Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tableaux Vivants at Clermont

Clermont at night
On Sunday, I volunteered at the Candlelight Evening at Clermont - playing Cornelia Livingston in 1843 as she sewed a Christmas present while her sister-in-law read and a servant decorated a small tree. Here are some photos of the other rooms (1776, 1778, 1808, and 1860s), please check them out!

For the event, I rewore my Cranford dress with some alterations. The main thing was that I took the bodice side seams in about 3" in total, I think: it really didn't fit before (where now it has "fit issues"). I still need to mess some more with the armscyes and add bust padding to achieve a decent smoothness, and need to cut about an inch off the bottom, but I'm much happier with it than I was before.

I also wore it over two more petticoats, one of which is made of crinoline and wired, and that helped the silhouette enormously. This period requires a mass of petticoats to create a softly belled shape, which I believe I came closer to achieving. Sometimes even bustle pads were used in order to make sure that the fullness stood out more in the back, and so I wore my flat bustle pad ... however, this might have been a bit too much. I ended up with a slightly shelfy backside. No pad next time!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fashion History Mythbusters: The Cage Crinoline or Hoop Skirt

As Julia Thomas points out in Pictorial Victorians, the satirical cartoons and anecdotes in Punch heavily colored contemporary (and modern) impressions of the fashions of the 1850s and 1860s. As a result, the wide skirts seem like fantastical costumes that played havoc with ordinary life and were impossible to move around in. And so the myths have proliferated.

“Cool Request,” Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 32, January 31, 1857, p. 50.
- compare to the actual 1857 fashion plate below
The first myth to address is the name of the garment. My impression is that most people use the term "cage crinoline"- "hoop skirt" sounds farby: it gives the impression of a cheap and flimsy petticoat worn by someone who doesn't know any better. eBay and Etsy sellers using elastic and plastic sell hoop skirts, but those who use metal and fitted waistbands (and the more established companies with their own websites) sell cage crinolines. Even when used without a negative implication, "hoop skirt" tends to be reserved for fabric skirts with channels for bones.

This distinction, however, is not historical, though it's handy for a modern context. I can find one reference to the "cage crinoline" in a Peterson's Magazine of 1863, but every American patent for one calls it a "hoop skirt", as did most merchants. "Crinoline", used without an article (eg. "but wife and daughters alike received the sarcasm carelessly, and the wrath meekly, and continued wearing crinoline as before." - from "Who Killed Crinoline?", reprinted many times, found here in Once a Week, 1869), appears frequently, but it refers to the whole genre of skirt supports rather than a specific type. When used in a specific way, such as in an advertisement, it still lacks the "cage"; in this description, "crinoline" is used for what we now call a hoop skirt.
The feminine world had skipped swiftly from the clinging fashion of high directoire waists into the hoops of an exaggerated crinoline (invented by Worth for the Empress Eugénie, in order to conceal her pregnancy).
- Phantom Crown: the Story of Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico. Bertita Harding, 1934, reprinted in 2008. pp 31-32.

The myth that Empress Eugénie had the hoop invented to hide her pregnancy is frequently connected with Worth, most likely because Worth is known to have worked for her and also to have autocratically caused fashionable changes. But Worth was not working for Eugénie at the time of her pregnancy (1855-1856), and did not even have his own firm until 1858. And on the other side, the hoop didn't need to be invented as it was actually just an innovation on petticoats stiffened with cords threaded through sewn channels.

Napoleon and Eugénie with their son, ca. 1859
At first, I thought that the idea that Eugénie had the hoop skirt developed to hide her pregnancy came from Gone with the Wind, either in book or movie form, and its insistence that Victorian women were never seen in public while they were pregnant - which is not true by any means. (Maternity corsets were designed to attempt to keep the fashionable shape while allowing for the growing fetus, to some extent.  Pregnancy wasn't glorified, but it also wasn't cause for a woman to be sentenced to a dark room and a wrapper for nine months. See also: Sylvia Hoffert, Private Matters, pp. 26-30, and Annmarie Adams, Architecture in the Family Way: Doctors, Houses, and Women, 1870-1900, pp. 108-109)

However, the story has existed as long as the hoop skirt itself. "Those newspapers, - but, then, newspapers are never accurate - have insinuated that the Empress Eugenie brought in crinoline for a most womanly reason", reported The Spectator (in 1860) while denying the validity of the rumor. "One is the Empress Eugenie, who at a certain period, for personal reasons, introduced an excess of crinoline which gradually led to cane hoops and steel petticoats", Charles H. Bennett wrote in Shadow and Substance in the same year. The timing certainly is helpful: the hoop was patented in 1856, and Eugénie was pregnant during late 1855 and early 1856.

The fact that even contemporary sources scoff at the rumor is a decent enough reason to set it aside, but let's consider it for a moment. It might be physically possible for a woman to hide a pregnancy at an early stage, or a low-carrying pregnancy, with a hoop and a raised waistline, but the same feat could be accomplished with a voluminous crinoline petticoat. And fashion at the end of the 1850s called for a lower waistline: the waistband of the hoop or crinoline would probably hit right on the tell-tale bulge.

Peterson's Magazine, October 1857
The result was that serious injury or death became a kind of occupational hazard for crinoline wearers.  The most common danger came from fire.
- The Anatomy of Fashion, Susan Vincent, p. 92

To be completely honest, I had assumed for a while that hoop-wearers being in great danger of catching on fire was not true. It's stated without a source very frequently, it tends to go along with the statement that fire and childbirth were the most common deaths for women, and its period sources are also generally vague and non-specific. But there does appear to be an element of truth to it. Frances Appleton Longfellow, wife of the poet, died in 1861 from her dress catching fire. (Frances is also noted in an article in The Living Age (1861), along with Elizabeth Brodhurst, whose death by fire is corroborated in The Annual Register (1861).) However, as Florence Nightingale notes in Notes on Nursing (1860), chemicals could be mixed with starch to render petticoats less flammable. (This is also touched on in an article in the Medical Times and Gazette (1863).)

Information about more named crinoline fire deaths here, use of satirical photo seriously notwithstanding.
I find questionable the claim of crinolines worn by factory workers operating machinery. Since there's been no response to the citation needed template added in June 2007, I've posted a query on the original editor's User talk page. All editors are invited to help clear up this matter. -- Deborahjay (talk) 06:41, 9 September 2009 (UTC)
- Wikipedia, "Crinoline" Talk Page

Like others, I found it unlikely that factory workers would dress in something as obviously impractical as a hoop. Surely that would be immediately apparent to them - and besides, wouldn't such a fashionable accessory be out of their price range?

Searching period sources reveals a Miss Marshall dying in 1860 from her crinoline - from context, most likely the proper horsehair crinoline rather than a cage - being caught in a machine. But for the most part, references (such as this one in the Eclectic Magazine, 1862) are vague and don't specify names, and so are suspect as urban legends or deliberate propaganda.

There are, however, many references to servants dressing in hoops. That Cassell's Household Guide (1869) specifically recommends that employers prohibit their maids from wearing crinoline is a strong indicator that those maids would otherwise wear them. A column called "Centre-Table Gossip" in the Ladies Magazine in 1860 (summarized and excerpted in Domesticity With a Difference) also stresses the unsuitability of hooped skirts for household tasks, along with some suspicion that maids in crinoline are either failing to save their money for necessary expenses or are stealing or prostituting themselves to afford them. In texts from all historical periods, you come across complaints about servants looking too much like their employers (maids wearing silk in the early 18th century, printed cotton some decades on, and white muslin during the Regency were all issues) - clothes are always used to signal something to viewers, and an affluent woman's are meant to show her status. If one of her servants can mimic them well , then what's she left with for her own signals?

By the 1870s, it seems to have been accepted that maidservants would wear hoops, but the concerns over the hoops being impractical still existed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Delphos Dress

"Delphos" dress, Mariano Fortuny, 1910-1930; CHM 1997.68.1 (pattern available at link)
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949) is best remembered for two things: vibrantly patterned silks and velvets, and the Delphos gown, inspired by ancient Greek chitons (themselves imported from Asia Minor), which were made from a single rectangular panel of linen or silk sewn into a tube, the top edge fastened with brooches down the length of the arms, and belted to fit to the body. The Neoclassical revival had already begun in the decorative arts by 1907, when Fortuny developed the Delphos, and high fashion was beginning to show its influence as well - but this was much more extreme than anything else in existence at the time. Not only was it originally intended to be worn without a corset at home (corsetless teagowns had been worn for some time already), there was absolutely nothing about its design that hid that fact. The straight, clinging line would soon become mainstream fashion, but when the Delphos dress was first designed it was a radical departure.

Mrs. Condé Nast, from Woman as Decoration, Emily Burbank
Like the chiton, the Delphos dress is not intricately constructed: the pattern is more a description of methods. The only shaping is in the upper and lower edges; rather than being pinned, the upper edge is laced closed over the arms with a blue silk cord decorated with patterned glass beads.

The Fortuny heat-set pleating method created unbroken lines of creases down the length of the dress, apparently before the reinforcements under the arms were done. Rows of gathering stitches hold the pleats in place there, where they would be under a lot of stress, and a length of cotton tape is sewn down under the "armscye", giving the dress a little more hidden stability.

As far as I know, there is no chronology of Delphos gowns available. There must be certain techniques or styles or materials that were only used during certain periods of time, but there are so few securely dated gowns or photographs of them that I'm reluctant to draw any conclusions. As a result, my date range is far wider than I would prefer it to be.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On Ball Dress ...

Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1813

... The fashion is for coiffures à la chinoise so high that, even with the longest hair, it is difficult to create them. M. Palette has created false coques* of hair; and, with this accessory, or a part of it, for the coques come apart, one can create the highest chinoises. Five coques are sold for twenty-five francs. M Palette resides at the passage of the Petits-Pères, number one.

For balls, seamstresses sew satin motifs on tulle gowns, made in the shape of a peak or trefoil, and fold down their edges: they put a garland of flowers at the bottom of the gown, and above the garland a double rouleau of satin.

Gowns are called à la Vierge or à la demi-guimpe if they are as high-cut as those seen in church paintings. These new gowns are made in emerald green and white striped gauze, or lapis lazuli blue and white; the trim of the top and bottom consists of a bouillonné band of gauze made in reverse box pleats.

- From the article accompanying plates 1290 and 1291, Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1813

* Literally "shell"; those flattened loops you see in hairstyles of the 1810s through 1830s.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Clothing Project

No substantive post this week - and there won't be one next week, either. Probably you will get one the week after. (I had a great idea for one that I've lost, but I'm sure it will come back to me ... while I'm at work, when I'm holding a pastry bag of frosting instead of a pen.) This is because the deadline for my manuscript - Regency Women's Dress, you may recall - is coming up very quickly.

The good news: having to send in the text and pictures means that we're getting closer to the point where the book will be actually available, which is of course a good thing.

The unsettling news: are you crazy?! I have to get it all perfectly finished and submitted!

Which means that I'm spending all of my time on writing, rewriting, consulting about the illustrations, and redrafting the patterns in ink, and sadly don't have time to write a great post. (If you should want to see what I've posted about most of the patterns I've taken, check out the "grand project" tag at the right for an exhaustive rundown.)

So I will leave you with a link to The Clothing Project, my friend Mary's Tumblr-blog for displaying pieces she comes across in her cataloguing/inventorying at the NYSHA/Farmers Museum collection. You should take a look, it's great!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jennie Goodman's Wedding Dress (1878)

I've been sitting on this pattern for a while because this is, frankly, one of my favorites of the dresses I put online at the Chapman.

CHM 1971.38.1 (pattern available at link)
Now, the photo is not great. It's a decent view of the bodice, but you don't get a good sense of the elaborate drapery and the classic early Natural Form train. There are a few other shots on the website, but there's nothing like seeing a dress on a mannequin. Unfortunately, this gown has some structural issues, possibly due to being on a hanger for a long time (though it was in a box when I got there), and can probably never be dressed, which is one reason I wanted to pattern it.

The slender princess line would make this tricky to fit, which is why I haven't tried to make it yet (as well as the utter confusion of the pattern itself, which was phenomenally difficult to take and had me contemplating just putting the dress back several times). It's very close-fitting from the neckline to the thighs, and even in the sleeves. A great challenge!

Unlike the Natural Form gown in Waugh, this dress opens in the front and uses an apron-like panel for the front of the skirt. The back of the bodice extends into a trained overskirt, and the front is covered by a tablier like earlier and later bustle gowns. So while the pattern is many times more confusing than Waugh's, it is somewhat more forgiving.

Parisian fashions, Peterson's, January 1877; CCDL
The white afternoon/dinner dress here is the closest I can find to show how it would look when worn.

The dress was worn by one Jennie Smith (1860-1901) when she married Samuel Boyd Goodman (1852-1920) on October 15, 1878. They had two children, Helen Louise, who died as a child, and Juliet Gould, born in 1888. Juliet grew up to marry first Clifford Allen, in 1928, and later Frederick Braydon Chapman. Chapman had been previously married as well, to Mabel DeLong (who had also been previously married, by the way - to Harry Austin, who died in 1918). The DeLong family had always been the owners of the house on Glen Street which is now the Chapman Historical Museum, but because of this complicated tangle of second marriages, it's named for someone with hardly any tie to them!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-Edwardian Mourning, plus Renoirs

I hadn't even heard of Death Becomes Her or You (the former is the exhibition, the latter the event) until I was emailed an invitation to come in period clothing. Since Julie moved far away there haven't really been any events close enough for me to go, and I was so excited! But I have nothing suitable for mourning in the period covered by Death Becomes Her - technically, my white cotton 1780 gown, if worn with a white petticoat, would count as second mourning in its period, though - so I had to take action quickly: I had to make the best use of my time as I'm a slow sewer.

It was hard to decide. My choices were:
  • Regency, as I've taken a lot of patterns for my book and have so many options
  • 1840s, as it's kind of my era of choice when you take convenience out of the conversation
  • 1910s, my old love, plus I have a 1911 corset and do not need any extra underpinnings
In the end, I went with the early 1910s. My sewing speed was really an issue, especially as I'm working a part time job and cataloguing at a local historical society twice a week! I couldn't spend a lot of time scaling up a complicated pattern, or making a bunch of petticoats to fluff out skirts, or hand-sewing everything (because even for an event happening soon I'm not going to compromise on that). And I have always liked the 1911-1914 silhouette.

After some dithering, I went with Butterick B6093, which looks like a reprint of an historical Butterick pattern. The long-sleeved version is hideous, but the other view looks very much like many dresses in my April 1914 issue of McCall's.

My original assumption was that the pattern was an original with updated, modernized instructions, but soon after I ordered the pattern on Etsy I found out that this is not so. They want you to make it all up and put in a zipper in the side! I was almost prepared to scale up and hand-sew an 1840s dress, do you think I would stand for that? No, no. But I have handled so many dresses of this period that it was a cinch to figure out how to make it in a plausible manner while completely ignoring the instructions given.

First I cut out the lining in unbleached muslin, shaping it so the edges met at center front instead of overlapping, and fitted it in front and back with darts. Edwardian, post-Edwardian, and early 1920s dresses were mostly made with overlapping layers attached to a fitted lining. In some ways, this makes construction easier: if you know the lining fits, you can gather and tack down and apply anywhere to get the dress to look any way you want it to.

My fitted lining
I sewed the shoulder seams separately in each layer, but sewed the side seams together through all the layers to anchor the bodice. Resting the bodice on my dress form (which still doesn't match my body, by the way), I gathered up the back by hand to fit, and attached the back of the skirt. After making the whole skirt up, just to be clear.

Due to my only having 2.5 yards of 60" wool because of reasons, I had to make some changes to the pattern: no floaty overskirt panels. Instead, I would use the plain underskirt, and fasten it with a dog-leg closure as the crossover front can't extend all the way to the side seam (as I found to my frustration). The left side of the bodice is free: I gathered it slightly and sewed it to a white twill tape, putting a snap at the end to fasten it.

Left side snapped on.
I gathered the right side a bit more than the left, and sewed it to the front panel of the skirt, ending at about the left skirt dart. This side snaps to the left, and the skirt snaps down the side opening. (I ended up using pins between the bodice snap and the skirt opening; should add a couple more snaps.)

I made up the collar and then sewed it to the wool layer (this is why the shoulder seams have to be done separately in each layer), slipstitching the lining inside. The cuffs were done in reverse, having one side of the cuff sewn to the sleeve, then the other folded down and slipstitched to the inside.

Me with Julie and Dan before leaving for the Met.
I had some problems with the sleeves - the pattern pieces are cut to make quite a puff at the top, which doesn't show in the pattern drawing. My wool is kind of a winter suit-weight, and I didn't want a big puff anyway, so I tried to cut them down, with some success. The crossover had to be pinned in place with a cameo brooch, as it wanted to puff too much.

Hair is tricky for me, as mine is currently just below my shoulders. For this period and the 1920s, I twist side pieces of my hair to fluff out, and usually make a very low bun - due to the length, I had to just roll up the back and try to fasten it, but I ended up redoing it constantly. I bought a trio of black plumes to try to use as ornaments, but in the end I knew I wouldn't be able to manage that. (Look out for black feathers on my Etsy store. Just tell me if you're interested!) So nothing interesting in my hair.

Overall, I think this is a very good, accurate pattern, provided that you ignore the instructions. It really is basic enough to be altered into some of the variations I gave above. I would love to use it again to make the green-striped dress with the buttons down the crossover and on the skirt.

And as a present for reading this far, here is the CBS This Morning segment that we appeared in:

(I don't want to present it totally without comment, so let me just quickly add: Chanel didn't invent the little black dress.)


(I've called these Tissots in a couple of places, which, to be fair, they're both artist names with the same letter at the beginning and end. And both use an assortment of vowels and consonants!)

I don't have the number of reenacting shoes I would like. Generally I make do with my Fugawee Annas (for the 18th century and some of the 19th), modern brown flats (for all evening and Regency occasions), and Gibsons (20th century). But I am gearing up for an Early Bustle wedding, and it seems appropriate to have proper shoes for a wedding, so I got involved with the Renoir preorder. But I needed them to be black, and of course they inherently require alteration with the buttons, so I let them sit around until very recently, when I realized that they would work for this outfit and I should finish them.

Post-dye, pre-polish


The dye was more watery than I was expected, and at first I was dribbling it around. It's on the sole! Another thing to beware is that if you dye the area with the original holes for the buttons lying flat, the dye will seep into the lining. Don't let it happen, it will annoy you. Also, polishing requires a lot more buffing than you might expect - I'm still getting some on my fingers. But I feel that the dyed and polished black makes for a deeper, fuller color than a factory dye.

I wore these to my volunteer position on the Wednesday before Halloween in order to break them in, and they were very comfortable. Bear in mind, I have flat feet and normally wear insoles and no heels - here, short heels and no insoles. So I decided to wear them down to New York in order to save on packing.

The story of my travels within New York is long and stupid; let it suffice to say that I did a lot of extra, unnecessary walking. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't done all that extra walking at a city speed, I wouldn't have rubbed a tiny spot on my ankle raw - it didn't happen until about 8pm. These are so comfortable! I'm sure that at any event where you aren't constantly forgetting things and having to rush back to get them, these would not cause any problems. The Renoir boots get my wholehearted approval! I can't wait to wear them to another event.