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2:56pm on Tuesday, 5th July, 2011:

Changing Fashions


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had bought five 1869 editions of Peterson's Ladies National Magazine. They're so musty that I feel I've going to have toadstools growing in my lungs every time I read one, but inside they're quite interesting. Each one has a double-page (about A4 size) hand-coloured spread of "Les Modes Parisienne". These show female fashions that are so extravagant it's hard to tell whether the styles they depict are real or just there for the American readership to drool over wishing they were. Here's an example from the February 1869 edition (quarter size so it doesn't fill your entire screen, or, more to the point, use all my bandwidth):

I could probably cut that out of the magazine and sell it for more than the magazine costs. Well, I could if that's what it really looked like. Unfortunately, it's the result of a sample/target balance exercise in Corel Photopaint, which lets me say "this colour here is supposed to be white and this colour here is supposed to be black, so go away and come back when you've transformed the whole image along those lines". This is what the original looks like:

It's still pretty good, but the ink has faded over time and the paper has yellowed.

Other images have additional problems. This one, for example, has a much darker right side of the page than it has left side:

This one has water damage at the top:

Yes, that one in the middle does indeed have eight bows going up her back. She probably has three guys playing poker underneath that dress too, it's certainly big enough. No wonder 12 years later the Rational Dress Society started up in London to try bring some sense of practicality to female fashion (like that was ever going to work).

So, my thoughts of making a mint by buying up old copies of Victorian magazines and dismantling them for profit (which is what buyers of old copies of Victorian atlases do) are now in ruins. However, I do now have something I can bring to mind so that when a woman asks me "does my bum look big in this?" I can honestly reply "no" — or at least "no, not in that"...

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).