Breeching Boys

Cornelis de Vos with his wife Suzanne Cock and their children oil on canvas circa 1630

When looking at old photos and portraits of families with very young children, one almost immediately notices that the boys and girls are dressed alike–in dresses. This custom existed well before the Regency Era, and possibly for hundreds of years prior. Throughout history in Europe and America, all children of both sexes wore dresses and petticoats which were simply considered children’s clothing and not gender-specific attire. Dresses were easier than pantaloons or breeches when a caregiver needed to change the child’s diapers or nappies.

Another reason all children wore dresses is because a potty-training child didn’t have to worry about buttons or other fasteners which can be a difficult task for little fingers. Dresses were also easier to launder as there was less mess. And honestly, no one seemed to think anything about dressing boys and girls alike–that was simply how it was done. Some families put boys in plainer dresses as a way of announcing their gender, but many seemed to have dressed boys in the same frilly frocks as girls.

Once a child started walking, they were “short-coated.” This meant the child started wearing shorter dresses. Hemlines went from several inches below the feet which they wore as infants, to ankle or calf-length or even shorter, so the child could walk. At that time in England, all children still dressed pretty much alike. This practice of dressing boys and girls the same lasted until boys were “breeched.”

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800, Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Getting breeched or “breeching” was the term for when a boy was dressed in breeches or pantaloons, or in later eras, in trousers. Boys were breeched anywhere from the time they were fully potty trained to the age of eight–or even older, in some cases. Between the ages of four and seven seemed to be most common. 

Some boys were breeched all at once, with all their frocks replaced with breeches in one fell swoop, which must have created a flurry of sewing, unless the family were wealthy enough to purchase all new clothes for their son. Breeching was often a ceremonial event, including cutting a boy’s hair. However, some mothers then, as now, could not bear to cut off her son’s pretty curls. Some family traditions included a big celebration around the breeching ceremony, much like today’s birthday parties, which included visits and gifts from relatives. 

The breeching rite of passage was a sign of a boy’s maturing, of his readiness to join more masculine pursuits. His mother and nursemaid seemed to have less influence on a boy after his breeching, and his father often got much more involved in overseeing his training and education.  Many boys went away to school after the breeching ceremony, so it makes sense to me that some mothers might have been tempted to hold off breeching their sons as a way of keeping them close as long as possible.

Other boys seemed to have been breeched a little at a time, without ceremony, as breeches took the place of dresses gradually, perhaps as the mother could bear to admit her little darling was growing up, or perhaps as the family could afford to buy or make big boys’ clothes.

Occasionally, I find images of toddlers in breeches with leading strings. They were surely too young to have been potty trained because they seem to be relying upon the leading strings to keep them from falling, or at least from falling very hard. This particular image to the right is from a French publication, and since the French didn’t have all the same traditions as the English, it’s possible the difference is cultural by this time. 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

The Breeching Ceremony of a Young Boy and His Rite of Passage: Regency Fashion

Boy to Man:   The Breeching Ceremony

https://pediaview.com/openpedia/Breeching_(boys)

 

 

Leading Strings

I love looking at photos and portraits of people who lived long ago. We can gleam so much information by the way they dressed and posed. I often wonder about them, their lives, their thoughts. One detail in pictures that involve small children that I sometimes see is the presence of a belt or rope attached to the child’s garments right under the arm. These fabric belt is called Leading strings, sometimes also called Leading Reins.

Leading strings seemed to have served two purposes: to aid the child while learning to walk, and to keep the child from straying too far away.

By Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684) – http://www.mdbk.de/sammlungen/detailseiten/pieter-de-hooch/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40616518

As a mother of six children, I spent a lot of time leaning over, with my fingers extended, so my babies could hold onto them to keep them steady as they learned to walk. A leading string might have saved a lot of time with a tired back. And in a busy public place, keeping track of a toddler can be a challenge. I always had the fear that the second I looked away, they would run off after some new fascinating diversion or be spirited away by a stranger.

Translation: “A young governess helps a very small child to walk. He wears a little sailor suit and carries a (rattle?), and still wears leading strings.”

 I sometimes wonder why we stopped this practice of sewing leading strings into children’s clothing, don’t you?

 

Kitchens in Regency and Georgian England

I’m having my kitchen remodeled, a daunting and messy project that is not yet complete. Naturally, this event sparked the question in my historically-minded imagination about Regency kitchens.  This, of course, led to research. But first, I thought I’d share photos of my unimpressive kitchen.

The homebuilder originally installed two lower cabinets, two and a half uppers, and a drawer bank which is next to the sink and dishwasher on the island. No doubt someone from a hundred years ago would have found it luxurious, but as a spoiled modern-day woman, I found it wholly inadequate with nowhere near enough counter space–so did the previous owners, apparently because they installed a set of ugly but utilitarian cabinets in the far left corner. Still, the kitchen does not have enough counter space. If any dishes are left on the sink, a frequent occurrence in our house full of children, there is little to no space for food preparation.

Pre-demolition kitchen


view 2 of pre-demolition kitchen

 

 

 

 

Packing cabinets. It felt like moving.

Removing old cabinets. Their new home will be the garage.

Last week, we tore out everything.  

Sink cabinet

First we packed, as modeled by my youngest son to the right.  We did the demolition ourselves to save money. My oldest son and daughter-in-law were visiting at the time, and they had so much fun helping. I had more fun caring for my granddaughter and keeping her away from the mess. Thanks to their help, it was kinda fun, but certainly very messy. Here are the demolition photos:

Pipes where my kitchen sink used to be

When the kitchen is finished, I’ll post completed photos. But for now, let’s move on to the historical tie-in.

Most of my characters are wealthy enough not to spend much time in a kitchen and certainly never need to cook for themselves–a far cry from my reality. They probably wouldn’t know how to cook over a hearth use an oven.

Still, what were kitchens like in Regency England?

Years of soot

Food and kitchens, like clothing, education, and social issues, underwent great change in the late Regency/early Victorian Era. Before that time, food in England was more primitive than that found in France and Germany, and other European countries. Ovens were inefficient and produced a great deal of smoke. Notice the soot in this photo to the right above the tourists’ heads.

Cooking over a spit

Oven at Hampton Court

Cooking was done over the hearth on spit or in posts hanging over the fire. Baking occurred in large ovens.

As far as storing food and cooking implements, they had some cupboards, but most seemed to have used shelves or a larder. Food stayed cold in a bultery, or buttery.

During the Georgian and Regency Eras, great food had become an integral part of family and social life. Many kitchens were updated from hearths, to either the Rumford fireplace, which allowed for better air circulation and therefore more effective cooking, or to even more modern cooking ranges. )Unfortunately, I have yet to find a photo of this “new fangled” range. If you have one that you are willing to share, please let me know.) 

The most innovated houses now boasted plumbing for both hot and cold water. New kitchen designs and even took advantage of light, minimized odors and regulated temperature. 

These three photos, courtesy Shannon Arthur, are from One Royal Crescent in Bath.  The house is restored to the Georgian era circa 1770s with some items as late as 1832 added. Apparently, they occasionally used 1800s  reproductions of the 1770s stuff that had been sold off.

 

 

 
Note: that’s not a real fire like in the Hampton Court pictures.

I found this photo to the left on Wickimedia Commons, but I cannot identify if this is a colonial or English kitchen, nor if this is during the early or late 1800’s. Still, it gives a good feel for what kitchens must have been like. Countertops did not exist for centuries. Instead,  servants used large tables to do all their food preparation. Eventually, marble or other stone slabs appeared on these tabletops, as pictured in this photo to the right, which probably made the entire process easier and cleaner. 

Here is a stove, circa late 1800s. It features a very modern-looking stove, but the table does not look authentic to me. Still, it shows a butter churn, and gives a fun historical feel overall.

Compared to these photos, my old kitchen was pretty posh, but I can’t wait to get my new kitchen, complete with new drawers, cupboards, and a nice, big island. Oh, and running water. Yeah, that will be great!

 

 

Riding Sidesaddle in Regency England

Riding sidesaddle was the epitome of genteel upbringing for the Regency lady. It provided a convenient form of transportation, a good method of obtaining fresh air and exercise, and a great way to socialize–especially with gentlemen 😉 . Riding sidesaddle also effectively proclaimed one’s wealth and status. Sometime during the 17th Century, ladies started riding sidesaddle, also known as aside. Prior to that they rode astride or sat in an awkward riding seat and hung on for dear life.

In order for a lady to be a good rider in Regency England, she had to have both time and money. She must take riding lessons, have time to practice the art of riding, and be wealthy enough to afford a horse trained as a lady’s mount. Work horses could simply graze; riding horses called for more expenses–a stable, feed, grooms, tack, farrier fees, etc. A lady competently riding aside, combined with a stylish riding habit, spoke louder than words of her social standing.

Riding habits were usually made by tailors, although some sources cite ladies dressmakers, or modistes, making riding habits, too. Riding habits included a fitted bodice with long sleeves, or sometimes a spencer, that fit well through the torso and shoulders. A long, full train covered the legs while riding. Regency ladies’ riding habits did not include a split skirt–those didn’t appear until the late Victorian Era. They seem to have come in a variety of fabrics, depending on weather, velvet being very popular.

Little girls were taught to ride astride on a pony or donkey. Then, as they grew in competence and size, they learned to a sidesaddle and usually graduated to a horse. This was a sign of skill and distinction. In urban areas, riding donkeys seemed to be pretty common, but riding in London seemed to require a beautiful horse, since in London, appearances became crucial.

Very few grown ladies rode astride in the city or country; not only was it unladylike and downright scandalous, it could be viewed as a declaration of one’s incompetence at riding side saddle.

Jane Austen herself didn’t learn to ride until nearly at the end of her life. Historians believe Jane had a fear of riding. If this is true, it may be due to a dear friend of the Austen family being killed while riding. Jane’s personal records cite this loss. It’s also possible that Jane didn’t ride in her youth because her family simply didn’t have the money for such a luxury. Most of her novels suggest a certain disapproval of ladies riding, and in a few cases, a touch of envy.

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt, circa 1760

A common misconception about riding sidesaddle is that it was uncomfortable. In truth, it’s actually comfortable. The seat and pommel are both padded. In addition, one does not sit twisted, but rather with one’s back straight. It’s a lot like sitting in a chair with the right leg crossed over the left. I often sit sideways on the sofa with one knee propped up higher than the other. This is not much different than riding sidesaddle.

Others claim that riding aside is difficult. However, many women today who learn sidesaddle prefer it to astride. Both ways of riding are more about balance. When I ride astride, especially if the horse is large, I get sore in the soft tissue in my inner legs. Riding more frequently would help, I am sure, but sidesaddle would at least alleviate discomfort due to the girth of a horse.

Another myth is that it’s hard to get on a horse with a sidesaddle. Actually, one only needs a mounting block to mount a horse. Of course, having a handsome gentlemen nearby to give on a “leg up” is always welcome 🙂 Also, a trained lady’s mount stands very still for mounting or dismounting, they have a smooth gait, a light mouth, and are a pleasure to ride.

Many critics claim that it’s easy to fall off and therefore dangerous to ride aside. This is true of riding in general. Some riders, as my writer friend and horse expert Shannon Donnelly says, could fall off a merry-go-round horse; other riders can stay on anything–even a bucking bronco.  Look at rodeo riders. They don’t rely on strength; they stay on by keeping their center of gravity over the horse. Again, riding is all about balance and skill whether a person rides astride or sidesaddle.

Another common myth about riding aside is that one can’t gallop or jump. Again, this goes to skill–a skilled rider and well-trained horse can jump, gallop and do haute echole (dressage movements)–anything that can be done astride can also be done sidesaddle. There are numerous documented recordings of Georgian and Regency ladies riding side saddle as they “rode to hounds” which required a fast pace and much skill to charge through the country side after a pack of hounds chasing a fox.

Riding sidesaddle is fun! Part of the trick is a well-trained horse. Some horses have a harder time adapting to his rider’s legs both on one side but others pick up on it quickly.

Now, like everything, the side saddle has evolved. However, the Regency side saddle was very similar to today’s side saddle. The main differences are that there was no no leaping horn, and the Regency stirrup is a ‘slipper stirrup’ which is different from today’s.

Some images from the Regency Era show ladies riding with a sort of belt wrapped around them. It’s not clear to me if it’s attached to the saddle or not. It’s possible it was merely a way of keeping a lady’s skirts down flat, since I can’t imagine any woman would have secured herself to the saddle.

Is today’s saddle safer? Probably. But many Regency ladies managed to ride anywhere they wanted, and as fast as they wanted, just fine, thank you very much.

Sources:

Much of this information came through years of research. However, some recent sources are:

Shannon Donnelly on Historical Hussies

Jill Ottman on the Jane Austen Centre of North America

Kathy Blee on Ladies Ride Aside

Regency Gentlemen’s Coats

 In Regency England, the term “coat” does not refer to outerwear. That article of clothing is called a greatcoat or overcoat. Instead, “coat” always referred to a tailcoat which was an indispensable part of every gentleman’s daily wear. Tailcoats were made from fine wool and finished with broadcloth, merino, or kerseymere.

Walking coats

The Morning Coat or Riding Coat. This is the informal coat of a gentleman’s clothing. Its distinguishing characteristics are the front edges which slope to the round-edged tails in back. Generally, the tails of the riding coat were a little shorter than the walking coat but the lines on that distinction seem a bit blurry. A blue morning coat with buff or tan breeches was considered the epitome of fashionable casual wear. Other popular colors included olive, bottle-green, and even plum. Green and brown also show up frequently but those seem to be primarily for country living. Morning coats or riding coats were usually double-breasted, and could be customized with a pocket(s) in the back by the tails. Buttons in silver or brass seemed to be popular, based on the fashion plates I have studied.

Tailcoat and trousers

The dress coat. Similar to day’s “tux and tails,” the dress coat was short through the trunk and cut straight across to allow the waistcoat to peek out below. It had long, square tails in back. This was fashionable and appropriate for formal occasions. Black was the most formal but I often see engravings of gray and blue as well, as shown in the picture to the right. Formal tailcoats were made of very fine wool and given a dress finish called “superfine.” Often the dress coats themselves were called simply “superfine.” Notice this gentleman to the right is wearing trousers would were just starting to emerge in the late Regency. Buttons were usually covered with matching cloth.

Victorian Frockcoats

The Frockcoat. Often I find the term frockcoat used interchangeably with tailcoat and the term I used in most of my books I have written thus far. Recently, however, I discovered that the frockcoat belonged to the early Georgian Era and though it was re-introduced late in the Regency, didn’t gain popularity until the Victorian Era. The two stylish gentleman to the left are wearing Victorian frockcoats. The one on the far side is also wearing trousers, and the other is wearing breeches and riding boots, showing that transitional phase. By the late Victorian, knee breeches were pretty much only worn as riding attire. But I digress. The frockcoat had a full of skirt the same length all around and no tails. It also had room for pockets in the side. It opened down the front to reveal the waistcoat. This coat, like the morning or riding coat, was also made of very fine wool.

During the Regency, Georgian-style frockcoats were required court attire. They were very ornate, with brocade or heavy-embroidery such as what you see in pictures of George Washington and other Georgian-Era gentlemen. Court costume included trimming such as fur, ribbons, and gold or silver-threaded lace. Court frockcoats were not cut in at the waist but had a more square shape, and they had long elegant tails.