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The wild hellraisers and mannered gentlemen who populated this era.

The Bachelor Life


Groom on pedestal For the unmarried gentleman of high society, the world was his oyster. At no other time in history was bachelordom such a widespread, and pleasurable, pursuit. As the turn of the century dawned, the “Marriage Question” began to shift from the issue of surplus women, but on why men refused to marry! Certainly England’s system of primogeniture pushed penniless second, third, fourth, and beyond sons out into the far and wide outreaches of the British Empire, but that failed to explain why eligible men who remained at home were content to dash from cricket match to club to house party to hunting grounds with nary a thought to acquire a spouse.

In his text, The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture, Howard P. Chudacoff argues that the bachelor subculture grew from the growing spaces created specifically for the consumption and entertainment of men–bars, taverns, barber shops, clubs, et al. I would add that men became more entrenched in their bachelordom in reaction to the increasing independence of women (the Bachelor Girls of next week’s post), which poked holes in the “normal” gender interaction of previous generations. The more women moved into traditionally masculine spheres, such as higher education, medicine, law, and other white-collar positions, which also thrust these marriageable women beneath their noses, the more men retreated behind barriers which would relieve the pressure of buckling gender barriers. Now men had to navigate social interactions with intelligent, independent and unmarried (and ostensibly unprotected females who would have formerly been Stag dinnerconsidered fair game) women, yet social norms maintained the thought that women needed the protection and security a husband would provide. With a female coworker of marriageable age and reasonable attractiveness at the next desk, males no longer had the buffer of “work” to separate them from the proscribed times for courtship.

Out of this desire for a purely masculine domain first came the bachelor apartment. Prior to the 1880s, bachelorhood was regarded as “a mere temporary condition […] a sort of interregnum between youth and sober, well-ordered manhood.” Unmarried men lived frequently in boarding houses, and not infrequently married the land lady’s daughter or the widow who sat across from him at meals. As concepts of the unmarried state changed by the end of the nineteenth century, the pressure for apartment houses built expressly for the residence of a bachelor grew, and the most luxurious apartment homes sprang up across New York practically overnight. These ran from fifteen hundred dollars per year for the most up-to-date plumbing, large rooms and meals delivered by a housemaid, to modest affairs of eight hundred to one thousand dollars (but always with plumbing!). London also joined the bachelor apartment, though on a more subtle scale, as the apartment blocks were built near or around Westminster, which was a typically masculine area of the Town. Ironically enough, the rise of the bachelor apartment ushered in a fad for dinner parties where unmarried men and women could mingle in a manner quite independent of chaperons or one’s parents.

Election Results at the Carlton Club, London, 1892However, the bastion of bachelordom–perhaps man in general–was the club. English clubs of course dated from the 17th and 18th centuries, but the late nineteenth century saw an explosion of gentleman’s clubs on both sides of the Atlantic (and the Channel) formed by all manners of men and groups. First and foremost were the political clubs of London: Brooks (Liberal/Whig), Carlton (premier Conservative club), Junior Carlton, and the Reform. The military, which had clubs for every branch and rank (Guards’, Army and Navy, East India United Service, etc), the artistic (Athenaeum for the literati; Garrick for actors; Authors for authors, et al), the sporting (Automobile, Royal Thames, Hurlingham, etc), and social/general clubs, the most famous being White’s, Boodle’s the Junior Athenaeum, the Marlborough (formed by Edward VII when Prince of Wales), and Travellers’.

In New York, under the aegis of J.P. Morgan, the city’s most powerful and most prominent men formed the exclusive Metropolitan Club, which, along with the Knickerbocker Club and the Union Club, were the most luxurious and coveted clubs in America. Here clubs were formed along interest lines, but unlike London society, the literati and the theater world did not mingle with the wealthy society men, and bachelors were less likely to use the men’s club as an escape from women (though this attitude declined as more English traits were adopted).

Maxim'sThe bachelor life was most amenable to the fast-paced world centered around the theater. Gaiety girls, showgirls, chorus girls, and spectacles galore, tempted the bachelor with deep pockets and even deeper cups. In London, young bachelors–most of them military men–didn’t consider themselves men if they weren’t chucked from the Empire Theatre on Leicester Square at least once in their lifetime. Broadway was a bit more seductive, as the theater district abounded with naughty music halls and even naughtier cabarets. Here, the lobster palace society, the venue of the “butter-and-egg man” reigned supreme, and where luscious, giggling chorus girls, primadonnas, and grande dames of the stage, were wined and dined all night long. One cannot deny, however, that Paris was the destination for the bachelor who wanted to have fun with adventurous women, and among other places, such as the high-class brothels which catered to every taste, Maxim’s was the center around which Paris’s le high life formed. The food was excellent, but the service was even better, with the staff prepared for any activity in which its patrons could get into–even when Russian Grand Dukes doused the lights and began playing Russian roulette. Unlike the restaurants catering to the faster sets, Maxim’s was strictly for courtesans and gentlemen, and no respectable woman would dare enter its portals, much less recognize its existence.

The bachelor life was dangerous though, and the married men who indulged in its excesses were apt to find themselves on the receiving end of public outrage–as with the infamous Pie Girl Dinner–or, well, dead (Stanford White!). Ultimately, the life of the bachelor was so utterly sublime–girls, champagne, sports–it was a wonder why any gentleman of wealth and rank married at all! However, as worrisome as the growing numbers of bachelors were to society, the most worry was saved for that frightening, independent, “masculine” entity: the Bachelor Girl.

Further Reading:
Belle Epoque: Paris in the Nineties by Raymond Rudorff
Edward and the Edwardians by Phillip Julian
The Pursuit of Pleasure by Keith Middlemas
American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of the ‘It’ Girl, and the ‘Crime of the Century’ by Paula Uruburu
Gilded City: Scandal and Sensation in Turn-of-the-Century New York by M.H. Dunlop

Of Cooking & Gender


Cooking demonstrationAfter reading The New York Magazine’s list of the Top 20 Chef Empires, and perusing a few culinary books I’d borrowed from the library, I was struck, dumbstruck actually, that all save one of those twenty names are those of men. Many would argue that the age of modern cookery was of the turn of the century. Not only were chefs lifting food to its highest degree, but more and more people were able to partake of the sumptuous, delicate tastes a cook could create due to the falling food prices and rising incomes, if not the lucrative opportunities skilled French cooks could find in the kitchens of America and Europe’s new and fabulously rich. Right around the Edwardian era we saw an explosion of foodie treats, and most notably, women were involved–the “Queen of Cooks,” Rosa Lewis; Fannie Farmer, who raised the Boston Cooking School to prominence; and Marthe Distel, who founded culinary magazine La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu and offered subscribers cooking classes with professional chefs, which in turn led to the formation of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Woman cookingYet these women have been consigned to the footnotes of history. Farmer’s Boston Cooking School cookbook does remain in print, but as I’ve quickly noticed, Victorian/Edwardian cookbooks written by women are shunted into the domestic sphere, while those authored by men become authoritative. This strange dichotomy of the kitchen is fascinating. Cooking, in its basic format, is seen largely as a feminine position, yet once a man steps into the kitchen it becomes one of power. The male chef is master, he is king of the domain–in etiquette manuals, one never reads of tyrannical female cooks who must be handled with kid gloves. The careers of Rosa Lewis and Auguste Escoffier run parallel, yet Lewis is mentioned frequently in tandem with sex (she was rumored to be the mistress of Edward VII, and her hotel was allegedly a place where English aristocrats met with their mistresses), and Escoffier is lauded as the creator of modern French cookery, despite the fact that the success of his career is also due to the opening of a famous hotel.

Cooks in the kitchenEven today, while watching Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen, a female cook is rarely seen to raise her voice, shout and/or curse for her sous chefs and other underlings to get a move on. In vintage ads, a woman (frequently a mother) is posed in the kitchen with an apron, slaving lovingly over an apple pie or basting a turkey. For her, the kitchen is non-threatening; it is a place of peace and devotion; she is preparing a meal to nourish her family. The male in the kitchen is attired in chef’s clothing–tall white hat, white coat, dark pants. Frequently, his arms are crossed and he stares belligerently at the camera. Other times he is posed in the act of cutting, dicing, and mashing, and surrounded by a huge cavernous kitchen whose walls and ceilings are covered with big, heavy cast iron cookware.

Interestingly enough, when the White House hired a new cook in 1910, Miss Flora Hamilton was replacing a woman who left the employ of the Presidential mansion to marry. It seems the White House long employed female cooks to prepare and direct the luxurious suppers over which the President and the First Lady hosted (which also brings the issue of race into play, as most White House staffers were African-American, and the image of “Mammy” lovingly preparing food for her employers in the kitchen remained in popular food culture for almost a century after the Civil War). She, however, like all female chefs, is consigned to the footnotes of history, to be unearthed only on accidental diggings through archives.

Further Reading:
The World of Escoffier by Timothy Shaw
The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating by Sara Paston-Williams
The Duchess of Jermyn Street: The life and good times of Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel by Daphne Vivian Fielding
The Queen of Cooks – and Some Kings: The Story of Rosa Lewis by Mary Lawton
Coming Out of the Kitchen: Women Beyond the Home by Una A. Robertson
Women As Culinary Professionals

The Wonderful World of Hair


Lillie Langtry 1880Hairstyles of this period shifted with the shifting silhouette in dress and also reflected, as the era progressed, the growing freedom and emphasis on ease in hairdressing that marked a more mobile society. The agricultural depression of the 1880s which dampened spirits, expressed itself in the somber, less frivolous clothing of the decade. This was the height of the bustle era, but somehow they didn’t seem as jaunty or frivolous as they appeared in the 1870s. This bustle was formidable and wowing in its height and width, as though ladies were adamant against being blindsided from behind. Accordingly, men’s clothing became unerringly correct and, despite the aberration that was the Aesthetic movement, dark colors, close-tailored and stout fabrics were the norm. To accompany this fashionable armor, ladies’ hair was worn close to the head and rolled tightly at the crown, with small curls at the nape of the neck and light bangs (or “fringes” as they were called in England). Hardly any man of this period were clean-shaven and their hair was clipped short and shaggy.

MrMrsStokes1897The early 1890s saw a slight loosening of the hair, and as this decade progressed, ladies’ hair softened and ballooned nearly as drastically as their sleeves! Fringes remained, though with the slight pompadour effect, the height required need as much hair as a woman had on her head–and then some. Ever since the simple coiffures of the first two decades of the 19th century disappeared, ads filled newspapers selling all manners of fake hair. Ladies brushed their hair daily not only for cleanliness but to collect enough hair in the bristles to make their own “rats” and “pads” to bulk up their thin locks. The sale of hair became big business (hence the scene in Little Women) and to save even more time, hair companies created styled hairpieces–braided coils, ponytails, even whole wigs! No longer was it shameful for a woman to lack her own head of plentiful, glossy hair: she could buy it.

Gibson Girl & ManThe 1900s were apogee of false hair. The full-blown pompadour look was in fashion, mostly inspired by Charles Dana Gibson’s iconic Gibson Girl. The sketches showed a beautiful woman with high and full up-do, and women rushed to emulate this with any manner of rats, pads and hair pieces. The Gibson Man–square-jawed, broad-shouldered, athletic, and more important, clean-shaven–inspired a new generation of young men as well. Beards had fallen out of favor and though mustaches retained their supremacy (particularly in the military, where officers were required to sport one), a lack of facial hair signified youthfulness and vigor, which matched the cavalier and derring-do spirit of the age. The latter part of the first century saw a widening of hats and a widening of hair to carry the wide-brimmed “Merry Widow”. However, the hair lost a bit of its height and was generally parted on the side or in the middle, and was fluffed low and wide towards the ears and nape.

Irene CastleThe 1910s saw a near abandonment of facial hair for young men. Their hair was now loose and tousled, no longer trapped by the macassar oil and brilliantine pomade of former years. For ladies, the slimming silhouettes needed slimmer hair, but rather than a retread of the 1880s, their hair was dressed so that it appeared ear-length and curled–almost bob-like beneath their close-fitting hats. In fact, some women even went so far as to bob their hair, mostly inspired by Irene Castle who chopped her locks in 1914 before a scheduled surgery (she didn’t want to deal with caring for long hair during her convalescence). This inspired a craze for the “Castle Bob” and when Irene added a necklace around her head, the “Castle band” took off as well. The craze for bobs during the war years actually preceded the Golden or Roaring Twenties, and ironically (or not), ladies’ hair of the immediate post-war years made an attempt to recapture the twilight of the Edwardian era with a short-lived favoring of a slight pompadour. But the tide of fashion is unstoppable in progress, and the new generation threw themselves headlong into embracing hairstyles the older considered horrid and masculine, altogether forgetting the horror that met their generation’s shift in coiffure.

Further Reading:
Encyclopedia of Hair by Victoria Sherrow
One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair‎ by Allan Peterkin
The History of Hair: Fashion and Fantasy Down the Ages‎ by Robin Bryer
1911 Hairstyles from the Girls’ Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine

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