29 January 2008

Daily Life: Shopping in Vienna

By Jennifer Linforth

There was a certain view of Vienna in the 19th century, carefree, happy--oblivious to the world outside. The popular view of the Viennese woman of the time was beautiful, upbeat and blonde. The opposite was true. They were down to earth. Cosmetics were a simple application of rice powder and a bit of cologne. What was fashionable was a more natural look--opposite that of Parisian society. Paris had all the fashionable clothing, much like today. The woman of the bourgeois class in Vienna even if they had a sizable income preferred their clothing to be made at home.

Hats however were another story. They came from Paris and were not to be trifled with. The hat was the most important part of their wardrobe. Covered in lively colors with feathers and fauna--the hat told a story of adventure and fancy.

(This blogger must place a side note here, or else I would not be doing my other job as a National Park Ranger. These feather bedecked hats were the rage in all major fashion centers across Europe and in the states. Fashion often went beyond feathers, to incorporate beaks and entire birds. Until a woman by the name of Harriet Hemenway, a Bostonian bird lover, objected to seeing women wearing dead birds upon their heads. Her crusade to get elite woman to join a society for the protection of birds--and thus remove their feathered head coverings--led to the creation of a modest organization she named the Audubon Society. Armed with a few determined women, Hemenway encouraged federal and state legislation to ban plume hunting and stop the importation of feathers stripped from migratory birds. The rest is history.)

Despite the extravagance of the hat, women overall were frugal in their daily shopping exhibitions. They usual took a servant along with them, for it was not respectable to stand outside a store alone. Most shops were family owned businesses specializing in one thing or another. The idea of large departments stores did not exist. Viennese women--bargained. And were quite good at it.

If the Viennese traveled about the city during their daily outings and did not own a carriage they could hire one. The least expensive was the fiaker with two horses or an einspänner with one. Again--bargain with your fare--most Viennese preferred foot travel. Occasionally the streets were crowded by the finest carriages ever seen--the court equipages. Lavishly painted four seat coaches drawn by two or four horses proudly displaying the doubled headed Austrian eagle on the doors. The coachman wore his trademark two cornered hat and was charged with hustling visiting dignitaries and tutors to the Habsburg children (and there were a lot of Habsburg children.) Unmistakable to a Viennese family out for a stroll, was the Kaiser's coach--reserved for him, his children and his wife. Black on top, green on bottom with green and gold wheels--it was hard to miss.

Life in Vienna was hard to miss--it was unlike any place in the world.