Category Archives: Fashion

From Harem Pants To Bloomers Or Vice Versa

The New Costume Polka‘ by Mathias Keller, published by Lee & Walker (Philadelphia, c1851 ) and illustrated by James Fuller Queen. Source: The Library companion of Philadelphia).

On the cover of The New Costume Polka an elegant woman holds a tiny blue parasol. She wears a corseted coat and wide skirt over her white bloomers. The outfit is trimmed with elegant golden galloons and decorated with blue ribbons. We see other women dressed in bloomer costume on the sidewalk and entering the shop (which is a detailed depiction of the music publisher’s store, see the street address and the model harp above the entrance). The sheet music is dedicated to Mrs. Amelia Bloomer.

‘The Bloomer Polkas’ published by G. H. Davidson (London, sd) and illustrated by S. Rosenthal.

Bloomers first appeared in the 1850s as an alternative to the heavy dresses. They were loose-fitting ankle-lenght trousers, inspired by Turkish pantaloons and worn under a shorter skirt. The garment was named after Amelia Bloomer, an American women’s rights and temperance activist. Amelia Bloomer did not invent the bloomers though, it was another women’s rights advocate, Elizabeth Smith Miller who first wore the outfit. But Amelia Bloomer enthusiastically promoted wearing pantaloons in The Lily, the first American newspaper edited by and for women.

Left: ‘New Bloomer Dances’, by Paul Henrion and illustrated by S. Rosenthal (publisher unknown, sd). Right: ‘The New Bloomer Polka’ by Alfred Mellon and illustrated by J. Brandard, published by Jullien & Co (London, sd).

As most leaders of the women’s rights movement and emancipated women wore the new costume, bloomerism became synonym for an early form of feminism. The bloomers were fiercely mocked by opponents and an avalanche of cartoons and satirical poems followed, criticising those who wore them. The New Bloomer Polka was performed in the London sketch ‘Bloomerism or The Follies of the Day‘.

And so, although Amelia Bloomer dressed for several years in bloomers, in 1859 she dropped the fashion in favour of conventional ankle-length dresses. She gathered that the attention and the ridicule in the popular press became a distraction: “We all felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labour, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights.”

‘Bicyclette-Polka’ by Emile Wesley, published by Emile Wesly (Bruxelles, sd).

The bloomer costume died—temporarily. It was to return much later (in a different form), as a women’s athletic costume in the 1890s and early 1900s. It goes without saying that these cycling trousers, along with women on bikes, were also a target of ridicule.

‘L’étrange valse’ by Maurice Yvain, published by Salabert (Paris, 1922) and Illustrated by Roger De Valerio.

But that wasn’t the swansong of the baggy garnment: the loose-fitting trousers surfaced again in 1911 when couturier Paul Poiret launched his Orientalistic collection and the Style Sultan. Remember that Parisians were at that time enchanted with eastern exoticism and easily dazed by Arabic-Islamic fragrance. From then on the harem trousers, as they became known in the fashion world, would follow the whimsical waves of what is in vogue, and sometimes even be seen as an anti-fashion statement…

Fatme – Orientalisches Foxtrot‘ by Carl Alfredy & Carl Böhm. Illustration by Wolfgang Ortmann. Published by Max Jaschunsky (Berlin, sd)

What Amelia Bloomer and her feminist companions wouldn’t have dared to imagine is that the bloomers or harem pants would, certainly in the Twenties at the height of art deco, become a symbolic attire —admittedly with at least a hint of nudity— to represent women in their most servile condition: that of the harem woman, with no other role than to please men’s sexual fantasies.

Hey, what a perfect excuse to show some interesting sheet music covers in our collection. They use all the stereotypical elements of such imagery, including a languid female, the implicit eroticism, and an ethnographical backdrop.

Soave‘ by Paul Nast, published by Select Edition, Edouard Andrieu (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Bouvier-Pellat & Co.

And even in the Sixties orientalism had not lost any of its British mystique… You’ll have to imagine your own entrancing rhytm to this silent Pathé film.

Silly Walks

‘The Slinker Slouch’ by Dorothy Foster, published by West & C° (London, 1918) and illustrated by M. Fett.

The sinuous walk displayed on this cover is called a slinker slouch. According to a correspondent of The Daily Mirror in 1913, the slinker slouch is a limp and careless lazy gait that accompanies the fashion of wearing gowns with flowing curves. To achieve the perfect slinker slouch you had to move with rounded shoulders while lowering your weight on the hips. The look was complete when you trusted your hands into your pockets and affected a dead-bored expression. The journal warned that this pose was not without danger as the contraction of the chest could cause “lung troubles and digestive derangements”.

A New Zealand newspaper coined the indolent stride like this: “The modish woman’s walk has been christened the Slinker Slouch. The smart woman beats the sardine in her backbonelessness.”

Sketches of the slinker slouch fashion in Free Lance, Volume XV, Issue 747, 24 October 1914.

It was not long before the slinker slouch slunk into oblivion. And by 1914 another newspaper tutted that the very slim slinker-slouched woman was to be considered ugly and deformed.

The Hobble Skirt Walk‘ by Bertram Lestrange, published by Edouard Salabert (Paris, 1911) and illustrated by W. George.

Around the same time the hobble skirt made its appearance. French fashion designer Paul Poiret claimed authorship of this extremely slim and long skirt. Allegedly he was inspired by a picture of Mrs Berg sitting next to Wilbur Wright in his aircraft. To stop the wind playing with her skirt she had tied it together beneath her knees with a rope.

Wilbur Wright at the controls with Mrs. Berg seated beside him. Remark her skirt tied together below the knees with a rope. ‘La Vie au Grand Air’ 17 October 1908. Source gallica.fr.

Women wearing a hobble skirt had to take tiny steps, much like a geisha would. Of course, this highly unpractical garment prompted cartoonists and composers to lampoon the helpless struggles to cross streets or to climb stairs.

We found earlier examples of weird walking vogues even as early as the 1860’s, the Grecian bend and the Alexandra limp.

Left: ‘The Famous Grecian Bend’ by John Molter & Martin Meyer. Published by Molter & Wurlitzer (Chicago, 1868). Right: ‘The Grecian Bend’ by T.X da Costa. Published by Pond & Co (New York, 1868). Source: Johns Hopkins.

When the hoop skirt lost popularity around 1868 it was replaced by a framework known as the bustle. The large bell-like silhouette of the crinoline was flattened out at the front and sides but with a lot of fabric to the back to create a pannier. A bustle served as the base upon which all that fabric could be pinned. To keep their balance women had to bend over, and this stooped silhouette was called the Grecian bend. It supposedly got its name from ancient Grecian statues, bending gracefully forward.

Just Arrived From Saratoga. The Grecian Bend‘ by E. Mack, published by Lee & Walker (Philadelphia, 1868) and illustrated by T. Sinclair. Source: Johns Hopkins.

But the Grecian bend was rather tiring and painful. Moreover it was annoying when riding in carriages because the bustle made it difficult to sit upright.

This new female, stooped silhouette provided ample opportunity for composing songs. One played a jeu de mots and funnily shows a man going on a drinking spree dreaming of Greece…

On a Grecian Bender‘ by Jos. F. Fasig, published by Louis Mund (Cincinnati, 1868) and illustrated by A. Froelich. Source: Johns Hopkins.

At about the same time, fashionable British women started to affect the Alexandra limp. This hobbling gait was in imitation of Alexandra, princess of Wales, the wife of the future King Edward VII, otherwise known as ‘Bertie’.

The Anglo-Danish‘ by François Bernard published by Duff & Hodgson (London, sd) and illustrated by T. Packer.

The Danish Alexandra was a fashion icon and hugely popular. After contracting rheumatic fever in 1867, she developed a limp. Women were so used to fervently imitate her that they even started to mimic her limp. For that, they went as far as wearing odd shoes or shorten one heel. Everything for a  hobbling walk!

Pharaoh Fever: Tut-mania

‘Tutankhamen-Shimmy’ by Jára Beneš, published by Wiener Boheme Verlag (Wien, 1923).

Tutankhamen, aka Tutankhamun, was a pharaoh of minor historical importance. He reigned more than 3.000 years ago for fewer than ten years and died at a young age. Yet he is somewhat the celebrity of Ancient Egypt. That is largely because, when his tomb was found in 1922, it was almost intact: it still contained the magnificent treasures intended to accompany the boy-king into the afterlife. The antechambers were packed to the ceiling with more than 5.000 objects. And Tutankhamen’s portrait mask, made of solid gold laid with precious stones, is one of the most beautiful archaeological objects of Ancient Egypt.

‘Tutankhamon – Fox’ by William Rowers, published by Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius (Stockholm, sd) and Illustrated by Eric Rohman.

It was the British archaeologist Howard Carter, backed by his patron Lord Carnarvon, who discovered the tomb. He had searched the Valley of the Kings for Tutankhamen’s resting place for many years. To examine and clear the tomb it would take him and his team eight more years. The phenomenal discovery of the tomb and all these wonderful things, in Howard Carter’s own words, kicked off a worldwide ‘King Tut’ craze or Tut-mania in the 1920s that would  continue well into the Thirties.

Every stage of the excavations was chronicled by the press. To finance the dig, Lord Carnarvon had sold the exclusive rights to the Times for the then huge sum of £5.000. It gave the Times unique access to the tomb and the opportunity to publicise its fabulous contents. To compete with the Times’ success, other media created wilder stories, some of which were based on exaggerated claims and even falsehoods, rather than on actual events. So did Lord Carnarvon’s sudden death, within weeks of the tomb’s opening, lead to speculations of a curse.

‘Toet-Ankh-Amen’ by Jan von Lindern & Carlo Rombouts, published by Editions Liro (‘s Gravenhage, 1923) and Illustrated by Jan Hoek

Expert photographer Harry Burton, documented the eight-year-long uncovering of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. For that purpose Burton learned to operate a movie camera. With it he recorded the opening of Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus. His creative and technically advanced images and films contributed largely to the Tut-mania phenomenon.

Left: ‘On Nile Land’ by Vicente Pastelle, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, sd). Right: ‘Egyptian Dream’ by Font Palmarola, published by the composer (Barcelona, sd).

Apart from being celebrated by the media, Tutankhamen also notably influenced the arts and culture in the 1920s. Egyptian motifs became an integral part of Art Deco. They decorated fabrics, jewellery, furniture, ceramics, and were ornamental in architecture. Even in society Egyptian hairstyles and costumes became fashionable.

As a result of this Tut-mania, Egypt blossomed as a tourist destination for rich people. Travels to it though, were time-consuming. Tourists could —as did the Belgian queen Elisabeth— travel first by train to Italy, and then board a passenger steamship in Genoa. After a stopover in Naples they would arrive in Alexandria or Port Said four days later.

Each Egyptian adventure started in Cairo where one could swarm the bazaars and curio shops.

Cairo‘ by Sherman Myers, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1927) and Illustrated by Fabien Loris.

From there one visited the obligatory sphinx and took a sightseeing camel ride around the pyramids.

‘Le Destin’ by Byron Gay, published by :Francis-Day (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

Then one took a wagon-lit to Luxor, or visited the famous ruins along the Nile by steamer.

‘La Légende du Nil’ by A. Roux, published by La Parisienne (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

In Luxor one checked in at the Winter Palace Hotel or one of the other luxury hotels. With a bumpy ride on a mule under the scorching sun one went to see the Karnak temple complex…

‘Sur la Route de Karnak’ by Harry Sing, published by Gallet & Fils (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

… to finally arrive at the high point: the Valley of the Kings and the grave of Tutankhamen.

‘La Valle dei Re’ by L. Baracchi, published by the author (Parma, sd) and illustrated by V. Bianchi.

And of course Tut-mania made its mark on the music world also. Soon after King Tut’s discovery, his effigy started to appear on sheet music covers.

Left: ‘Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut’ by Lucien Denni & Roger Lewis, published by J. W. Jenkins Sons Music Co. (1923). Right: ‘Old King Tut’ by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome, published by Harry von Tilzer (1923).

One of the most popular songs was Old King Tut by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome (1923). Another one (Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut) was published around the same time. Both depict Tutankhamen as an old man. No one knew at the time that when ‘Old King Tut’ died he was in fact a very young man.

Recently, the song by Harry von Tilzer has featured in the television show ‘Boardwalk Empire’:

The Tut-mania craze gave rise to a number of novelty dances, with poses one can see in the Ancient Egyptian reliefs. Not easy to twist your limbs this way. Known for his quirky illustrations, Peter Curt shows us the popular Swedish composer Gunnar Boberg trying out the ‘Egyptian walk’.

‘Aiba’ by Gunnar Boberg, published by A.B. Skandinaviska Musikförlaget (Stockholm, 1922) and Illustrated by Peter Curt.

The British vaudeville artists Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel show you how it is done. Easy enough, get Alexandre Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien on Spotify, throw some sand on the floor and start shuffling!