Wednesday 27 March 2013

Mannish viragoes, or audacious men-women – complaints about women’s fashions in the early 17th century

I haven’t blogged for quite a while as I have been writing a paper which I gave last weekend. I’ve put a somewhat reworked section of it below. People have always complained about fashion whether it is Suetonius carping about Caligula’s dress in the first century, or the Winchester Psalter of about 1150 depicting the devil in a tightly laced woman’s dress, with the extraordinarily long sleeves of the period that had a knot tied in them to keep them off the ground. At the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century most of these complaints came from “puritans”. There were a lot of pamphlets published at this time, and in particular a lot of complaints about women “aping” men’s wear.


Three of the specific items of complaint were picked up in January of 1620 by the letter writer John Chamberlain (1553-1628), who was no puritan but a moderate in matters of religion. He said that the Bishop of London had been told by the King (James I) to get his clergy to preach against “The insolence of our women and their wearing of broad brimmed hats, pointed doublets, their hair cut short or shorn” The anonymous author of Hic-Mulier or the Man-woman, published in February 1620 by John Trundle (1575-1629), picked up on these as you can see from the title page. The cartoon says “Mistress will you be trimmed or trussed.”  Trimming in the cartoon refers to women cutting their hair short, and trussing to their adoption of something vaguely resembling a man’s doublet. Men’s doublets were trussed to their breeches.


Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck, 1633
In Hic Mulier the author says “You have take the monstrousness of your deformity in apparel, exchanging the modest attire of the comely hood, caul, coif, handsome dress or kerchief. To the cloudy, ruffianly broad brimmed hat and wanton feather, the modest upper parts of a concealing straight gown, to the loose, lascivious civil embracement of a French doublet, being all unbuttoned to entice, all of one shape to hide deformity, and extreme short waisted, to give a most easy way to every luxurious action; the glory of fair large hair to the shame of most ruffianly short locks.” So what did this aping of men’s wear look like in practice? Well a good example is probably this portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria painted by Van Dyck in 1633. Here you see the broad brimmed hat, trimmed with a “wanton” feather, the short hair style, and a front opening bodice cut with tabs like a man’s doublet.


 In his 1628 work The unloveliness of lovelocks, which is having a go at men with long hair, William Prynne (1600-1669) also complains that women were becoming shameless and immodest. He speaks of “the mannish viragoes, or audacious men-women [who] do unnaturally clip and cut their hair.” and says “in the unnatural tonsure and odious if not whoreish cutting and crisping of their hair, their natural vaile, their feminine glory and the very badge and character of their subjection both to God and man” I suspect that this last comment is what is worrying some men at the time, that women are forgetting their supposed subjugation to man.

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