Fashions are continually changing but briefly, during the 1770s and early 1780s, women wore the most amazing items known as false rumps. They were large pieces of cork worn in ‘pockets’ under the straps of their stays, which enhanced the lady’s posterior and made her waist look smaller and more delicate. Think Kim Kardashian: does she know that she would have been the ultimate late eighteenth-century fashion icon, we wonder? False rumps were mocked mercilessly by the press and in satirical caricatures (the old-fashioned way of breaking the internet!), and there was even a suggestion that they should be taxed to raise money for the government.
Surely, they can’t have been comfortable but, on at least one occasion, the wearing of a cork rump acted as a life preserver (Norfolk Chronicle04 July 1778).
On Sunday evening a very ludicrous accident happened at Henley upon Thames. A large party from town went after tea to enjoy the coolness of the evening on the banks of the river. Youth and spirits hurried them into such sallies of vivacity, that in running with too much precipitation, a lady’s foot tripped and she fell into the Thames. The consternation was general; but somehow everyone was surprised to see her swim like a fishing float, half immersed, and half above the water. It seems that the lady had been furnished with an immoderate sized cork rump, which buoyed her up so completely that she looked like Venus rising from the water. She was towed to shore by a gentleman’s cane without the least injury but wet petticoats.
So, fashion it seems did have its uses.
Your fake derriere was also a great place to hide contraband according to a report from Paris:
The present fashionable protuberances, so much in vogue among the females, have by the adroitness of two dressy fair ones of this capital, been turned to a profitable instead of expensive fashion and gave rise to a laughable adventure: the females in question had contrived to fill bladders with brandy, which they substituted for cork, wool wire etc and thus equipped in the most outré prominence of the mode, they passed several times daily unsuspected through the gates of Paris, smuggling no inconsiderable quantity of brandy. The frequency of their excursions caused suspicion among the officers at the gates, who attempted to touch their garments, but this was resisted by the fair ones with every appearance of affected modesty. However, one of the officers, having sufficient information of what was going on determined to detect them, and providing himself with a sharp pointed instrument, he slyly pierced what nowadays is usually made from cork, when lo! A fountain of brandy played from the orifice to the great diversion of the spectators, and to no small confusion of the fair one. The result was rather serious, as they were both confined; and there are now actually females at the gates, whose business it is as decently as possible, to examine into the protuberances of such ladies as appear to be in outré of the present fashion. What a pity, as there are so few means for females to gain a decent living, that they should not be permitted to dress to advantage when fashion will admit of it.
When a riot broke out in Covent Garden during the hustings for the election of 1784, it was reported that one lady’s cork rump was shot off and an elderly woman, who was not so fashion forward and whose behind was not so well padded, received a bullet in her… ahem, well! We’re sure you can guess!
As a fashion accessory, the cork rump was short lived and by the end of the 1780s ‘bum-less beauties’ became all the rage.
No readers, we have not ‘lost the plot’ nor has this become a blog about exercise. We have been looking at the ways 18th-century people used enhancements to improve their looks.
Until the mid 1770s skirts were made to appear full by the use of hoops, however, from 1776 onward it would appear from this somewhat amusing article below from Town and Country magazine (January 1776) that the fashion changed courtesy of Henrietta Vernon, Lady Grosvenor and her use of ‘cork rumps’, otherwise referred to as ‘Chloe’s Cushion’ .
The town has been for some time entertained with various accounts of cork rumps; a friend of mine, who lives at some distance from the capital, and who does not believe all that he reads in a news-paper, notwithstanding he is not a cockney, seems to entertain his doubts concerning the real existence of these cork, rumps; I have, therefore, in order to satisfy him, taken great pains to enquire into the existence or non-existence of these cork rumps. In the course of these researches I have traced their origin to lady Gro—nor [Lady Grosvenor], who having had her fortune told a short time before the regatta, was advised to be very careful of water, as the conjurer foresaw danger in the wind; but her ladyship not being able to resist the temptation of so fashionable an amusement, consulted some members of the society for recovering drowned persons. She received little or no satisfaction from them, as they acknowledged they could be of no service to her till she was actually drowned, and not being willing to try the experiment upon whole terms, she had some thoughts of trying a cork jacket but reflecting upon the uncouth figure she would make in such a garb, when conquest was her principal view, her imagination was called into play, and after some days cogitation she hit upon the cork rump.
She wore it upon this occasion, and was a spectator of the regatta, without being under the least apprehension from the prediction of the conjuror. Every one complimented her ladyship upon the elegant appearance she made, the slope of the back, and the striking protuberance beneath, were objects of every one’s wonder and admiration. Instead, she found the cork rump such an amazing improvement to her dress that she resolved to wear it constantly upon all occasions, and to preserve the secret to herself: but accidents will happen.
Dressing in a great hurry for Ranelagh, she forgot to secure this new appendage to grace effectually, and unfortunately she dropped it in the Rotunda. A circle immediately surrounded it, all eyes were fixed upon it, the gentlemen were astonished; the ladies were enchanted with it, and in less than a week, there were very few toasts upon the Ton, whose tails were not as light as Lady Gro—nor’s.
This, Sir, is the rise and progress of the cork-rumps, which being so great an improvement in dress and elegance, must certainly merit the attention (particularly) of your female country readers of taste, who will certainly soon be in the fashion, and thus secured, neither fear the dangers of a regatta, or even an East India voyage.
My country friend having shewn my letter, with this intelligence, to his wife and daughters, I have received orders to procure one of them immediately; which I shall do, without loss of time, as that is great reason to believe that the price of cork will be greatly enhanced, by th: general fashion that will soon prevail all over England ; nay, I am well assur’d that these cork-rumps have already made their way to Edinburgh, and that a cargo of them is only detained by contrary winds at Chester, bound to Dublin.
I am, Sir,
Yours etc, etc.
An old Observor
The December edition of Town and Country magazine wrote the following, presumably a ‘nod’ to the Lady Grosvenor incident.
‘Bum-shops are opened in many parts of Westminster for the sale of cork bums, and report says they go swimmingly on. Tall ladies, and short ladies – fat ladies and lean ladies, must have bums’.
This fashion trend was somewhat short lived, possibly for obvious reasons, as above. By 1788 ‘the bum-less beauties’ had become all the rage.
This one really does beg the question ‘why on earth would you do this?‘ It was apparently quite common practice during the Georgian Era to wear false stomachs, often these were made from either tin or cork, to imitate pregnancy. It gets better … we discovered in the newspapers that men also wore them!
These tin pinafores were described by Archenholtz in the following way
‘This was the most senseless invention, against all decency and delicacy, and disfiguring the female body; it caused a deformity which is only seen in the female sex during pregnancy. These decorations were called pads, and the smaller ones paddies; they were usually made of tin, and were therefore called “tin pinafores”. These artificial stomachs were in great favour, particularly with unmarried women, which caused the wits to say that a revolution had taken place amongst the signs of the Zodiac, and the Twins had come too near Virgo. But above all, these pads were the butt of jokers, who used them unmercifully, and their use soon had to be discontinued. Such a fashion was in too bad taste to last long. It was in existence in London in February 1793, but by the end of the spring it was over in England and went to Dublin, where it was welcomed by the women. During the migration which took place as a result of the French war, it was taken to Germany by refugee English women, but was not copied there.’
The newspapers carried a variety of report about such items including this one from The Morning Post of 1781 that stated that they were in fact worn by the gentlemen and not the ladies at that time for the following reason:
The cork protuberance, par derriere is not of modern invention; – formerly in France great bellies were thought to confer an air of dignity, and to command respect, and as soup maigre would seldom confer that ornament, false bellies were worn by the men, whereupon the ladies put on false rumps, so that the men appeared to carry all before, and the women to carry all behind.
Our second offering is an extract from a much longer letter written by a country gentleman who was clearly nonplussed by England’s behaviour at the time who took it upon himself to write to the editor of The Tomahawk newspaper on the 5th February 1796.
What is the custom, is always thought becoming and decorous; though it sometimes is neither the one nor the other. What could be more indecorous than the false bellies and backsides worn by our ladies some time ago? Or, when a fat swarthy lady wore them, more unbecoming, not to say ugly and detestable?
Is it not truly ridiculous to see a thick fat fellow, with a neck like a bull, lap three or four yards of muslin round it, so as to become quite a raree shew, because it is the custom?
This article is for the gentlemen with a keen eye for fashion. Downy calves were false calves that were woven into the stockings to produce a ‘manly-looking calf’ and quite in vogue in the 1780’s. As a secondary benefit, they reputedly helped gentlemen afflicted with complaints requiring warmth. Mr Holland, of Broad Street, Bloomsbury developed a type of fleecy hosiery in which fine fleeces of wool are interwoven into a cotton piece of the common stocking texture.
We managed to find an entry in The World newspaper of 1788 advertising them.
An Entire NEW and highly-approved INVENTION, by HENRY and GEORGE HOLLAND,
At their Old Established Hosiery Manufactory, No. 2, Broad-street, Bloomsbury, opposite Drury-lane: Any Gentleman by applying as above, may have Stockings made with downy calves to look equal to the most beautiful formed by Nature. The flattering encouragement they have hitherto experienced from Gentlemen of the highest distinction, has induced the Inventors to usher this advertisement to the public.
Notwithstanding the downy calves are made on such a principle, as to be highly approved for their ease and elegance, the Inventors are enabled to sell them on very moderate terms. Made on the shortest notice to any size.
The description below from A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, dated 1816, provides more technical information about how these were made.
FLEECY-HOSIERY, a very useful kind of manufacture, in which fine fleeces of wool are interwoven into a cotton piece of the common stocking texture. The following is the specification of the patent granted to Mr. Holland, of Broad-street, Bloomsbury, in the county of Middlesex, for a method of making stockings, socks, waistcoats, and other clothing, for persons afflicted with complaints requiring warmth, and for common use in cold climates, and for making false or downy calves in stockings.
“Having in the common stocking-frame, twisted silk, cotton yarn, flaxen or hempen thread, worsted or woollen yarn, or any such-like twisted or spun materials, begin the work in the common manner of manufacturing hosiery, and having worked one or more course or courses in the common way, begin to add a coating, thus: draw the frame over the arch, and then hang wool or jersey, raw or unspun, upon the beards of the needles, and slide the same off their beards upon their stems, till it comes exactly under the nibs of the sinkers; then sink the jacks and sinkers, and bring forward the frame, till the wool or jersey is drawn under the beards of the needles, and having done this, draw the frame over the arch, and place a thread of spun materials upon the needles (under the nibs of the sinkers), and proceed in finishing the course in the usual way of manufacturing hosiery with spun materials. Anything manufactured in this way has, on the one side, the appearance of common hosiery, and on the other side the appearance of raw wool. The raw or unspun materials may be worked in with every course, or with every second, third, or other course or courses, in quantity proportioned to the warmth and thickness required. The above-mentioned raw or unspun materials may be fixed also thus: having drawn the frame over the arch, hang them upon the beards of the needles, slide them off the beards upon their stems, and without sinking the jacks and sinkers, draw the frame off the arch, and bring the raw or unspun materials forward under the beards of the needles; then draw the same over the arch, and proceed in finishing the course, as before directed. The said raw or unspun materials may be fixed likewise thus: hang them upon the beards of the needles, without having the frame over the arch, and slide them off their beards upon their stems; then bring forward the frame till the raw or un-spun materials are drawn under the beards of the needles, and, having done this, draw the frame over the arch, and proceed in finishing the course as before directed.
Hosiery may be coated by any of these methods, not only with wool or jersey, but also with silk, cotton, flax, hemp, hair, or other things of the like nature, raw or unspun, but the method first described fixes them most firmly. The common stocking-frame is mentioned above, but any other frame, upon a similar principle, may answer the purpose. The method of making the false or downy calves in stockings is by working raw or unspun wool, or jersey, or any other raw or unspun materials, into the calves of stockings, in the different methods before described, and to any required form or thickness. The latter use to which this invention is applied, we may be allowed to say, is somewhat ludicrous.