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XII. LADIES' HEAD-DRESSES.
Friday, June 22, 1711.
Tanta est quærendi cura decoris.-Juv. Sat. vi. 500.
So studiously their persons they adorn.
THERE is not so variable a thing in nature as a lady's headdress within my own memory I have known it rise and fall above thirty degrees. About ten years ago it shot up to a very great height, insomuch that the female part of our species were much taller than the men. The women were of such an enormous stature, that "we appeared as grasshoppers before them": at present the whole sex is in a manner 10 dwarfed and shrunk into a race of beauties that seems almost another species. I remember several ladies, who were once very near seven foot high, that at present want some inches of five how they came to be thus curtailed I cannot learn ; whether the whole sex be at present under any penance which we know nothing of, or whether they have cast their head-dresses in order to surprise us with something in that kind which shall be entirely new; or whether some of the tallest of the sex, being too cunning for the rest, have contrived this method to make themselves appear sizeable, is 20 still a secret; though I find most are of opinion, they are at present like trees new lopped and pruned, that will certainly sprout up and flourish with greater heads than before. For my own part, as I do not love to be insulted by women who are taller than myself, I admire the sex much more in their present humiliation, which has reduced them to their natural dimensions, than when they had extended their persons, and lengthened themselves out into formidable and gigantic figures. I am not for adding to the beautiful edifice of nature, nor for raising any whimsical superstructure upon 30 her plans: I must, therefore, repeat it, that I am highly
pleased with the coiffure now in fashion, and think it shows
Tot premit ordinibus, tot adhuc compagibus altum
With curls on curls they build her head before,
And mount it with a formidable tow'r;
A giantess she seems; but look behind,
And then she dwindles to the pigmy kind.-Dryden.
But I do not remember, in any part of my reading, that the head-dress aspired to so great an extravagance as in the fourteenth century; when it was built up in a couple of cones or spires, which stood so excessively high on each side of the head, that a woman who was but a Pigmy without her head-dress, appeared like a Colossus upon putting it on. Monsieur Paradin says, "That these old-fashioned fontanges rose an ell above the head; that they were pointed like steeples, and had long loose pieces of crape fastened to the tops of them, which are curiously fringed, and hung down 30 their backs like streamers."
The women might possibly have carried this Gothic building much higher, had not a famous monk, Thomas Connecte by name, attacked it with great zeal and resolution. This holy man travelled from place to place to preach down this
monstrous commode; and succeeded so well in it, that as the magicians sacrificed their books to the flames upon the preaching of an apostle, many of the women threw down their head-dresses in the middle of his sermon, and made a bonfire of them within sight of the pulpit. He was so renowned, as well for the sanctity of his life as his manner of preaching, that he had often a congregation of twenty thousand people; the men placing themselves on the one side of his pulpit, and the women on the other, that appeared 10 (to use the similitude of an ingenious writer) like a forest of cedars with their heads reaching to the clouds. He so warmed and animated the people against this monstrous ornament, that it lay under a kind of persecution; and whenever it appeared in public, was pelted down by the rabble, who flung stones at the persons that wore it. But notwithstanding this prodigy vanished while the preacher was among them, it began to appear again some months after his departure; or, to tell it in Monsieur Paradin's own words, "The women, that, like snails in a fright, had drawn 20 in their horns, shot them out again as soon as the danger was over." This extravagance of the women's head-dresses in that age is taken notice of by Monsieur D'Argentre in his History of Bretagne, and by other historians as well as the person I have here quoted.
It is usually observed, that a good reign is the only time for the making of laws against the exorbitance of power; in the same manner, an excessive head-dress may be attacked the most effectually when the fashion is against it. I do, therefore, recommend this paper to my female readers by 30 way of prevention.
I would desire the fair sex to consider how impossible it is for them to add anything that can be ornamental to what is already the masterpiece of nature. The head has the most beautiful appearance, as well as the highest station, in a human figure. Nature has laid out all her art in beautifying the face she has touched it with vermilion, planted in it a
double row of ivory, made it the seat of smiles and blushes, lighted it up and enlivened it with the brightness of the eyes, hung it on each side with curious organs of sense, given it airs and graces that cannot be described, and surrounded it with such a flowing shade of hair as sets all its beauties in the most agreeable light; in short, she seems to designed the head as the cupola to the most glorious of her works; and when we load it with such a pile of supernumerary ornaments, we destroy the symmetry of the human figure, and foolishly contrive to call off the eye from great 10 and real beauties, to childish gew-gaws, ribbons, and bone-lace.
The mind ought sometimes to be diverted, that it may return the better to thinking.
I Do not know whether to call the following letter a satire upon coquettes, or a representation of their several fantastical accomplishments, or what other title to give it; but as it is I shall communicate it to the public. It will sufficiently explain its own intentions, so that I shall give it my reader at 20 length, without either preface or postscript.
"Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them. To the end, therefore, that ladies may be entire mistresses of the weapon which they bear, I have erected an Academy for the training up of young women in the Exercise of the Fan, according to the most fashionable airs and motions that are now practised
at court. The ladies who carry fans under me are drawn up twice a day in my great hall, where they are instructed in the use of their arms, and exercised by the following words of command:
Handle your Fans,
Unfurl your Fans,
By the right observation of these few plain words of command, a woman of a tolerable genius who will apply herself diligently to her exercise for the space of one half year, shall be able to give her fan all the graces that can possibly enter into that little modish machine.
"But to the end that my readers may form to themselves a right notion of this exercise, I beg leave to explain it to them in all its parts. When my female regiment is drawn up in array, with every one her weapon in her hand, upon 20 my giving the word to Handle their Fans, each of them shakes her fan at me with a smile, then gives her right-hand woman a tap upon the shoulder, then presses her lips with the extremity of her fan, then lets her arms fall in an easy motion, and stands in readiness to receive the next word of command. All this is done with a close fan, and is generally learned in the first week.
"The next motion is that of Unfurling the Fan, in which are comprehended several little flirts and vibrations, as also gradual and deliberate openings, with many voluntary fallings 30 asunder in the Fan itself, that are seldom learned under a
month's practice. This part of the exercise pleases the spectators more than any other, as it discovers on a sudden an infinite number of Cupids, garlands, altars, birds, beasts, rainbows, and the like agreeable figures, that display themselves to view, whilst every one in the regiment holds a picture in her hand.