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Sunday, June 24, 2012

History of Ladies' Swimwear

During the 18th century, public bathing in England and France became an accepted leisure activity, as beaches gradually were seen as places of recreation and not just therapeutic treatments for the rich who could afford seaside resorts. Thus, the need for women’s swimwear began.
The first ladies swimwear was probably nothing but a smock. Practicality and modesty governed the design, even though women and men bathed in different areas of the beach. Still, so as not to run the risk of exposing a bare leg, women sewed weights in the lower part of their garments to keep the fabric from floating to the surface.
In the 19th century, even in the U.S., swimming became a popular recreational pastime. When those two railroad tycoons, Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, built railroads in Florida, the beaches became more accessible to the general public, and swimwear became an item in every woman’s wardrobe.
A blouse, bloomers, and black stockings were acceptable beach wear. By the turn of the century, loose, one-piece suits became fashionable, following the lead of the Austrian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, who was arrested in the U.S. for wearing one, deemed immodest and daring. A few years later, though, these same suits came to be accepted.
In the 1950s, the one-piece, snugly fitted “glamour-girl” suits could be seen on beaches throughout the U.S., followed shortly by two-piece suits, which eventually evolved into bikinis, and later, thongs.
The evolution in women’s swimwear was slow in coming, mainly due to our Puritan roots, but there’s precious little we can remove from here on without wearing our birthday suits. Since that was the “earliest” suit, we have almost come full circle.

Water Clocks

Waterclocks, like sundials, may have been used as long ago as 4000 B.C. Through the centuries, water clocks became more sophisticated, with gears and revolutionary mechanisms. Water clocks would finally be replaced in the 18th century with pendulum clocks.
The oldest water clock documentation is on the tomb of a 16th century Egyptian court official, Amenemhet. He is portrayed as the inventor, though it is possible he only made improvements on an earlier model.
The earliest clocks were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a hole near the bottom. Marks inside the bowl measure the passing of time as the water level lowered in the vessel.
Clocks were used by priests, to time the correct “hour” for rites and sacrifices. The clocks were also possibly used during the day, especially by the wealthy.
The image is of two waterclocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. The top vessel is an original from the 5th c. B.C. The lower vessel is a reconstruction of a clay original.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Noblesse Oblige or Regency Duty

Duty was the watchword in the Georgian and Regency eras. Everyone had his or her place, and every place had its duties. Even noble families were not exempt. A nobleman’s duty was to his line, his country and his church. His sons fulfilled these obligations.

The duty of the first son, the heir, was to his family. His obligation was to protect and increase the estate and to marry and produce a legitimate male successor who would inherit everything. All those Regencies that have the heir buying an army commission and going off to war are anachronisms. The social pressure for the heir to join the armed forces has existed for only about the past one hundred years. Two hundred years ago and earlier, the first son’s obligation to continue the line made him too valuable to waste on a battlefield where life was cheap. His duty was to survive and procreate.

The second son fulfilled the family’s duty to the country. He joined the army, usually as an officer by buying a commission. While some second sons bought places in the militia where there was little chance of dying, others lost their lives on various battlefields. I always wondered why a nobleman would go to great lengths to assure an heir and a spare, and then earmark the spare for such a perilous occupation. Regency England was already a dangerous place. In a world with poor sanitation, no antibiotics, few painkillers, and no understanding of germs, an infected cut could kill you. Why court death in war?

A nobleman also had a duty to the church, which the third son fulfilled by joining the clergy. A man did not necessarily have to be religious to become a clergyman. If this son’s family was rich and titled, his father likely controlled several livings, and he could give all of them to his son. (Note, the giving of multiple livings to one clergyman would be declared illegal later in the nineteenth century). The son could hire curates to do the actual work, and he could take the money from the livings and do as he chose. If the spare died in battle, the third son, with a relatively safe profession, was the spare spare, and could inherit. But only if there was a third son and the heir had no sons.

Of course, there were always exceptions. As an example of both the standard and the exception, we have Earl Spencer, ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. He made his heir enter Parliament, sent his next two sons into the navy, and the fourth became a clergyman. Why the navy? Earl Spencer was Secretary of the Navy. None of the boys had any choice. The second son hated the navy, but the fourth son at least was bookish. The second son in Mansfield Park became a clergyman, and many younger sons entered politics, especially if their fathers had money and connections.

Any more sons were superfluous and were on their own. Their father may or may not have given them allowances. If not, they were likely on the lookout to marry heiresses. If they couldn’t snag one, or were modern and forward looking, they sought that dreaded of all things to a gentleman–work.

While the Regency was still a time of tradition, the era was also the time when our modern world began. Not every son played the game according to the rules. In my Regency comedy, An Inheritance for the Birds, the hero, Kit, is the second son of a baronet. He loves the land, and wants to work as a land steward. He worked with his father’s steward, and plans to take over when the older man retires. But at the old steward’s retirement, Kit’s father, a traditionalist, hires a new one and cuts off Kit’s allowance, thinking to force him to join the army. Instead, Kit’s older brother, who had wanted him as steward, finds him a job as a nobleman’s secretary. That job sounds fairly good until Kit finds out what he has to do. And then he receives the letter informing him about his chance to win his great-aunt’s estate. Maybe he can still fulfill his dream of caring for the land.

An Inheritance for the Birds,  Blurb and excerpt here.
Available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.

Thank you all,