J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unanswered Question #1

My thanks to all who came to my talk at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters last Thursday! There were a couple of audience questions I felt I didn’t answer adequately, so I’m addressing them now. First up:

What’s a tippet?

At the talk I read an advertisement from Newport baker Godfrey Wenwood demanding the return of several articles of woman’s clothing, including a “muff and tippet.” A gentleman asked what a tippet was. Unfortunately, my memory for clothing details is weak as water, and my resident costume expert was at a Colonial Williamsburg accessories symposium at the time.

In fact, it turns out, that very afternoon she’d been at a talk that touched on tippets. Here’s the description from Rebecca at A Fashionable Frolick:

The final lecture, given by Cynthia Cooper (head of research and collections and curator of costume and textiles at the McCord Museum), took a tour through the changes in fashion of three prominent accessories: shawls, sashes, and scarves. Accompanying the talk (which spanned the early eighteenth century all the way to the end of the nineteenth) was a collection of stunning slides of items held in the McCord Museum and scores of illustrative prints and paintings.

I found her focus on the “otherness” of these items of dress to be particularly illuminating. Shawls, for instance, arrived in Europe and England from India in the late 1790s. While images of them display a certain willingness to incorporate such an exotic item into fashionable continental dress, contemporary images simultaneously reveal an ambiguous relationship to it; while the shawl was a masculine article of clothing in India, Europe’s aesthetic reaction to it, removed from its original function, re-imagined the shawl into a feminine accessory worn in a completely different way.
Meanwhile, the internet told me that a tippet is another type of wrap, like a capelet or stole. Fashionable eighteenth-century British women wore tippets around their shoulders and upper arms for warmth. And when they went out, they often put their hands in matching muffs.

Here’s an article on the garments from the Jane Austen Centre, and a whole page on muffs from 18th Century Notebook. Click on the thumbnail above to see a satirical London print from about 1773 showing a woman in muff and tippet, from Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library.


Unknown said...

I actually own a tippet! A friend made it for me 30 years ago.

Mr Punch said...

Tippets are still part of some academic and ecclesiastical garb.