Clothing for the Indiscreet Heroine
I participated in a discussion about wallpaper historicals over at the Smart Bitches quite a while ago, and I was fascinated by the concept. Unlike some of the Hoydens, I grew up reading historical romance and cut my teeth during the heydey of the great wallpaper books. I loved them. I really did. I probably still do if I'm reading them now. See, it's hard for me to tell, because if I'm sucked in by the story, then I'm a goner. Is it wallpapery? *blank look*
What is a wallpaper romance? Hmm. I guess the definition you see most often is, "Can the characters be plucked out of their time period and plunked down somewhere else in time without any noticeable difference in the story? Then it's wallpaper." But I have a problem with this. I love internal conflict. Love it, love it, love it. And I think the deepest internal conflicts transcend time, and those stories could take place in a different era and be told with only a few adjustments. So what do you consider wallpaper?
Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. The reason I was most interested in the blog I mentioned above? Well. . . I'm afriad I might write wallpaper historicals!!! I just don't know! But there is some evidence of guilt. For instance, on the first page of To Tempt a Scotsman. . . *grin*
On the first page, my heroine is wearing breeches. It's true! When Kalen first heard about this, she very kindly said, "George Sand!" (I think?) Thank you, Kalen. But the truth is, the breeches had nothing to do with research, and everything to do with those delicious historicals I used to read in my youth. (Lord Harry, anyone? Mmmm.)
I really just wanted that moment of conflict and judgment when the hero sees her, this woman he already despises, dressed in tight breeches. Now, she is wearing a long coat, almost as long as the dress to the right though not so full, but when she turns and feels her coat open and knows he's gotten a glimpse of the shape of her thighs. . . *shiver*
In my defense, she is already a ruined woman and is living in isolation on her brother's estate. She's also rich, defiant and the sister of a powerful duke. She knows what she can get away with and at this point that is pretty much anything. Any man who'd marry her after her ruination wouldn't be scared away by breeches. Not that she cares. And when she rides into town to meet the hero, she wears a very respectable riding habit.
But Kalen got me interested in looking further into this. There is, of course, George Sand, who dressed in men's clothing quite often. And then there is that gorgeous portrait of Marie Antoinette riding astride in breeches. (I couldn't find a copy, darn it.) She was also being purposefully defiant, from what I understand. But I found something even more interesting. . .
A woman named Kath Fryer pubished a biography of Henry L'Strange (1815 - 1862) called A Fine, Strong Boy. The Le Strange family lived in rural Norfolk, and Henry was a great landowner, descended from nobility. His daughter wrote of life in their town, "the labourers fared hard and the children were brought up anyhow, the women dressed in men's clothes and spent much time on the beach mussling and doing other outdoor work to the detriment of the house and children".
I was struck by the idea of rural women, isolated women, and the practicality of wearing whatever worked best for the job. You also read accounts of female miners and soldiers, etc. dressing in breeches.
Does anyone else have any other delicous examples? If we can gather enough together, I can use them to prove that I did my research, if a bit late in the game. *g*
And what do YOU consider to be a wallpaper historical? Do breeches seal the deal? Be honest. I promise not to be upset. I'll be in good company, regardless!
"And when a woman's will is as strong as the man's who wants to govern her, half her strength must be concealment." -George Sand