Archery Fashions for Ladies: 1831-1841

An Archery Lesson, 19th c English

An Archery Lesson, 19th c English

Mrs Daffodil does not often dwell on the past, but this is the anniversary of the Battle of Crecy, when our English long bowmen so decisively dispatched the French.  Naturally, one’s thoughts turn to the sport of archery, much enjoyed by the English ladies, and requiring a special costume.

We hear first from Mr Hansard, the author of The Book of Archery, on the appropriate garb for a “fair toxophilite.” (Mrs Daffodil cannot hear the latter word without thinking of some useful poison.)

The presence of woman is now regarded as indispensable to the perfect enjoyment of these genuine fêtes champêtres; for the trim shaft, launched from the hand of some fair toxophilite, faultless in face and figure, inspires us with an enthusiasm which belongs not to the most adroit display of archery in the other sex.

Appropriate costume—

“To sport the gay sash of Toxophilite green”—

is indispensable in both sexes; indeed, the verdant livery of the woods should, of course, be the predominant hue throughout…

In reference to the ladies, I may observe that all such vital matters are arranged by the lady patroness, assisted by a committee of her own sex. On them, also, devolves the weighty responsibility of selecting a characteristic full dress costume where the pleasures of the ball-room succeed those of the target.

Although to hazard anything original on the subject of female attire is an act of presumption at which even the boldest of us might justly feel a trembling, I am resolved on omitting nothing essential to the general interest of my book. Three specimens of archery costume are therefore, with diffidence, presented to the fair reader’s criticism, certainly distinguished by that simplex mundities [simple neatness] which I regard, as well as Horace, as the basis of whatever is elegant in female attire. One of them was proposed to the ladies of the Royal Surrey Archers, by their patroness, as a ball dress, about five and forty years since.

White muslin round gown, with green and buff sash: white chip hat, bound with narrow green riband. Riband of the same colour as the sash encircled the crown, on which were two bows, rising one above the other. A magnificent snow-white ostrich plume waved over this tasteful head-gear, and a sprig of box was so arranged beneath, as to appear just above the wearer’s left eyebrow.

The second was worn by the fair members of a very happy, well-conducted, hospitable little band, who, about the year 1792, assembled among those scenes of rare beauty, the Piercefield domain, in the vicinity of Chepstow, and were called, “Bowmen of the Wye.” Their dress, then, like the former, consisted of plain white muslin, bound with green satin riband; a green and white sash; small green satin hat, with a white feather tipped with green, and having a motto inscribed on the bandeau.

“Oh, the horrid frights! Is this your simplex mundities?” some fair reader may possibly exclaim. Even so, lady; according to my poor judgment. Naithless, chacun à son gout; and the third, perhaps, may be destined to the honour of your patronage. It belongs to the present age, being that of a numerous and distinguished society, who style themselves the Harley Bush Bowmen.

Robe, a judicious arrangement of white and green; white hat and feathers; shoes of grass green. The bow and quiver slung gracefully over their shoulders.

Right glad am I to make my escape from the subject; for in treating it, one feels like a man treading among eggs in a taperless room, or the wretch who, unable to swim, finds the current every moment hurrying him beyond his depth. Once more on terra firma, let us next examine in what manner the dexterity of our fair toxophilites is rewarded at these archery fetes. The Hertfordshire archers, who met at Hatfield House, gave, as the principal ladies’ prize, a gold heart, enriched with a bow and shaft set in diamonds, a costly stake, first won by the Marchioness of Salisbury.

The book of archery, George Agar Hansard, 1841

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is surprised that Mr Hansard even dared to broach the subject.  One fancies that any lady “votaresses of the shaft and bow,” as he so unctuously calls the practitioners of this deadly art, would have the gentleman in their sights for his presumption. The best one can say is that it is useful to the historian to have descriptions of the sporting garments of earlier days.

Here are descriptions of two other archery costumes, from a decade earlier. Much archery clothing seems to have a deliberately archaic, seventeenth-century-fancy-dress appearance. Invoking Robin Hood, the colour green was de rigueur. The hat  plumes seem problematic, but perhaps they are useful for gauging the direction of the wind so that one can compensate with one’s aim.

The two archery dresses described below. 1831

The two archery dresses described below. 1831

First Archery Dress.

A Dress composed of changeable gros de Naples, green shot with white. The corsage, made nearly, but not quite, up to the throat, fastens in front by a row of gold buttons, which are continued at regular distances from the waist to the bottom of the skirt. The corsage sits close to the shape. The upper part of the sleeve forms a double bouffant, but much smaller than is usually worn. This is a matter of necessity, as the fair archer would otherwise cut it in pieces in drawing her bow. The remainder of the sleeve sits close to the arm. The brace, placed upon the right arm, is of primrose kid to correspond with the gloves. The belt fastens with a gold buckle; on the right side, is a green worsted tassel used to wipe the arrow; a green watered ribbon sustains the petite poche, which holds the arrows on the left side. A lace collar, of the pelerine shape, falls over the upper part of the bust. White gros des Index hat, with a round and rather large brim, edged with a green rouleau, and turned up by a gold button and loop. A plume of white ostrich feathers is attached by a knot of green ribbon to the front of the crown. The feathers droop in different directions over the brim. The half-boots are of green reps silk, tipped with black.

Second Archery Dress.

A Dress composed of white chaly, with a canezou of blue gros de Naples. The front of the bust is ornamented in the hussar style, with white silk braiding and fancy silk buttons; plain tight back. Long sleeve sitting close to the arm, with a half sleeve, a l’Espagnol, slashed with white figured gros de Naples. A row of rich white silk fringe is brought from the point of each shoulder in front round the back. Collerette of white tulle, of a novel form, fastened in front by a gold and pearl brooch. The belt fastens with a silver buckle curiously wrought; the accessories correspond in colour with the canezou. White gros de Naples hat, ornamented with white ostrich feathers, and a gold button and loop. Half boots of blue kid.

Belle Assemblée: Or, Court and Fashionable Magazine; Containing Interesting and Original Literature, and Records of the Beau-Monde, 1831

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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