Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Exciting News!

I've been gradually releasing this announcement over various platforms as things get more solid. This is a pretty serious platform, so I wanted to wait until everything was totally and completely for certain. (I'm writing this ahead of time, when things are only about 99.9999% certain, and I'm so nervous about that last 0.0001%, I can't even.)

Starting very soon, I'm going to be the collections manager/educator at the Silas Wright House/St. Lawrence County Historical Association (! This is it, this is the first step in my career, my first permanent position in a museum. This is terrifying and unsettling.

This probably means not too much for the blog. I should be able to manage a job as well as one post a week! If anything, I may get to write about specific objects in the collections or people and events of the area, either for myself or for the museum.

Also, you know what's really my bag. Patterns. Access to what looks like a pretty sizable collection of clothes is basically my dream! It's too early to say exactly what's going to happen there, but it's definitely a priority for me to talk to the director and see about producing either a pattern book or packet patterns, either independently or for the museum.

Which then brings me to my sewing output (which I'm pretty sure isn't something that brought you here ...). I'm not quite sure what's going to happen there. I am working on a bustle gown for a wedding, so you know that has to happen. There's also a Regency morning dress that has to happen so that I can, you know, dress Regency and talk about my book, I got Regency boots for Christmas specifically so I could do this.

Apart from that, though, I'm not sure what's going to happen in the year ahead. Canton is too far from the Empire State Costumers to go to our (*sniff* their) events, and I won't have a partner-in-crime to organize mini Victorian picnics with. There don't seem to be many War of 1812 events in the area, and there are only a couple of Civil War reenactments. Well, we shall see what life brings.

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 2e Figure

Boston MFA 44.1527
New coiffure: the front straight, ending in a frizzed hérisson, the bottom of the Coiffure in the back and on the sides like the coiffure à l'enfance. The whole wrapped with a flower crown. (1781)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 1ere Figure

(Way back when I was translating the Galerie, I came to two books - the 38th and 39th - which weren't included in the reprint. From the index, I could see that they were coiffures, and since they seemed less pressing than the gowns I let them wait. And then I forgot about them.)

Boston MFA 44.1526

Coiffure of a white straw hat edged with a colored ribbon. Crown surrounded by a wide ribbon, with a bow in the front. It is decorated with flowers and covered with straight hair over a toque which is low in front and larger in the back. Two curls and a favori; loose chignon and two curls hanging in back. (1781)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Marie Antoinette à la Rose (HSM #2)

I haven't done a portrait costume analysis in a long time, but it seemed like the most appropriate way to deal with the second Historical Sew Monthly challenge: Blue.

Marie-Antoinette dit « à la Rose », Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783; Versailles MV 3893
This portrait of the twenty-eight-year-old Marie Antoinette was painted in the same year as the famous portrait en chemise - in fact, it was painted in order to replace the chemise portrait with something less scandalous. (You may notice that she's standing in the same pose, holding the same ribboned rose, with the same hairstyle and same expression.) While this blue taffeta gown is more traditional than the chemise, it's nothing like a robe de cour or a robe parée - two outfits worn daily at court for formal occasions. This is still a very fashionable and casual ensemble.

Starting at the top: instead of the straw hat worn in the original, this version of Marie Antoinette is coiffed with a silk turban trimmed with ostrich plumes. The turban, made of a satin-striped sheer silk, was a fashionable bit of orientalism; a slightly later portrait of Madame Elisabeth shows a pouf cap in a very similar fabric, also trimmed with a white plume. Her hairstyle is an hérisson ("hedgehog"), with curls hanging down behind à la consellière (a style possibly named after Charles Alexandre de Calonne, a French statesman and counselor of Louis XVI).

On her wrists, she wears triple-stranded pearl bracelets, matching the double-stranded necklace seen above. Pearls were highly fashionable and very expensive; perhaps their connotation of purity was meant to counteract the scandal of the original portrait.

So, the gown itself. I'm hesitant to put a name to it, because there was no exact science to gown-naming - Marie Antoinette's dressmaker Rose Bertin could have called it a polonaise, circassienne, or turque if she'd wanted. Why? Well, look at the queen's waist: the dress hangs away from the body, fastened only at the neckline with a parfait contentement (the technical term for a chest-bow). The looseness of the gown was, like the turban, a bit of Eastern influence as the traditional forms of women's dress (the gown and the sacque) were fully fitted to the torso, if only in the lining. All three of the gowns listed above were originally conceived as variations on the unfitted theme. In their original forms the polonaise and circassienne were cut with rounded skirts, pulled up in the back, while the original circassiennes and turques both had short oversleeves; circassiennes often had "exotic" trims, such as tassels or fur. Regardless of the proper term - each one has justification - this is neither a standard fitted gown nor a formal sacque.

The queen could be wearing a very wide stomacher underneath the gown, or a back-lacing waistcoat, as both are attested in fashion plates - either way, there is a strip of white trim down the center, pinched at intervals with a darker material.

The gown itself is trimmed around the neckline, down the front (possibly also around the bottom of the gown, if it really is a polonaise or circassienne), and on the sleeves with either a fine lace or a very clear, whiteworked muslin or gauze: trimming on all edges was a common fashion, as was white gauze. There's also an unembroidered white ruffle along the neckline that is probably a tucker or tour-de-gorge, sewn to the edge of the shift. The ruffle along the front edges of the gown is narrow along the torso and flares around waist level, behind the arm, to several inches wide; along the skirt, the ruffle is sewn down just above the center, creating a long "head". The sleeve ruffles are even less balanced, with a tiny head.

There's an attached collar of the same blue silk as the gown, trimmed on both edges with a white ruffle. This collar appears to have a deep point in back, judging by the edge seen behind Marie Antoinette's right arm. Collars are sometimes seen on robes à la turque, circassiennes, and lévites (although this gown probably isn't a lévite, as they were generally sashed).

It's highly likely that the petticoat had an embroidered volant ruffle that matches the one on the gown. Unfortunately, the portrait isn't full length - so it must be left a mystery, just like the name given to the gown.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pride and Prejudice 1995: The Little Things

I did threaten to write about the Ehle/Firth Pride and Prejudice, and since I'm in a writing mood without a topic I decided to make good. Regency adaptations tend to go for an overall accurate look, interpreting age and income within the confines of realistic silhouettes and colors, and so they avoid the scrutiny and reputation that a more obviously artistic and unrealistic production garners. But just as this version of P&P is not entirely faithful in every respect (e.g. the added Darcy-perspective scenes, the actors nearly all being significantly older than their characters - perhaps the most egregious example being Julia Sawalha in her late twenties playing teenage Lydia), Dinah Hill's costuming is not entirely accurate - mainly in ways that make the period more appealing to modern tastes.

The exact date when the story is set is never given; generally, the movie's taken to be set in 1813, when the book was published. I'm not going to go into the full story of English dress in the early 19th century because I'm planning a post on that later this year for the Historical Sew Monthly - specifically, what really went on with English and French dress during the Napoleonic Wars? - but I would say that that's reasonable. 1811 to about 1816 as a range.

Morning Dress

All caps from cap-that; could not resist using this one
During the Neoclassical transition period, both English and French fashion plates show many women in shorter sleeves and lower necklines when in morning walking dress. The transition into medieval/Renaissance-inspired clothing brought about a different standard, one where morning dress was required to cover the arms and usually the chest.

From La Belle Assemblée, for November 1813
("Morning dress" has a different meaning in the early part of the century than it does in the later Victorian period: during the Regency, the midday dinner was being pushed to the middle or end of the afternoon, and therefore so was the end of the morning. During and after dinner full or half dress was worn. Dress worn in the "morning" could be an extremely informal deshabille as in the Victorian era, or it could be the ordinary clothes worn for visiting, walking, or shopping. See Jane Austen and Food for more discussion of mealtimes!)

In the scene captured above, Mrs. Bennet and Mary are in morning dress, while Kitty and Lydia are in some version of evening dress - Kitty's is plausible for a less formal gown, but I don't think anyone would have made evening dress with a print like Lydia's. While there are scenes that feature chemisettes and fichus, there are numerous outfits where necklines are just too low and bare for morning dress, mostly for Elizabeth. Of the Bennet girls, only Mary tends to wear gowns that come up to her neck without a chemisette, and overall these high-necked gowns (unattractive to a modern eye) are worn by characters who are either unsympathetic, like Mrs. Hurst, or somehow at odds with Elizabeth, like Charlotte after her marriage. Though this is all less obvious than P&P05, it's still an example of artistic inaccuracy used deliberately to illustrate characterization.


He has threatened to dance with us all.
Unlike many period dramas, this one never gives us a very good view of the corsets: the best we get is this scene, where it's hidden by Lydia's bodiced petticoat. It's not worn over a chemise (not accurate) and may or may not have straps, but it also seems, based on the way the petticoat lays over it, that the shaping in the bust is done with gussets (accurate). My quarrel with the corsetry is that the shape created is essentially a historicized version of what's considered sexy now - breasts pushed together to form maximum cleavage. At the same time, other characters appear not to have any bust support at all.

Charlotte Sparrow, William Owen, ca. 1815; Staffordshire County Buildings Picture Collection PCF 6
The shape that portraits and fashion plates of the era show is bizarre to our eyes, with the breasts lifted high and separated. Extant corsets of the period generally show a large gap between the gusseted cups, the straps having to attach in front as far to the sides as possible - one corset that will appear in my upcoming book Regency Women's Dress actually has to have the straps attach to the cups themselves as they're so wide-set. Regency standards of beauty didn't favor the cleavage of two breasts being pushed together: they preferred a smooth, broad bosom. I'm not sure if any films properly represent the fashionable Regency shape - like an accurately frilly picture of the early 1920s, it's just too far from what the audience expects to see.


Another small but frequently recurring issue are the shapes of the necklines on very many dresses, especially Elizabeth's.

During the Regency, there were two common necklines: cut-in and constructed. The cut-in neckline was, like Elizabeth's above, a curve cut into the front of the bodice; the constructed neckline was created by adding straps to a rectangular bodice front. The cut-in neckline was more common in the 1810s and 1820s, while the constructed neckline was more common in the 1800s and 1810s. And here is the most important aspect: the cut-in neckline was usually shallow and wide, the constructed neckline deeper (but also wide).

This ahistorically deep cut-in neckline has become very commonly used in Regency-set period drama, sometimes a little shallower or more pointed than this. I should note that a rounded, deeper neckline is characteristic of the Neoclassical period - but this is because the front-closing drawstrings very frequently used at that time created it. Once the front closure was lost in the early 1800s, this shape fell out of favor. The desirable silhouette was broad through the shoulders and long and narrow in the body and legs, with a very high bust, and the deep cut-in neckline de-emphasizes the width and height of the bodice.

Elizabeth's dresses all have this neckline, and in general all seem to be made from the same pattern: the bodice gathered slightly at the bottom of the neckline and more at the waist, that waist being just a bit below the bottom of the bust. (This gathering is not, strictly speaking, inaccurate, but it was more common for cut-in necklines to go along with darts around 1813. I'm also not sure I've ever seen a gathered cut-in neckline around this time, either - there are 1820s examples, however.) While most dresses of this era do have a great number of similarities in construction, I don't believe it would be normal to have all of one's dresses made on the same exact lines. For one thing, people would not purchase and get rid of all of their clothing at one time - just as today, they would gradually replace clothing as it wore out or became out of date, and a dressmaker would be unlikely to duplicate a gown she'd made a year ago exactly. Gathers would change to darts, a neckline would be a different shape or height, skirts would have more or less fullness, etc. A woman wouldn't own only back-buttoning gowns, as Elizabeth does, but would have some that gather on ties, lace, or fasten with hooks.


My last point is more general than specific. One thing that stands out to me is the volume of curls around many characters' faces.

Elizabeth always has a thick mass of curls on either side of her face, from a few inches away from her center part descending almost to her jawline. Jane's curls are similar but much shorter and more defined; Mary has only a few very small ones, as does Kitty; Lydia, like Mary, tends to part her hair on the side, but has many long curls all around her head and incorporated into her hairstyle. Their mother has two very large and very regular bunches of short curls, and Charlotte tends never to have any curls at all. Caroline has a hairstyle very similar to Elizabeth's (as does Anne de Burgh) although her curls are more like waves, and Mrs. Hurst has single short curls placed all around her forehead.

Eliza Augusta Falconet Middleton, Nicholas-François Dun, ca. 1812; Gibbes Museum of Art 1960.10.4
Two bunches of curls hanging on either side of the face are actually more typical of the end of the 1810s and the 1820s through to the 1830s. Even after the period of Neoclassical influence, very short curls that appeared artlessly placed around the face were preferred. Another option was a very few distinct curls on either side of the face, often arranged to be slightly asymmetrical in some way. Mrs. Hurst's and Jane's curls are the most accurate, being sparser and shorter, as are Georgiana's and Kitty's. Mary's and Lydia's asymmetry is period-accurate, although Lydia's long curls are more typical of some years before, during the beginning of the transition into 16th and 17th century influence. Mrs. Bennet's hairstyle, however, is from after the action takes place: it's more typical of the 1820s. Elizabeth and Caroline also have later hairstyles.

It's very common in movie costuming to dress older or more conservative characters in older styles, often exaggeratedly so, in order to emphasize the disconnect between them and the main characters. Sometimes wealthier or more fashion-conscious characters wear clothing which would not come into fashion for several years to make them stand out. The interesting thing about this case is that the actual dates of the hairstyles are not relevant in the costuming: it is just about the effect. Mrs. Bennet's hair looks dowdy, despite being too fashion-forward - and styles with no or few curls, actually appropriate for 1813 or a little earlier, appear childish and unsophisticated. (Mrs. Hurst's, I would say, is meant to look conspicuously dressed.) Elizabeth's hairstyle works as an attractive balance between dowdy, childish, and fussy in terms of its visual effect - youthfully natural - without its actual date being relevant to its interpretation.

The 1995 Pride & Prejudice is remembered as a highly accurate production, and so it should be: there are some costumes that are very good, and a lot of attention to detail throughout the production. But it's not without its flaws, and it's important not to let its visuals supersede extant garments and other primary sources when researching.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day Dress (1865-1868)

Day dress, 1865-1868; CHM 1990.56.1 (pattern available at link)
It's been a little while since I've shown a patterned garment from the Chapman, so I thought I would give you another. This one also goes very well with my previous post From Hoop to Bustle, as it comes from the years when women wore the elliptical hoop at its widest: as you can see in the pattern, the skirt panels are quite flared. I might have made the date range a little wide - 1865 is a little early. The center back is cartridge pleated, which is characteristic of the end of the 1860s; earlier gored skirts (1860-1865) were more usually pleated all the way around. At the end of the 1860s dresses most usually had a short overskirt, but as you can see in the wonderful comparandum plate below, this was not a requirement.

Fashion plate, probably from Peterson's Magazine, 1868; NYPL 803083
The thing I love about this dress is that it strikes me as an attempt to get at a princess-cut gown, which was beginning to appear at this time (see plate above): it's made with the more common construction of a separately-cut skirt and bodice, but they're fully sewn together at the waist and the trim was applied in one piece (later sliced open), which would have helped the illusion of a princess cut.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

From Hoop to Bustle: 1856-1875 (HSM #1)

(For a while I intended to join in on the Historical Sew Monthly 2015, using it to put together an outfit for a Halloween wedding, but I realized that the themes were not lining up exactly with what I needed to sew. Before I thought I might participate properly in '15, I came up with the idea of participating by writing an in-depth post on the subject for each period, and I decided to go back to that idea.

For January - Foundations - I'm looking at the development and evolution of the mid-nineteenth century hoop skirt to the bustle.)

Something I find very interesting about the history of clothing is the contrast between the fluidity and briefness of periods of various fashions, and the way we solidify them by naming them and choosing to concentrate on specific periods. That's a very jargony way of putting it, sorry; an example would be that the trend of a bell-shaped hoop lasted for only about five years, but somebody who chooses to recreate that period is, in a way, making it last for decades.

When I started writing this essay, I was originally thinking that the focus on specific eras makes the transitions between them take a back seat, described off-handedly as skirts gradually getting fuller or waists gradually getting lower or sleeves gradually getting wider until the next era starts - but after thinking about it more, what's really going on is that the history of fashion is the history of transitions. Eras named for political periods are especially subject to this, but periods named for one aspect of dress (such as "the hoop era", or if you were to call 1827-1835 "the big sleeve era") contain a lot of changes in other aspects.

And when it comes to these changes, there are generally 1) a series of discrete steps that appear to be a gradual slide from a more distant perspective and/or 2) outliers appearing sporadically and then becoming fashionable. For example, waistlines dropped at the end of the 1810s to the middle of the ribcage, then to the natural waist around 1824, with occasional examples of natural waistlines between 1820 and 1824. This is an elaboration on the usual statement that waistlines began to drop or gradually deepened during this period, which gives the impression that every year or season they slowly went lower and lower. (I'm definitely guilty of doing this myself all the time; I'm trying to get better at specificity.)

From Harper's Magazine, March 1858; NYPL 802649
One transition that gets the unelaborated treatment frequently is, as you may have guessed from the title, the one from the hoop to the bustle. To get a proper look at it, we have to start in the 1850s, with the advent of the hoop itself. The "skeleton skirt" was patented in 1856, with various inventors coming up with variations and improvements in order to get in on the profitable new fashion. The fashionable skirt had had a bell shape for several decades: during the early 1840s it was comparatively narrow, but it widened in 1848, and then again in 1854 (with possibly a slight narrowing in 1851). By the end of 1856, with the addition of the hoop, it had widened again. The hoop didn't cause the trend - it only supported a slight expansion of it.

More importantly, the hoop skirt allowed for different shapes. Without a support, layers of petticoats will create a belled shape, fullness bursting out from the waistline. (Petticoats that are made from rectangular panels gathered or pleated to a waistband, that is.) While the cage crinoline just exaggerated this shape at first, in 1860 the implications of a wired petticoat seem to have hit: the fullness over the hips stopped being the fashionable shape. Instead, the skirt descended in a smooth curve down from the waist, bowing out into a graceful curve around thigh or knee level. 

Fashions for September 1861, Godey's Lady's Book; NYPL 803346

Like the petticoats mentioned above, skirts in the 1840s and 1850s had always been cut from broad panels and pleated or gathered at the top. Cutting the skirt panels in gores, as began to happen in the early 1860s, got rid of the need for heavy pleating at the top, emphasizing the smooth line over the hips and the fact that a woman was not achieving her silhouette with layered petticoats.

June 1868, unknown periodical (Peterson's?); NYPL 803508
The smooth line was extended down to the ankle by the end of 1865, with what's now called the elliptical hoop. Extra fullness in the back had been important to fashionable silhouettes from the beginning of the century, even with the first hoop skirt, but this version of it projected out into a kind of train. Because of the conical shape, it was especially suited to the gored skirt. A higher waistline started to became fashionable at the same time, possibly in part to emphasize the steep slope. After this, however, the changes picked up speed: by 1868, raised waistlines were firmly a part of fashion, and the elliptical hoop changed again: finally shrinking in the hem circumference, although the shape remained the same. 

From Peterson's Magazine, 1870

The emergence of the bustle in 1870 was actually a partial return to the pre-1860 shape. Because "crinoline" now meant the straight-lined hoop, the French word tournure came into use in English to describe a separate support worn over the hoop skirt - either a full petticoat or a small pad (usually called a pannier tournure). However, "crinoline" quickly became used to mean a full hoop skirt with the tournure shape created in the back with wires - or, very often, a skirt with a few hoops at the bottom and a tournure structure fixed to the back.

Two years later, in 1872, the skirt contracted at the bottom, the depth of the back projection remaining the same; the next year, the fashionable waistline descended again to the natural level. In 1874, the crinoline/hoop/tournure at last narrowed at the sides and took on the now-iconic look of the bustle.

from Peterson's Magazine, October 1872; NYPL 803797