One of the most striking features of Queen Adelaide’s frock in this week’s Rate the Dress is her glorious blonde lace sleeves. Perhaps you’ve read a Georgette Hayer novel and come across a description of the heroine heading out to a dinner party in a dress trimmed with blonde lace and wondered what that meant. Maybe you already knew, if not, wonder no more!
‘Blonde’ is the term used to describe the natural colour of undyed silk, and blonde lace was originally the name for a specific style of continuous bobbin lace made in France (primarily Chantilly, Caen & Bayeux) from natural, undyed silk thread imported from China.
Evening dress trimmed with blonde lace, St Petersburg, Russia. 1830s. Hermitage Museum
While blonde lace was originally made from undyed and unbleached silk the name later came to refer to lace in a particular style made from silk thread, even if it was bleached white, or dyed black (and occasionally other colours). In 1902 an ad offers it in white or ‘butter’, and a fashionable 1895 tea jacket is made up in ‘black blonde lace’. Sometimes different shades were be combined in the same garment, as in an 1890s blouse in brown and white blonde lace.
Gown of watered silk, ca 1865, bodice w: cream & black blonde lace (I think). Vendor unknown.
Blonde lace was made from the early 18th century, and was wildly popular throughout the early 19th century (hence its popularity with Hayer’s heroines). Almost every lady who attended court in the 1830s is described as wearing blonde lace. It’s immense popularity allowed it to withstand the decimation that the handmade lace industry suffered with the introduction of machine made and hand-embroidered bobbin net in the 1820s.
Sleeve ruffle and blonde lace, France, 1750s, V&A
Machine version of blonde lace were available from 1833, leading to a slight decline in the desirability of the lace. The blonde lace industry was rescued by the growing middle class and their demand for cheaper lace, and by a change in the aesthetics of blonde lace.
Early versions of blonde lace were very light and delicate, with small floral motifs widely scattered on a delicate net background. From the 1830s the motifs on blonde lace became heavier and closer together, and vast quantities of it, usually in black, but sometimes in other colours, were imported into Spain and made in Spain, where it was used for mantillas.
A blonde lace mantilla Spanish, 19th century, MFA Boston
Blonde lace was sold in New Zealand from at least the late 1840s and into the 1940s (though the 20th century versions are almost exclusively machine made). Though it was very popular for dresses in the early 20th century, and blouses and trim throughout the 1920s, by the 1930s it’s popularity was in decline, and in the 30′s and 40′s it was rarely used except for wedding dresses. World War II finally saw the demise of blonde lace except for in very specialised couturier garments.
Hat of blonde lace, Auckland Star, 1 October 1910
Auckland Evening Post, 2 March 1938, Page 16
Earnshaw, Pat. The Dictionary of Lace. :Dover. 1984
Powys, Marian. Lace and Lace Making. :Dover. 2002
Scott, Phillipa. The Book of Silk. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. 1993
We all know about Queen Victoria’s obsession with Scotland and her castle in Balmoral, and how this led to the name ‘Balmoral’ being applied to all sorts of fashion items. One of these was the balmoral petticoat.
The balmoral petticoat was a coloured petticoat that was intended to show at the hem of a drawn-up skirt for walking and sportswear in the 1860s and 1870s.
‘Belle of the winter’ – a skater in a striped Balmoral petticoat
The balmoral petticoat could be worn over a hoopskirt or crinoline or have hoops built into the petticoat, and (according to some sources) include a horsehair stiffener as part of the petticoat itself.
1860s walking outfit worn with a Balmoral petticoat
The most common Balmoral petticoat was red wool, often with 2-4 black stripes running around the hem. Later in the 1860s there are mentions of balmoral petticoats in plaid or striped wool, and even cotton balmoral petticoats in the Americas.
Rachel Bodley (1831-1888), the first female chemistry professor at Philadelphia’s Women’s Medical College from 1865 to 1873, in a balmoral petticoat. via here
The petticoat was said to originate at Balmoral, with writers in the 1890s claiming that during the 1860s royals at Balmoral wore high laced boots (Balmoral boots), scarlet petticoats, and their skirts drawn up to walking length for practicality, showing glimpses of the scarlet petticoats, the boots, and bright coloured stockings.
Harper’s Bazar, 1867, Promenade Dresses
The balmoral petticoat was most popular at the height of the crinoline era, but quickly became a victim of its own popularity and practicality. Fashion has never loved sensible garments, and balmoral petticoats were eminently sensible: warm, durable, easy to walk and move in. They were adopted by all levels of society almost immediately (there are numerous mentions of slaves in the American South wearing balmoral petticoats in the 1860s), and quickly discarded by the upper levels of society. A variant of the Balmoral petticoat (sans hooping) remained popular with older women and the less fashionable for decades after the crinoline was discarded. As a result ‘red flannel petticoat’ became synonymous with provincial fashion and the elderly.
Margherita of Savoia-Genoa in the late 1860s carte de visite by Henri Le Lieure. Is this a balmoral petticoat? Debatable
Skating on the Schuylkill in a balmoral petticoat
O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1986
Lewandowski, Elizabeth J, The Complete Costume Dictionary. Plymouth UK: Scarecrow Press. 2011
This week I thought I would do a fun little terminology post, and when your term is scroop, there is no way you can’t have fun!
What is scroop? Scroop is the sound that taffeta makes.
Yes, it is an actual, proper, technical textile term (not like all those costuming collective nouns that we came up with).
Both silk and rayon taffetas (and some other silk and rayon fabrics) can have scroop, but it’s not caused by the weave, or the quality of the fabric. Scroop is added with a special acid treatment, which hardens the fibres of the fabric, making them rustle more.
An early article on synthetic silk (rayon) mentions that it is shinier than real silk, but that its scroop is less.
Imagine the scroop of this dress:
Evening dress Madame Grès, silk, 1969, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Want to know the best thing about scroop? It has an even more awesome synonym – froufrou!
(bonus best thing – there was a British peer names Scroop Egerton, he was the Viscount of Brackley and then the Earl of Bridgewater)
Cant, Jennifer and Fritz, Anne, Consumer Textiles. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 1988
Online Encyclopedia Britannica