Words to Cringe By ©

By: Victoria Brady

Whenever I hear anyone use words like always, never, the first, the only, etc. etc. etc. I immediately find myself questioning the person’s credentials and knowledge base. There are exceptions to every rule as the following photos will show, and no one can with any certainty prove an illustration or an item is THE first ever to hit these shores. It may simply be the first the speaker/writer was aware of. Can any among us claim we know everything about everything? New sources become available every day and if you use those words someone will eventually prove you wrong.

As a writer I’ve encountered these situations more times than I can count. In writing about the introduction of Emden geese I found articles claiming a gentleman was the first to import them into the U.S. from Germany. I easily found someone who was the subject of a newspaper article with several people attesting that they knew he was raising them some 10 years earlier. I don’t have a crystal ball or a time machine so I can go back and interview these people myself, but the safe bet is Never say Never.

I’ve read articles that claim no one EVER made clothing out of toile fabric, yet I did find one. Does that one instance mean we can all make a toile dress? No, because I do not know the circumstances of how the dress came to be. Was it a spoof? Was it for a masquerade ball? Did a salesman or manufacturer use it to sell more toile? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t let one example prompt me to use this fabric for clothing, yet Never say Never.

This toile dress, ca. 1780, was found in the Showshill Collection of 18th century original clothing. While extremely rare, and under questionable circumstances, at least one such dress exists.

There used to be a hard and fast notion that women NEVER wore stays or jumps without a gown or jacket over them, however, in studying paintings actually painted during the 18th century one can easily find documentation that this is also a myth. Never say Never.

This woman is a “gleaner”, someone who was granted permission to go into fields after harvesting and collect any grain or produce remaining. (See Victoria Brady, “EIGHTEENTH CENTURY TRADES, Crafts, & Employments©”). She is outdoors gathering wheat after the field was harvested on property that probably belonged to someone else, in other words, “in public” with no jacket.

I’ve heard that women always wore neckerchiefs, also known as a fichu, or in modern terminology a modesty piece to fill in the neckline on gowns or jackets. Women usually did wear such an accessory, but again, Never say Never. A cursory search of paintings and sketches actually done during the 18th century yields women not wearing a neckerchief yet are working in a well-to-do home where modesty would have been demanded or outside in a work situation where they performed respectable work.

Detail from a painting by James Malton, “A Military Encampment in Hyde Park”, 1785.  This woman may be doing her husband’s laundry or she may well be doing laundry in exchange for payment. It may be insufferably hot. Maybe she’s doing her own laundry and hasn’t a clean kerchief. We don’t know why she isn’t wearing this clothing item but there is nothing else that would indicate any untoward behavior. Never say Never or make assumptions without knowing the details of what is depicted.
This scene is outdoors in the presence of many people. This is a detail cropped from the painting to show that there are women not wearing neckerchiefs. In the painting, there is a minister standing off to the right, Bible in hand, and this young man seems to be trying hard to persuade his lady love to marry him much to the dismay of the woman who may be her mother.

I leave you, gentle reader, with the idea speaking in absolutes is a dangerous endeavor. These are but a few examples.

Published by thehistoricfoodie

I write articles for various magazines and books about foods and cooking techniques. My work centers primarily around historic foods and I travel throughout the country doing cooking demonstrations at various local, state, and national venues and teaching an occasional period cooking class. I've done cooking demonstrations on national and local television, including Chicago's WGN.

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