The Waverley Inn, Halifax, Nova Scotia

SLR_8460-003While attending the Festival of Tall Ships, Man The Capstan, had the opportunity to stay at The Waverley Inn in Halifax. This Inn is tucked away at 1266 Barrington Street, and is a reasonable walk to the waterfront. There are many other Hotels and Inns in this downtown core, but none offers quite the same experience and ambiance of this unique three story bed and breakfast.

waverly1-001Once an elite Victorian private residence, the Waverley Inn is definitely pretty special, especially if you’re like me and prefer smaller and more intimate places to stay, and particularly if they are historical houses.

Lobby-I-001This house was built in 1865-66 by a wealthy merchant named Edward W. Chipman and his wife Mahala Jane Northup. Interestingly both these last names are listed in the family trees of certain Man The Capstan Crew members. Could there be a family relationship there? Perhaps!

The Chipman home was purported to be one of the most expensive and extravagant homes in the city of Halifax. Mrs. Chipman was a very fashionable lady, who was well known in Halifax society and she immediately began to host many dances and social events. These were attended by not only the local society, but also by the officers who were stationed at the Garrison. Hence, it seemed just the place for a group of Royal Navy Re-enactors like us, to spend a night or two.Roman-Sisters-II-001

Unfortunately, Mr. Chipman’s dry goods business failed and in just a short while (1870), the family could no longer afford this home. It must have been heartbreaking to see their lovely home turned over to the Sherriff of Halifax. Much of the furnishings were seized, and the house was sold at auction where it was bought by a real estate speculator named Patrick Costin.SLR_8285-001

He sold the house to two spinsters named Sarah and Jane Romans, who had been operating their father’s business, The Waverley Hotel. They added a new wing to the rear of the house and in October of 1876 they moved into their new location. Since then the Waverley has functioned as an Inn, owned by a variety of different owners. In 1960 the Sterling Hotel Company purchased it and did extensive restorations.

SLR_8270-001Today this house still operates as a lovely historical Inn, and Man The Capstan certainly enjoyed their stay there. We stayed in the Vanderbilt room, and the twin room right across from it, and were indeed very comfortable. The house is filled with antiques and period furniture, and beautifully decorated with the opulence of the Victorian period.  The breakfast room downstairs offers a healthful and generous breakfast with lots of variety. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the rooms are beautiful and very clean. I would definitely stay there again, and would recommend it as a place to stay if ever you are visiting Halifax , Nova Scotia.

Don’t for get to click on the pictures to get their full size and effect!waverly4-001


Costume Update; Regency Gown #1

Shara, regency 1

The years between 1795 and 1825 were known in Britain as the Regency Period.  It was a  time characterized by war, political upheaval, revolution and immense change in Europe.  It occurred after the slower paced Georgian period where very little changed, and just prior to the fasting moving industrialization of the Victorian age.

Shara, Regency 2It was a time of growth, expansion, religious revival, defining of culture and testing of diplomatic and military willpower; a time of constant conflict and the clashing of the old ways, philosophies and points of view against a new more modern way of thinking, often displayed to the bloody extreme. Leading figures of the age included political and military icons such as Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Czar Alexander I, Queen Louise of Prussia and diplomat Karl Metternich. The Regency era was also a time of great elegance and beauty. Ludwig von Beethoven composed “classical” music and Jane Austen wrote novels such as Pride & Predjudice, Sense & Sensibility and Emma. Country dances were popular, beautiful works of art were created and Greek architecture enjoyed a huge revival. This extended also to the fashion of the day. In efforts to emulate the styles and philosophies of the ancient Greeks, women’s clothing reached heights of classic simplicity it had not attained for many centuries, and so was born the Regency period gown.

Shara, Regency 3I myself have also gone through a change of heart with regards to this manner of dress. Even as little as a year ago, I would not have embraced this gown. The flimsy fabrics and often risque manner of attire did not appeal to me, but as in the Regency period itself, I found that times of change can’t be helped, but instead are reflected in one’s own attitude towards many things. It was with the coming of our little grandson that I slowly came to a change of mind.  I had fashioned the rather large gowns of the Georgian era with the boned bodices and hooped petticoats and much as I love them still, I really had to be a little more realistic about what Shara and I were actually going to wear to such an event as the Tall Ships Festival.  Although the Georgian gowns are perhaps more in keeping with the 250th anniversary of the Royal Navy Dockyards in Halifax, the time was to be July, and some the warmest weather of the year could be expected. With our entourage, we were going to have a small child and a nursing mother and I had to be honest with myself. The Georgian gowns were just not going to work for us this particular  time and occasion.

Regency modesty cover

Warily, I set my mind back to the Regency period. After-all, our men are dressing as Naval and Marine officers circa about 1805, Napoleonic Wars to the War of 1812, and really wouldn’t a regency gown seriously match the uniforms they would be wearing in a much more authentic way? So I set my mind to researching the gowns of that era. I found that fabrics such as fine muslins, lawns, silks and laces would be so much cooler for us and so much more adaptable to our requirements. I found that although clothing was simpler and more revealing, it also had an innocence, elegance and beauty that was very desirable. Fine women were still as modest and refined as ever but were granted some modicum of freedom in their dress and self expression. This led to many advances for them in lifestyle, as well as artistic and literary endeavours, to name but a few. I certainly couldn’t begrudge them that and I liked it…a lot!

Regency backThe first Regency gown I have completed, and which is modeled by my daughter Shara in this post, is very simple in it’s design.  It is based upon research I did about the drawstring gowns that were being worn at the time. They are very conducive to women of differing situations and sizes and also flattering to many figure types. I also watched Emma, Pride & Prejudice and several other Jane Austen movies. 🙂 I started with an embroidered raw silk like fabric in a cinnamon shade for the dress, a fine see through gold checked lawn and a gold venice style lace for accent.  The neckline is fairly low and the waist is high, both would normally be gathered with a simple drawstring and tied. I sacrificed a little authenticity here and used modern day elastic, simply to make the act of nursing an infant easier. I made the slightly gathered sleeves about elbow length and added a lace insert at the cleavage in order to abide somewhat to the then rules of modesty in day dress. Bare arms Regency Shara, 5and cleavage were acceptable only for evening wear. I also added a wide belt and satin ribbon to accentuate the empire waistline.  I also made a triangular lace modesty piece to wear over the shoulders and to be used as both a cover up and a warmer. I was so happy to find a plain regency reproduction straw bonnet/hat, which I decorated with scraps of fabric, lawn, ribbon and lace. Self made buttons also decorate both the hat and the dress.

So, all in all I’m pretty happy with the result ‘and Shara looks a very fine Regency lady in it. Quite lovely! Mr. Darcy would no doubt approve!

Man the Capstan Debuts, October 31, 2008

In the Red Parlour at the Blomidon Inn

I thought it might be getting to be high time that we posted a word a two about our recent activities, including our debut outing on October 31st.  So here then is a little tidbit. It’s been a pretty quiet couple of weeks around here since Hallow’een night. Rather nice actually, no deadlines and just a bit of down time. Not having to work on the costumes every waking minute has allowed me to get caught up with some housework, and even spare a thought or two for Christmas, which is really just around the corner!

The Blomidon Inn at Night

We had all agreed that Hallow’een was a great opportunity to go out and try out our costumes, so with that in mind we rushed to complete them to a point that all five could reasonably be worn.  It was a bit of a challenge but all in all we did manage rather well.

David, Steve & Tim

Keeping in mind that it was the first time all five of us would be in costume and taking into consideration the expecting member of the group, we decided that a calm and low key outing would be most appropriate. Thus, it was decided that dinner out was exactly what was called for.  The Blomidon Inn turned out to be the perfect place for us on this night.  It was a great setting for our costumes and offered just the right ambiance.

Surprising to us were the very few diners who had ventured out for dinner that evening;  we and a few other patrons had the place pretty much to ourselves.  Even though it would’ve been nice to see a few more persons about, the quiet did afford us the opportunity to take some really great pictures.

Shara & Johanna

The Blomidon Inn offers fantastic dining and a really affordable meal called “The Captain’s Dinner” which consists of five courses of some really awesome dishes that differ on various evenings.  Our meal included a very spicy Lobster Bisque, a choice of the largest Digby Scallops we had ever seen and a very tasty Mediterranean Chicken dish, and for dessert I had the best Cheese Cake ever!  We took our time over dinner, toured a few of the rooms and lingered in the red parlour where a fire crackled happily in the old fireplace.

It’s a lovely place and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We returned home to change into our modern day pajamas and settle down in front of our own fire.

Democracy 250, 18th Century Costume Ball

A Lovely Event

On October 2, 1758, the first Grand Assembly in this country met in a small wooden building in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was to be the birth of parliamentary democracy in Canada. There were twenty-two men chosen to represent people from all over Nova Scotia. Although they were all white, protestant, male, and land owners, the democratic process nevertheless grew from that point on, with Nova Scotia leading the way. Read more here.

We had a marvelous time!

Nova Scotia is marking this very important historic date with a year long celebration of events called “Democracy 250”. You can view the schedule of events here. There are all kinds of things going on, one of which we have been privileged to attend.

On Thursday evening an 18th century costume ball was held at the World Trade and Convention centre in Halifax, in their grand ballroom. Although I don’t have the exact numbers I would say that almost 400 people attended the glittering $125.00 per person event. Well worth the money my husband and I agree. Most of the attendees threw themselves happily into the flavour of the evening, the majority arriving in a beautiful array of wonderful and authentic costuming and uniforms.

The Passage to India was well received

The hour long reception prior to dinner, gave all a chance to chat and admire the dress of their compatriots. The beverages flowed freely and the appetizers were delicious. These were served by the most conscientious of white gloved staff until the piper called us all to dinner. The decor was lovely, the tables elegant and dressed with pristine white table coverings and silver center pieces. The food, which consisted of a five  or six course meal, was very period and yummy and included a delicious harvest squash soup, roast pork, blueberry dessert and finished off with a glass of Port. Although I’ve not often sampled Port, my husband rather likes it, and it did seem a fitting way to end the meal.

"An Officer and a Gentleman"

The King ( George II at the time) was toasted liberally throughout dinner and the conversation was lively and vigorous. The music was provided by the Nova Scotia Symphony which performed in 18th century style. This added a terrific ambiance to the evening. A re-enactment group gave a lovely demonstration of 18th century dance, and the lesson after-wards was greeted with much enthusiasm by the guests, the dance floor being filled to capacity.

We stayed until the Symphony packed up and went home. Although the evening ended early, (it was a Thursday night), I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed myself more. Our compliments go to the organizers, whose skill and attention to detail really made this an awesome evening.

It was our first time out in our costumes and even though we felt we were quite prepared, there were some challenges to overcome. Some of these were getting a five hoop skirt into a modern day car, using an escalator or a ladies room in such a big dress, and keeping track of the large fore and aft hat. These were taken in good stride and indeed, added a sense of hilarity to the occasion. All in all, I would say we managed quite well and are ready to have another go at it anytime!

“To the King!”

Behind the Uniform, Part III

Poster advertising the 18th Century Costume BallIt has been a few weeks since my last update, and I regret that very much. Classes have tied up my free time for the large part (I attend Acadia University in Wolfville), which leaves little opportunity for recreational writing! Progress on the Man the Capstan projects, however, has proceeded undeterred.

Two of our projects are finalized—Passage to India, a lady’s gown which Johanna has been working on (read about it here, and here!) and the Royal Marine’s uniform. There is still so much to add regarding the Marine’s uniform, but we’re going to save that for another update until we have a few more pictures. Johanna and Steve recently bought a digital SLR (the Canon Rebel XSI, I believe), and it is rocking—we’ll have plenty of opportunities to take some really phenomenal shots, and we’ll be sure to get some rapid updates here with some brand new photos.

Johanna and Steve also recently procured two tickets for an event in Halifax, which falls under the year-long Democracy 250 celebration. It was two-hundred and fifty years ago that democracy was first practiced in Halifax, and one of the many events to commemorate this is an authentic 18th Century Costume Ball. Well, how convenient for us that we started these “costumes” a few months ago! Johanna put in some extra time to get the Marine’s uniform ready to go, as well as some significant final touches on the Passage to India. As of right now, they should be finishing their meal and getting ready to dance (the event was tonight). Expect pictures in the next few days!

This post, however, was intended to bring to a close the Behind the Uniform series, touching on the few remaining accessories necessary to bring a Royal Navy uniform to life. I believe that in the conclusion of my last post I mentioned the sword, hat and boots. Let’s start there!

Replica of Lord Nelson's sword, reputed to have been used at TrafalgarAs it turns out, these three items (along with the lace) would account for some of the most expensive purchases here at Man the Capstan. The sword was the most difficult—there are hundreds of options to choose from, and frankly, nearly all of them are way out of budget. We quickly determined that a functional sword was unnecessary (we figured that the chance the need may arise for cold, naval steel, would be decidedly low, albeit incredibly cool). There are many online shops you can order weapons from—axes, mauls, maces, swords, daggers, bows, muskets and event flintlock pistols. Functional, full-tang, replica, etcetera—it was all available, and usually far overpriced. Pictured right is a replica of Lord Nelson’s sword obtained from Military Heritage, in the 1827 pattern (issue replica), reputed to have been worn at Trafalgar. Check out this, and more, at!

The temptation to buy the 1805 replica of Lord Nelson’s sword (with accompanying sword knot) did present itself, but wisdom and the almighty budget prevailed.

Our sword, not as glamorous, certainly, but adequete!Eventually, we found something (pictured left). We bought an excellent officer’s sabre (in gold), that cost (with shipping from California, blargh) about $80.00. It was worth it, however—it was the cheapest, and finest-quality sword for the price we could find. Alongside the sword, we ordered an authentic R.N. sword knot, the same variety that’s used in the present-day Royal Navy.

The sword comes with scabbard rings as well, so when a sword-belt is purchased, she’ll hang comfortably from the hip with hangers, as it should.

We still need to buy two more swords for the Marine and the other R.N. uniform (the Marine is using my gold one tonight for the Ball), but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.Naval cocked hat, c. 1748, taken from

Now, the hat presented a real problem. For months, ever since the project started, we scoured the Internet looking for appropriate hats. The problem here is twofold. First, choosing the right hat was difficult, depending on the time period. Cocked hats were losing popularity towards the end of the 18th century (see attached picture of an older cocked hat, taken from Older admirals and distinguished Captains often held to the old style they were accustomed to. Younger naval officers, however, took quickly to the new fashion that had been appearing in London, in response to a trend that was taking quick hold across the channel in France. The chapeau de bras was a cocked hat of sorts, worn in the fore-and-aft fashion, that could be folded and tucked neatly beneath the arm when not in use. At the turn of the 19th century, the chapeau bras saw widespread use in the Royal Navy. The Hornblower series illustrates this transition nicely, in fact (and I’m not sure if it was accidental or not). Our intrepid hero, Horatio, wears a cocked hat (the older style) in the beginning of the series. Episode 5, on the deck of the HMS Renown, Hornblower has taken to the chapeau bras, and wears it alongside his fellow lieutenants. The insane Captain Sawyer—an old friend of Nelson, and a distinguished naval officer of many years—still wears the older cocked hat.

Velvet-felt chapeau de bras, from the Sutlers Stores — this is a beautiful hat, and the Sutlers have some incredible productEventually, we opted for the chapeau bras. It looked cool, and it fit into our time period more accurately (we’re figuring around ~1805 or so).

Secondly, finding an affordable chapeau bras was turning out to be an impossible task. Most sutlery and reenactment sites were charging over $200.00 in some cases (and in others, far far more), and that was far beyond the Capstan budget. Granted, these hats are beautiful hats (the pictured let comes from the Sutlers Stores, a gorgeous selection of hats, belts, and other accessories). I contacted a number of milliners, and while they were exceedingly helpful, and directed me to lovely choices, all of those hats were very expensive. As much as I’d love to have a fully trimmed, velvet-felted hat, it just wasn’t feasible. We began to lose hope in finding a decent chapeau bras (and we even were looking to see if we could make our own, a scary thought) until we found Hatcrafters.

Our wool-felt chapeau bras, in the midst of being trimmed — notice our tailor's choice of clamps?These guys were awesome. Within sixty seconds of finding their site, I had navigated to the catalogue and found the hat we needed. Right there, in front of us. The chapeau bras, wool-felt hat, in black. And the best part? It was $80.00! Shipping would bring that up, naturally, but the goal we set was a hat for under $100, and we found it. We immediately ordered two, in the right size, and when they arrived they were perfect. Well-lined, with a quality leather sweatband, with nary a defect. There were a few wrinkles in the shape of the hat, but a bit of steam above a kettle fixed that pretty quick. The third hat just arrived a few days ago, and right now we’re all set as far as hats are concerned. The Marine had has been fully trimmed, with silver gilt wire and a black cockade. In fact, Steve (our Marine) should be wearing it tonight at the Ball (I can’t wait for the pictures). Pictured right is our Marine’s hat in construction!

Captain Aubrey and his black "Hessians"The last problem presented would be footwear. This is one of those “blurry” lines in the whole debacle. Taking a look at older uniforms (and particularly in paintings and portraits), officers often wore different footwear, depending on a number of conditions such as style, the occasion, and personal taste. Taking a look at pop culture and mainstream media, for a moment, the intrepid Captain Jack Aubrey of Master and Commander wears white breeches with black leather Hessian boots. It makes for quite the swashbuckling appearance (especially with the white ruffled shirt). Hornblower takes to a number of styles, from long navy breeches with buckled shoes, to white breeches, stockings and shoes. Some officers use black boots with navy breeches as well. You can see an example of Aubrey’s black ‘hessian’ boots, with the white breeches.

Personally, I liked the look of the longer navy breeches (down to the ankle); the former blog posts show that’s the direction we took. With this style, you can’t have stockings, though you could wear buckled shoes. Instead, I opted for black leather boots. I like Aubrey’s look, and wanted to try to incorporate that into the uniform.

The problem? Leather is expensive. There are polyurethane alternatives, but honestly this takes us back to the “costume” debate; you can spot plastic and polyurethane miles away, and we want to avoid that. The trick was finding a decent pair of boots that looked good, and were a decent price.

Pleaser's Maverick knee-high leather bootsThe Internet, once again, proved invaluable. A few listings on eBay were tempting. We avoided them all mainly due to size concerns. Large calves run in the family, and as honest as many eBayers tend to be, we cannot afford to order boots that won’t fit, and must be sent back (or resold). has a marketplace, and on it we found a listing for a pair of boots manufactured by a company called Pleaser (they do a large assortment of footwear), called the Maverick. (I wonder if this link will still work, if not a quick google search of “ maverick boot knee” should return some results).

For about $100.00 (with tax and shipping), we had a great pair of boots that not only fit great, but look great. The cuff can be turned down, as shown, or unfolded for a taller boot. I like the flexibility of the pig leather, and the authentic look. We may have to look at getting some extra soles added for extra walking. I have a feeling the rubber will just not cut it. You can see the boot to the right.

There are a number of other accessories the uniform will feature, small things sucha a pocket-watch with a gold anchor fob, looking glass, boatswain whistle, etcetera—for the most part, however, the first Royal Navy costume is complete. We are still waiting on about ten metres of bias and stand trim for the front lapels (which is why we’ve avoided posting more pictures here, like an artist hesitant to show an unfinished painting). We’re hoping that the lace will arrive soon, and we can finish this project. October 31st is coming up fast, and come Halloween the Capstan Crew will be out in force for a night out.

I noticed a steady increase in traffic these past few weeks; I encourage any interested parties to leave a comment, or pose a question! Stay tuned, we’ve many more updates coming!

Behind the Uniform, Part II

Wolfville's historic Blomidon InnIt’s fantastic to see so many of our contributors authoring posts here at Man the Capstan! Things are really picking up, and we have some exciting events coming up on the horizon.

Before I get into more detail on the uniform construction process (and in this part I’ll be looking at the materials used for the coat, as well as some detail on a few accessories), I did want to mention that Man the Capstan had its first “gathering” of sorts—a briefing, if you will. We came together on September 9th for nearly three hours, and discussed the project, its present status, and where we hope to be in the near future. We also made some arrangements for an upcoming event for the Capstan Crew—as most of the costumes will be nearing completion by October 31st, Man the Capstan may be ready to debut the reproductions in public very shortly, and to a great location.

I won’t get into too much detail on what we have planned, as that’s for another blog post!

Back to the uniform, now (in case you missed it, here’s Part I). We started gathering supplies for the first R.N. reproduction in high summer. After we had received the patterns for the coats, we needed to find an appropriate material that would best reflect what was used historically. Back then, of course, the most accessible material (and the most practical) for military use was wool. Wool varied in quality, depending on how wealthy a given officer was, but the most common was broadcloth—contemporary broadcloth can be made out of nylon or polyester, but in England in our time period, it was made of heavy strands of wool. When I say “heavy”, mind you, I really do mean heavy. You put on a full dress coat, sans lace, you’re looking at eight to twelve pounds of cloth!

Close up of the gabardine, and the watch!

Ever in the pursuit of historical consistency, we took to the Internet and attempted to find some wool goods, specifically a broadcloth or coatweight wool. Unfortunately, not only is this material largely inaccessible for what we need, it’s also exceedingly expensive. For the yardage we needed, broadcloth was out of the picture. We took a trip to a fabric store in the city, hoping to find something cheaper, and happened upon gabardine—even more important, we found it in the precise colours we needed. Navy, off-white (an ivory kind of colour), and scarlet (for our intrepid Marine). Gabardine was far more affordable as well, and we could easily line the coats in order to capture the proper weight of broadcloth. A coat of this manner has to hang properly, and we thought we could achieve such an effect. You can see an example of the gabardine in the pocket-watch picture, to the right.

Before any serious cutting could commence, it seems fate struck and we hit jackpot. Our seamstress, on an outing to another fabric store, happened upon a heavy wool-nylon blend (80/20). It was navy, it was heavy, and it was perfect. It had the texture, appearance, and weight of a heavy-woven wool cloth. Thankfully, there was enough left (it was a clearance item) to sew one R.N. coat.

The wool-nylon blend, cut and ready to go

So the first coat was made out of the wool-nylon blend (you can see it being cut out, to the left) . The interior of the coat is lined with an ivory satin and ivory gabardine (the arms and torso are in the satin, while the tails are lined in the gabardine). The pants were a polyester blend (which is nice as far as wrinkles and creasing are concerned), and are also navy in colour. The waistcoat is gabardine (also lined in satin), and all told, every piece came together perfectly. More than anything we were increasingly impressed with the look and feel of the wool-nylon blend. It was sturdy and really fit the part.

Textiles aside, one of the most important part to the R.N. uniform is the gold and glitter. Of all the components for the R.N. uniform, the cloth and the lace were some of the most expensive. Lace is tricky—you can’t afford to be cheap (no pun intended, there) with the lace. It is such an iconic part of the uniform; the difference between a costume and a uniform, we soon found out, was the difference between cheap, fabric-store gold lace, and authentic metallic military lace.

Gilt wire lace, the expensive stuff

We had a few choices here, as well. The Royal Navy used a variety of laces. In the late 18th century (ending sometime in 90s) the Navy used bias-and-stand gold lace—a gold metallic tape with a very unique pattern (of which the lace is known for). Towards the 19th century the Navy adopted a gilt wire lace (shown right). The bias-and-stand feels more to be threaded metal, whereas the gilt wire feels like woven wire. It’s sturdier, more difficult to work with, and very very expensive. We found some gilt wire for $22.00 CDN a metre, and we needed fourteen metres! That would be $310.00 for lace per uniform, which works out to about a grand on lace alone for the uniforms. That really wasn’t feasible.

The bias and stand lace on the left, with buttons

So we opted for the bias-and-stand. It was still historically accurate, though perhaps a few years behind our intended period. The bias-and-stand proved to be easier to work with than the gilt wire (we actually procured some silver gilt wire for the Marine, but I won’t get into that right now) and has a certain charm of its own. The bias-and-stand was ordered from Military Heritage, a fantastic site that has a host of great supplies for reenactors and history enthusiasts. They’ve created uniforms and accessories for movie projects, documentaries as well as heritage work for the Government of Canada.

Royal Navy Buttons, ca. 1950

One of the greatest tools, we’ve found, has been eBay. The buttons for the coat (and the waistcoat) concerned us—many online sutlery and reenactment sites listed buttons as being quite expensive. When you need over thirty buttons per uniform, that can add up to be quite the unnecessary expense. Fortunately, eBay proved to be an invaluable resource. For our R.N. reproduction, we fount a lot of actual Royal Navy gold-tone buttons (featuring the King’s Crown)—we believe they date to the 50s, when Great Britain had a King. This was a relatively small expense, and we ordered enough buttons to cover both Royal Navy uniforms.

With the cloth, lace and buttons covered, I’ll save Part III for the sword, hat and boots! Stay tuned for more Captsan Updates here at Man the Capstan!

The Historical Parasol

A Parasol for the "Passage to India"

A Parasol for the “Passage to India”

Almost everyone has used an umbrella on a rainy day. I can remember a time when it was part of the back to school arsenal, we all had to walk, either to the bus stop or to the school, and it  didn’t matter what the weather was like. My mother didn’t have the luxury of a car in the driveway for many years, as with most families my father took it to go to work each day. That meant we had to walk to school, no rides, so…we all owned rain gear, rubber boots and umbrellas.

Lady with a Parasol by Manet

Lady with a Parasol, by Monet

Parasols were a somewhat different matter and weren’t used as much, particularly not individually or in this part of the world. Of course, most of us likely own a patio umbrella or a beach parasol.  In other parts of the world however, individual parasols are and always have been very popular and in history they were a staple of the fashion industry.

Parasols and umbrellas are truly ancient and have been used for thousands of years to protect their users from both the sun and the rain. Sculptures and Pictograms of the very early civilizations display the use of parasols, particularly by the upper classes  and royalty. They were made of various materials including feathers, palm leaves, bamboo and paper.  In China they were even collapsible and lacquered or waxed making them somewhat water repellent.  In Egypt tanned skin was unfashionable and the upper classes shielded themselves from the sun. Parasols were used in India, Assyria, Persia and Greece, as early as 1200 BC by high ranking noblemen and were generally carried by their servants.

Parasols carried by the servants of a Nobleman

Parasols carried by the servants of a Nobleman

By the early 16th century parasols had made their way to Europe, most likely through trading routes, and via the silk road. They became very popular with church dignitaries and were soon-after adopted by the European gentry. There is some speculation that the halos seen above religious figures in various paintings, may actually have been the addition of a misunderstood parasol.

During the following centuries the parasol became a very popular fashion item, they very much belonged to the realm of high society women, whose pale and untanned skin was the signature of their rank. They became small, light and collapsible so there was no longer the need for a servant to carry them.

Lace and Beaded Fringe

Lace and Beaded Fringe

In the 18th century a parasol completed a woman’s outfit, just as a hat, handbag and shoes might. They were made of cotton, silk and adorned with lace, braid, satin, beading and an assortment of  other various trims.  The handles were long or shorter, the covers small or larger, it all depended on the era and the fashion trends of the day.  From what I have seen, the handles were made of wood and decorated with ivory, mother of pearl and even gold and silver. Not only did they protect these ladies from the sun, but they were also used as a means to flirt, and even as a handy way to protect them from unwanted advances.

Parasol Detail

Parasol Detail

When my research was completed, I knew I needed to add the historical parasol to the accessories list for the ladies’ gowns, “The Passage to India” and “An English Rose”.  There are many beautiful parasols available, and the sky is really the limit, but I was looking for a particular style.  I wanted a small covering and longer handle.  After much searching I found just what I was looking for, in a variety of colours and at a reasonable price.  They were however unadorned so…I would have to decorate them myself.  I purchased two, a black one and an ivory one.