Stoep Stories No 26

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Monday, 26th May 2014

Published by the Graaff-Reinet Heritage Society 


By Marj Noel

Talented ebullient Estelle van Schalkwyk artist wife of Dr. Johannes family doctor par excellence made copious notes of what was worn in the years of the first quarter of this century.

She say: “Young girls always dressed in white pink of blue. For some mysterious reason never explained to us green was considered a very “fast colour” even for a sash and no nice girl would have dreamed of wearing green at a ball!

Most ball gowns were of course home-made. Says Estelle “Considerable thought planning and ingenuity went into the creation of our gowns we always tried to be different from the other girls and aimed at an original effect. One of my favourite gowns adjusted and improvised from a Weldon pattern I made from white crepe de chine draped in Grecian style. Around the bottom of the dress I painted a wide border in oils of passion flowers. Long white gloves and a silk fan were the usual accessories and we often painted our shoes to match a particular gown.

Kate Greenaway gowns were popular with tiny puffed sleeves and ruched necklines. Black velvet laced bodices peasant style were also often worn usually over white muslin or silk frocks with puffed sleeves and gathered neck. Tucks and lace frills were used as trimming on  skirts and flowers mostly real but sometimes artificial were usually worn in our hair shoulders at bosom or in our blue rose or pink sashes.

Serious business this but even more important was how to get to the party? Distances were great and transport problematical. Estelle remembers “for those if us who lived in one of the villages a ball often involved a cross country ride on horseback. “At  the mercy of weather and possibly stubborn horses they would have to leave up to four hours before the ball was due to start.

Imagine also the difficulty of packing their elaborate party gear into saddle bags in such a way as to leave them uncreased. We always enjoyed the beautiful ride across country.  I rode side saddle of course in a riding habit I was particularly fond of. Some of our habits were tailored in London others my mother made herself’

Her favourite outfit was of green (apparently not a fast colour for a habit) and it was worn over a white blouse with a stiff collar and white stock. White gloves and a white topee completed the outfit while the horse was decked out in white bridle with silver trimmings given to young Estelle by an admirer.

“All in all I considered that I cut quite a dashing figure and was determined to enjoy myself to the full!

This she evidently did because one of her brothers found it necessary to kick her shin as she danced past with a handsome partner and his in her ear not so animated!

One imagines that her brothers who were very good to her had quite a time of it keeping trace of the lively young belle. Of course young girls were always chaperoned and “some of the chaperones were real Tartars” says Estelle.

Often the revellers would arrive back at their homes in village or farm (Tsolo) in the early morning, having ridden home through the night.  Talk about life in the fast lane!

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