Monday, February 29, 2016

Book of the Day: What every 19th century Kardashian wore, and other tales of fashion

Left unsaid in this entertaining blog entry is how Charles Dickens managed another American reading tour eighteen years after his death, but whether Boz was alive or not, an exploding bustle was bound to cause a stir:

Dickens stopped the reading at the sound of the explosion, but having ascertained that nothing was wrong, he continued.  Meanwhile, the knowing crowd—who had “divined the nature of the trouble”—commenced smiling and tittering.  The lady was mortified.  Her husband, however, was wholly unsympathetic to her distress.  He commanded her to resume her seat and “not to look and act so foolishly.”  As the article goes on to state:
“But the explosion of a patent bustle is no small matter to a lady, and although she at length consented to stay, she evidently felt ill at ease all the evening.  A large shawl was thrown over her shoulders to hide the blushes which even stole around the back of her neck.  It was an accident deserving of the most sympathetic consideration, but instead it received only ridicule.” 

The lady with the exploding bustle would go on to sue her dressmaker.  The judge in the case was initially perplexed by such a lawsuit.  The Aberdeen Evening Express quotes him as saying: 

“I have read of bustles being made of horsehair, muslin, newspapers, pillows, bird cages, and even quilts.  I have heard of alarm clocks striking the hour within the folds of a lady’s dress.  Smuggled cigars, jewellery [sic], and brandy have also been brought to light, but I never before heard of an air-tight bustle exploding in church and then being made the subject of a civil suit.” 

The judge went on to state that, “not being married yet” himself, the case was “somewhat perplexing” to him.  He nevertheless endeavored to apply the law to the best of his ability.  He ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her the sum of $11.50.

Among the offerings in Henry Bemis Books fashion inventory is a detailed, autographed history of women’s fashion in the time of the bustle blowups:

Leisch, Juanita, Who Wore What? Women’s Wear, 1861-1865 (Thomas Publications, 1st ed. 1995). ISBN 0-93961-81-4. Leisch’s well-illustrated study considers the fallacy- long perpetuated by film and television- that women of the Civil War era pretty much all wore the same outfits. Using tens of thousands of period photos and illustrated cartes des visites, Leisch breaks down wardrobe choices by age, rural v. urban, jewelry choices, outerwear, hats, and a variety of other accoutrements. Fascinating!  This book has become a standard reference in Hollywood and the war re-enactor communities. Quarto, 116 pp. Hardcover, no dust jacket as issued. Inscribed on the title page in 1996. Very good condition. HBB price: $95 obo.


Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at  Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like. #RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #19CWomensWear #HustleandBustle #Fashion #Charlotte

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