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30 November 2008 @ 11:26 am
"That fits as well as 'Tell me, good my lord, / What compass will you wear your farthingale?' "  
mutter mutter stupid farthingales mutter.

It seems like every book I read has a different description or conception of the farthingale. Actually, that's not completely true; everyone seems to be more or less in agreement about the Spanish farthingale, a "bell-shaped" (the most common descriptor) underskirt with hoops of wire or reeds sewn into it.

The trouble starts when we get to the French farthingale, the drum (or wheel) farthingale, and the padded roll or "bumroll." I've seen sources that say (or imply) that the French farthingale is the same thing as a bumroll, that the French farthingale is the same thing as the drum farthingale, that the French farthingale is worn *with* a bumroll, and at least two descriptions about how the French/drum/whatever farthingale is made. It's making me feel slightly nuts.

I went to Janet Arnold on this, since I did finally retrieve Patterns of Fashion the last time I went home, but unexpectedly, she is rather confusing on this subject as well. First she mentions that no patterns for the skirts worn over the "French, or drum-shaped, farthingales" have survived (10). Okay, fine. No farthingales have survived, either, but there is a contemporary engraving depicting "the 'Hausse-cul: a French vardingale or (more properly) the kind of roll used by such women, as weare (or are to weare) no Vardingales'" (Randle Cotgrave, Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611, qtd. in Arnold 10).

After staring at this for a while, I *think* what's being said here is that the roll is being used to achieve a similar look to that of the French farthingale. So I guess I'll go with that? (Though I'm interested in Cotgrave's distinction here, which I'm interpreting as one between women who habitually [pun only partially intended] do not wear farthingales, and those who have simply chosen not to for the day: class distinction?) So the padded roll and French farthingale are being grouped in sources as opposed to the Spanish farthingale based on how the skirts fall, and maybe that's being misinterpreted in some other sources?

The problem is complicated further by the fact that a lot of the resources are costuming ones, and it's hard to know where they're getting their information, but also how much of any design is "authentic" (whatever that is) and how much is practical and based on trial and error as to how best to achieve the Elizabethan "look." Here's only one example, because I think I've just given myself a mild headache:
http://www.farthingales.on.ca/wheel_farthingale.htm

Also, this so-called "drum-shaped" farthingale, if it *is* actually the same thing as the French farthingale and not a completely different type, is not shaped very much like a drum. A tamborine, perhaps. A tabor, if I am feeling very generous. More than anything, it looks like a plate with a hole in the middle. Hmph.