II-60156.1 | Miss Bethune as "An Incroyable," Montreal, QC, 1881

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Miss Bethune as "An Incroyable," Montreal, QC, 1881
Notman & Sandham
1881, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
14 x 10 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Miss Bethune is also a central figure in the preceding skating carnival composite. She was dressed as "An Incroyable." Many fancy dress fashion plates illustrated this character in a similar pose; a manual published in 1887 described it as "a very favourite costume." The incroyables were highly fashionable French men of the late 1790s. In fancy dress, however, the name was applied to women in a feminized version of a slightly exaggerated military costume from about 1789, the time of the French Revolution.

This is one of several military-style costumes that women frequently chose. Other such characters were called "Daughter of the Regiment," "Vivandière" or "Follow the Drum." Their popularity almost certainly resided in the masculinity of the dress that resembled a uniform. This was the extent of the gender crossover, however; there is no evidence of a woman ever wearing such a costume with trousers.

Ardern Holt, Fancy Dresses Described, or What to Wear at Fancy Balls, 5th ed. (London: Debenham and Freebody, 1887), p. 119.

Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion in the French Revolution (London: Batsford, 1988), p. 117.

  • What

    Miss Bethune as "An Incroyable" struck a typical pose for this character often illustrated in fashion plates. Two portraits were taken; the other was used in the composite.

  • Where

    Miss Bethune is not actually outdoors on ice, but in the studio posing on a reflective surface in front of a painted backdrop.

  • When

    In the 19th century, wearing trousers was highly exceptional for women, even at a fancy dress ball or carnival.

  • Who

    Miss Bethune was evidently a guest of some importance, as she was given a central position in the composite, and newspaper articles mention she was presented to Lord Lorne.