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Scandalous foreign fashions

London ladies in Platter’s diary (Library of the University of Basel)
London ladies in Platter’s diary (Library of the University of Basel)

The first sketch shows a noble lady with her maid, the second one a townswoman with her peculiar high hat and the wife of the Lord Mayor of London. Platter likewise sketched the Lord Mayor himself, an English carriage, and a judge; yet his comments on the women are markedly sharper. While Platter’s sketches of the Lord Mayor and his wife were inspired by a flattering invitation to lunch at their house, his more general observations on women are clearly informed by continental stereotypes.

The sketches themselves were likely copied from another source, as Platter’s drawing skills were rather limited, making both his opinion and his visuals quite unoriginal. Because of the moral qualities clothing held at the time it was usually women who were scrutinized for any moral failings. Thus, when describing the women’s dress in detail, Platter also states how England is "der weiber paradeiss" (702b) - women’s paradise - as they have far more freedom than in other places: their dress is scandalously fashionable, rather than simple and chaste, and moreover, they venture into the public sphere dressed like this. Worst of all, their husbands are not allowed to say anything against any of this, as in England “schlagen woll oft die weiber ihre männer” - the women often hit their husbands!

Clearly unimpressed by this 'women's utopia', Platter allows us a glimpse of Elizabethan fashion with his sketches, and his indignant reaction provides a fascinating idea of what a Swiss traveller made of such scandalous foreign customs.

Stefanie Heeg