Okay, so I feel I have to address an issue, I, as a thoroughly ignorant Brit, didn’t know until now.
WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME MARTHA WASHINGTON WAS A FASHION QUEEN?
Now, granted, I’ve not had much exposure to American history, outside of my gran showing me Gone With The Wind, and the little I gleaned growing up from Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Simpsons, and National Treasure. Watching Turn and having international friendswho are enthusiastic about their history was a massive epiphany for me. Wait, there’s a whole new arena of history I haven’t explored? Sweet!
But on of my pre-conceived notions from all that pop-culture was that Martha Washington was a Founding Grandmother. You know…
Looks like little Red Riding Hood’s granny…
Look, granny! Carries knitting in one hand (possibly patriotic knitting. After all, Betsy Ross doesn’t just get dibs.)
Why Grandmamma, what big 1780s caps you have! (all the better to be First Lady with, my dear…)
From the paintings and iconography of Martha Washington, I’d have been very surprised if she didn’t own a rocking-chair. And I’m sure, in later life, she did. But that wasn’t ALL there was to Martha….
Wait, THIS is Martha, too?!
At first, there seems nothing to connect the staid, sensible-looking old lady in the first few portraits to this reconstructed painting of young Martha Washington, or the “Widow Custis.”
One of the first things I was struck by was that for a long time, Washington wasn’t really “George Washington” pre-Revolutionary War. He was the ‘Widow Custis’ husband’.
Now, according to Wikipedia:
“Martha Washington has traditionally been seen as a small, frumpy woman,
who spent her days at the Revolutionary War winter encampments visiting
with the common soldiers in their huts.”
I think the Widow Custis’ rather fabulous wardrobe would beg to disagree!
See the colours up there? Blue - especially that deep indigo blue - was tradionally one of the most expensive dyes available. No-one who could afford indigo is EVER going to be accused of being frumpy by 18th century peers.
Also - I could write a whole essay about Martha Washington and the colour yellow.
This particular shade, known as “Imperial yellow” ,was a big thing in both 18th century East and West. Like the fad for Chinoiserie that was prevalent at the time, this was a cultural fashion import from China.
According to an article by the University of Nottingham,
“Yellow, as one of the five colours derived from the Five Elements Theory surpassed
the other colours when it became the emblem of emperor. It was thought
that the emperor was located in the centre of the five directions and
the centre was represented by the element earth and the colour yellow.
The idea struck a chord with the 18th century west, and yellow became an increasingly popular colour in gowns for the upper class, gradually filtering down to the middle classes towards the end of the 18th century. Back in the 1750s when Martha was the young, attractive, fiery Widow Custis, this would have made one heck of an impact, especially in the colonies. It showed her wealth and status in one go as well as - her ability to source fabrics from the other end of the earth.
I’m also going to add that when marrying Washington, Martha’s wedding gown of choice?
Imperial Yellow. Plain and frumpy this ain’t. Martha’s practically wearing a solid gold dress.
(Reproduction on display at Mount Vernon)
And, keeping up that ‘indigo blue/purple’ is one of the most expensive dyes around theme?
May I present the First Lady’s extremely sassy wedding shoes? In purple silk and gilt thread - and with that ahem, ‘imperial yellow’ silk lining peeping out there?
to quote the excellent @americanrevolutionhotties, these were the ‘Manolo Blahniks’ of their day. And they certainly say “you are one LUCKY man, Georgie boy” in spades (although George was by no means a shabby dresser himself, the gorgeous red-haired dork.) Martha was 27 when she married him, a young, attractive widow and businesswoman with two children and an incredible inheritance from her previous husband. This must have been the powerhouse wedding of the century!
Being an absolute costume nerd, I did a bit more research into Martha Washington’s wardrobe. What else did this fashion forward woman have in her linen press?
This gown’s an absolute confection! Pink, embroidered satin, muslin and fine lace sleeves - and don’t froget, touch of yellow in the florals there. Martha still kept her style!
It’s sometimes incorrectly named her ‘inaugural ballgown’, as it’s part of the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Inaugural Gown collection. Martha strongly disapproved of George being President and actually didn’t show up for his inauguration. She was at home, busy ‘packing’. (So you can add strong-willed and independent to the list of amazing things Martha is, too)
There’s also this rather fantastic gold brocaded ballgown. The colours have faded, but you can see traces of the original colour in the bodice -and can you imagine it glittering by candlelight at a dinner table?
In her later years, Martha adopted a simpler transitional 1790s style that’s mostly commonly shown in the portraits of her as an older lady; practical, in keeping with her status, but a little more restrained (as befits a sober older lady, by the standards of the time) Still, amazingly classy in silk…
(Also, plus-size, and still rocking it. You go, girl!)
Loving the button detailing, very chic.
Sadly, these are the only gowns that survive intact from Martha’s wardrobe. Martha was nothing if not practical and a lot of her and George’s clothes were cut up and distributed to admirers and friends. But luckily, Mount Vernon has a great collection of these remnants of finery, so I’m going to post the “scraps of history” here, with a few thoughts on what they might have been…
Gorgeous red brocade with blue and gold trailing flowers! You can still see the folds where it was pleated, probably into a robe francaise. According to Mount Vernon, the little circle you can see cut-out is too small to be an armhole. It was probably used by her granddaughter to make a pin-cushion.
MOAR IMPERIAL YELLOW. YESSS, MARTHA. WEAR ALL THE YELLOW.
And this lovely green damask - hey, there’s something that probably looked like the gown Martha wears in Turn! Full points, costume designers!
AMAZINGLY similar lace, saved from Martha’s wedding gown. The exquisite lace sleeves would be re-used on other gowns as an accessory. Again, 10/10, Turn costume designers!
one of my favourites out of the Mount Vernon collection. The peach and white and brown… oh, would look stunning on a brunette! I can only imagine this in an open robe, or a robe francaise, or anglaise, or…
*grabby hands at fabric*
well, look who’s rocking 18th century fuchsia and imperial yellow together! DAMN IT MARTHA, GIVE ME YOUR FASHION SENSE.This is my other favourite, in case you couldn’t tell…
and finally, this gorgeous white handpainted silk. You can only imagine what this must have looked like in a gown.
Fashion history lesson over, kids. Spread the word. Martha Washington was an outrageous, daring, fabulous fashion queen.
Genderbent Marry Poppins and Bert. Because I love the idea of this prim and proper “Martin Poppins” (who is practically perfect in every way) being bosom buddies with the oh so common and eccentric “Beatrice”.
“Now Beatrice… none of your larking about.”
“Oh– it’s a jolly holiday with Martin!”
Besides the 17th century are there any other periods in fashion history you really like?
I love the fashion of the Italian Renaissance, specifically the dresses and the hairstyles. I actually did a course last year at uni on which I had to study female portraits versus male portraits from Renaissance Italy and I realised just how beautiful the style truly was for ladies. Domenico Ghirlandaio and Raphael’s portraits are probably the best examples of this.
In a similar vein, I really love the kind of fashion that 16th and 17th century Venetian courtesans would wear? Very niche, I know, and I mean, it’s completely ridiculous. Clopin shoes taller than a small child and dresses with slit skirts so men could see the courtesan’s breeches on underneath but….there’s something so particular about it that it makes me really happy.
Every single decade of the 18th century, the world over, was beautiful. I think that was one of fashion’s greatest centuries. I’m particularly fond of the fashion at the turn of the 18th century: again, it’s incredibly particular and it represents the transition from the 17th century to the 18th century. I also love late 18th century dresses, like 1780s and 90s, chemise a la Reine kind of stuff. I’m completely in love with it. The recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship really showcased that fashion in the best possible way and it was a feast for the eyes, consequently.
I love Ottoman fashion. I know my idea of Ottoman fashion is probably influenced by Orientalist interpretations but the fashion of the near East in the early modern period is to die for: so colourful, so many beautiful patterns, so many plumes and so much fur lining…..it’s a trip.
Lastly, I love the fashion of the turn of 20th century. I think Edwardian fashion can certainly be ugly (it’s very polarising for me) but the sort of fashion-forward Parisian styles from that period ARE completely gorgeous and I also love the simple styles of dress that you see in those polaroid postcards of Edwardian and late Victorian beauties. Reminds me of pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Whether you’re just diving into a huge workload at your desk, or actually spending some time deep underwater, one thing is clear — a dive watch would be great to have on your wrist. You don’t need to be a diver to appreciate these high-performing, beautifully designed, and undoubtedly utilitarian timepieces for everyday use (especially now that summer’s in full swing). In this Carry Smarter guide, you’ll get familiar with the basics of dive watches, what features to look for when buying a diver, and our picks for the best and most affordable options to help you take the plunge into the world of dive watches.
A Crash Course on Dive Watches
The purpose of a dive watch is to monitor how long you’ve been underwater, and more importantly - how much air you have left in your tank. They’ve been around since the turn of the 20th century and continue to be both fashionable and useful today. The quintessential dive watch has an immediately recognizable look. They’re larger in size (around 42mm), feature a rotating bezel, and rest on a metal bracelet or rubber strap. Dive watches are ideal for EDC use because they’re built like tanks, they’re easy to read, and they look just plain cool.
4 Hallmarks of Dive Watches
Water Resistance: If you’re buying a dive watch, it should have proper water resistance. While most watches claim 50m of water resistance, that really means that it will survive hand washes and maybe a shower. When looking at dive watches, 200m (660 feet!) of water resistance is common ground. If you plan on having a watch that will stand up to swimming, showering, and of course, diving - be sure to choose something with a high level of water resistance.
Build Quality: Divers entrust their watches with their lives to be able to know precisely how much time they have underwater. For dive watches, reliable durability and construction are critical. Look for a dive watch with a well-built case, a strong crystal (mineral and sapphire are best), and a good strap or bracelet. A solid dive watch will last for decades if maintained, and you can easily buy an heirloom piece in the $200 range.
Movement: The slight bump in price from our Military Watch Guide opens up more options for the type of movement that powers the watch. Automatic movements are popular in the diver market as they don’t require a battery. Automatic watches “wind” from the motion of your arm, so they’ll keep ticking as long as you keep them on your wrist. Also seen in this class of watches are day/date features, adding to the utility of the timepiece.
Legibility: When underwater, it’s crucial to know exactly how long you’ve been diving. The bezel, a key component of the dive watch, tells you exactly that. The bezel’s “12 o’clock” dot can be rotated to match up with the minute hand to keep track of time. As the minute hand moves, you can see how many minutes have elapsed by reading the bezel number as opposed to the watch face. Dive watches feature large, illuminated indices (the hour and minute markings on the face) that are easy to read. This illumination (or “lume” in the watch world) not only looks awesome, but it helps you quickly tell time when the lights are out.
With the features to look for in a dive watch in mind, here are some of our favorite examples — all coming in at under $200:
The 8 Best Affordable Dive Watches for EDC
The Casio MDV106-1A is the most inexpensive watch on this list at well under $200, but Casio didn’t get to where they are today producing cheap, low-quality watches. This watch is a great entry point into the dive watch look without having to commit to the full mechanical experience (and price). Its 45mm case diameter is as big as they come, and its 200m water resistance, screw-down crown, and screw-lock back preserve its Japanese quartz movement from the water. Excellent features for a dive watch at a very affordable price point.
The SKX007 is an excellent example of a classic dive watch. This model from Seiko has been around in one form or another for decades. Featuring a mechanical movement and tank-like construction, this capable diver will serve you well for years to come. The large, circular indices are easy to read and the bezel clicks securely in place. The day/date wheel, sweeping seconds hand, and bright lume add up to a stylish watch ideal for everyday wear.
Orient’s Submariner homage gets everything right. It pays its respects to the quintessential dive watch design, but makes some very attractive tweaks to make it their own. The Arabic numerals, date window, sword hands, and striking red accent on the second hand are all welcome aesthetic choices, enhancing its look without overdoing it. The rest of the watch is solid: stainless steel bracelet, in-house automatic movement, 200m water resistance and mineral crystal window all give great value to the watch as well as the wearer, given how inexpensive it is. The Orient Black Mako is a great starting point to jump into the deep end of dive watches.
The Timex Expedition series of watches go the extra mile in providing quality timepieces packed with features but not weighed down by price. The T49799 takes the brand under the waves, giving you everything you need for your next dive. The watch itself is beefy, with 44 millimeters of shock-resistant stainless steel sealed, chunky rivets and a mineral crystal window rated for 200m. The signature Timex Indiglo provides ample illumination for dark and murky environments, and its chronograph dials handle all your timing needs. An outer bezel Tachymeter and date window round out the watch’s data features.
This diver is from Seiko’s popular “5 Series” of watches. Each watch in the 5 Series features automatic winding, a day/date display, water resistance, a recessed crown, and a durable case and bracelet. This particular watch features a more vintage look thanks to the wide bezel and thin indices on the face. The dark blue face nicely accents the stainless steel and the transparent casebook allows you to see the mechanical movement in motion. The SNZH53 also comes on a stainless steel bracelet, which adds to the value of this affordable diver.
Understated excellence is the name of the game for Parnis pieces, and the GMT-Master is winning at it. Only simple and effective components grace the watch, from its scratch-resistant sapphire window to its automatic, hacking movement. Its design pays tribute to the classic dive design, and its stainless steel construction capped with a ceramic bezel ensures that design is preserved against wear and tear. If you want the dive watch quality but prefer not to make waves with aesthetics, this Parnis could be for you.
Developed together with the U.S. Navy Seals, the Luminox 3051 is as rugged as it is striking in appearance. Perfect for low-light environments, its tritium tubes stay visible long after other the strongest paint-on lumes have lost their brightness. Its thick, 44mm polyurethane case protects its Swiss-quartz movement, and its 200m water resistance ensures the 3051 doesn’t spring a leak while in service. Even its face styling is designed to make visibility the priority, with block Arabic numerals painted in bright white contrast to the black case. Eye-catching and tough, Luminox’s flagship 3051 leads the way in underwater timekeeping.
You can’t have a list about dive watches (regardless of the price) and not mention the Seiko Monster. This timepiece sets the bar for the value you get from an automatic watch, regardless of price or brand. From its mammoth 45mm case design to its reliable 4r36 movement to the most aggressive lume applied on a production watch, the list of its features just goes on and on. This second-generation SRP307 takes all the respectable features of its predecessor and improves on all its former weaknesses. Its second hand can now be stopped (hacked) during adjustment, its crown is easier to grip, it has a more thematic and less complicated face, and they’ve somehow made its lume even brighter. Make no mistake, its nickname is “Monster” for a reason. (Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, the Monster was $200 on the nose. Its price has since fluctuated higher, but it’s still a worthwhile mention for this list.)