|Porch at Saratoga Arms|
The evening was perfect, around 70 degrees, and I sat on a bench to people watch. And then I closed my eyes and tried to picture myself back 120-40 years, as a woman sitting on a similar bench, on this very street. I’ve always marveled in how women are essentially the same now as in the past.
3. I’m sitting with my legs crossed. No proper 1880 lady sat in such a manner. And risk exposing her ankle? Never.
4. I’m wearing denim capris. Only workmen wore denim (thank you Levi Strauss—in 1873), no women ever wore pants, much less ones that revealed their bare calf and ankle. Brazen Nancy!
7. I wore sandals with rubber bottoms, and expensive arches that keep my back from hurting when I walk a lot. In 1880 the ladies wore button-up shoes with hard soles, and of course stockings to above their knees.
8. I wore sunglasses to deal with the glare—prescription, bi-focal sunglasses so I can see far away and read. In 1880 sunglasses were rare. But I would have had a parasol.
9. I sat there with a bare head. In 1880 I would have worn a hat—and not just a visor.
10. I carried a purse containing a credit card, driver’s license, insurance card, makeup, money, phone… I collect antique purses and the ones that I have from this era are delicate and often made of beads. They could hold a small compact for powder, and perhaps a few coins. The women didn’t carry money. The men paid for everything. Sounds good to me.
11. My skin was pampered with wrinkle cream with SPF to protect my face from the harmful rays of the sun, my hands with lotion, my heels with foot cream, and my lips with Chapstick. In 1880 face cream and lotions were around, often homemade, but they were often greasy, and certainly didn’t make wrinkles go away (though I’m not sure the stuff we use now achieves that either.)
12. I took a shower this morning and dried my hair with a hair-dryer. Special, magical Ions made the frizz go away (sort of.) The woman of 1880 might have had a bath in her hotel—whether full or just a hip bath—but it was a big production that involved servants lugging hot water up many stairs. Many hotels, even the nice ones, only had one bathroom down the hall that needed to be shared. If you needed to go potty in the middle of the night? Pull out the chamber pot. But I have questions: were there public restrooms? What did people do when they needed to go? And how did they manage it wearing the many-layers of clothes?
13. The sounds of passing cars invaded the moment, but in 1880 it wouldn’t have been any quieter. Horses and carriages on cobblestones, whinnying, the sound of whips and drivers yelling at their steeds and other drivers. I read that the width of Broadway was determined by how much space was needed for a horse and carriage to turn-around.
15. I had a caffeine headache and took an Excedrin—with water from my water bottle. The 1880 woman might have some headache powder, but she would have had to go back to her lodging to take it. And carrying around water 24/7? Forgeddaboutit.
16. Then I started thinking about my cell phone, checking the weather forecast, my email, reading reviews of restaurants and things-to-do… we can’t even venture into that arena, as there was no comparable opportunities for quick information in 1880.
Detailing the differences between myself and my fellow female in 1880 made me rather sad. Although I often say I would have loved to wear those luscious clothes and go to balls, and be courted and pampered for my femininity, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty listed above, I don’t think I’d trade places with her. Our lives today are so incredibly at-ease, with choices and ways to give ourselves comfort so we don’t need to suffer heat, pain, thirst, hunger, and lack of opportunity. We are capable and able to get (or at least try for) anything our minds and hearts can imagine.
With this knowledge I vow to appreciate more and complain less.
Oooh, there’s a frozen yogurt shop across the street . . .
If you'd like to read some of my historical novels take a look here.//Nancy