A Daring Red Dress and a Dancing Queen

A Daring Red Dress and a Dancing Queen

I love to get dressed up and go out on the town. Even, now at my age (I just turned 82 years young!) I love to go out with my husband Tom. Just last weekend we went to a party at the ballroom dance studio where we practice our  fox-trot, waltz, salsa and so many more. Our talented instructors, Monika and Henry just celebrated their fourth-year anniversary of Dance Fairfield. Part of the Fred Astaire Dance Franchise.

History has shown us that women have always loved to get dressed up. And yes, even be a little daring in their fashion choices. Being daring is different depending on the woman. For some women it means wearing a stunning gown with a deep décolletage or décolleté. Décolletage is the area of the neck, shoulders, back and upper chest exposed by the neckline of a woman’s clothing, low-cut necklines of ball gowns, evening gowns, leotards, lingerie and swimsuits, among other fashions. Even today, décolletage is seen as an expression of femininity, and in some parts of the world any décolletage is considered provocative and shocking.

During the Victorian period, social attitudes required women to cover their bosom in public. For day dresses, high collars were the norm. Later, towards the end of the Victorian period the full collar was the fashion, though some décolleté dresses were worn on formal occasions.

Madame X

In 1884, the Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent of American-born Paris socialite, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, was criticized when she was depicted in a sleek black dress displaying what was considered scandalous cleavage. Even more shocking, the painting depicted the strap of her dress falling off her right shoulder. The controversy was so great that Sargent reworked the painting so that the shoulder strap was no longer “off her shoulder”.  But that wasn’t enough to save Sargent’s reputation. The artist was forced to leave Paris for London in 1884 because of the scandal that ensued.

Gail’s portrait by Diane Aeschliman

My friend and talented portrait artist, Diane Aeschliman, of Killingworth, CT, painted my portrait a few years back, and coincidentally the shoulder strap of my elegant, red gown, kept slipping off. Here’s that painting for your perusal.

Perhaps if I had lived in the Victorian era I would have caused a great scandal as well!

Historical romance novels are a perfect way to indulge in the daring (and sometimes scandalous) love stories of fictional heroes and heroines. My novel Indigo Sky was inspired by the true-life love story of artist Albert Bierstadt and his love affair with the beautiful wife of his best friend. My story has a happy ending of course. As do all the historical romances that we love to read!

And speaking of historical romances and happy endings – I want to let you all know about a wonderful new giveaway that I’m part of with Booksweeps. You could win more than 45 Regency and Victorian romance novels by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors Joan Jonston, Lauren Royal, Lauren Smith and many more including me! Along with a brand new e-reader device. Just in time for the Holidays. I hope you will sign up for this amazing giveaway. It’s free and it’s fun! Click here to enter. Until next time! Keep on dancing! Love Gail.

 

MARCH OF THE PAST: ST. AUGUSTINE

MARCH OF THE PAST: ST. AUGUSTINE

Casa Monica twin towers

Casa Monica twin towers

The Casa Monica Hotel, its history and culture flaunts the visitor to St. Augustine, Florida, where the city is celebrating the past 450 years. The Spanish founded it in 1513, but by1564 the French took over, only to step back in1565 when the Spanish arrived again. They conquered the French garrison on the St. Johns River and held the coast of Florida. The garrison remains, and you are welcome to walk on the grounds of those that came before.

Horse & buggy ride popular

Popular are the horse & buggy rides

The architecture of the Casa Monica, built in 1888, and very much part of the history of this city, was the best of Moorish and Spanish designs. Built to serve as a hotel, it opened January 17, 1888. Franklin W. Smith, amateur architect and entrepreneur developed the poured coquina (shell aggregate) concrete and built the Casa Monica in a layered type of construction.

Ambience of the dining areas

Ambiance of the dining areas

According to my research, what makes this work of architecture interesting is that the material was first used to build forts in St. Augustine in the 16th century. The coquina is made of ancient shells bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. The idea was that because it was a soft material, cannon balls would sink into it, rather than crash through it. I have to wonder about that philosophy, but that’s what I found when researching this material.

Guest room

Guest room

The hotel is recognized as one of the most impressive public architectural complexes of the late nineteenth century of American history.

Street view

Street view

Located on the corner of Cordova and King Streets, Casa Monica is a U-shaped building with five towers, some battlemented, some with hip roofs, where all sides slope gently downwards to the walls. The large corner tower boasts a superb exterior spiral column. There are small hotel shops at street level on King Street.

casa_monica_2013_35When it was built in 1888, balconies were numerous, some with turned spindle posts and small balconets, which in Seville were called Kneeling Balconies, allowing the faithful to kneel during religious processions.

IMG_2664 (3)Tiles, imported from Valencia, Spain, were set in panels in some of the exterior walls. Inside, on the first floor, many rooms were arranged for the pleasure of the guests; sun parlor, drawing room, ladies waiting room, main dining room and private dining rooms. IMG_2637 (8)Three hundred guests could be seated at one time. There were 200 rooms, gas lighting, steam heat and electric bells to call for service and one bath on each floor. Metal rings were attached to the walls under the windows and tied to a rope long enough to reach the ground in case of fire.

Typical fashions

Typical fashions

Casa Monica has gone through growing pains in its 128 years. By 1900 the hotel was converted into an apartment building; in the 1920’s, it served as a low budget hotel. And in 1932, the depression forced its closing and it was idle for thirty years.

Casa-Monica-Hotel-St-Augustine-FL-Nights-of-LightsIn 1962, it was used as a courthouse; by 1997, it was sold to Richard C. Kessler and then restored. Today, Casa Monica is an elegant, upscale luxury hotel, and is included in Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The building has kept its architectural and interior Moorish character. The interior is flanked with mahogany columns, Moorish arched doorways, stenciled beams and wall sconces. The furnishings, gleaming chandelier, fountain and numerous palms and ferns give it that Victorian ambiance.

Casa Monica is listed on the National Register of Historic places and recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award.

Fort photos

Fort photos

florida+st+augustine+sp+fort matanzas_cannon_5x3 st_augustine_fort_8 st-augustine-fort

Services in the Casa Monica are exemplary, including the bellmen and parking garage attendants. Thank you goes to  Kayley at check-in and to Holly and Tarrah at check-out. A special thanks to the Assistant Front Office Manager, Matthew.

Our room had strange sounds. Imagine? But I slept well. It wasn’t until the morning . . . when at the bar . . . I met Mr. Parrish . . .

Tune in for more next week . . .

 

 

PENNY-FARTHING

PENNY-FARTHING

200px-Kangaroo_Bicycle_RevPenny-farthing, high wheel, high wheeler, and ordinary, are all terms used to describe a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel that was popular after the boneshaker, until the development of the safety bicycle, in the 1880s. They were the first machines to be called ‘bicycles’. highwheel13v

Although they are now most commonly known as “penny-farthings”, this term was probably not used until they were nearly outdated; the first recorded print reference is 1891 in Bicycling News. It comes from the British penny and farthing coins, one much larger than the other, so that the side view resembles a penny leading a farthing. For most of their reign, they were simply known as “bicycles”. In the late 1890s, the retronym “ordinary” began to be used, to distinguish them from the emerging safety bicycles, and this term or Hi-wheel (and variants) is preferred by many modern enthusiasts.

P1100509Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut had their ice cream social on Sunday, June 22, 2014. Reminiscent of the days long, long ago, so many women were dressed in their Victorian day dresses, men in top hats, and James and his penny-Farthing.

James on his own Penny-farthing

James on his own Penny-farthing

What a strange name for this mode of transportation from the late 19th century. Although the trend was short-lived, the penny-farthing became a symbol of the late Victorian era. I asked James to demonstrate the penny-farthing for me. He had to run next to it in order to get on. Then he mounted it while running, drove around, came back and dismounted, sliding off over the small wheel. Strange, but it didn’t seem too difficult, as long as you don’t ask me to do it. He told me he rides every weekend, and that he belongs to an antique bicycle club called the “Wheelmen.” components of a penny-farthing

In 1888, when John Dunlop re-invented the pneumatic tire for his son’s tricycle, the high wheel was made obsolete. The comfortable ride once found only on tall wheels could now be enjoyed on smaller chain-driven bicycles. By 1893, high-wheelers were no longer being produced. Use lingered into the 1920s in track cycling until racing safety bicycles were perfected. Today, enthusiasts ride restored penny-farthings, and a few manufacturers build new ones.

Have you ever tried to ride a penny-farthing?

 

GLORY TO THE WARDROBE

GLORY TO THE WARDROBE

I remember Grandma’s wardrobe.

Grandma’s wardrobe was almost like this one.  When Grandma didn’t need it anymore, she passed it on to me.  I used it for clothes mostly, but when we moved from Long Island I left it behind.

Victorian Wardrobe (Closet)

After I became an interior designer, I thought about it from time-to-time.  If it were today, there would be no way it would be left behind.  Now, as an interior designer, my appreciation for well-designed and functional furnishings take precedent.  This one is handsome in solid mahogany, Queen Anne hardware, a Chippendale bracket feet at the base and a pierced pediment with a center shell motif.  There are several other designs applied to it like a true Victoriana wardrobe.

Dream.  Imagine what you could stuff into this amazing wardrobe, namely today’s storage cabinet.  Bottom drawers to hold cool summer clothes in the winter and hold snugly winter warm clothes in the summer.   Mirrored doors hide hanging clothes and more drawers and shelving in-between.  Those studio apartments in New York could use this wardrobe as a room divider.

The wardrobe, also known as an armoire from the French, is a standing closet used for storing clothes. The earliest wardrobe was a chest similar to this cassone, a 16th century Italian chest. This type of chest  usually referred to by its Italian name, was most often used as marriage chests to hold brides’ household linens, every item of which would have been woven by hand and embellished with hand lace or embroidery or other fancywork. The cassone was especially popular from the 14th to the 16th century.

During a large portion of the 18th century the tallboy

Tallboy 1790

was much used for storing clothes.

A common feature was to base future size of the wardrobe on the eight small men method. A considered good size double wardrobe would thus be able to hold within its capacity, eight small men.

What’s your preference? A Victorian wardrobe, a cassone, a tallboy, or eight small men?

 

A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS

A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS

Gail's Christmas angel on her angel tree

Twinkling lights hung on fragrant boughs, laced with golden antiquities; garlands strung from the mantle, framing a glowing fire of crackling pinecones, the family Bible prominently displayed on a table, opened to the greatest story ever told. Walking from room to room, the heavenly scents of fir, pine, hemlock, sweet spices of cinnamon, cranberry, and apple fill the air. Windows are frosted and the walls faintly shudder with the howl of the snow-laden winds outside. Guests filter in and leave their calling cards at the foyer desk, each one a brightly decorated token of the season.

Fireplace in the dining room at the Biltmore

Names are crisply spelled out in fine script, surrounded by pictures and designs in bright, cheery colors. The mail basket is overflowing with cards lavishly printed with the lithographs of Currier & Ives and Louis Prang.  A scrapbook in the parlor, another in the children’s playroom, announce with appropriately selected pages, that Christmas is here in all its spectrum and splendor.

Currier & Ives winter scene

When we celebrate Christmas with family and friends, we have the Victorians to thank for many of its joyful festivities and delightful customs. They revived old traditions, such as caroling, and invented new ones such as sending Christmas cards.

The Victorians also promoted church-going, gift-giving, and charity to the poor as essential parts of the holiday. They transformed the folk figures of Father Christmas and Santa Claus into symbols of holiday generosity, and they greatly popularized Germany’s traditional Christmas tree or Christbaum.

A Christmas Carol

Most of all, the Victorians made Christmas a family celebration, with its primary focus on the Christ Child and children. A Victorian Christmas entailed the exchange of gifts between parents and children; attendance together at Church services; a multi-course family dinner; and visits with friends, relatives, and other families.

Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum Victorian Christmas

 

Christmas was certainly celebrated in this Victorian Mansion. Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum welcomes guests to enjoy the decor of a true Victorian Christmas. For hours and information please go to: www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com. Those of us involved with the mansion are working towards complete restoration. Will you get involved?

Pine tree aromas pine cones all around

From our house to yours-Greetings of the Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas evening on the grounds at The Biltmore - I could not pass this image up, it is too beautiful.

 

www.biblicalquality.com/Christmas1.html

The Christmas Tree

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