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Author Topic: Meg March: Cage or No Cage?  (Read 7660 times)
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Kate Lanier
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« on: May 08, 2015, 02:14:42 PM »

I'm thinking about making my first 1860s dress a Meg March-inspired ensemble, and am wondering about a cage. The dress will be cotton (an adorable pink print), so it could theoretically be a "work dress" or a somewhat nicer dress. Would a girl/woman like Meg always wear a cage?

As a side note, how much of a difference in length would there be with a small cage (maybe 90"-100") vs a few starched petticoats? (Can you tell I'm hesitant to try my hand at making a cage?Tongue )
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BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2015, 08:53:06 AM »

I'm not quite clear on what you mean by a dress inspired by Meg March. Do you mean a dress inspired by what she wore in the movie, or as described in the book, or just inspired by her character?

In the 1860s, cages were ubiquitous. They were quite inexpensive, sold everywhere, and came in many sizes. Women of all ages wore them, even little girls as young as toddlers show up in pictures wearing them. The variety of sizes available, and the fact that they allowed women to obtain a fashionable shape without resorting to many, many heavy, starched petticoats, made them extremely popular, even for women doing housework.

So, despite the Marches "genteel poverty", it's likely that Meg had access to a cage. Meg as a character is very concerned with "keeping up with the Joneses", so it's also likely that Meg would have desired the fashionable shape that a cage could offer. The question becomes what size she would have worn, and whether she would have worn it all the time. As to the latter, I would argue that she likely would have worn a cage when doing anything but the heaviest of chores; for the former, that's up for debate.

This also begs the question - since the book spans many years, are you sewing a dress for teenaged Meg, or young lady Meg, or post-marriage Meg?

In regards to difference in length for cage vs. petticoats, the cages I have worn are larger than 100" but there is a distinct difference in length of at least a few inches - but again, my cage is larger.

Do not fear the cage. There is a wealth of wisdom here from ladies who have been there before and can help you through it Smiley
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Betsy Connolly
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2015, 10:43:01 AM »

Another vote for cage use. Cheesy Meg goes about in more fashionable society than the March family's current economics support on a regular basis, and it would be odd to do so without the basics of current clothing (recall her distress over gloves. Amplify for distress over unsupported skirts.) 
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Elizabeth
MCBurbage
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2015, 01:20:15 PM »

I'd vote for a cage too.  Considering that employers were complaining about shop girls and servants wearing cages, they really were very, very common.  The Marches are middle class, even if they're struggling.
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Mary Burbage
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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2015, 05:53:36 PM »

Another "yes" to a cage. As a comparable example, I recently read a story in an 1860s English magazine about a struggling middle-class couple. Their finances are bad enough that they've had to scrimp to come up with the money for the husband to get a good new pair of shoes. But on the morning he's going to go buy them, he gets up first and sees his wife's pathetic cage, usually hidden from his view, and it's patched and mended in secret by her and getting out of style (a whole six months' worth!) and ratty of silhouette. He realizes that she has been turning down invitations to formal events because her cage is an embarrassment.

So he buys a really cheap pair of shoes so that he can get her a new cage.

It's a charming story, and that's just a piece of it. But it does show how incredibly important a cage was to maintaining a middle-class social standing - and not just any cage, but a well-shaped, up-to-the-fashion cage.
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Ginger Lane
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2015, 08:37:04 PM »

That is totally fascinating, Jessamyn! I'd been wondering how closely women followed the changing silhouette (and resulting changes in skirt shape)... turns out very closely indeed!
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BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2015, 07:03:45 AM »

That's adorable, and also a good illustration of just how important the proper silhouette is! Jessamyn, do you have the title of the story handy, or information on where to find it? I'd love to check it out and potentially add it to my resources.
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Betsy Connolly
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MaryDee
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2015, 02:03:58 PM »

Per Carolann Schmitt from the workshop recently held in Oregon City:  The coming of the cage represented a great savings in weight--only two petticoats were needed instead of a half dozen.  It also cut down 75% on laundry--the many petticoats required pre-cage had to be washed, starched and ironed.  The cage was also far more comfortable in hot weather (such as at the famous croquet game).   In fact (I read elsewhere), even Amelia Bloomer decided that the cage was a good substitute for bloomers in freeing women from the weight of many petticoats. You could get one for as low as 25 cents, which of course was worth a lot more back in those days, but still was pretty darn cheap!

Undoubtedly all the March girls wore cages!  Of course little Amy, as much a social climber as big sister Meg, would have worn one, but I'm sure that even unconventional Jo (certainly while companioning Aunt March) and shy Beth wore them, too. 
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Jessamyn
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« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2015, 08:43:11 AM »

Finally tracked it back down! I had failed to note the title and couldn't find the story via search terms - then suddenly remembered the name. And it's not English, it's American!

"My Velvet Shoes," from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1860.

https://books.google.com/books?id=O646AQAAMAAJ&dq=velvet%20shoes&pg=PA804#v=onepage&q=velvet%20shoes&f=false

Read the whole thing - this story is packed full of material-culture details.
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BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2015, 05:06:56 PM »

Oh my gosh - this is such a great story! I love Mr. Lambswool. Thanks for sharing, Jessamyn!
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Betsy Connolly
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« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2015, 03:18:57 PM »

He's wonderful. And - possibly best name ever for a lovable couple!
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Ginger Lane
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« Reply #11 on: May 26, 2015, 08:41:52 AM »

I like it! Though I'm really confused trying to figure out what musical instrument can possibly be described as a cross between a copper boiler and a honey-suckle... Cheesy
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