I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Africa. Amongst the huge variety of wildlife we saw were these iconic birds – ostriches. I knew that in the Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth century ostrich feathers were highly prized as fashion items but I had no idea that the demand had been so high that the ostrich almost went the way of the dodo and was hunted to near-extinction. These days most the wild ostriches in South West Africa are descended from domestic stock that were farmed to meet the huge demand. So today I thought I would blog about the illustrious ostrich in history!
Anne here, pleading deadline dementia for what will be a very short, thin and possibly frivolous blog. It started thus: there is an old lady in my current story I'm working on at the moment, and she had occasion to have several old trunks fetched down from the attic.
"What's in the trunks?"
Lady Beatrice smiled. "My youth."
Abby opened the first leather trunk and lifted out XXXX.
"What's XXXX?" you ask. In my manuscripts XXXX means research or fix or work this bit out later.
So, the time had come for me to to find out, and describe, what was in the old lady's trunks. She's in her late 60's now, in 1816, which means her youth — which I take to mean her come out, before she was married, would have been in the 1770's.
And here's where the fun started. First I was looking for dresses she might have worn that I could describe. Some writers are wonderful at bringing a dress to life, but I'm not made that way. I don't lovingly detail each item of clothing — my descriptions are more like a quick, thumbnail sketch. And in any case, part of the purpose of this scene was for the old lady to reminisce a little.
But on my way through the various sites on the web dealing with 1770's fashions I came across — and was completely sidetracked by— shoes. And yes, I'll 'fess up — I fell in love with some of them.
Take, for instance, these stunning shoes on the left, made of yellow silk with elegant curved heels. They look so modern and stylish (in a slightly off-beat way) it's hard to believe these shoes are nearly 250 years old.
What surprised me was how many of the shoes were made of fabric — silk, brocade, satin, often embroidered. Of course they were for indoor wear, and by ladies who stepped in and out of carriages, no doubt. Many shoes were made of leather, too, of course, but I'm guessing not the special occasion ones, unless they were made of kid or some delicate leather like that.
Here's another pair I loved — embroidered fabric with satin ruffles, and the same kind of heels. (These shoes are also from: http://trouvais.com//?s=shoes&search=Go used with permission. Photography Bruno Suet)
Buckles were very fashionable at this time, and they were made of what was called "paste" — fake diamonds and other "jewels" made of glass and crystal (more of that in a blog coming up.) Here is a lovely pair of green damask and silk shoes with paste diamante buckles. The shoes had two flaps, which crossed over and were fastened with the buckles.
There's another very sweet pair of deep rose pink shoes with paste buckles here. They were obviously a favorite pair, and have been well used before being set aside and saved for posterity. And here's another gorgeous pair of pink embroidered glazed wool shoes. You will find an excellent collection of 18th Century shoes here(. I suspect you will also find it's very hard to stop looking — I did.)
These lovely, if tattered — well, they're 239 years old— white silk shoes on your right are inscribed with a wedding date c1773. Note the beautiful diamante (paste) buckles and the elegant curved heels. According to Wikipedia, this is where we get the modern name of "louis heels."
http://trouvais.com//?s=shoes&search=Go used with permission. Photography Bruno Suet)
I got completely sidetracked researching gorgeous eighteenth century shoes for my old lady to have worn and saved, but do I regret it? No way.
And then, of course, I got sidetracked into Regency-era shoes, and came across these stunning white satin boots. I'm wondering if I can have my autumn bride wear them. They're a decade or so past her wedding date, but would they have changed so much in fifteen years? And would a bride wear boots? What do you think?
Note: Wench Nicola Cornick has just told me she's written an article for the September Issue of Romantic Times on historical shoes — a slightly different take from this one. Look out for it.
Are you a shoe person? Do you love shoes? Do you remember the shoes of your youth? Have you saved any special shoes, or do you remember a favorite pair? Or don't you care what goes on your feet, as long as they do the job?