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The richly decorated gowns worn by wealthy Georgian women were often adorned with an "eschelle stomacher" (a fancy corset designed to be worn in public and adorned with bows of decreasing size) above the waistline and an embroidered and trimmed petticoat below. Ladies' skirts were supported by wide hoops made of cane or rattan, and sometimes laid over quilted under-petticoats. Under the hoops and corset, ladies wore "shifts" (knee-length undergarments with elbow-length sleeves adorned with a froth of lace). Properly dressed ladies also wore stockings gathered at the knee and made from rich silk fabrics with woven patterns or embroidered motifs, and high-heeled shoes covered with silk to match the gown. Women's tresses of this period were gathered and piled high, with wildly enormous hairstyles emerging near the turn of the century. In addition, elaborate and often frivolous caps were fashionable.
Men of the period dressed plainly for sports and country life, but adorned themselves in high fashion at court. Their suits were made from rich velvets, silks and satins, and decorated with braid, embroidery, and buttons of gold, silver, and jewels. A gentleman's suit consisted of a long and flared coat, sleeveless waistcoast, shirt adorned with lace ruffles at the wrists and neck, and knee breeches. Men also wore silk stockings with embroidered designs at the ankles and high-heeled shoes. A cravat made of soft fabric and tied at the neck or a stiff neckcloth buckled at the back completed a properly dressed gentleman's outfit. Men's hair of the period was worn shoulder-length and tied at the neck, or powdered with tight curls. Powdering hair consisted of applying a sticky substance and flour dyed in brown, gray, white, blue or pink! Men also wore wigs for formal occasions. In addition to powdering hair, fashionable men of the period applied makeup (pale powder, rouge, and lip color), as well as carried fans and embroidered silk handkerchiefs drenched with perfume.
Food and Cooking
Prior to the late 18th century, all
meals were cooked on open fires or in special bakehouses. During the Georgian
era, closed ovens became common in kitchens throughout Europe. Because
the thermostat was not yet available, cooks and bakers relied on their
instincts and experience to determine where and for how long to place food
in ovens. Naturally, recipes of the period were sparing in their detail
of heating instructions and measurements. However, in 1742, the
first American cookbook was published. It was called
"The Compleat Housewife" or "Accomplish't Gentlewoman's Companion" by Eliza Smith,
and became so popular that it was reprinted in 1764.
Dinner, until the later part of
the 18th century, was served at midday. However, as the number
of upper-class people increased and upper-class people became more idle,
dinner hours were later. Later dinner hours set the upper-class members
of society apart from the lower class. Lower-class people prepared dinner during the
day because it was cheaper to cook, to serve and to eat the main meal of the day in natural
light. Consequently, to avoid being associated with the lower classes of society, upper-class
members would eat in the evening.
Cultural customs of dining abounded during this period. There were
cultural rules that dictated everything from dressing for the meal to leaving the dining room.
Upper-class women could spend over an hour dressing for dinner because it was customary
for women to change their entire outfit for the evening meal. The elaborate dinner dress
consisted of a corset, a bodice, stockings, a petticoat, a gown, ruffles and shoes.
Men also would spend time preparing for dinner. However, it would not take men as long
because, in most cases, they only repowdered their hair. Dress for dinner was
important because young men and women looking for a companion used dinner parties
as a way to meet and court potential mates.
After preparing for dinner, guests would proceed into the dining room. Following an elaborate
ritual, the host of the dinner would enter first with the most senior lady. The host
would seat himself at the foot of the table and, later, when the hostess entered the
room as part of the procession, she sat at the head. The senior lady was first to choose her seat.
After the senior lady was seated, the remaining guests were free to choose their places at the table.
Most likely, the senior lady would sit near the hostess because the seats near the hostess were
places of honor and reserved for the most important guests. The same number of male and female
guests rarely were invited to dinner, and each person could choose with whom they wanted to sit.
There was no specific placement for the guests at the dinner party. Consequently, this arrangement
was favorable to courting because the guests could choose their seat mates.
Every meal consisted of two courses and a dessert. However, a course in eighteenth-century upper-class
society consisted of between five and twenty-five dishes. In one course, soup or creams,
main dishes, side dishes and pastries would be placed on the table all at once. Unfortunately,
this type of presentation meant that by the time the guests finished eating the soup, the other
foods had to be eaten cold. The dishes were placed on the table with a certain balance.
In the center of the table meat dishes were placed, while accompaniments were placed on the
sides and corners. On one end, the soup was placed and on the other, the fish would be placed.
Vegetable, fish or custard dishes were never placed at the center of the dinner table.
Dinner was so elaborate that it customarily took approximately two hours to complete.
As a final tidbit, the Georgian era also brought another important development in dining:
George Washington reportedly fell in love with ice cream at a dinner party hosted by
Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, who served the creamy frozen dessert for the first time.
Sports, Games and Leisure
The sport of boxing became popular in England during the early 18th century,
in the form of bare-knuckle prizefighting. The first documented account of a bare-knuckle fight in
England appeared in 1681 in the "London Protestant Mercury," and the first English
bare-knuckle champion was James Figg in 1719. This is also the time when the word "boxing" first came to be used.
Early bare-knuckle fighting was crude with no written rules. There were no weight divisions,
round limits and no referee. Modern rules banning gouging, grappling, biting, headbutting,
fish-hooking and blows below the belt were absent.
The first boxing rules were introduced by heavyweight champion Jack Broughton in 1743 to protect fighters in the ring where deaths sometimes occurred. Under these rules, if a man went down and could not continue after a count of 30 seconds, the fight was over. Hitting a downed fighter and grasping below the waist were prohibited. Broughton also invented "mufflers" (padded gloves), which were used in training and exhibitions.
Additionally, the game of cricket also came into vogue in England during this period.
It seems clear that the English game originated sometime in the 14th century in the sheep-rearing country of the South East,
where the short grass of the downland pastures made it possible to bowl a ball of wool or rags at a target.
That target was usually the wicket-gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a bat in the form of a shepherd's crooked staff.
By the 17th century, the game was quite popular as a rough rural pastime, but in the following century the
leisure classes took up the sport, particularly in Sussex, Kent, and London. We know that an organized match was held at the Artillery Grounds, Finsbury, London, in 1730. By the middle of the 18th century cricket was being played at every level of society, from village greens to wealthy estates. However, the game lacked a coherent set of rules.
The first and most influential cricket club in the land was formed at Hambledon, Hampshire, in the 1760s. The club was sponsored by wealthy patrons, but the players were local tradesmen and farmers. The Hambledon club established techniques of batting and bowling which still hold today, and Hambledon claims a page in history books as the "Birthplace of Cricket".
In America, children engaged in many outdoor games.
One popular outdoor game was rolling the hoop. Taking a big wooden hoop, the children would race each other from one point to another on the lawn. The object of the game was to see who could get to the finishing point fastest. It sounds like an easy game, but the hoop was difficult to roll.
Another game was known as "nine pins", and resembled bowling. Nine pins would be placed three in a row on the lawn and th eobject was to knock down all nine pins with a ball. The slope of the lawn made the game tricky.
Children also had sack races and played tag, quoits, marbles, hopscotch, leapfrog, and Blindman's Buff. They flew kites and went fishing and swimming. Even simple activities like swinging or taking a walk were enjoyed if they had friend to accompany them. If the weather was bad, children often played with simple wooden toys like spinning tops and whirligigs, read, and embroidered samplers.