In college, I took a fencing class. There is something so appealing about challenging an opponent with a sword. There are three types of swords: the Foil, the Sabre, and the Épée. In order to score points, you must touch your opponent with the tip of your sword. Since each sword is different, the rules to scoring points are a bit different for each.
The Foil: targets the torso and back, but not the arms. Hits with the side of the blade do not count. If a touch lands on the arms or legs, no points are awarded. Fencers may only receive points one at a time, and a referee determines right of way.The Sabre: targets the entire body above the waist, exluding the hands. Touches can be made with the edges of the blade as well as the tip. Fencers may only receive points one at a time, and a referee determines right of way.
The Épée: targets the entire body. All touches must be made with the tip of the blade, and not the sides. Unlike the foil and sabre, Épée does not use right of way. Fenceres can score points simultaneously.
While I loved fencing, I hated the uniforms we wore in class. Ugly masks and thick, padded vests. Where were the amazing swashbuckling costumes I saw in the movies? The Wallace Collection is exploring this exact theme in their new exhibit, The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe.
During the Renaissance civilian swords were not just weapons: they were works of art. The rapier was at once a weapon, fashion item, and rich jewellery object; representing the rise of a new and upwardly mobile middle class, sixteenth-century concepts of masculinity and the emergence of the duel of honour.
Such high-status weapons were highly complex and individualistic, demanding enormous sums from those determined to impress their world. In the Renaissance, there were no boundaries separating beauty and brutality, the work of art from the killing tool. The sword was both a splendid and a savage object, while the art of defence, or ‘fencing’, was regarded as an aesthetically pleasing movement system with just as much expressive value as a courtly dance. The ability to kill an enemy in a beautiful way was one of the essential attributes of nobility and as the aspiring middle classes began to emulate the elite, the duelling sub-culture grew.
I think the real height of fashion in fencing was during the Victorian era. Women became more active during this time, and they had AMAZING costumes for this sport. These fencing costumes were also considered pretty sexy for the time, as the skirt length was pretty short. This excerpt from Athletics and Outdoor Sports for Women in 1903 explained:
In taking up fencing, one of the first questions which confronts a woman is the matter of costume. A costume suitable to foil play is easily provided. A shirt-waist with loose sleeves but tight over the wrist, a light-weight skirt reaching to the knees, and canvas shoes comprise all the essentials. A thin, light materials for the skirt is desirable, as it is conducive to ease and freedom of limb. Bloomers, quite baggy, and caught closely at the knee, are often preferred to a skirt; I advise the use of the garment which gives greater freedom and ease to the wearer. The sleeves of the waist should not be so baggy as to be in the way, nor so tight as to bind the wrist, upon the suppleness and strength of which so much depends.
I just love the heart-shaped applique on these costumes.
Now if only I could find one like this 1920s version below, I’d be set.
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