A couple of weeks ago, in my blog about footwear, there wasn’t room to cover ladies’ boots.
So today I will. Plus some other essentials for the well-dressed lady.
If you’ve read your Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, you’ll be familiar with the term “half-boots”.
But what were they?
And what were they made of?
The pair on the right, from the marvellous V&A collection, is made of striped cotton with buff-coloured leather toecaps. The sole is leather and there’s a little heel. From the picture, it looks as though they, like the shoes I discussed in my last blog, are not made for left and right feet. They also look as if they’ve hardly been worn. If they were worn, it probably wasn’t in the rain and mud, judging by how clean and shiny they still are.
This dark striped pair, dating possibly from a little earlier, looks even less capable of dealing with foul weather since the uppers are all made of cotton jean (though the rosette is silk). The soles are leather, again with a small heel.
According to the V&A, boots like these became fashionable from around 1804 and were worn with walking dress or morning dress. However, C Willett Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century quotes as follows from 1800: “Half Boots up to the knee of cordovan leather which draw on by means of boot hooks are worn by many females of dashing ton.” Very dashing indeed, I’d have thought, especially with the thin muslin gowns worn at the time. Buff boots were fashionable from 1804, Cunnington says, especially in winter. He mentions cloth half-boots from 1809 and jean boots (for walking) from 1814.
Hardwearing cottons, like jean, were often preferred to leather. Were cottons more comfortable perhaps than stiffer leather? Or perhaps cheaper? Or was it just the fashion? Possibly.
Pretty? Or practical?
This pair looks rather more practical, being made of darker kid leather throughout, and lined with canvas. They have leather soles and a small stacked heel.
I’m not sure I like that silk rosette, but it may have been fashionable to add it, perhaps to show that these boots were for a lady?
More than half boots?
And then there were the (in my view) totally impractical boots, like this pair, also from the V&A collection, dated to around 1812. They are slightly longer than the half-boots above. These are made of white cotton, lined with white kid. The trimmings and stitching are white silk. All very extravagant, I’d say.
Cunnington mentions silk half-boots for carriage dress in 1816 so these might have been a predecessor. They have clearly been worn and they look comfortable to me. But cleaning them must have been a nightmare (for the poor lady’s maid, of course).
The V&A has called this pair “boots” rather than “half-boots” though they look lower than some of the half-boots shown above.
These date from around 1820 and have lacing on the side, rather than up the front. They are made of leather, with leather soles, and a rather more solid heel than earlier boots. They have a masculine look—a bit like spats?—but they definitely belonged to a lady because you can read part of the name inside the top of the boot on the left of the picture. [Click image to enlarge it.] It looks like “Mrs Norman” or something along those lines.
And finally, to show that fashion could be thoroughly outrageous, I offer you this French print from 1814. The lady is wearing a white dress with lace trimmings, long green gloves, an ecru cap, a red, green and yellow tartan shawl and tartan boots, in blue, white and red, with yellow frills. To complete her restrained ensemble, she holds a white parasol and a pink-edged handkerchief.
Delightful, don’t you think?
Bags are better than boots? Or prettier, at least…
All the information above may be interesting to writers like me, but the pictures don’t exactly have a lot of glamour, do they? The Paris print tends to make me shudder, I admit.
So I thought I’d end with a few more exciting images from my own collection. Specifically, bags and reticules. The colourful lady in the Paris print is not carrying a reticule—her hands are full with the parasol and the fancy handkerchief—but she might have done. Perhaps something as eye-catching as these, from the Hereford collection?
The reticule above is made of white satin. Those eye-catching iridescent green leaves are actually—sorry—insect wing cases. The purple satin reticule below, trimmed with black lace, is beautifully embroidered. Either of these might have been home-made.
This final item is more of a handbag than a reticule, I think. It’s made in a stiffened basket shape and lined with pink satin. It has a fine cane handle, trimmed with silk bows, and delicate embroidery around the rim. Someone put a lot of effort into making this. She may even have carried it along with one of the pink parasols in my earlier post. Pink was obviously popular.
Bag a giveaway? Something to cheer us all up?
WINNERS : Jan Jones and Flora Harding : Giveaway now closed
Recently, I’ve been publishing revised editions of some of the early Joanna Maitland titles, with splendid new covers. I’m delighted to say that they’re doing pretty well. So, to celebrate that, and to cheer us up as we go into the gloomy days of another month of lockdown, I’m offering free copies of Marrying the Major, in the Unsuitable Matches series, to TWO lucky winners. (Kindle ebooks only)
Just leave a comment on this blog and you might win something new to read in lockdown. I’ll announce the winners here later in the week. Do enter. You might just bag a book 😉
Giveaway now closed. Winners were Jan Jones and Flora Harding. Congratulations ladies 😉