Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Wilder Wednesday: Drinking from the Saucer

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.

“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

~From Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 This was the first, and for a long time, only, reference to drinking from a saucer that I’ve ever come across. Mother Wilder’s history was a bit faulty: Europeans first explored China in the 1516, when the Portuguese explorer (and cousin of Columbus) Rafael Perestrello landed on the southern coast of mainland China and traded in Guangzhou. I think what Mother Wilder had in mind was the United East Indian Company, a Dutch-chartered trading company that had a trade monopoly with China in the 1600s.

 Another reference to drinking from the saucer can be found in Tom Brown’s School Days, a British novel written by Thomas Hughes in 1857:

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world’?” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down his empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them.”

 Cups and saucers have been used since the Middle Ages, and I could find no definitive answer about whether they drank from the saucer as well as the cup, or when that habit began. But it certainly was common in Russia and Scandinavia for many years. In fact, in Sweden, they not only sipped from the saucer after purposely overfilling the cup, but sipped the beverage through a lump of sugar held in the front teeth, a custom called “dricka på bit” or “drink with a lump.” While there are people who remember their elderly, usually rural, ancestors drinking this way, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 20th century. It was still a common enough practice in 1914 to be portrayed in a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.

 tea-drinking-by-konstantin-makovsky-1914

Drinking from the saucer was not confined to Europe. There is a story that when Thomas Jefferson returned from France to find Congress organized into two parts, he asked George Washington why there needed to be a Senate. Washington answered with another question: “Why do you pour tea into your saucer?” Jefferson answered, “To cool it.” “Just so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” See, the Federal Convention felt that the members of the House were too emotional, so the Senate was formed to have “cooler heads” prevail. This story is anecdotal, but does show that using the saucer to cool the tea was a familiar custom here in America.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Paul Moore:

 Drinking From The Saucer

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed

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Wilder Wednesday – Color-coding Children

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Then Laura saw her own pink ribbons on Mary’s braids. She clapped her hand over her mouth before a word came out. She scrooged and looked down her own back. Mary’s blue ribbons were on her braids! She and Mary looked at each other and did not say a word. Ma, in her hurry, had made a mistake. They hoped she would not notice. Laura was so tired of pink and Mary was so tired of blue. But Mary had to wear blue because her hair was golden and Laura had to wear pink because her hair was brown…“Oh dear!” Ma exclaimed. “I put the wrong ribbons on Laura’s hair!” “It’ll never be noticed on a trotting horse!” said Pa. So Laura knew she could wear the blue ribbons.  ~On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A friend recently turned me on to Sarah Albee’s blog, which I’ve been enjoying. Not long ago, she posted about the trend of gender-specific colors, which you probably know is a relatively recent development. I wanted to know why these trends developed, and found some interesting theories.

It was around the mid-1910s that colors were “assigned” to specific genders. Before that, both genders were usually dressed the same. Same styles and same color – white, for a very practical reason: the inevitable stains could be bleached out. But some market-minded person realized that if mothers could be persuaded to dress their children in colors, there would be more sales; and if the genders had different styles – including different colors – that would be even more sales (succeeding children of a different gender couldn’t wear the older sibling’s clothing). For some time, there was no consensus on what those colors should be, but eventually pink and blue took over.

Pink was designated as the color for boys, and blue for girls. It is supposed that this selection was influenced by Renaissance art, which usually depicted the Virgin Mary in blue and the Christ child in pink. Blue has traditionally been associated with the heavens and purity, and thus appropriate for females, who were viewed as more virtuous. Pink is a derivative of red, a bold and aggressive color, so it was suited for masculinity. Trade publications of the fashion industry promoted these choices, along with other differentiations such as that blue was flattering for blue-eyed blonds and pink for brown-eyed brunettes. This encouraged more sales among even same-gendered children.

pinkblue

 

Timing begs the question, did Laura’s story of the ribbons actually happen? Or was it inspired by the fashion of the day that she was writing? Perhaps it could be read as an indictment of silly fashion trends – why on earth shouldn’t she enjoy ribbons of blue, or any other color, just because her hair was brown? Or perhaps the opposite: showing children that there have always been social norms to which they should conform. This scene in On the Banks of Plum Creek could be polysemantic. Or maybe it’s just a fun scene. What do you think?

So when and why did pink and blue switch genders? Theories abound, ranging from nursery rhymes to Hitler. Some believe that verses such as “Little Boy Blue” brought the change. Others claim that the purple triangle assigned to homosexuals under the Nazi regime led to the color being thought of as feminine, and then lightened to pink for female children. Still others mention the influence of “battleship gray” and “navy blue” in World War II in identifying blue with boys. There is no real evidence for any of these theories.

During the 1940s, an advertising company surveyed sales of several large department stores across the country. They concluded, based on what customers chose, that boys preferred blue and girls preferred pink. (It would probably be more correct to say that parents preferred blue for boys and pink for girls, but this is not definitive since we don’t know to what extent parents let the children do the choosing.) Manufacturers adjusted accordingly.

After a time of mostly unisex clothing during the ‘70s, coinciding with the women’s lib movement, the pink-for-girls-blue-for-boys came back with a vengeance in the ‘80s. It seems this stems in part from the homophobic idea, now understood to be incorrect but for centuries held as incontrovertible, of gender as binary.  The phobia was (is?) so deep-rooted that it was deemed insulting not to know at a glance whether an infant or young child was male or female, but of course one can’t know without some added contrivance – like color-coding.

Recently, there has again been movement away from “gender-appropriate” color. I wonder what Laura would think.