The Queen of the Met Costume Institute: Rita de Acosta Lydig

[This is a short biography on a woman impacting history. Please subscribe for email updates on when more biographies, or historical heroine related posts, appear on the blog, and follow the instagram @lilhaggis for more.]

The Met Costume Institute is literally my Sunday go-to. I can scrawl for hours and hours in my cosy bed, and stories and adventures unfold through each piece in their archives, transporting me into a little pocket of time elsewhere.

Little did I know, until recently, that their foundations came from a truly opulent closet, belonging to one Rita de Acosta Lydig; diva, muse, fashionista, suffragette supporter, and the “most picturesque woman in America”. She was a New Yorker, born on 1 October 1875 to Cuban and Spanish parents, and sister to 7 other siblings, and she grew up to become an influential figure within art and fashion in Paris, London and NYC. Rita’s story, and her wardrobe, scream that bitch, have massive Libra energy and I live for it!

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WYSK: Scotland’s Botanical Babe, Elizabeth Blackwell.

Elizabeth Blackwell

In this WYSK, let me introduce you to one hella determined Scottish artist. Her story is inspiring and wild, and her hard work as a successful illustrator in the 1700’s is definitely worth the read. This is the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, Scotland’s botanical babe.

Elizabeth Blachrie was born some time in the early 1700s, in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her father was a successful merchant, and she lived a relatively comfortable life; she was trained as an artist, and had a real talent for creating beautiful illustrations.

There’s not much written about Elizabeth’s early life, but her story picks up when she secretly marries her second cousin, Alexander Blackwell. Blackwell was an educated man, who ran a medical practice in Aberdeen, where he worked as a doctor – despite having no medical training. The couple stayed in Aberdeen while this questionable business was operating, but when Alexander’s qualifications were challenged, he and Elizabeth packed their things and moved over 500 miles away, to London.

Arriving in London, Alexander became associated with a publishing firm, and the couple began a new life together; enjoying luxuries, becoming parents to a son and daughter, William and Ann, and experiencing family life in the capital. Things seemed pretty good for the Blackwell’s.

With a little experience gained in the publishers, Alexander decided to set up his own business – neglecting the fact publishers had to have four years training and belong to a guild before they could trade. He was heavily fined by local authorities for flouting the rules, and between the penalties and his lavish spending, the Blackwell’s found themselves heavily in debt. The publishing business was closed down, and Alexander was sent to a debtor’s prison.

Desperate and essentially destitute, with her two children to take care of, Elizabeth found herself in dire straits. By a stroke of fate, she came across a physician’s book, which described and depicted plants from the New World and their medicinal properties. She had an idea, so crazy it just might work.

Continue reading WYSK: Scotland’s Botanical Babe, Elizabeth Blackwell.

Love Is In the Eye of the Beholder: A love-letter to a beautiful Georgian Era trend.

Have you ever been stumped on a gift for your significant other? What to get for a loved one who has everything already? How about something more intimate than a pair of new socks? Something that discreetly says “I love you, I’m yours” better than any Ferrero Roche and a box set of Game of Thrones can…

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La Loba, Inside All of Us; Sunday reading recommendations.

It’s Sunday! My favourite day of the week to relax in my PJs and read a book in bed. Since it’s my favourite day, I thought I’d share an excerpt from one of my favourite books, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a collection of myths and legends from around the world, focusing on women, wilderness and nature, and how a parallel exists between them. An essential piece of literature for anyone interested in folklore and feminism, this book made an impact on my life several years ago, and to this day I often think about how we can all live our lives a little bit more like a Wolf Woman. If you enjoy the excerpt, you can find a PDF copy here, or you can buy the book (ebook and hardback) on Amazon and Kobo, linked below. Happy Sunday Haggis Friends!

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A moment in Hair-Story: The Guillotine Haircut

Introducing the macabre OG pixie cut, and a ticket to the most exclusive ball in town. The Guillotine Haircut was fashionable among men and women whose relatives had been escorted up creaky wooden steps to the guillotine. Before their loved ones were dispatched, their hair was roughly cut by the executioner – using a comb called a cadenette – to avoid any interference with the smooth cut of the blade.

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Tattooed ladies: Victorian society’s quiet love affair with body art.

Tattoo culture is so mainstream now, that it’s a bit of a task to find someone who doesn’t have one – men or women. Once seen as something predominantly masculine, today we regularly see women (myself included) with ink – but this isn’t something exclusively 90’s-2000’s. In fact, tattoos were relatively popular in the upper echelons of Victorian Society’s ladies, who used body art to become “more fascinating”.

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“Hello Clarice…” – A Brief History of Face Masks

Face masks are an obsession for me… When I’m shopping at the super market or passing the cosmetics shop on my way to work, I just have to buy a few more to add to the ever-growing collection in my fridge. With Vietnamese air pollution and my skin showing how tired I am from kindergartners climbing me like a tree on the regular, these babies are my go-to when I need a boost! But where did these things start out?

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Isabella MacDuff: The Badass Countess of Buchan

Scotland is a country steeped in incredible history and mystical stories, although it’s perhaps most famous for its centuries-long struggle against England in its fight for independence.

Hollywood has touched on the stories of our heroes and kings (see; Mel Gibson’s borderline offensive accent and face paint, Chris Pine looking like a frozen snotter in a boat), however the women who fought for freedom alongside them are too often forgotten.

Take for example, the Countess of Buchan – a woman who rebelled against her sympathetic husband and in-laws, turned her back on her own family by taking a stand for Scottish Independence and single-handedly legitimized the crowning of King Robert the Bruce, before facing a nightmarish fate at the hands of the English. This is her story.

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On the Wings of Beetles: An ode to one of the most beautiful trends in Victorian Fashion.

Victorian Dress embellished with the wings of Jewel Beetles.

The Victorian Era was not an overtly ostentatious time for fashion, with its ankle-length skirts, poke bonnets and full-sleeved dresses. The monarch, whom the era took its name from, dressed very modestly and didn’t wear makeup – a far cry from her predecessors (looking at you Queen Elizabeth I). Women were expected to follow her lead to achieve the perfect picture of grace, beauty and maternity – as well as to protect themselves from lustful men, in case they became too beautiful and attracted unwanted advances.

It was restrictive, uncomfortable and often dismal dressing in the 1800’s, and while a modest life was the ideal, exotic tastes were common at the time and often seen as romantic, whimsical even. Take for example one of my favourite trends from this period, adapted from Asian fashion that had been practiced in places like Myanmar and Thailand for centuries before the Victorians stumbled across it; Beetlewing.

Continue reading On the Wings of Beetles: An ode to one of the most beautiful trends in Victorian Fashion.

Keeping Up with The Kingdoms: Makeup and Cosmetics in the Middle Ages

Things that run through my mind at 3am: Why did I do that embarrassing thing 19 years ago? Is that a pile of clothes on the chair or a demon? How did women in the Middle Ages wear makeup?

Makeup in 2019 is inescapable. Every few scrolls of my Facebook feed bring up yet another tutorial on how to perfectly contour my face or create a sexy smoky eye. Beauty Influencers are like some kind of sparkly, gorgeous hydra and they’re everywhere, so I often wonder if makeup was as accessible and easy to apply as it is now – how did medieval women achieve their look?

In the Middle Ages, the church viewed makeup as immoral and sinful, stating that it was vanity to paint one’s face. If a woman was disfigured from an illness, like pox, then she was permitted to use makeup – so she didn’t repulse her husband – but otherwise you were a stone cold sinner.

Despite the church and their bare-face policies, women still wore makeup, sometimes going to surprising lengths to achieve the desired look of the day. Delve into some fascinating facts about Medieval beauty below!

Continue reading Keeping Up with The Kingdoms: Makeup and Cosmetics in the Middle Ages