It’s Party Night!

A while ago I wrote a post about us gadding around the 17/18th century London Streets in search of dummy boards. Spring in our Step

If you remember we had gone home to change as we had been invited to a masquerade. – A party or assembly of people wearing masks and costumes and enjoying themselves with dancing, food and other diversions {ah yes…. we’ve heard about those..!} 😉 In courtly balls and midnight masks. Alexander Pope ( 1688- 1744 )

A Lady with a domino. She has her half mask in her hand and her cloak is open but the man is better concealed.

If I had lived in the 17th or 18th century and I had been a relatively wealthy person, I would have very much enjoyed dressing up and going off to a masquerade.

This was the historical equivalent of the fancy dress party, disco, nosh -up  and the rave all rolled into one!

The music may have been, for most of the time and for most of the people, quite refined, but sometimes the behaviour left a lot to be desired!

It depended too, on where we had our little masquerade party. You see, you could go to a public one at say, a Pleasure Garden, or to a privately held one in one of the grand houses which were beginning to be built in the West End of London.

A typical west end street 1720

Nowadays we think of London as The West End really….not The City of London which would have been implicit in the term  in  the early  or mid 17th century. Bounded by its walls it was quite a small place really, with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into it. So the wealthy went West to escape the crush ( and the smell) …and built their country retreats in Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Knightsbridge, mostly begun at the end of the 17th century. Hard to think of it now as ‘country’ but it was once. And this is where we shall be going for our Masquerade.

It’s every girl’s party dilemma! What to wear?

“I simply have nothing to wear.” Last year’s fashions simply will not do. Last month’s fashions will not do.

A dummy board at the Chateau de Malle France 4ft. C. 1700. The latest fashions!

Actually it doesn’t matter as we shall be wearing fancy dress! 🙂

This doesn’t mean any of us shall be dressing up as Elvis or a Halloween vampire; we shan’t be donning a cowboy hat nor a ballet tutu ( all these fancy dress disguises have yet to be’ discovered’ of course), but we might wrap ourselves in a toga or float around in diaphanous layers of tulle, as a Greek Goddess. We might be seen sporting a feather headdress, as an Indian Prince ( native American of course); this was awfully fashionable in the age, as much of The known Americas had just been annexed and Indians were considered very exotic! Mind you, if you saw what kind of costume they were dressed up in, as a Native American Indians, you would either, depending on your point of view, weep for shame or laugh your socks off !

A Cigar Store Indian..three dimensions but not too disimilar from the dummy boards

By far the most fun costume ( and the one I probably would wear if I could manage to squeeze myself into the stays or corsets ) would be the Arcadian Shepherdess. Though I quite fancy a fairy!

Want to be a 17th century fairy? Courtesy of Inigo Jones.

The Greek and Roman world was just beginning to be re- discovered and with the archeological discoveries and the opening up of the appreciation of the beauties of the Ancient world, comes a fascination with all things Arcadian.

What do we mean by this?

We might summarise it as: any region or scene of simple pleasure and untroubled quiet. A  picturesque scene of Ancient Greece, where the people are engaging in countryside pursuits in utter contentment and rural happiness. All in a perfect landscape and climate; the Gods are happy and so ( because we aren’t being constantly  scolded by them!) consequently are we!

Of course it’s a myth. Rather like Thomas More’s Utopia and some of these modern computer games where you build a land all to yourself, with all the best things you enjoy, in absolute perfection; it never did exist and it can’t  ever exist, but it’s nice to dream.

So there we are all togged up in our fancy gear, our face painted with Venetian ceruse, also known as Spirits of Saturn, which was a 16th and 17th century fad, a cosmetic used to whiten the skin. It was greatly fashionable even though it contained a pigment of white lead, which would, with prolonged use, cause you to go bald….and mad. ( aha! So THAT is why they all wore wigs and I suppose it might explain some of the crazier aspects of 17th century politics!)

Over this sumptuous costume, we shall pull a masquerade cloak or domino. This is an all enveloping black cloak, which reaches from head to floor, a hood to hide our hair, powdered of course with pomade…not always sweet smelling 😉 and on our face I think tonight, we shall wear just a couple of patches, one a crescent moon the other a little heart to show we are…< ahem> available, to hide any spots we might have ( our diet is a bit rich )  or Smallpox scars – well we all have’em! ;)…scars I mean. And just to complete the air of mystery, we shall don a small black half mask!

The domino thrown back

John Henry Mancur – in The Palais Royale comments

Patches to cover your little imperfections!

but there were many ladies, he remarked, in ample domino costume, whose cloak and short black mask, with its border of crape, could not conceal a stray tress or dimpled chin.

Sure that’s not double chin eh?

And Cinderella stays at home and peels the veg!

The Chateau de Malle Peeler...alias Cinders. c. 1700 France

Off we go in our Sedan chair, carried by two burly chaps, who also act as our minders and preceded by a little Link Boy, a small street urchin, probably, who scratches a living carrying flaming torches to light the way. The streets are none too safe after dark.

Sedan Chair

When we get close to the venue we can see that someone has set a dummy board outside the house, to advertise that there is a masquerade being held here.

And what kind of figure would they put there?

Why a ‘Domino’ one of course. With her black cloak to the floor, her face whitened, and her hand holding a lit candle fixed to a metal spigot, to light us to the door, she is the perfect advert for the festivities to come.

The Aston Masquerade Girl c. 1700 private collection

Here I think we can see what it might be like in our sedan chair. Ah… I think her wig has slipped! 😉

Out we step; a servant runs forward to help us out….well the costume is heavy and rather wide. The panniers – little bustles worn on the hips…and sometimes NOT so little – the bustles I mean.not the hips ;)…the panniers can get stuck in the window of the Sedan chair. So of course can the wigs! They hadn’t yet achieved the crazinesses of the later 18th century but they could still be quite large confections of horse hair, flowers arrangements, jewels,  ribbons, lace and anything else you cared to pile onto them! And mice and fleas and lice but we shan’t go there…. LOL

So here we are…and in the next post we shall make our entrance and peel off our cloak to reveal….

Aha!…you’ll have to wait 😉

Ready for the masquerade

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