Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to our readers! We recognize that many of our non-American readers might not celebrate the holiday, but whether you celebrate it or not, we hope you all enjoy our look at some GWTW-era Halloween traditions, along with a special slideshow of fancy dress fashion plates.   

Let's get things started. Back in the day, Halloween was celebrated more in the British Isles than on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. The handy Godey's Lady's Book explains more in this October 1872 essay about Halloween customs on both sides of the pond:
About the day itself there is nothing in any wise peculiar or worthy of notice, but since time almost immemorial All Hallow Eve, or Halloween, has formed the subject theme of fireside chat and published story. There is, perhaps, no night in the year which the popular imagination of the Old World has stamped with a more peculiar character than the evening of the 31st of October…

There is a remarkable uniformity in the fireside customs of this night throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Nuts and apples are everywhere in requisition, and are consumed in immense numbers. From this fact the name of “Nutcrack Night” has often been applied, especially by the people of the north of England… But the grand sport of Halloween is the “ducking.” A number of apples are placed in a tub of water, and the juveniles— the use of their hands restricted— take turns in diving therefor, catching them with their teeth.
In this country Halloween was for a time strictly observed, but of late years it has been forgotten by almost all, except the juveniles. Amongst the old-style English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh residents, the games mentioned above are practiced to some extent, and the occasion is also made noticeable for the baking of the old-fashioned potato pudding. Amongst the American people but little other sport is indulged in than the drinking, by the country folk, of hard cider, and the masticating of indigestible “crullers,” or “doughnuts.” The gamins make use of the festival to batter down panels, dislocate bell-wires, unhinge gates, destroy cabbage-patches, and raise a row generally. 
--Godey's Lady's Book, October 1872
Of course, these days, most people associate Halloween with dressing up in costumes and while that wasn't the practice in Scarlett's era, we couldn't let the day go by without mention of Victorian fancy dress...or fashion plates. You see, although it wasn't a Halloween tradition,  fancy dress parties in general were part of high-society social calendars. Costumes of literary or historical figures were popular choices, as were peasant costumes or "native" dress from foreign lands. Other common sartorial choices included representations of nature or the four seasons. 

So in honor of Halloween and Victorian costume parties, we've got a colorful selection of GWTW-era fancy dress styles below for you to enjoy. Happy Halloween!


  1. Happy Halloween to you as well! Thanks for the costume slide show. I can see Scarlett dressed up as the Mardi Gras Queen in the gold, green, and purple costume from November 1863. The lady dressed as a feather duster, complete with handle sticking out of her head, was hysterical! In the first slide, the woman on the right dressed in red, looks like the statue of Freedom from the top of the U.S. Capitol dome.

  2. Those fashion plates are crazy! I loved the feather duster too.
    My favourites were the blue one with stars from 1867 and the rainbow one from 1872. I'm assuming the grey overskirt is meant to represent clouds and the beads to represent raindrops.
    Do we think Scarlett, attracted to all things green, would have been into the camera costume from 0ctober 1866? I personally don't know if I can imagine her wearing a camera hat!
    So I'm guessing it was okay to show at least part of your legs if it was a costume party. I can envision Scarlett throwing a costume party for just that reason!
    I've tried to imagine the ancient Roman toga Scarlett wore at Mrs Elsing's musicsale. It was described as modestly draped, but I just can't really see a toga as being modest... Would she have worn bare arms?

  3. Great question- Bugsie and I have discussed this before actually, and it was hard for us to really envision what Scarlett's toga costume would have looked like. However, there might be a clue in the fashion plates above. The very last slide shows a woman wearing what looks to be a Greek/Roman soldier costume that's comprised of an armor plate and a toga. The toga is what I would describe as modestly draped (floor length and not tight) but also has bare arms. So perhaps Scarlett did show her arms in her musicale costume.

    Also, as you note, there was more leniency regarding dress at costume parties. In fact, many young ladies embraced peasant dress costumes for this very reason--they tended to feature shorter skirts, lower necklines, and bolder colors than other costume choices. So my money is definitely on Scarlett showing up to a costume party in an emerald green peasant dress! :)

  4. I really like the hot pink skirt and black zouvae jacket from 1866. Apparently zouvae jackets were very fashionable in 1864, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it might in some part be due to the war - though if it was fashionable in Europe too, then it probably wasn't the case. If you look up 1860s fashion on wikipedia they're is a paiting of a woman in a red jacket. It's such a pretty fashion, with the little pom pom trim. I can imagine Scarlett wanting one in the last days of the war. The fact that she noted Rene Picard's red flannel drawers might mean that she also noted details of jackets. I think Scarlett had quite an eye for such details.
    Can anyone shed any light on the 1868 dress with striped skirt and red tower and anchor worn on the head? Couldn't quite work it out...

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  6. Yes, it could've been like the one above, though in white and presumably without the breast plate and helmet. I went to a Halloween party on Friday night and I wore a toga, which was held together by two safety pins. In GWTW after Scarlett's tableau, she goes to follow Rhett, but Mrs Elsing grabs her skirt to stop her. In my mind I always imagined the whole thing coming off and Scarlett standing dressed in her underwear. I'm sure most of the Atlanta matrons wouldn't put it past her to rock up to a party in her smalls!
    Another thought regarding this costume is the fact that at that time Scarlett would still have been in her second year of mourning. So I thought it might seem odd that she rocked up in her widow's weeds and then changed into a white toga that may have shown her arms and part of her legs.
    I also think it is quite ironic that Scarlett is chosen to represent the Spirit of the Confederacy, although I think the irony may have missed poor ignorant Scarlett...

  7. You see the Roman toga on garden-variety ladies of justice that you might see on court and other law-related stationery and seals. They are designed for females with a loose drape and are sleeveless and often somewhat low cut in front. It is such a common symbol and I just thought of it eyeballing at court letterhead). Not the Statue of Liberty she has sleeves! It was mythought too that Scarlett was an ironic choice to represent the Confederacy especially in mourning but she kept her mouth shut about her political opinions and the ladies may have chosen her because she was a war widow.

  8. Yeah, one of the things that surprised me when it came to the description of the Scarlett's toga was that it was made of white cheesecloth. Now, I assume that it was not the thin transparent variety, but even so. For a toga to be modestly draped, I kind of assumed the material would have to be heavier somehow.

    Initially, iso and I had discussed the possibility that she was actually wearing a loose robe *over* her clothes, but the plates above seem to say it wasn't necessary.


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