New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

I Love You for Your Plainness

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I Love You for Your Plainness

Georgian Fashion

Georgian high fashion. From ‘The Telegraph’ website, February 9, 2009.

Winslow might have said that she decorated parts which did not require it, and exposed parts which should have been concealed.

Today’s blog is for entertainment, and is part of a letter from Edward Winslow, in Halifax, to his wife in Saint John in 1784. He writes on the subject of women’s fashion. Regardless of changing times, I cannot imagine that Mrs. Winslow would have been happy with Edward’s praise of her cleanliness and lack of contemporary fashion.

This part of the letter is from September 20th. He continued with other subjects on the 21st, and that part is not included here. The letter is from The Winslow Papers, 1776 to 1826, edited by W.O. Raymond in 1901.


Edward Winslow to his Wife

[Contained in small Note Book 3-¾ x5-¾ inches, with stiff cover, containing 28 pages and about 2,500 words. Book marked Vol. VI.]

Halifax, Monday 20 Sept’r. 1784

What do I care whether it’s the fashion for men to write long letters to their wives or not. No man on earth looks with more sovereign contempt on what’s called Common Customs than I do. In matters where my own feelings are concerned I will not be shackled by any of the rules which bind the generality of mankind. I have said that in my present state of inaction I cannot enjoy a pleasure equal to that of writing to you, and that’s sufficient reason for writing. If other men do not experience the same sensation they have not the same degree of sensibility nor the same degree of affection. Let such inanimate wretches be content with writing. “These few lines come hoping &c.” I’ll enjoy the superlative satisfaction of scribbling whole volumes. If from the feeble state of mind or body they should be dull or unentertaining, they will at least serve as proofs of the sincerity & fervency of my love for you.

Mentioning the word fashion at the beginning of my letter has unaccountably brought to my mind a dissertation upon the present Fashions in England which was read me from a letter from my celebrated friend Mrs. Coare (formerly Nancy Lechmere) and which does so much credit to the present taste that I will endeavor to give you as much of it as I can recollect. She says “The prevailing rage is to be perfectly plain. Caps are not worn, except by elderly ladies, and feathers & all such kind of Trumpery are totally laid aside. The younger ladies wear plain, deep crown’d hats. Muslin & Chintz Gowns with plain long muslin aprons are worn by all ladies of taste: even the first Duchesses dress in this way except at Court, and it will probably continue until winter when silks will be substituted. Hoops are entirely out of fashion.” How different is this from the fantastic figures which have been exhibited here this summer. Some of the females who have lately arrived at this place from London, seem to exert all their talents to daub and finify those parts which require no ornament and to expose to view such other parts as nature seems to intend that every modest woman should conceal.

An immensity of False-Tops False Curls, monstrous Caps, Grease, Filth of various kinds, Jewels, Painted paper and trinkets, hide and deform heads of Hair that in their natural state are really beautiful. Rouge & other Dirt cover cheeks and faces that without would be tolerable, whilst the unfortunate neck and breasts remain open to the inclemency of the weather & the view of the World. The other parts of Dress are equally preposterous. A long party-colored Trail flows over a Hoop (that covers a rotundity of Hips sufficiently large without it) and sweeps along the ground behind, while the poor legs and knees are chilled with every blast which blows.

Take a woman rigged in this way, & she certainly is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Were the indulgence of this Fancy (as it’s called) confined to those women that [5 lines missing.] Butalas, it pervades other orders of women. Examples like Mrs. W— & Mrs. B— will be followed by the vain and giddy as well as by the vicious, perhaps in some instances without evil intentions. Among the errors which are committed in this world there is none more unpardonable than that of a modest woman’s attempting to imitate the [5 lines missing.] I have often thought and I believe it to be an absolute fact, that men (altho’ they have not so much cunning as women) have more knowledge of the foibles of females, than the ladies have of theirs, and I certainly know that a strained attempt to exhibit or rather expose their charms is among the number of faults for which they are ridiculed with extreme severity.

Could a lady of good sense mix Ineog (sic), in a party of licentious and debauched men & listen to their conversation on this subject, she would be convinced that even these hold in derision such foolish women as attempt to gain their affections by putting on an appearance of wantonness & indecency. And she would also find that libertines reverence the external shew of innocence and virtue and (altho’ they do not stammer at blasphemy and treason) they cannot speak with disrespect of a truly amiable & modest female character. If then these ladies are the objects of disgust with sensible men and the objects of ridicule with men of pleasure—their conquests must be confined to old Fools—young Fools & very empty coxcombs—and these are surely not worth the trouble.

Now I think I hear you exclaim—“What the deuce can have put my husband all men in the world into this train of writing.”

I’ll tell you my precious Wife. First, negatively—(as the clergy say): It is not from an idea of increasing your abhorrence of such flirts. That I know to be impossible. I sometimes think your Ladyship errs a little upon the opposite extreme to that which I have described. From sixteen years old to the present time you have literally set your Cap at no creature on earth but me. Regardless of Fashion you have only endeavored by uniform cleanliness to make yourself desirable in my eyes, but I am not contented with this. I love you so well that I am always gratified when I see other people admire you, and (if Providence ever puts it in my power) you shall be as much distinguished for the elegance of your dress as you are for your constancy and fidelity.

That vagabond Murray has fairly disconcerted me by his impertinence.

“What are you writing?” (says he).

“A letter to your Mama.”

“What, in that book?”


“You’d better stop your nonsense, I think.”

“Why,” says I, “don’t you think Mama will be glad to read a whole book-full from me?”

“I don’t know,” he says, “Too much of one thing is good for nothing.”

Did you ever hear such a varlet? Lest you should be of his mind, I’ll leave off for a little.


Written by johnwood1946

November 11, 2015 at 8:57 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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