History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 February 2009

What about the girls . . .

When I was posting about my favorite historians, I was asked what about female historians? To be quite honest, I really don't think about the sex of those provide me with my drug of choice. But of course there are many women out there whose work sits in pride of place upon my shelves. None of them more so than Janet Arnold.

As most of you know, I'm a big fan of the minutia of history, the tiny details that made up actual everyday life. And when a new book that feeds my mania hits the shelves, I'm overjoyed. When said book just happens to be by all-time favorite historian, one who is sadly deceased, it's like a miracle.

Janet Arnold was, IMO, the most accomplished costume historian of our age. Her Patterns of Fashion books detail extant garments from the 16th century up through the early-20th. When she died, she was rumored to be working on a book about undergarments, a decade later that rumor has been proven true. Her assistant finished that book, and it was recently published as Patterns of Fashion 4. A more fitting tribute I can't imagine.

This new book details the cut and construction of shirts, smocks, neckwear (as in ruffs and rebatos), drawers, and caps from 1540 to 1660. I've been pouring over it, soaking up the details of cut and construction and, even more importantly, how each item connected to create the silhouette of the day.

My favorite item in the book is a pair of women's drawers from Italy, c. 1630 (yes, Italian women, unlike their English counterparts, wore them). It's entirely possible that this pair belonged to a courtesan. Either that, or to a woman with a rather devilish sense of humour and sexuality. Made of white linen, they are embroidered in blue silk in a pattern of double headed eagles and acorns and the words "voclio il core' (I want his heart).

These are the kinds of details that set my imagination running. Who was she? Why did she have these extraordinary underpants? What was her story? What happened to her? Did she get his heart? In my version she most certainly would.


Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Kalen, I love this stuff! I've been researching Catherine de Medici recently and learned that she wore split drawers all the time and was credited with "importing" the concept to France after her marriage to the future Henri II in 1533. She also wore split skirts (culottes of a sort) for horseback riding.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Fascinating stuff, Kalen, and reminding me of Colette's fabulous description of the courtesan Lea's drawers in The Last of Cheri. Anybody else know (and love) the Cheri books?

12:16 PM  
Blogger Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...

"Anybody else know (and love) the Cheri books?"

Oh, me, Pam! In fact, I just saw something last week about an upcoming movie version of "Cheri", starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Not sure what that will be like...

And I also love Janet Arnold, Kalen! "Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd" is one of my favorites, and I am looking forward to "Patterns 4" very much

5:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd" is a great book. I'd love to have a version of it that was "Marie Antoinette’s Wardrobe Unlock'd" Or “Josephine's Wardrobe Unlock'd", as those two women lived in periods I'm more interested in.

Though I guess I should just be grateful for what I have. *grin*

7:46 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh, me, Pam! (re the Cheri books)

The thing is, folks, Amanda McCabe's read everything. And also knows all the trash and dish to go with it. Cheri starring Michelle Pfeiffer -- gosh, I didn't know about that, but it's utterly inspired casting. A wonderful actress, a great beauty no longer young... wow! And I will look up the passage about her drawers sometime today.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...


Found these pics of the "Cheri" movie on a costume website (looks like Rupert Friend is playing Cheri)

And I only WISH I had read everything, Pam! It would make research so much easier. :)

Kalen, I have a book I bought at Versailles about Marie Antoinette's wardrobe, a recreation of one of the swatch books she used every morning to choose her clothes for the day. I will look up the full title when I get home--it's totally fabulous!

12:53 PM  

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