While working on one of my projects during exam time I came across with a very interesting book by Jane Ashelford; The Art of Dress: Clothes Through History, 1500 – 1914. I was so happy to have a book on loan that actually has some pictures in it!! After weeks of constant reading and writing, it was a pure bliss to my eyes….
I was writing about fashion, becoming a popular motif in seventeenth century literature, therefore, it was actually quite essential to put my hands on a book with images.=) When I started exploring the topic of my choice, I knew it straight that sooner or later I would share some details and images of my research with you. I also started a Pinterest board to collect some remarkable pieces. (http://pinterest.com/noemi9/17th-century-fashion/)
I have chosen the seventeenth century because I think it was a turning point in the history of fashion. That was the first time when common people started dressing in a more pompous way, blurring the sharp edges between classes. After the turmoil and the height of strict Puritan values of the antecedent decades, the age of the Restoration was a breath of fresh air. With the re-opening of the theaters across all England, people could finally begin to enjoy earthly delights again without any guilt.
Not to mention that the country was just after recovering from an outbreak of plague, which greatly affected both poor and rich for many years. ‘People wore rags since they were afraid of contracting plague through having new clothes. Once the plague was over, people started to dress lavishly’ (Ashelford) After the period of shortage the desire for new attires was stronger than ever. People were missing and longing for the Tudor pomp, and this time not only the aristocracy wanted to be adorned with sumptuous garments, but common people as well. Besides, clothing became a business, and not only did it become a means of money making, but it also became a favoured subject of art as well.
In my project I decided to discuss this eventful era through analysing a poem. I was quite hesitant, not knowing which poem to go with..then my choice fell on Robert Herrick’s Delight in Disorder… a beautiful sonnet in which Herrick gives an abundant account on the grandiosity of imperfection that manifests in the carelessly worn pieces.
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.
Another aspect that also makes these lines rather relevant in the seventeenth century is the popular motif of the time appearing in the sonnet. The ‘calculated tidiness’ of which the French were so fond of, found its way into poems and paintings as well. Ben Jonson wrote in his poem, the Song; Robes loosely flowing, hair is free; Such sweet neglect more taketh me’. Or Isaac Oliver’s painting of the poet Edward Herbert, depicting him with an unbuttoned shirt also is in line with the popular custom of the era.
And finally here are some more paintings and pieces from the seventeenth century:
And some additional images and a quotation from the book The Art of Dress which are not related to the seventeenth century, but definitely deserve some attention. =)
‘When the photographer Cecil Beaton wrote an account of fashion and the decorative arts in the first half of this century he felt he had to defend himself against the charge of being a “propagandist of frivolity”, for the author of such a work will “certainly discover that, both in England and America, fashion is viewed with a jaundiced eye, feminine enthusiasm nothwithstanding”. At the time of writing, 1954, Beaton thought that it was “France alone” who had “laboured to elevate both fashion and les arts mineurs to a degree of perfection comparable with the purity of its literature and painting”.’
Thank you for your time, hope you enjoyed reading my article.
Love and light,