Friday, March 1, 2013

I love a woman in a uniform or Hussars and Napoleonic women's dress

As I was working on the red spencer I found I became increasing influenced by the hussar style and that lead me to do some research on hussar costume and I thought you might be interested in some of what I found out. If you're of a certain age your first experience with Hussar uniforms was this:

   
Don't you ever, don't you ever, Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome!

I've always loved female appropriation of menswear in historic costume but I didn't realize until I started poking around just how hussar-influenced women's Regency dress was. This influence makes a lot of sense within the context of the Napoleonic wars and the fact that nearly every country had a hussar unit.  France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia had had hussar regiments since the 18th century and Britain converted four light dragoon regiments to hussars in 1806.  They were notoriously reckless and wild and looked really different from other regiments.  So they were compelling and romantic figures and it makes sense the ladies might be attracted to them...and their uniforms! So what did the Napoleonic era hussar uniform consist of?


From the Napoleonic Uniform Glossary at the War Times Journal

First there was the pelisse, no, not the lady's coat of the same name, but a hussar's fur-lined overcoat worn slung over the shoulder.  Given the first usage of the word was in 1717 it seems pretty certain lady's coat was named for the hussar's and not the other way round.  You can see echos of the hussar's pelisse in many of the women's pelisses of the era, some of which even still have fur around the edges like this one:



And another pelisse this time without fur:
Source: kci.or.jp via Loren on Pinterest


The dolman was the short tight jacket worn under the pelisse also highly decorated in braid. Women's spencer's often emmulated the dolman's braid decoration.  Here is a nearly literal interpretation of the dolman in spencer form, the only thing off about it is the soft butter-yellow color!

Source: metmuseum.org via Loren on Pinterest


And another very military looking spencer:


Hussars' uniforms, like the ladies' dresses of the era, fitted close to the body (very close!) This necessitated an external pocket; the sabretache was the man purse pouch a hussar used to carry his orders and writing implements in.  It was highly decorated with gold emblems and braid and often had tassels and fringe.  And it bore a striking resemblance to many of the ladies' reticules of the time.  Probably not a coincidence since another term for the sabretache was...reticule. This is a hussar's sabretache, note how similar the shape is to many ladies' reticules.



And a fashion plate of a lady with hussar-like braid decoration AND a very sabretashe-looking reticule.


Another sabretache-inspired reticule


Buttons and pompoms were also major features of the hussar uniforms that also show up in women's clothing of the era.  There were three rows of buttons on many uniforms- a center functional row and two decorative ones on either side.  While this is not a hussar uniform it's a good close up without braid where you can see the triple button row.



I've seen this same button arrangement on the Kyoto Costume Institute's Regency riding habit as well as on other spencers and pelisses.  This one, also from KCI, has a wonderful front decoration a la hussar and pompoms!

Source: kci.or.jp via Loren on Pinterest



If you've fallen in love with the hussar look there are sutlers out there who make wonderfully accurate reproductions of these uniforms...for a price:
http://www.sutlers.co.uk/
http://en.empirecostume.com

You can see many more Napoleonic-era military uniforms and military inspired women's wear on my pinterest here.

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