Happy New Year, and welcome back to the Victorian Parasol restoration project! If you saw the final reveal for my Steampunk Utility belt, you’ve already seen a sneak peek of Bonnie in action. But I thought that she deserved a full reveal of her own, and since I didn’t want to wait until I’d finished a matching dress I decided to pull out all the purple stops and combine photo shoots! 😀 Considering silk taffeta really shouldn’t touch water, I had to take advantage of a rare dry day as well so it worked out perfectly.
Promenading, or walking as a means of not just exercise but showing off one’s garments and social standing, was fashionable for both women and men at least as early as the 1600s, and really took off in the Regency era. Particular clothes were worn when a person wanted to both see and be seen, and parasols were hugely popular accessories – not just for shading one’s eyes and skin from the sun, but also to show off taste and wealth with a parasol perfectly matched to the dress.
…[T]here was always the possibility for politeness and gentility to become a performance, and a means of competition that served as a means of distinction; this was nowhere more evident than in London’s spaces of entertainment, especially the promenade. In representations of London’s promenades over the course of the century, tensions created by the performance of genteel behavior within a range of social spheres became a central trope, with men and women depicted as competing for status within the space of the Park. The pedestrian promenade emerged in the seventeenth century and, by the eighteenth century, any town of importance had its fashionable promenade, either for pedestrians or carriages. Paris had the Tuileries, Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens, while in some European towns, such as Antwerp and St. Petersburg, a particular avenue or circuit emerged as the town promenade. The habit of walking as a form of sociability, to meet with friends and gather news and gossip, became a prominent feature of London life and was soon imitated in provincial towns throughout Britain. As John Brewer has explained, many cultural sites of the eighteenth century served as places of performance for those attending. Theatre and exhibition audiences, for example, did not passively enjoy the spectacle on display, but actively participated in the broader spectacle of performance, in which social display and self-presentation played an important part. (Walking, Rambling, and Promenading in Eighteenth-Century London: A Literary and Cultural History, by Alison F. O’Byrne)
It’s easy to think that the fashion of promenading went out with the 19th century, but I recently read a tremendously interesting article pointing out that we’ve really just changed our promenades from the seaside to the spin class. In his article, Jason says:
The word Victorian tends to evoke old-fashioned ideas: women confined in corsets, strict gender roles, and a prudishness about all things sexual. In a world where conspicuous consumerism and self-expression rule, these nineteenth-century notions of self-restraint and self-denial seem hopelessly outdated.
But the Victorian ethos is not dead, not by a long shot.
It lives on, manifesting itself in our contemporary upper middle class’s behavior. While some aspects have gone the way of the waistcoat, the belief that the bourgeoisie holds a place of moral superiority over the other classes persists.
Today, spin classes, artisanal food, and the college application process have replaced Sunday promenades, evening lectures, and weekly salons. But make no mistake, they serve the same purpose: transforming class privilege into individual virtue, thereby shoring up social dominance.
I really encourage you to read both Jason and Adam’s articles linked above! There’s a tendency to presume that we, in the present day, are “better” than those who came before us, when really in many cases it’s only the outward mode that has changed while the motivations remain remarkably similar.
Don’t get me wrong! I love a good promenade. 😀 I adore dressing up and walking on the bluffs above the sea in fancy dress with my two fancy dogs. I also use the opportunity granted by my indulgence to talk to my neighbors, get people interested in greyhounds (and maybe hand out a card or two for our rescue agency!), and educate passers-by about history, other cultures, and fashion. So hopefully it’s not entirely a luxury! 😀 Also hopefully, you have enjoyed getting to see the results of this restoration. I’ve still got a couple of projects outstanding, as well as many more fun things in the works, so I look forward to seeing you back here next week for more history, crafts, and sewing! ❤
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