Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Mourning

(I decided to write this post because I'm planning to branch out into historical social topics more frequently - but it lines up very well with an event this week! I will be attending Death Becomes You at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Halloween, in a post-Edwardian black wool dress with white collar and cuffs. Hope to see you there!

Next week, I'll be posting some information about the dress, plus gloating about how happy I am with my dyed Renoir boots.)

The subject of mourning is a very popular one when it comes to the mythology of the Victorian period. Traditional rules of mourning, however, go back further than Prince Albert's death, Victoria's reign, or even the nineteenth century.

The concept of mourning in specific clothing is very, very old, but to focus specifically on Western European codes involving specific styles of dress, stages of intensity, and periods of time, a mourning code including concepts of first and second mourning extends at least as far back as the 17th century. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that Anne Hyde, the Duchess of York, was in second mourning for her mother in "black, edged with ermine" four months after the death, and third and half-mourning followed second (though third seems to have dropped out of usage by the mid-18th century). While these were generally successive dress codes meant to transition a person out of deepest mourning, half-mourning was also a primary stage of mourning worn for more distant relations. Providing mourning for servants was a status marker due to the financial outlay required, and Continental sumptuary laws of the time often forbade it.

The Mourning Virgin, copy after Dieric Bouts, ca. 1525; MMA 71.156 (OASC)
In Mary Wortley Montagu's account of the Austrian court in 1716, she described the constant mourning worn by Princess Christine Louise of Oettingen-Oettingen, the mother of Empress Elisabeth Christine, and noted that "nothing can be more dismal than the mourning here, even for a brother," indicating the existence of different standards for different relationships between the mourner and deceased. In the same year, Louis XV (or his regent) cut the required lengths of mourning times in half, so that full mourning only lasted six months, "and the rest in proportion".

France had a similar system of mourning levels, at least by the 1720s, in great mourning (grand deuil) and lesser mourning (petit deuil): great mourning consisted of a totally unornamented outfit of black wool, worn with a long cloak and a band of crêpe around the hat, widows adding a black crêpe veil, while lesser mourning was made from serge or crêpon (a heavier silk or wool crêpe) and made use of blue and white ribbons as well as black. Widows, their clothing financed by the estate's heirs, were expected to take a year of mourning in which they did not remarry, out of respect for their husbands, but at this time the prohibition against quick remarriage was much more important than actually wearing mourning clothes during the full year. Outside of court mourning for a member of royalty, great mourning dress was only expected to be worn for a deceased parent, grandparent, parent-in-law, sibling, or spouse; mourning for one's descendants was supposed to only include the long wool cloak, while a short cloak or petit deuil were worn for uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews.

"Manner of wearing informal mourning", Galerie des Modes1781
In the middle of the century, a complete guide to the stages of mourning was published (and later reprinted in a shortened form in the Galerie des Modes), said to have been the same since Louis XV changed the periods of mourning. The grand deuil consisted of three stages (wool mourning, silk mourning, and petit deuil), required black drapery to be put up in the house, and prohibited the wearing of diamonds and swords, while a less formal type of mourning had only two stages, black mourning and white mourning. Grand deuil was extended from the earlier relations to include aunts, uncles, and cousins; black and white mourning was worn for second cousins. French tradition also required that inheriting siblings of the deceased wear mourning three times as long, which did not happen in England, but the other mourning periods were likely the same in both countries. Wives did wear mourning twice as long as their husbands, for just over a year, to correspond with the required period of single widowhood - but only the first four and a half months were in the fullest mourning. Kings were treated as fathers of the country in their general mourning; court mourning followed the same rules as ordinary mourning, but carried out in court dress. This tract was published in the 1780s in translation in England, with a note at the end that the reader could see similarities between French and English mourning.

I: Mr B. Finds Pamela Writing, Joseph Highmore, 1743-4; Tate Collection N03573
general deep mourning in England lasted three months for the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales in the 1750s, as did second mourning after that. Court mourning on the same occasion consisted of black bombazine gowns for women (dark Norwich crêpe while in undress), with black crêpe hoods, "plain muslin or long lawn", chamois shoes and gloves, and crêpe fans; gentlemen wore black wool coats (dark grey in undress) "without buttons on the sleeves or pockets", cravats of muslin or "long lawn", weepers, crêpe hatbands, chamois shoes and gloves, and black swords and buckles. The second mourning was, for women, black silk gowns (white or grey in undress, of lustring, taffeta, or damask), plain or fringed linens, white gloves, necklaces, and earrings (without diamonds), and black and white shoes, fans, and tippets; for men, fully-trimmed black coats (grey frock coats in undress), plain or fringed linens, black swords and buckles - the same as was ordered in 1737/38, on the death of Caroline of Ansbach. A more middle-class mourning would likely have been fairly similar to the court undress. "Weepers", flat white cuffs, were worn by men just for full mourning, as were crêpe hatbandsbombazine was clearly very commonly worn during mourning, as was wool crêpe. In hotter colonies, men's mourning coats were only ornamented with black cuffs and buttonholes. Women frequently wore all white with plain linens and ruffles for second mourning, and sometimes all black with striped or otherwise ornamented linens; men's second mourning often was grey trimmed with black. Mourning rings were falling out of use, distributed mainly to tertiary figures: will executors, religious men, and servants. As in France, providing mourning dress or the money to buy it to one's heirs or dependents was a significant issue.

Mourning picture, 1800-1810; MMA 1983.20 (OASC)
Going into the nineteenth century, mourning habits did not much change. The dress required for court mourning for the Duke of Kent in 1820 was identical in color and material to that for Frederick and Caroline previously, although it seems that court mourning periods were shortening. In France, it became standard to give mourning clothes to servants, but the descriptions given of mourning stages in 1826 was the same as those of the previous century. English women in full mourning could still attend evening social events (in France, a period of solitude was required), although they were still confined to bombazine and crêpe (though white crêpe could be used for trimming); second mourning evening dress was much more elaborate, with more trim and more expensive and lustrous fabric. The general mourning on the death of George IV, based on descriptions for day and evening mourning dress in The Ladies' Museum, show the way the materials of full mourning could be used to create fashionable dress while still being perceived as respectful and appropriate.
From the Ladies' Museum, General Mourning, 1830
One half-mourning for men in the same year was described as a black cashmere coat (rather than black wool), a black-spotted and -bound white waistcoat, and white "trowsers".

The American rules, as given in The Knickerbocker in 1840, were a little different than the English and French:
This was followed by the remark that it was unjust to require such mourning for relations but deny bereaved friends the ability to dress in mourning as well. These mourning periods are increased for parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles, but decreased for the rest, and it sounds as though first, second, and half-mourning were worn as the sole stage of mourning rather than successive stages.

Second mourning dress, ca. 1848; MMA 1994.575.0003 (OASC)
Black gowns could be worn even outside of mourning; one English 1849 etiquette manual suggested that mourning worn to balls be indicated with scarlet trimming, so that women in black outside of mourning could trim with any colors. However, American authors maintained that one in mourning should not attend balls at all.

Etiquette books had been written since the eighteenth century, but production increased during the nineteenth. While fashion magazines give us very detailed information about what garments were acceptable, they are less informative on the subject of other mourning customs. Visiting cards of someone in mourning were to have a thick black border while those for half-mourning would have a narrower one; black sealing wax was to be used during both. Making visits of condolence was a new custom in England (at least) in the 1850s, requiring a mourning card of one's own to be sent up, and women to dress in black silk or another plain color.

In the 1860s, the description of mourning customs, including dress, increased and became more detailed. This is generally attributed to a Victorian "cult of mourning" proceeding from the death of Prince Albert in 1861, but many of the customs may have already been in use: the stages of mourning dress, so often represented as a facet of uniquely Victorian repression, were clearly of an earlier date. It seems likely that the other customs may have been in use, and were only coming into print in the mid-Victorian era. In actuality, there was a Victorian cult of etiquette books, especially in America.

Mourning dress, ca. 1867; MMA 1982.256 (OASC)
And English mourning customs of the time were fairly simple. Widows wore "widow's cap and crape" for a little more than a year, and could then transition into either half-mourning or no mourning; a widower's crêpe hatband would almost cover the crown of his hat and gradually be reduced. As in France, mourning for parents would have crêpe trim for six months and no crêpe for six months, while hatbands would come within two inches of the top of the crown. Brothers and sisters would get six months, and aunts, uncles, and cousins three, with proportional hatband levels. Complementary mourning worn to visit someone in mourning would be black without any crêpe. These standards were to last until the end of the century.

Hat with mourning band, Knox, 1890; MMA 2009.300.4423 (OASC)
French mourning was rather complicated, in contrast (although many of the specific traditions, such as the placement of the crêpe bands, may have been shared across the Channel and assumed to be understood by readers of the previous sources). Like Englishmen, male mourning was entirely black, with a wide crêpe band on the hat. Widows wore the deepest mourning: a paramatta skirt with a single bias band of crêpe, a bodice trimmed in crêpe with sleeves cuffed with crêpe, a cloak of "widow's silk" trimmed with bias bands of crêpe, and a veil of a light wool or silk fabric. After nine months, the widow could change the wide crêpe band on her skirt to two narrower ones; after a year, wear silk trimmed with crêpe, jet, and beaded fringe; after three more months, she could stop wearing crêpe; after three more, she could leave off the veil and being to wear grey and violet. (The text goes on to imply that this is actually English mourning practice, and that French widows could wear grey and violet after a year and six weeks.) Mourning for a parent was only slightly less serious, with crêpe worn over wool for three months and over silk for three more; white could be worn as a flat collar or plain sleeves, and after those six months as fancier collars and sleeves. In two more months, she could wear grey gloves and gold jewelry, and then half-mourning for two more months. Siblings received a slightly lighter mourning, with three strips of crêpe on the skirt, which lasted for a year. For a grandparent, she would wear a little crêpe for three months, no crêpe for three more, and then half-mourning for three more. Uncles and aunts received two months of black and a month of half-mourning; second cousins, three weeks in black and three weeks in half-mourning. In town, one's equipage would be in black drapery, and everywhere one's servants would be dressed in black as well. Purses and cases of all types would be black during full mourning and grey or violet in half-mourning. By the end of the century, the stages of mourning had diminished to two, grand deuil and demi-deuil, each generally being used for half of the mourning periods, and changed the time periods more drastically to come into line with English practice, although there continued to be a separate standard for mourners who had inherited from the deceased.

Hat for second mourning, West's, ca. 1888; MMA 2009.300.1524 (OASC)
In the United States, there were no requirements for the length of the mourning periods. Those of England and France were given in American etiquette books as potential guides, but did not have to be followed for respectability. The clothes for the different stages were similar to those of England: for deep mourning, traditional wool/wool blend fabrics (which multiplied to increase choice for mourners and profits for drapers) with crêpe, eventually lightened to lusterless silk; second mourning, black silk, purple, lavender, dark grey, and white, lightening to lavender with white accessories as half-mourning. American etiquette books continued to maintain that there were no required time periods until the end of the century and also continued to provide suggestions (some rather extreme, such as eternal or two years' mourning for a widow - however, the books frequently remarked that mourning periods were shorter than they had ever been).

"Walking Suit in Queen's Mourning", Dry Goods Reporter1902
After the turn of the century, the rules began to change. The widow's crêpe veil could be replaced by one of nun's-veiling, worn off the face; periods could be simplified, with mourning for immediate relations for a year, and for in-laws, three to six months. All white could be worn in full mourning. Black armbands worn over tan coats were evidently becoming common. After the end of the first World War, mourning continued to simplify. Three months was sufficient for uncles, aunts, and cousins, while grandparents and in-laws no longer required mourning. Even widows wore less mourning, being able to shorten their periods down to three months of deep mourning and six of half-mourning, and when the books came down to it, all mourning periods were at the discretion of the wearer.

Etiquette books were still prescribing the same long periods of mourning and social seclusion in the 1920s, for both women and men. While they had always made references to those who left off mourning too early, the later books' lengthy emphasis on "sloppy" or inappropriate dress while in mourning seem to be based in a widespread social change, an increasing impatience with long or very plain mourning. The concept of levels of mourning continued through the 1940setiquette books agreeing that months of black, transitioning into black and white, and then lighter colors were appropriate (while being sympathetic to those not cooperating with the scheme). It was not until the 1950s that the rules were completely abandoned.


The point of wearing mourning, as summed up in the mid-eighteenth century etiquette book The Young Gentleman and Lady Instructed, was to prevent one from having to wear distressingly cheerful clothes while grieving, and to represent that grief to the rest of the world. Today, mourning rules are often seen as social laws that forced people - especially women, given that widows dressed in it the longest - to repress themselves and miss out on life. As with corsets, I lay this idea at the door of Gone With the Wind. The scenes in which Scarlett, who never loved her husband, feels trapped by the mourning she's forced to wear and resents having to refrain from gaiety are well-known.

The need for etiquette books always represents that people are not behaving in a standardized fashion as the books suggest. If they were routinely wearing mourning as long as the etiquette books ordered and in those fabrics, there would have been no need for such detailed descriptions. The social stigma of a nineteenth century widow wearing deep mourning for only nine months rather than a year, for example, might not have been generally seen as disrespectful. In fact, it was often held that following the rules of mourning behavior was meant to follow one's desire to mourn, that continuing a show of mourning after one wanted to rejoin normal life was undesirable or hypocritical, and that outsiders should not judge mourners for not behaving fully in line with the rules.

Mourning etiquette was also not just created to restrain the behavior of the bereaved into accepted forms of grief. Etiquette books instructed their friends in polite manners toward the bereaved as well, in order to be sensitive  and sympatheticComplimentary mourning, worn for relationships that did not require a specific mourning period or depth of mourning, allowed people to express their sympathy for those who had lost a parent, child,or sibling. Some recommended that, in order to signal the end of their mourning, the bereaved should send their cards (presumably without black borders) to their friends; others suggested that "no invitations of a gay social character" be sent to the bereaved until after three months of mourning, allowing them to decide when they were ready to accept.

It's very easy to look at historical mourning traditions as a distant and strange expectation, but the population of the past did not have the same expectations and standards that we do today. The idea of dressing fully in black for some months was normal, something that everyone would have experienced from a young age. It is difficult to imagine from our perspective, but it is also difficult to imagine living at a time when mortality rates were so much higher.

Er. Happy Halloween?
"Mourning Dress", Ackermann's, December 1811

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Georges Doeuillet (1865-1930?)

Georges Doeuillet may be the least-known couturier I've written about so far - or perhaps second, after Jenny, since his real name is generally available. The only time his name comes up is in conjunction with Doucet, when the two houses merged at the end of the 1920s. But in fact (let this not be a total shock), he was a more interesting and important figure than his present obscurity would make him appear.

Born in 1865, Doeuillet was part of the same generation as Louise Chéruit, Charles Poynter Redfern, and Jacques Doucet. (That is, the second generation - the first generation being born in the early part of the century, like Charles Frederick Worth, John Redfern, and Edouard Doucet.) However, his start came a little later in life. Some sources state that he first worked as a business manager for Callot Soeurs, which opened in 1895. It seems likely that he began working there from the beginning, so one has to wonder - what did he do until then? At thirty, he would not have been starting his career with them. And for them to choose him and keep him on, he must have had experience and talent. Perhaps he had been managing another fashion house before them.

"Dress by DOEILLET, 18 Place Vendôme, worn by Mlle Adèle Richer", Le Cri de Paris, November 1899
The reason I think it likely that he was with Callot Soeurs from their beginning is that he left fairly soon: by 1899, there are matter-of-fact references to his own fashion house at 18 Place Vendôme (an address he shared with Victor Klotz, perfumier under the name Edouard Pinaud, as well as a solicitor), later expanding into 16 as well. According to a contemporary source, it was common for couturiers of the 1900s to be first and foremost businessmen, buying designs rather than inventing them. As a couturier of this era, Doeuillet would mainly need "a triumphant combination of business ability and beaux yeux", which writers assured us he had.
In Vanity Fair, 1906 - he doesn't look that handsome to me
Doeuillet was reputed to make extravagant gowns for the ultra-rich, though evidently they were less expensive than those by Callot Soeurs, and he seems to have been very successful through the 1900s, 1910s, and 1920s, judging by the numerous highly flattering mentions he received in fashion publications. He licensed several New York department stores to use his designs, displaying his international appeal while also increasing it.
Dry Goods Economist, 1909 Fall Fashion Number
Theatre Magazine, 1911
During the 1910s and 1920s, Doeuillet was quite successful. He appeared in the Gazette du Bon Ton, and can be found getting long descriptions in trade journals alongside Jenny and listed as a "celebrated couturier". I don't always give credence to the flattery in fashion magazines, but the wearability and "quiet, distinguished note[s]" given in the Garment Manufacturer's index does line up with the examples shown in magazines and museums. The house's style tended towards simple and unadorned elegance.
Vogue, April 1922
As I described last week, Georges Doeuillet (by then a member of the Paris Fashion Board) merged his business with that of the ailing Jacques Doucet around the time of the stock market crash and just before his own death. Under the direction of Georges Auber, Doucet-Doeuillet closed not long after.

There are very few things associated with Doeuillet because of his present obscurity, but one concept I've seen floating around is that he brought out the first robe de style, that it was later called a cocktail dress, and therefore he invented the cocktail dress. Frankly, I cannot tell where this comes from. Searching Google Books is not a precise survey of fashion texts of the time, but when doing it I can only find one reference to Doeuillet in conjunction with the robe de style, and it describes Doucet as the gown's "exponent" and lists several designers making them in 1922.

Part of the trouble is that the term robe de style is not specific. In French, the term was used from the beginning of the century as part of a phrase, comparable to the 18th century robe à la - robe de style Louis XVI, robe de style Empire, etc. I can also find references to robes de style without the reference to an historical time period from an early point: here in 1906 in French, here in 1903 in English. Unfortunately none are pictured, but from the description, it sounds as though the robe de style was mainly in the fabric and trimming, less in the cut: Louis XV bows, an open skirt with a lace tablier, a fichu, and such things.

From Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915; MFA 2004.25.12
From the very beginning of the 1910s, the historical era was more frequently dropped, but it seems to have kept the connotation of the robe de style Louis XVI or thereabouts. One of 1914 (called in the English translation a gown in "the picturesque style") is described as having a puffy drapery around the hips, as well as short sleeves with lace ruffles. Overall, it was a highly fashionable collection of unfashionable elements - thus the full and long skirt in the 1920s. The style can't be said to have been invented by anyone because it was always present in the early 20th century, a reaction to the increasing speed of modern life and the increasing sleekness and starkness of modern dress.

The term "cocktail dress" does not seem to be extant during this time; "cocktail party" is only attested from 1928, and it makes sense for the dress name to arise after that. As "cocktail dress" first appears in print in the early 1930s (as far as I can tell), it could have been used as a label by Doeuillet-Doucet, but there's no evidence that it was; likewise, there's no evidence that the robe de style was considered a cocktail dress. I have to conclude that this is a myth based on garbled half-truths and leave it there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The House of Doucet (1816-1928)

Just as John Redfern began as a mercer, the Doucet family's business began in fabric and lace. In 1841, La Mode described the Doucets (then at 17 rue de la Paix) has having a "numerous and noble clientele", highly stylish in late spring for "trousseaus and corbeilles" - the corbeille being the gift of material wealth given to a woman by her husband the morning after the wedding, a continuance of the medieval Morgengabe - and was frequently recommended for fine lace for ruffles, berthas, and skirt flounces.
Toilettes from Petit Courrier des Dames, including chemisette and lace from Doucet, 1840; NYPL 802380
The business was split by 1862 into two parts, both housed at 21 rue de la Paix: Mme Doucet was a lingère, selling women's chemises, drawers, caps, and other linen and cotton articles, while her son Edouard was listed as a tailleur-chemisier, selling men's underwear and outerwear, and marked a "notable business". (Quite a few other Doucets were in the luxury and clothing market - they may or may not have been related.) The premises were shared with a skirt (or petticoat) maker, a pair of seamstresses, and a court lawyer.
Toilette at Doucet's. Dark green cashmere dress. L'Art et la mode, 1884, no. 24
By the 1870s, the shop was also listed as among the best for linens and gloves, not yet able to or perhaps not attempting to match the houses of Worth and Pingat. According to Jeanne Philomène Laperche, Edouard Doucet's reputation in women's dress was first made in the early 1870s (his earliest extant gown is from around 1878); he must have climbed during the 1880s, appearing from time to time in the French periodical L'Art et la mode, but it's not until the 1890s that I can find him listed with Worth and Felix (another couturier commonly listed as one of the best; someday I will write him up). At this time "Doucet skirt" (as well as "Paquin skirt") became a term used in dress construction, describing a skirt made on a gored silk foundation.

There is, however, not much to suggest what effect Edouard Doucet may have had on fashion or what his taste was for - compare to John Redfern's sporting outfits or Pingat's austere elegance. He contributed to the historicism at the end of the nineteenth century, and it sounds as though he reliably produced attractive and well-made gowns (as well as lingerie). From extant examples, it seems unlikely that his background in tailoring was highly influential on his design sensibilities. When he died in 1898 The Sketch described him as "like Worth ... a Triton among the ruck of modish minnows" - although from the description of "Papa Doucet", he was much more personable and politic with his clients than Worth, convincing them that they were beautiful in the right clothing.

It's important to remember Edouard - the vast majority of sources, including museums, present his son as the one Doucet couturier and the person who turned the family business from lace and silk to women's dress. They cite his son Jacques as the designer of outfits that were made before he was actually in charge of the house of Doucet.
Evening or reception dress, Edouard Doucet, ca. 1879; MMA C.I.37.59.1a-b (OASC)
Jacques, the Doucet who is more well-known today, was active at the time in his own establishment. By 1877, at 24 years of age, Doucet jeune was recommended as a chemisier at 10 rue Halevy, just around the block from the elder Doucet's salon. While his father was alive, Jacques seems to have stayed in the rue Halevy and kept his focus on men's shirts, underclothing, and fabric accessories - and he may have been very successful, as he was even at that time known as an art collector; later he was a friend of the Impressionist painters. The establishment in the rue Halevy continued under the same name despite Jacques's lack of children, as in 1946 it still existed.

Upon inheriting the business, Jacques did not allow it to sink, but kept it among the top "equally good" firms at the turn of the century. Sources are divided on whether Paul Poiret began working in the couture house in 1896 or 1898, but 1898 seems the most probable - meaning that he would have been hired by Jacques Doucet during his first few months as head of the business. When Poiret left for military service two years later, he had become the head of the tailoring department.
Ball dress by Jacques Doucet, Les Modes, 1904 or 1905; NYPL 818397
Doucet's other famous protégée, Madeleine Vionnet, had worked at Callot Soeurs since 1900 and came to Doucet in 1907. As head designer, she was in a strong position to influence a house which itself was in a position to influence fashion, and it is generally accepted that she did so. In 1908, both Callot Soeurs and Doucet were singled out as bringing in a "return to Nature" with a Neoclassical revival (which, entertainingly, the magazine believed would not have much of an effect on fashion as a whole) - it seems likely that Vionnet was involved with this.
"La Souris", Suit by Doucet, Gazette du Bon Ton, 1913; MFA 2004.16.10 
Like Redfern, Jenny, and Chéruit, Doucet was also published in the Gazette du Bon Ton, that excessively expensive and exclusive publication.

After being an early adopter of the slim Empire line, Doucet may have introduced or at least used some of the first hooped versions of the robe de style. Then in 1918, he was credited in a trade journal as designing a "sack dress", unbelted and unwaisted, "on the lines of a Japanese kimono". While his name does not have much cachet today, he was clearly at the forefront of his field - it's impossible to know who exactly came up with each of the various gradual changes that pushed fashion along its track, but that Jacques Doucet was designing in this way before these elements became standard does say something about his ability to either spot where fashion was going or influence its destination.


Doucet dress, Good Housekeeping, 1922

Doucet dress, Harper's Bazar, for November 1916


























Some sources give the tired old story told of many designers who are not Vionnet or Chanel, that the house of Doucet fell out of fashion in the 1920s because Jacques couldn't give up a luxurious and structured style of dress that no longer had a place in the postwar world. As usual, I disagree: 1920s fashion flowed naturally from late 1910s fashion, as the above left illustration shows, and Doucet was well able to keep pace with the changes, above right. Jacques Doucet was in his mid-70s, possibly in failing health given his death in 1929, and was most likely simply not up to the task anymore. Sources conflict as to whether Maison Doucet merged with Maison Doeuillet in 1928 or 1929 (1924 is a very early date given by only a few) - but a 1931 source states that "M. Doucet has recently died", which implies to me that he died after giving over his business: therefore, 1928 seems most likely. The 1931 source also speaks of Doeuillet in the past tense, so he had probably also died by that time, leaving Doeuillet-Doucet to be directed by a Georges Auber. It probably retained all of both houses' prestige, as a 1933 textile arts syllabus lists it after only Worth and Jenny under "noted designers". References to the house stop appearing in the early 1930s, so the amalgamation probably closed in 1934 or so.

Until fairly recently, it was not common for fashion houses to continue under the same name with a new designer, unless it remained in the family - Redfern being an exception, but then, Charles Poynter had his name legally changed to Charles Poynter Redfern - and Jacques Doucet had no children. Given the timing, the merger may have been a last-ditch, desperate measure to keep afloat, but the fact that it occurred at all should not be taken as meaningful with regards to how women felt about their designs. It was a business transaction that gave Doeuillet (and Auber) the benefit of a second excellent reputation to add to his own and a new pool of experienced and adept workers to draw from; meanwhile it ensured that Doucet's name, one that had been in the industry through almost the entire 19th century, would continue after his death and allowed his clientele to expect the same service they were used to. The merger might have also given his widow needed money to live on.

The Great Depression was extremely hard on the Paris fashion industry. I previously discussed this with regard to Chanel, listing the many houses that closed from 1929 on, but it can always be restated: the business world is not a pure meritocracy. Success can mean that a company makes a better product than its competitors, but it can also mean that it was better funded, ran more seductive advertising, had personal connections behind the scenes, or even that it used unethical practices. We cannot look at a successful fashion house as one that captured the zeitgeist more fully or created a standard others were unable to match, and we cannot look at shuttered fashion houses as ones that failed to make clothing women wanted to wear. Did Amazon and Barnes & Noble beat Borders because Borders didn't stock the right books? No. In fact, most of the problems had little to do with the products themselves.

So Doeuillet-Doucet's closure in the early 1930s should not be interpreted as being meaningful about the state of their clothing. Rather, it should be seen as an example of how devastating the Depression was, that it could even kill a couture house with such a weight of history and two reputations behind it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Redfern Ltd. (ca. 1855-1940)

Redfern is relatively well known as an early couture and tailoring house, but the specific people involved, or their talents beyond women's suits and riding attire, are often overlooked when discussing the progress of fashion - which is usually distilled down into a few vibrant personalities and their innovations. Redfern's early years overlapped with Charles Frederick Worth, who steals the spotlight from all contemporaries.

Label from walking dress, 1885-1888; MMA 49.3.32d (OASC)
John Redfern (1820-1895) opened a draper's establishment in the city of Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the mid-1850s, where he was joined by his sons. In the early 1870s, his shop expanded to sell silk as well as wool, and also clothes for mourning; a little later it seems to have added yachting dress, as Cowes was historically a center for boating and regattas. The early obscurity of the business means that many sources give slightly contradictory information, but it's connected to Lillie Langtry's "Jersey Costume" worn in 1879, with a yachting outfit consisting of a wool pullover worn over a heavy skirt.


Not long after, possibly because of this celebrity patronage, Redfern was able to open a salons in London and send an employee, Charles Poynter (later taking the name Charles Poynter Redfern), to open one in Paris. (Twentieth century sources conflict over which was opened first - both are given in various books as opening in 1881. Perhaps they opened in the same year.) From this point, Redfern & Sons began to appear in fashion magazines, usually in mentions of tailor-made outfits and in conjunction with titled clients. By 1882, they were Tailors by Appointment to the Princess of Wales, and by 1885, to Queen Victoria, Maria Feodorovna, Queen Emma of the Netherlands, and numerous others as well, and they also had a third salon in New York City.

Redfern designs, Harper's Bazar, Sept. 17, 1887
Fitted street costumes were clearly the firm's forte during the 1880s, often of wool serge trimmed with braid, but they also sold mantles and wraps, and continued to furnish mourning on short notice. On the whole, the tailored look was popular: ordinary dress had been well-fitted to the upper body for some time, incorporating elements of menswear such as prominent center front buttons, basqued bodices (resembling coats worn over skirts), and lapels. In working as a tailor, the Redferns' advantage was that their talents were perfectly suited to the prevailing taste. I am not sure how much effect the house had on fashion, except that it was noted as resisting attempts to bring back the train in the early 1890s; however, this may have more to do with Redfern concurring with the prevailing taste again.
"New Redfern Dress", To-DayApril 1895
Intricate braid patterns and embroidered panels were as much a part of the Redferns' style as good fitting, and seem to have continued on in the house when fit began to allow for more looseness. Starting in the early the 1890s, the house was associated more frequently than it had been with more fanciful and dressy gowns - even wedding dresses! - while also still making the original braided wool jackets. It is probably not an insignificant fact that John Redfern was by this time rather old, and perhaps even ill (as he died in 1895). As the business came under Charles Poynter's control, possibly in 1892, when it was renamed Redfern Ltd., the focus shifted. However, changing tastes in the public were also a factor: the strict tailor-made was becoming more dressy across the board, and gathering and draping in the body were taking precedence over perfectly fitted shells.
"Costume at Cowes, by Messrs. Redfern", Cassell's Family Magazine, August 1895
"Redfern Dinner Gown", Godey's, February 1896
By the 20th century, Redfern was still acknowledged as the maker of outerwear, but the house was producing some extremely frilly and untailored gowns far removed from the original design ethos. (NB: Around this time the Redfern Corset, from the Warner Bros. Co., began to be advertised. So far I have found no connection to the couture house. However, Redfern may have made custom corsets for their clientele.)
"Pannier dress of gray cachemire de soie by Redfern, Paris", Dry Goods Economist, July 1909
While Worth was no longer represented quite as frequently in the fashion magazines during the first decade of the century, Redfern was at center stage with Beer, Paquin, and Drécoll. Fashionable actress Mary Garden attributed the draped Greek styles she wore onstage in 1909 to Redfern, which is notable as the house is rarely if ever mentioned in conjunction with the transition into the high-waisted styles of the early 1910s.

Garden party dress from Redfern, Gazette du Bon Ton, April 1913
The same state of affairs persisted in the 1910s, with Redfern included along the greatest couturiers of the age in the Gazette du Bon Ton, and continuing to be showcased as a top fashion house in magazines. Like the other Paris houses, Redfern produced perfumes as well, beginning with Sourire de Paris in 1915; Chypre de Paris was introduced in 1920, and more 1929-1930 and then in 1938.

Both from Harper's Bazar, March 1916
Given the limits of the public domain, it becomes harder to track the company after the early 1920s. One source reports that the house closed 1932-1936, most likely in response to the economic depression, and then in 1940 - like many others, due to the war. And, like many others, it did not reopen afterward.

I leave you with an adorable short story from the early 1900s, "Miss Brown's Baggage", in which a Redfern dress plays a part.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Everyone Else is Writing about Outlander, And I Want To, Too

You were supposed to get a well-researched post on Redfern Ltd. this week, but I've read several posts on Outlander lately and I want to add my two cents.

To be perfectly honest, my initial impression was (and is, for each new outfit), "hmm, I see where they were going; I wonder if they know about [construction thing]? [Aspect] makes it very costumey." Overall I would like to see more winged cuffs and caps, but I'm very happy with the materials used, Annette Badland's tying-over-the-kerchief brown gown, and Claire's 1940s wardrobe.

One thing that is really bothering me, though, in this dialogue - and how wonderful is it that in this day and age, film designers, fans, and recreationists can now communicate with each other directly? - is the idea that discussing issues of dubious accuracy is insulting the designer or saying that the costumes are terrible because they're inaccurate. I can appreciate the handwork put into the wedding robe de cour, even while I believe that a robe à la française would have been a better choice of dress.

I feel very comfortable asserting that we all understand that television is not the same as a reenactment, that the number of garments that have to be turned out in a short time means machine-friendly methods have to be used, and that the people who get the final say on costuming decisions are mostly not people with any experience on the subject. Right? It's common sense, and I think we're all on the same page.

As I've previously discussed regarding The Great Gatsby and Pride & Prejudice, and as Lauren discussed regarding Outlander, there's a lot of room to talk about costumes that aren't 100% accurate in terms of their inspiration, what they're saying about the characters, and why the changes from the accurate were made. But you can be interested in all of these things and accept the prior paragraph, and still want to talk about what wasn't quite right. For one thing, it can be fun to test yourself on how much you know, what you pick up on - sometimes you notice things that you didn't realize you knew, just by analyzing what it is that's bothering you about an outfit. (This is how I tell if a museum garment is an antique reproduction or has been messed with. What's off? Why do I have a weird feeling? Ah, there's something wrong about the closure/the fabric/the trim.) For another, it's a way to vent and get over the annoyance.

Claire likes a drink. And laced-on sleeves.
But see, here's the rub: Rowenna makes a good point - it's not right to imply that the clothing that makes it on the screen is entirely the result of research if you know there are other factors involved and you know it's not totally accurate. The discussion around Outlander has been influenced to an extent by a now-deleted post on the designer's blog (viewable through the Wayback Machine) which contained various incorrect statements - that women only bathed once a year, that it takes 20 minutes to lace up stays, the dreaded bodice - presented as fact. It's natural and understandable for people who study history to be annoyed when a professional presents myths as facts to an audience willing to believe them. When questioned, Ms. Dresbach started out dismissing the critics and eventually fell back on "I have 25 years of experience, I know what I'm doing."
Sidebar: I wasn't involved in this, but I've had the "decades of experience" card played on me in online discussions - and I just want to put out a plea to everyone everywhere to avoid this defense even when it seems totally appropriate to the situation. Either your data stands up to scrutiny because you have a good citation for it, or it does not. I could have spent five years researching 18th century French dress in detail, and still have a newcomer stumble across a primary source reference to something rarely mentioned that turns some of my statements upside down. Someone else could present a belief about Regency dress based on years of looking at fashion plates that my patterning would overturn.
I'm concerned about the way this has been represented in the comments to Lauren's post - this isn't a case of reenactors being too picky about what appears on the screen and being hostile to a costumer because of it. The issue runs deeper than that, and it has to do in part with a widespread perception that reenactors/historians are unable to deal with anything less than 100% accuracy without being mean - which means that of course someone who self-defines that way will have a shallow opinion of film costuming ("it's not totally right, so I hate it") and has no business getting involved in a discussion about it.

Of course it's not practical for a costume designer to badmouth the higher-ups who nixed accuracy for a particular costume in order to make it cost less, pick up the light better on camera, stand out more, or look sexier. And I'd never say that professionals should kowtow to their audience and apologize for everything wrong in advance. But can't we have a middle road?

Let's treat each other as equals. Because costume designers are usually so far from us, it's been easy to imagine all kinds of motivations for them and put inaccuracies down to ignorance. So let's stop assuming that and try a little harder to see the positives and possibilities. I admit that I wasn't very good about it myself until I started reading Tom & Lorenzo's Mad Style posts, and then started applying the same type of analysis to Downton Abbey.

The squared lower edge is straight out of Costume Close-Up; the seams and sleeves, not so much
On the other hand, it's important for costume designers to understand that we don't go looking for mistakes: we just see them. If you spend enough time studying the construction of a type of gown, it can be like nails on a chalkboard to see (for example) the modern armscyes and pieced backs that are a constant presence in 18th century costuming. It's not that we seriously expect the same level of accuracy that we bring to bear on ourselves - it's just an unavoidable side effect of this field. It's also important to remember that while the majority of us don't do this on a paid, professional basis, that doesn't mean we aren't knowledgeable: it means that we're so devoted to the subject of history that we do it despite the lack of payment.

The costumes in Outlander are demonstrably not 100% accurate, even if we use a movie definition of "accurate" and not a progressive's. (Geillis's are especially odd.) Let's not gloss over the steps between the research and what appeared on the screen - there is a sizable group of people here who would love to talk about what had to be left out and why. Why do Claire's jackets have princess seams and (in one case) laced-on sleeves? Are any costumes repurposed and dressed up/down? Why do the petticoats have so many pleats?

I don't understand. I don't understand the giant eye brooch either.
I'd wondered about the knitwear, and Ms. Dresbach's explanation for it is illuminating. I hope that in the future, more costumers will talk directly to us about topics that might be considered too esoteric or boring for a mainstream interview, instead of actively discouraging our participation on an involved basis.

PS: There is a reference to a spoiler in the comments. I put SPOILER markings around it, but please be warned.