I had to go shopping today, for last-minute birthday arrangements.
I don't like shops very much- too many people, too much noise. I get dizzy and I can't concentrate.
On the plus side, they all had air-con, which, given that it is blisteringly hot here (28 counts as blisteringly hot in the UK) was a bonus and one I made full use of.
You may not know this, so I offer it as a Public Service Announcement, that it is in fact THE LAW when shopping for other people that you also get something for yourself. If you don't comply with this law the police will arrest you and throw you in gaol.
Not wanting to risk this, I duly got a new dress and a scarf covered in hares. I didn't need a new scarf covered in hares (I didn't really need a new dress either come to that, but I find it very hard to resist dresses, especially when they speak to you so plaintively while you're in the act of walking past pretending you haven't seen them) but I have a soft spot for hares, so I was putty in the scarf's hands.
My husband finds this kind of Girl Logic bewildering, but that is just because he is a man, and clothes for men are things that are picked up off the floor in the morning, shaken out and put on, then taken off and dropped on the floor again at night.....
Here is my New Dress....
Now, granted, on the peg it looks like the shapeless kind of article my shapeless paternal grandmother would have worn back in the day, but it is, in fact, a Magic Dress, because as soon as you put it on it transforms itself and becomes Gorgeous and Feminine.
It's a tea dress, as would have been worn by our grannies when they were young in the 1940s (well, mine was) and I found myself irresistibly drawn to it I think because of its old-fashionedness.
I walked past the young, flippant, racy, revealing little numbers that were trying to beguile me into buying them, but I couldn't walk past this one. I have a feeling it will become one of those Special Dresses that stay in your wardrobe for decades and speak to something old and familiar and comfortable and comforting and never seem to go out of fashion, even when everything else (including you) does :-)
The Tea Dress dates back to the 1840s, when taking afternoon tea became fashionable thanks to Anna Maria Stanhope, the seventh Duchess of Bedford (who couldn't last till her nine o'clock supper).
The fashion spread. Etiquette books at the time devoted entire chapters to The Taking Of Afternoon Tea. It became a culture in its own right, which is why Tea Drinking is held to be such an English thing to do (and the reason behind the existence of a tea shop in every town - is there a small town in England that doesn't have one I wonder?).
The Tea Dress was created to be
worn at such events (at home) and it represented a change in women's attire. Because it was designed to be worn at home it had no corset. In some ways it was the start of liberation from stays and whalebones and tight laces. A Tea Dress should be unstructured in its design and made of light floaty fabric, cap sleeved or longer and usually of floral print. It is defined as: "a woman's at-home dress for informal entertaining."
Tea Dresses are hugely popular this year. I never follow fashion so that is not why I bought it, but it's interesting in this time of austerity when the 'make do and mend' approach of war-time has been held up as a good example of how to get through tough financial times that dresses that were popular in that period are once again appearing on the high street.
I think they are lovely. In fact, I rather think they are more than just a dress; they are steeped in history, belonging to time when fashions were emerging from the tight, zipped-up Victorian era into the graceful Edwardian period before the Wars. I rather like Edwardian clothes too- all those high necked lacy collars and long skirts when the flash of an ankle could turn a man to jelly. I wonder if those will make a come-back too?
I haven't forgotten the hare scarf.
Hares have a long association with the Moon and crop up in many cultures as sacred creatures. They are connected with love, intuition, fertility and luck. There are lots of stories about hares from ancient times, one such concerns Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, the Celtic tribe who resisted the rise of the Romans. The story goes that when she was preparing for a battle, a hare ran out from beneath her skirts and it was taken as a sign that the Romans too would flee. In another ancient tale, Melengell, a female saint in 7th C Wales, protected a hare who was being hunted by Brochwel, Prince of Powys. The hounds fled in fright and the Prince was so impressed with her courage that he gave her the valley as a place of sanctuary. There, she became Abbess of a small community of religious women. Her memory was honoured after her death and Pennant Melangell has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. She remained the patron saint of Hares and hares are carved in the church to represent her. This sense of a Hare bringing luck is still alive today (rabbits feet are carried as emblems of protection).
When I last lived on The Chalk (in a thatched cottage that had stood in the same place for five hundred years and that was twenty years ago now- crikey, how time flies) I used to watch them boxing in the fields. Sometimes I would come upon one when I was out walking and we would stare at one another for what felt like hours. They have magic in their eyes, do hares. But they never came in to the garden.
When I was twenty-four my father died, and for three nights after his death a hare came and sat, quietly and motionless, in the bottom corner of our garden. It was a vigil. He never came again after that, but I have never forgotten it, so hares are important to me.
I think, without realising it, that today has been a day for my ancestors- my granny, who wore tea dresses, and my pa, who loved hares. Perhaps that's really why I couldn't walk past these things and they decided to come home with me? I shall think of these much loved and long-ago lost people when I wear these clothes, and that will bring me close to them.
Have a peaceful evening all.