyone look good with a starchy napkin draped over their head like a sack? This disregarded head garment, however, is a lot more interesting (and sexy) than it’s name may lead you to think!

Plain linen coifs were worn as a foundation head garment beginning in the Middle ages. Men wore them while working the fields and children wore them while playing outside. Ladies most often wore veils and turbans over their coifs. Unlike men or children, a proper lady wouldn’t dare go outside the house without covering her coif with a hat or veil first! Coifs for women became especially popular during the 1500s. The trend originated by combining the practicality of a man’s cap with a veil’s delicate beauty. Early lady’s coifs were worn to promote modesty, tame the hair, and– as an added bonus– keep lice infestations at bay. It was worn almost all the time, except to comb and clean the hair. It was worn to bed to keep the hair in place, in the kitchen to keep the smoke out, and especially out in public under all the fashionable hats, hoods, and veils!

The coif was considered an undergarment of sorts. Uncovered hair was naked, and the coif acted like a chemise for the head. It would never be worn uncovered outside the safety of the house. Though fashion rules are rather lax today, you wouldn’t want to go to work in just your knickers if you want any sort of respect, but you can safely lounge around in them at home all you like. So it was with the coif. Only the lower classes, who could not afford fancy headgear, wore the coif alone.

The most popular color for coifs is white. White linen, white silk, white satin, white anything! The basic coif was simple: a square of fabric gathered shut on one end and pulled over the head. Most Renaissance coifs were made all in one piece, like this one:

Notice how it looks like a widened urn, creating longer side panels and a puffed back to the coif, framing the face and allowing more room to tuck long hair into. They became exceedingly popular during the early 17th Century from about 1600-1650, which is why many puritan costumes incorporate a bonnet-like coif as standard fare. Coifs, however, didn’t have to shade the face, just cover the hair, and they often ended around the ears.

This painting by Caspar Netscher shows a delicately-coiffed woman sitting at home making bobbin lace, perhaps to decorate more of her coifs. Notice how her coif is not plain white, but covered in twining black vine patterns. There’s even a little bird embroidered on the side. This line of needlework is called blackwork and it was all the rage during the Elizabethan and Stuart periods. It was sewn on cuffs, collars, gloves, and especially coifs. Here’s a close-up view of a coif covered in blackwork:

Every bit of that is carefully hand sewn. Some blackwork even has special stitching techniques that allow for woodblock printing details like cross hatching and half-tone shadows. Embroidery didn’t always have to be black. Redwork was also popular using a brick-red colored thread that contrasted beautifully with the white linen or silk. Vine patterns, holly, flowers, birds, bugs, and fruit were all popular themes. This redwork example even has life-like squirrels frolicking through the pattern!

The examples above have extra special touches: gilded silver thread accents on the blackwork and small silver sequins on the redwork. These beautiful embroidery accents are made from actual precious metals! The next example shows at 17th Century coif blooming with brilliant polychrome embroidery.The MMA website allows you to zoom in on the design, revealing not only the crispness of the colors, but that it is also spangled with silver sequins!

Since coifs would usually be covered outdoors and be seen only in the house,why decorate them with such amazing, time-consuming embroidery? Firstly, coifs were not always covered completely when outdoors; a hat or French hood may let the sides peek out around a woman’s ears, allowing her needlework skills to be displayed for all to see. Much like samplers, the more delicately decorated the coif, the more skilled and desirable the woman is presumed to be. At home, the fineness of the embroidery set a lady apart from her servants and added a little bit of Renaissance bling to her house dress, kind of like putting a fancy satin robe over your negligee when you lounge around at home on a rainy day.The painting below (The Morning Toilet by Jan Steen) is quite scandalous– no stockings, a flash of high thigh and buttock, a satin housecoat, and she’s not even out of her night coif yet!

There was a whole series of these sort of paintings done  by a range of artists during the 1600s. They are akin to the pin-ups of the 1950s, flashing a little here and there, chaste, but far more titillating and intimate than all those famous nudes. Her coif isn’t just her pajamas, it’s like a key piece of her negligee, that special touch that she only shows when she’s alone at home. Fashions change quickly, however, and by the 18th century, sexuality in the upper classes was much more blatant. Heaving busts and gigantic wigs defied the purpose of the coif, rendering the need for decoration null and void. The coif became a necessity under wigs and hair pieces, but by 1800, the coif as it had been known had all but vanished. The coif still existed on the fringes, morphing into long, lapel-brushing lace bonnets and hairnets called snoods during the 19th century, but its reign as a fashionable headpiece was over. It remained a piece of folk costuming throughout Europe and as an American prairie legend, slowly developing its current bonnet-like identity associated with elderly Puritans and infants.

Though they may not be considered fashionable, flattering garments today (much less sexy negligee!), coifs are an essential part to any Renaissance wardrobe. They can be just as beautiful as any hat or headband, and they’re practical too! Perfect for wintery reenactments or for keeping your hair out of your face while you catch some beauty sleep without leaving that unmanageable pony-tail wave or stiff neck you get from wearing a scrunchie. It may not look sexy by modern standards, but attractiveness surges with optimistic confidence and you will feel darn confident after a restful night sleep in your coif and knowing that no matter how windy or humid, your awesome coif will keep your hair in check and under control! :)

Study more amazing Elizabethan coifs at The Coif Gallery!

Christmas Caroling Through Time: From Fur Capes to Fistfights

Sing a Song of Christmas!

Rooted in ancient festivals and fun for all, the Christmas tradition of caroling provides an excellent excuse to dress up and sing in public! Caroling is a European tradition that became especially popular during the Middle Ages. Groups of singers would go from house to house, singing simple songs and entertaining each household with skits in return for sweetcakes, a warming drink, or charity money.  Now a days, caroling has gotten a rather campy reputation of being annoying, bitterly uncomfortable, and kitschy. In reality, some people may be annoyed and it can get rather cold, but if done properly, it’s fun for singers and listeners alike whether you gather around the coffee table, sing in a gazebo at the park, or have the guts to knock on people’s doors!

Many traditional caroler costumes are based on 1840s -1860s fashions with large skirts, puffy sleeves and a cape for warmth, but there are two other equally delightful periods perfect for caroling costumes: Medieval/Early Renaissance and the 1950s. Each costume era has a different feel and provides its own creative (and comfort) advantages!

~*~

The Classic Caroler: 1840s-1860s

Caroling became exceptionally popular during the 19th century when a wealth of today’s favorite classics were written. A traditional caroler’s outfit from the 1840s-1860s is ideal because the layers of skirts, high neck, and long, full sleeves are toasty warm. A simple hoop skirt alone under your gown might be a little too breezy, but a girl in the mid-1800s would have worn two, three or even four petticoats to plump up her gown, even if she was wearing hoops underneath which does wonders to block out the icy wind.

American Silk Dress, circa 1857-59

Any 19th century woman would have the added benefit of wearing a slip and corset to keep her warm and in form.

Together with period-appropriate undergarments like long johns or wool stockings, a sturdy pair of button-up boots keep the biting cold from nipping at your toes! (For more information about period appropriate footwear, click here.)

Accessories like fur-lined capes, tartan wraps, big bonnets, and soft handmuffs– all popular during the time– keep your fingers and nose safe from Jack Frost. Kids don’t have to stay out of the fun because it’s too cold. Up until about 1900, most children’s clothes were scaled-down versions of what their parents wore, so all the fuzzy warm layers you’re wearing can be made in miniature for a little one.

If you really want to get in the historical Christmas spirit, here’s a list of carols written during or before the 1860s:

Angels from the Realms of Glory (1816)
Angels We Have Heard on High (1862)
Come Buy my Nice Fresh Ivy or O’Carolan’s Lament (1849)
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (1749)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1833)
Good King Wenceslas (1853)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing  (1855)
Jingle Bells (1857)
Joy to the World (1839)
O Christmas Tree (1824)
O Holy Night (1847)
Silent Night (1859)
Twas in the Moon Of Wintertime (1643)
Twelve Days of Christmas (1780)
We Three Kings (1863)
What Child is This (1865)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (1700)

~*~

Wassailing: Medieval/ Early Renaissance

“Wassailing” is an old English tradition that grew out of pagan Anglo-Saxon traditions of singing for good fortune and harvests. It was adapted later to fit new Christian beliefs, and much later, it evolved into a Christmas tradition that stayed popular until it was overtaken by the calmer caroling of the 19th century. Wassailers are not your average carolers! They didn’t just sing, they danced, told stories, performed skits, and dressed up as greenmen and saints. Wassialers were sometimes more like a rowdy bunch of college kids than a calm quartet of Victorian dandies. If they did you the favor of singing to you, you darn well better bring them some figgy pudding because they aren’t going away until they get some! Since wassailing began as a serenade in the orchards to bring forth a good harvest, cider is the traditional drink shared during wassailing. Apple trees and their fruits were thought to scare away demons and bring health.

Any era from 1100-1600 will do for a Wassailer, but one of the most unusual (and therefore more exciting) choices is the era from 1200-1400. Medieval wassailers were peasants, so their clothing is simple to wear and easy to layer. Men wore long woolen tunics with wool hose or leggings, wrapping furs around their legs and arms for warmth. The ladies wore long kirtles or chemises and covered their heads with veils in a wide range of styles, natural colors, and trims.

To keep out the chill, if you are a man, you can never go wrong with a good cloak with a hood that either covers your shoulders or goes clear to your knees. If you are a woman, you can layer on a short-sleeved or sleeveless overdress and then a long cloak over the basic kirtle. For added warmth and spangle, add a wide woven girdle belt and maybe even turn your song book into a girdle book to hang from your waist! The more layers you wear, the merrier you will stay (though a little spiked cider helps, too!).

Some thick stockings are a must, as well as some good leather shoes or booties, similar to what we call “moccasins” today. Medieval shoes were usually flat or had a tiny wooden heel, so you don’t have to worry about wobbling through the snow in stilettos. Pointed toes suit a fashionable lady, while a rounded toe works well for a gent.

Most older carols that we know today began as chants used in monasteries and during Mass, often in Latin. Here are some of the oldest Christmas carols from before 1600 along with a few Wassailing-inspired songs:

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle or Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle (1553)
Coventry Carol or Lullay, Thou Tiny Little Child (1500s)
Deck the Halls (1500s)
Good Christian Men Rejoice or In dulce jubilo (1837/1328)
Greensleeves (Melody, 1500s)
Guadete (1582)
Here We Come A-Wassailing (1853)
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (1600, possibly earlier)
Lo, How a Rose E’er is Blooming or Es ist ein Ros Estsprungen (1500s)
O Come All Ye Faithful or Adeste Fideles (1200s)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (1100s)
Of the Father’s Heart Begotten (1300s)
Sing We Now of Christmas or Noël Nouvelet (1400s)
The Cherry Tree Carol (1400s)
The First Noel (1600, possibly earlier)
The Holly and the Ivy (1600, possibly earlier)
This Endris Night (1400s)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (1500s)

~*~

A Christmas Special: 1950s

The Golden Era of fashion and Christmas sentimentality, the 1950s is the perfect era for a more informal, fun caroling session with friends. Most of our favorite secular Christmas songs began to spring up during the first half of the 2oth century, thanks to a boom in the movie industry and the birth of holiday specials in theaters and on TV. Besides, who doesn’t love a classy swing skirt and kitschy Christmas jewelry? If you want to wear a garish reindeer brooch with a glowing red nose on your Christmas tree sweater, the 1950s caroler is perfect for you!

If it isn’t too chilly outside where you live, the 1950s caroler offers a great fashion alternative to heavy skirts or boring modern get-ups. There are a wide variety of 50s fashions to choose from since the era saw fashions from pants to full dresses and pencil skirts. For a lovely lady, a dress in a festive color or print with a fitted top and a full-flaring skirt to her shins with a pretty ruffled petticoat would have been especially festive! You can’t go wrong with a turtle neck and a flouncy skirt!

For a trip outside, you can luxuriate inside the cozy embrace of your fur-collared wool coat or your herringbone cape with handy pockets (perfect for storing bits of ribbon candy or tissue). Elegant leather gloves and a wide assortment of scarves and hats will keep your ears on your head and keep your nose from running away!

A sturdy pair of pumps with some warm tights will keep your gams thawed if there isn’t snow on the ground. If it’s wet and wintery, you can opt for some loafers or oxfords. If you want a little sass, wear galoshes with your nicest dress!

Don’t forget to throw on a little touch of funky vintage jewelry, a grand hat, or a boa of tinsel garland to liven up your outfit!

Some festive  Christmas carols from 1880-1965:

Away in a Manger (1885)
Carol of the Bells (1916/1936)
Do You Hear What I Hear (1962)
Frosty the Snowman (1950)
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (1940)
In the Bleak Midwinter (1906)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952)
Let it Snow (1945)
Little Drummer Boy (1957)
Mary’s Little Boy Child (1956)
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1949)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934)
Silver Bells (1950)
Sweet Little Jesus Boy (1934)

~*~

Caroling isn’t just tromping through the snow in costumes to sing songs everyone is either sick of or has no clue what you’re singing about. It’s about carrying on a tradition of fellowship, feasting, and faith that has been going on for over 1000 years! By getting out there on a chilly December night and tossing aside your fear of singing in public for just one hour, you’ve joined the merry halls of all those revelers who’ve gone before. And you get to dress up while doing it. Who doesn’t love that?!

Shoes! History of the Heel from 1500-1910

The Cinderella Dilemma

Beginning in Roman times, but bursting into popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, platform “chopine” shoes were what the fashionable girls, especially in Spain, were wearing. These heavy chopines were made from stacking layers of cork or cotton and stitching them together with a fine silk, leather, or velvet cover. At the height of their popularity, they totted at an amazing 40cm (20 inches) or more! When they were taller than 14 or so centimeters, chopines were almost impossible to walk in and required canes or escorts to help the noblewoman walk. The horror stories of pregnant women falling and laws banning brides from falsifying their height at weddings led to a decrease in the chopine’s popularity. By the 1600s, wooden heels began to replace the chopin. Both men and women snapped up these new heels and the elevated shoe would remain popular for both sexes until the late 19th century.

 

*

1700-1800

18th Century Shoes were all about romance and opulence. Ladies’ shoes were delicate affairs made from silk and brocade. These whisper-thin slippers couldn’t survive much outdoor walking, so most came with matching “pattens,” which were an extra sturdy sole that tied onto the bottom of the shoe. Heeled shoes were all the rage, but since they were carved from wood and not very sturdy, most heels were between 1cm and 6cm high, though some overtly sexy fetish shoes with enormous heels have been found. The heel wasn’t located right under the heel, as most are today. They were waisted (or wasted) heels, called Louis heels after the French king, placed closer to the instep. Almost all footwear sported a trendy pointed toe and a myriad of gorgeous, ornate buckles. One of the most famous shoes from the 18th century is a delicate pink mule flying through the air in the paintings of Watteau and Fragonard.

*

1800-1820

Regency shoes (as discussed in this post as well) also had pointed toes, but instead of high heels, they were flatter, with only the smallest heel on walking boots to elevate the pedestrian out of the mud. Slippers were still the favored shoe and were fashioned of silk or cotton, often elaborately printed.

 

*

1820-1860

Early Victorian or Romantic shoes were still low-heeled, but all those delicate slippers wore out too easily to be economical and comfortable, so boots began to come into fashion for both men and women. Early Victorian boots were made like Regency walking boots, but in finer fabrics. Button-up boots became popular and the addition of a flexible gusset allowed for easier wearing.  Square toes replaced pointed as the preferred shape. By the American Civil War in the 1860s, heels were beginning to rise. Instead of placing the heel close to the insole, however, these new heels were located at the very back of the shoe (Dancing pumps, however, retained the inset waisted heel until the invention of the steel heel support in the 20th century) . Ironically, as shoes became more practical, ladies wished to have their feet look as thin as possible, a trend that began with Madame Pompadour in the 18th Century and would continue into the 20th Century. Some women would tape their feet smaller or even sacrifice a toe to fit into narrow boots. Narrow, tight shoes became as ridiculed as over-tightened corsets as the 19th century wore on.

*

1860-1890

In the 1880s, high-top laced boots became popular and remained so through the 1910s. Queen Victoria’s mourning for her husband created a fashion trend toward darker colors, but by the Gay Nineties, all manner of boots were made, some still study, practical leather for public walking, but many in bright silk brocades and embroidered with patterns, fluffed with ribbons, and decorated with beads. A slightly rounded-point toe and highly-fitted silhouette marks the late Victorian shoe, creating a dainty, lady-like look with a slight edge so popular with Neo-Victorian fashionistas today. Beginning in the 1870s, shoes gained a heavily sexuality of their own. A woman flashing her ankle from beneath her heavy skirts was as taboo as flashing her breasts. Super high heels became all the rage in the underground, tottering to massive heights in the fetish community, just as they do today.

*

1890-1920

The much-overlooked Edwardian shoe saw the lowering of the boot-tops back down to the ankle, and pumps became common for everyday. The Edwardians loved dainty, airy decoration as opposed to the heavy Victorian style which had reigned for nearly a century. Sturdier mass-production methods allowed heels to become slimmer. Since less fabric was needed to hold the shoe together, Mary-Jane styles with low-cut vamps and thin straps allowed patterned stockings to peep through. As the Edwardian period came to a close, skirts became less voluminous, so matching your shoes to your dress became a necessity.

All of the pictures in this article are linked to to sites detailing each section, so feel free to click and explore!

For more information about choosing the right shoes for your period costume, visit Recreating Shoes from 1500-1910