balloon riots

The first public demonstration of a lighter-than-air machine took place in 1783, in Annonay, France, when Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, two brothers who owned a paper mill, sent up an unmanned hot-air balloon.

early balloon found here

After their success, the brothers went to Paris and built another larger one. On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, the Montgolfiers flew the first passengers in a basket suspended below a hot-air balloon—a sheep, a rooster, and a duck.

Miss Dietrich with her duck in a basket found here

On August 27, 1783, Jacques Alexandre César Charles launched the first balloon inflated with hydrogen gas in Paris. Unlike the Montgolfier balloon, his hydrogen-inflated balloon was closed to contain the gas. The sphere ascended from the Place des Victories in Paris to a height of nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) and came down some 15 miles (24 kilometers) away where terrified peasants attacked and destroyed it.

image found here

A flying craze arose in France and Scotland with James Tytler, Scotland’s first aeronaut and the first Briton to fly, but a year after the invention of the balloon, the English were still skeptical, and so George Biggin and ‘Vincent’ Lunardi, “The Daredevil Aeronaut”, decided to demonstrate a hydrogen balloon flight at the Artillery Ground of the Honourable Artillery Company in London in September 1784.

Lunardi found here

Lunardi first tried to obtain permission to go up from the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital. However, somebody else had already beaten him to it – a Frenchman, de Morel, who had made the first attempt with a whimsical hot air balloon shaped like a Chinese temple. This monster declined to leave the ground, which disappointed and infuriated the spectators; in their rage they destroyed the balloon.

image found here

In Lunardi’s case, because the 200,000 strong crowd had grown very impatient with delays in fully inflating the balloon, the young Italian had to take-off without his friend Biggin, but he was accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. The flight travelled in a northerly direction towards Hertfordshire, with Lunardi making a stop in Welham Green, where the cat was set free as it seemed airsick.

flying cat found here

The 24 mile flight brought Lunardi fame and began the ballooning fad that inspired fashions of the day—Lunardi skirts were decorated with balloon styles, and in Scotland, the Lunardi Bonnet was named after him, and is even mentioned by Robert Burns in his poem ‘To a Louse’, written about a young woman called Jenny, who had a louse scampering in her Lunardi bonnet.

balloon bonnet found here

Lunardi went on to build larger and better balloons decorated with Union Jacks, in which manner he ‘wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word “British” stands for’. His faithful friend Biggin and a Mrs Letitia Sage, an actress, were to have accompanied him on a trip from Moorefields, but the lifting capacity of the balloon was poor, so Lunardi started alone. Soon afterwards he had to come down again, near Tottenham Court Road, because the envelope turned out to be leaking. The well-tried patience of Biggin was finally rewarded later that year when, on 29 June, he was able to ascend himself, accompanied by Mrs Sage.

Letitia Sage found here

Mrs Sage was described as Junoesque, and apparently weighed in at over 200 pounds. On the day she wore a very low cut silk dress, apparently to aid ‘wind resistance’. Her fellow passenger was the dashing George Biggin, a young and wealthy Old Etonian.

no wind resistance found here

Unfortunately the balloon was overloaded. (Afterwards Mrs Sage blamed herself because she hadn’t told Lunardi her weight and he’d been too polite to ask). Lunardi seemed to have no qualms about stepping out and letting the apparently inexperienced Mr Biggin take to the air with Mrs Sage. Unfortunately in his haste to depart, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola door. As the balloon sailed away over Picadilly the beautiful Mrs Sage was on all fours re-threading the lacings to close the door. Apparently the crowd assumed she had fainted and was perhaps receiving some kind of intimate first aid from Mr Biggin.

daisyfae had to lace me into this corset in Chicago 2011

In fact she was coolly re-threading the lacings to make the gondola safe again. In due course the two of them were lunching off sparkling Italian wine and cold chicken, occasionally calling to people below through a speaking trumpet.

The flight followed the line of the Thames westwards finally landing heavily in Harrow on the Hill where the balloon damaged a hedge and gouged a strip through the middle of an uncut hayfield, leaving the farmer ranting abuse and threats. The honour of the first female aeronaut was saved by the young gentlemen/boys of Harrow school who had a whip-round to pay off the farmer and then carried Mrs Sage bodily, in triumph, to the local pub.

Later there was much speculation at Mr Biggin’s club as to whether he had been the first man to “board” a female aeronaut in flight…….

the pursuit of fish and fetish

Mary Kingsley (1862 – 1900) was an English writer and explorer. She was the daughter  of doctor, traveller and writer George Kingsley and the niece of novelists Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley.

image found here

Dr. Kingsley died in February 1892 and Mrs. Kingsley followed a few months later. Freed from family responsibilities and with a small inheritance, Mary was able to travel as she had always dreamed, her reason for going being “the pursuit of fish and fetish“. 

image found here

As Kingsley set off on her first trip to Africa she was referred to a new “French book of phrases in common use in Dahomey.” The opening sentence of the book was “Help, I am drowning.”, followed by “Get up, you lazy scamps!” This was shortly followed by the question “Why has not this man been buried?” and its expected answer “It is fetish that has killed him, and he must lie here exposed with nothing on him until only the bones remain.”

image found here

Mary landed in Sierra Leone on 17 August 1893 and pressed on into Angola . She lived with local people who taught her necessary skills for surviving in the African jungles, and often went into dangerous areas alone. She longed to study ‘cannibal’ peoples and their traditional religious practices, commonly referred to as fetishes during the Victorian Era. 

While in Gabon, Mary Kingsley travelled by canoe up the Ogooué River where she collected specimens of previously unknown fish, three of which were later named after her. After meeting the Fang people and travelling through uncharted Fang territory, she climbed 13,760 ft Mount Cameroon by a route not previously attempted by any other European. Her adventures also included a crocodile attacking her canoe and being caught in a tornado.

more tornado images here

Once when staying in a Fang hut, a violent smell alerted her to a bag suspended from the roof. Emptying the contents into her hat, she found a human hand, three big toes, four eyes, two ears and other portions of the human frame. She showed no squeamishness, saying “I learnt that the Fang will eat their fellow friendly tribesfolk, yet they like to keep a little something belonging to them as a memento.”

you can purchase this cannibal hat here

She travelled in West Africa wearing the same clothes that she habitually wore in England: long, black, trailing skirts, tight waists, high collars, and a small fur cap. These same clothes saved her life when she fell into a game pit, the many petticoats protecting her from being impaled on the stakes below. Later that same day, returning to her moored canoe, she found a hippopotamus standing over it and “scratched him behind the ear with my umbrella until we parted on good terms.”

mouth of a hippo found here

When she returned home in November 1895 Kingsley was greeted by journalists who were eager to interview her. Reports in the papers portrayed her as a “New Woman”, an image which she did not embrace. She distanced herself from any feminist movement claims, arguing that she had never worn trousers during her expedition.

Women in trousers found here

Mary Kingsley upset the Church of England when she criticised missionaries for attempting to change the people of Africa. She defended aspects of African life that had shocked many English people, including polygamy. For example explaining the “seething mass of infamy, degradation and destruction going on among the Coast native… as the natural consequence of the breaking down of an ordered polygamy into a disordered monogamy“.

image found here

Here she describes the process of bartering with natives with a certain sense of humour. “All my trader stuff was by now exhausted, and I had to start selling my own belongings, and for the first time in my life I felt the want of a big outfit. My own clothes I certainly did insist on having more for, pointing out that they were rare and curious. A dozen white ladies’ blouses sold well. I cannot say they looked well when worn by a brawny warrior in conjunction with nothing else but red paint and a bunch of leopard tails, particularly when the warrior failed to tie the strings at the back. But I did not hint at this, and I quite realize that a pair of stockings can be made to go further than we make them by using one at a time and putting the top part over the head and letting the rest of the garment float on the breeze.”

image found here

Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm  Comments (56)  
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skewgee décor

Reading old issues of Time Magazine, it seems 1946 was a good year for interesting gossip

Gloria Swanson, svelte survivor of the silent screen and five marriages, survived a New York City taxicab crash that bowled one of the cabs over. Injuries to Siren Swanson: an egg on the brow, a skewgee décor.

Gloria Swanson in her monkey fur cape found here

John Jacob Astor III, 34, plum-shaped posthumous son of the Colonel and half-brother of Vincent, was having a time with the newspapers. They were breaking out all over with photos of a symmetrical 18-year-old girl in suburban Philadelphia, and stuff about her heartbreak. The girl, Virginia Jacobs, called him “Jackims.” He was supposed to have had her on the qui vive since she was 15, but now she could not find him. She said he had talked of marrying her and “going to Paris, where we’d have lots of children” —that is, if he ever got a divorce from Wife No. 2. He had been just too extravagant, Virginia’s mother told the newspapers. Mother had had to put her foot down: “Not mink, I told him. . . . He begged so hard, I finally allowed him to buy her a seven-skin beaver . . . $1,500. . . .” Suddenly the wind shifted. Said lovelorn Virginia to the newspapermen: “I’ve changed my mind.”

Bette Davis rocks a mink

Schiaparelli figured that women would be hobbled much of the time this season. “Nobody will be able to get out of bed before 5 in the afternoon,” said she. “There are practically no dresses designed to wear before that time. . . .”

hobble skirt found here

Paris’ fall fashion shows opened, and Schiaparelli’s outstanding contribution proved to be a bustle—a bustle on almost everything. Molyneux’s favorite colors sounded like sublimations: butter yellow, burnt orange, light mustard. Favorite couturière of the boulevardiers was doubtless Mlle. Alixt: she had daytime dresses with necklines clear to the waistline.

Sophia Loren found here

Princess Juliana of The Netherlands, mother of three, all girls, was again in an interesting condition. As a delicately euphemistic palace announcement put it, the Princess “for a joyful reason has to restrict her activities.” Stolid Netherlanders, under petticoat rule since 1890, started hoping for a royal boy.

Juliana curtailing her duties found here

a lili by any other name

Danish painter Einar Wegener* (1882 – 1931) was a successful artist.

image found here

His life story is told in a book entitled Man into Woman, published in 1933. Einar was a perfectly normal boy, both physically and mentally. At the age of twenty he married; his wife Gerda was a painter too, and their marriage was a happy one. One day, an actress whose portrait was being painted by his wife was unable to come for her sitting. Einar’s wife persuaded him to wear stockings and heels and pose for the drapery and legs.

Gerda found here

Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda’s depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Einar.

example of Gerda’s artwork found here

In 1930 Einar went to Germany for surgery, which was only in an experimental state at the time. A series of five operations were carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

At the time of Einar’s surgery the case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. The King of Denmark invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Einar managed to get his sex and name legally changed, receiving a passport as Lili Elbe.

Lili by Gerda found here

The rest of Lili’s surgeries were carried out in the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third then fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Lili, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother. She soon after died of transplant rejections.

Gerda Wegener went on to marry an Italian military officer, aviator, and diplomat, Major Fernando Porta, and move to Morocco, where she would learn of the death of Elbe, whom she described to a friend as “my poor little Lily.” (By contrast, she described her second husband as “a magnificent, splendid and peerless hunk of man”.) After living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, the Portas divorced, and Gerda returned to Denmark, where she died in 1940.

image found here

Gerda is still recognised today as one of the leading art deco artists of the early twentieth century. Her book and magazine illustrations included both high fashion and lesbian and straight erotica. Lili was one of Gerda’s favourite models, wearing women’s clothes or nude. As a fashion designer in Paris, Gerda was influential in setting fashion trends. It is amusing to consider that the 1920s small breasted feminine ideal may have been influenced by Lili’s figure.

Gerda’s artwork found here

* As well as at wikipedia, information regarding Lili Elbe and Gerda was found here

wherefore art thou?

Robert “Romeo” Coates (1772-1848) was the son of a wealthy sugar planter in Antigua.

more Antigua carnival images here

As a young adult, he emigrated to England and became an amateur actor. His self-image included a highly mistaken belief in his own thespian prowess. After professional theatrical producers failed to cast Coates in significant roles, he used his family fortune to subsidize his own productions in which he was both the producer and the lead actor.

His favourite part was Shakespeare’s Romeo, hence his widely-used nickname. He appeared in a costume of his own design: a flowing sky blue cloak spangled with sequins, red pantaloons, an enormous cravat and a plumed hat – not to mention dozens of diamonds – which was hardly suitable for the part. The audience cracked up with laughter.

Romeo Coates found here

***The glittering outfit was so tight that his limbs bulged out like sausages. In the middle of the play his pants burst open at the seat. Audience members watched in disbelief at the sudden extrusion of a quantity of white linen which was visible whenever he turned around.

image found here

Coates was convinced he was the best actor in business yet he forgot his lines all the time and invented new scenes and dialogue on the spot. He loved dramatic death scenes and would repeat them – or any other scenes he happened to take a fancy to – three to four times over.

Romeo and Juliet by Annie Leibovitz

At the end of his first appearance as Romeo he came back in with a crowbar and tried to pry open Capulet’s tomb. In another of his antics he made the actress playing Juliet so embarrassed that she clung to a pillar and refused to leave the stage. Eventually no actress would agree to play the part with him.

image found here

His fame spread and people would flock to see whether he really was as bad as they had heard. In 1811, when he played the part of Lothario in The Fair Penitent in London’s Haymarket Theatre, the theatre had to turn thousands of would-be spectators away. In another performance in Richmond, Surrey, several audience members had to be treated for excessive laughter.

image found here

Outside the stage Coates continued to amaze the public with his taste in clothing. He wore furs even in hot weather. He went out in a custom-built carriage with a heraldic device of a crowing cock and the motto “While I Live, I’ll Crow”. In receptions he glittered from head to toe with diamond buttons and buckles. His predilection for diamonds of all kinds gave him the nickname “Diamond Coates“.

Joe Namath in fur coat found here

His ridicule and fame increased with each month. “At Home”, a spoof of Coates’s acting, ran nightly at Covent Garden Theatre. When an appearance by “The Celebrated Amateur of Fashion” was promised after a performance of Othello, curious audience members waited back to see him.

The curtain rose to reveal Coates sitting at a table drinking a glass of wine. He strolled to the edge of the stage, drank to the audience’s health and launched into a poetic recitation. A single actor onstage drinking wine and inviting his audience to join him was unlike any performance ever seen at Haymarket before. The crowd roared its approval.

image found here

Eventually though, his plantations on Antigua suffered reversals and he found himself with less income to flaunt. His star faded from the British stage and he retired in his fifties, married and moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Sometimes when a visitor recalled the old days in London, he could be coaxed into giving one of his famous recitations, but he refused to ever take to the stage again.

*** excerpt from Banvard’s Folly by Paul Collins

Bob’s got shingles

Lady Walpole was not impressed with the modern woman of the 1920s

“Girls these days are insane, inane, Eton-cropped, useless, idle and mannish. They smoke doped cigarettes, use bad language, wear practically no clothes and are an abomination to their fellow creatures.’


Lady Walpole was not alone in her opinion. And many blamed this change in young women to the rage for short hair.

“While King George took no official position on the controversy surrounding bobbed hair, Queen Mary preferred if ladies with short hair would in some way conceal that fact at court functions or royal ceremonies. Hair additions were commonly used to cover the shingled back. Many women actually saved their long locks just so they could use them over their new haircut.


A teacher in New Jersey was ordered by the Board of Education to let her hair grow back. The Board claimed that women wasted too much time fussing with bobbed locks. Preachers warned parishioners that “a bobbed woman is a disgraced woman.” Men divorced their wives over their haircuts and one large department store fired all employees who had the new cropped styles.


According to an article published in a New York City paper, “some devotees of the hair-bobbed fashion are complaining of ‘shingle headaches.’ ” The medical profession believes this is nothing but a form of neuralgia caused by the sudden removal of hair from the tender nape of the neck, thus exposing it to the blustery winds. In any event, a new medical term — shingle headache — was coined from the bobbed fad.


Young men didn’t fare much better when they started a fashion trend of their own.

“Flannel trousers 20” wide at the base have become the rage at Oxford. They come in startling shades varying from canary yellow to wisteria blue. This announcement was followed by a symposium of opinions from the sort of people who always contribute to symposiums – a bishop, a general, an elderly actress and a Harley Street surgeon. All these persons tied themselves up in knots about Oxford trousers, hinting that they were somehow connected with atheism, effeminacy, the decline of the English theatre and chills on the liver.”

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 7:19 am  Comments (38)  
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when busts were déclassé

Norman Hartnell, the Queen’s dressmaker once summed up the shape of the 1920s by saying “If Sabrina (also known as Juliet with a built-in balcony) had lived in those days she would have been obliged to stay indoors.”


The dresses of the twenties involved designers in an arduous struggle against nature. It was the battle of the brassiere in reverse and half the dressmaker’s time was spent in making intricate contraptions of canvas and elastic to be fitted over any busts that showed signs of intransigence.


Yet according to Beverley Nichols there was one great woman and one great bust whose figure looms large over that period.

“Norman was busy and allowed me to wander around his pleasantly regal establishment in Burton Street. I found myself in a deserted room filled with busts labelled “Countess of X”, “Madame de P” and The Hon Mrs Q”. I realised I was in the most rarified atmosphere of la haute couture. The great ladies of town were all far too busy to come and be fitted in person; when they wanted a new dress the copies of their bust got all the boredom and pin pricks while they roared off to Ascot instead.

Garbo 1920

My eyes lit upon a bust standing all by itself in a corner. It was reverently wrapped in a lot of brown paper, even so, there was something about this object that seemed vaguely familiar. It looked the sort of bust that would stand no nonsense. It had an aura of majesty.


Then Norman came into the room and I suddenly realised who the bust was. “I say, isn’t that Queen M…..” The name froze on my lips. It was of course, but Norman never discussed his royal clients. To own a bust was considered extremely déclassé; it was worse than a mirror or a mantlepiece and nearly as bad as a lounge.


Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 7:03 am  Comments (36)  
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the erethism culminates in onanism

Excerpt from the Sexual Instinct and its Morbid Manifestations

The child born with congenital sexual perversion grows up and develops to all appearance quite regularly in every way. But the womanly form gives rise to no sexual excitation in such a youth. Sometimes, incited by companions of his age, he ventures to share the couch of some girl and to accomplish the act of manhood, but each time the effort fails and is often followed by a hysterical fit.


In the weaker defined manifestations the boy exhibits only his predisposition to occupy himself with feminine work. He likes to knit, to sew, to make doll’s clothes; he distinguishes himself by his peculiar preference for feminine manners and strives to be coquettish in his demeanour.


Another occupies all his leisure time before the looking-glass ; combs his hair, paints his face, adorns his person, studying in the most serious fashion what is becoming and what is not. He has a wonderful remembrance of the most complicated female toilettes; but shows himself absolutely wanting in taste when he adopts male attire. He either sports a too violently coloured neck-tie, or exposes his neck so low, that it appears extravagantly exaggerated.


When the boy has been repressed in time, and laughed at on the first feminine imitations, he begins to pull himself together. If he is then carefully kept away from female society, occupied as much as possible with athletic exercises, always severely punished for the slightest appearance of coquetry and for every external feminine manifestation, by such strictly conducted education the youth attains the normal state of puberty.


Many of these subjects find their first feelings of lust excited by the sight of a naked man, particularly of his posteriors or the orificium ani. They have also nocturnal pollutions accompanied by dreams in which naked men with strongly developed hindquarters play the principal part.


Sometimes the boy notices in early youth, that slight strokes on his naked posteriors caused him an agreeable sensation. He then voluntarily seeks, in play or even as a punishment to get a few strokes. Later on he fustigates himself and the erethism culminates in onanism. When manhood arrives, if the vicious habit of seeking excitation by strokes with a birch on the posteriors has become deep rooted, the patient is only then able to have intercourse after having been flogged previously.

However, if he perseveres in having regular intercourse, the genesic perversion gradually dies out, and finally the youth who from his birth was disposed to perversion of sexual instinct, grows up to be a man endowed with normal genital functions, and fit to fulfil the duties of the head of a family.

corset friday 15.10.2010


Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 7:35 am  Comments (33)  
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jilted over a cabbage

Beau Brummel was, for a period, the fashion arbiter for Regency England. His dictum was “A life of leisure is a difficult art… boredom is as depressing as an insistent creditor.”

He became a friend of the future George IV, who was a good bit older but impressed with Brummel’s wit and dress. The Prince of Wales, or Prinny*** as he was called, was quite a flashy dresser. For his first speech in the House of Lords he showed up in pink high heels which matched the pink satin lining of his black velvet, gold-embroidered (and pink-spangled) suiting. While known as a flashy dresser today, Brummel in fact believed in a much more sober style and less bright colors and he quickly converted the Prince from a fop into a dandy.


Brummel favoured starched muslin neckcloths which had to be tied just so. The collar, which was always fixed to the shirt, was so large that, before being folded down, it completely hid his head and face, and the white neckcloth was at least a foot in height. The first coup d’achet was made with the shirt collar, which he folded down to its proper size, and then, standing before the looking glass, with his chin poked up towards the ceiling, by the gentle and gradual declension of his lower jaw he creased the cravat to reasonable dimensions.

image found here

Asked for the address of his hairdresser Brummel replied: “I have three: the first is responsible for my temples, the second for the front and the third for the occiput.” When he was asked at a dinner whether he liked vegetables, he said he had never eaten any, adding after a pause: “No, that is not quite true – I once ate a pea.” He was said to have jilted a woman because she ate cabbage.


***Today, George IV is remembered mostly for his extravagant lifestyle of drinking, womanising and gambling that scandalised the country and got him heavily into debt. It is reported that every time he had intimate relations with a woman he would cut a lock of her hair and place it in an envelope with her name on it. Upon his death an astounding 7000 such envelopes were discovered.


Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 8:24 am  Comments (32)  
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