Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wedding Dress, 1905

Wedding photo of Grace Louise Fenton Ross, 1983.15.7
(Dress itself is 1983.15.4a-b, pattern at link.)

It's possible that a lot of lingerie dresses in collections were worn as wedding dresses - around the turn of the century, they were very popular for that use. Being white, they fit into the already-established but mainly upper-class wedding dress tradition, but being cotton, they were more affordable. Additionally, these white cotton dresses were fashionable and could be worn after the wedding, just as most women had done in earlier decades with colored gowns.

The belt from this one is gone, but the rest of the dress is in wonderful shape, apart from some yellowing. It is full of time-consuming details - lace insertion, pintucks - but because the fitting is achieved through the waistband and large pleats on either side of the back (the bodice is very loose and tucks into the skirt), it was a style ideal for the dawning of the age of ready-to-wear.

Judging by the photograph, the dress seems to have had drapey oversleeves that were later removed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Drawers, 1930s

CHM 1992.5.4 (pattern available at link)
These drawers - tap pants, they're more commonly called now - were made by a Mrs. Shattuck who ran a "sewing room" in downtown Glens Falls. (The information came from the donor; there's nothing at all about Mrs. Shattuck that I can find online, although there was a local Shattuck family.) Made of a slippery silk or rayon, they're entirely hand-sewn with grey silk thread.

I've actually used this pattern twice now to make tap pants for myself as part of my new home sewing regimen. The first time, I used a very nice, heavily patterned rayon charmeuse and I sewed them by hand. The only changes I made were to widen them a bit, leave off the lace, and hem the edges instead of binding them. And I used snaps instead of buttons. Some of these were bad choices! The pants are meant to sit at the waist, not on the hips, so I shouldn't have widened them so much; the snaps have a tendency to pop when I move, although that might not happen if they were won over a girdle the way they were intended. For the second pair, I fixed these issues - using buttons instead of snaps and only widening them about an inch - but also sewed them on the machine (much, much better on my wrist, and faster) and used a blue cotton lawn from a past bustle dress. I'm pretty happy with them so far!

Although I still couldn't make the automatic buttonholer work. Has anyone ever? Is there a trick to it?

If you like the look but aren't comfortable scaling up the pattern, Mrs. Depew has a couple of similar patterns from the 1930s and 1940s.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jeanne Adèle Bernard (1872-1962)

Maison Jenny is one of the hardest couture firms to learn about - but if you look through fashion plates and magazines, she is all over.

According to a blog, Jeanne Adèle began working under Jeanne Paquin, and then under Béchoff David (another little-known master). Her own house opened sometime between 1908 and 1910; the sources I've found disagree, but the earliest mention of Jenny that I can find is from 1910, in the caption of a photograph. There is no other text.
"Dainty afternoon costume", Theatre Magazine, October 1910
But her star soon rose. In a 1912 trade magazine, specific Jenny models are noted several times, and in one case she is described as a style arbiter. In a tariff hearing in January 1913, in the testimony regarding a man accused of importing Paris labels for fraudulent purposes, all of the labels are listed - they're listed generally in order of importance, and Jenny's name rests right in the middle, between the geniuses and the unknowns. And, most significantly, a few years later Jenny's designs appeared in the Gazette du Bon Ton alongside Worth, Chéruit, Paquin, and others.
from Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915
from Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915
From that point on, Jenny was solidly a member of the couture elite, constantly being reported on in trade magazines and the public's fashion press.

This fame lasted at least through the early 1920s. (In the 1922 volume of Harper's Bazar, she may be the most written-about of all the couturiers.) Unfortunately, after this point copyright laws kick in and fashion magazines and plates are more difficult to find: one has to rely on secondary sources by people who've been able to read through the periodicals in person, but in the case of Jenny, nobody has cared to.

According to the internet, Jenny went into decline during the 1930s. A number of fashion houses struggled then, in part because of the economic climate, but by this point Jeanne herself was in her 60s - an age when many retire. In 1938, the house was merged with Lucile Paray, a designer who was apparently more successful during the decade. (Of course, as usual, there is little-to-no information about Paray.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

In Defense of Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Since my Gatsby post was so successful, I thought I'd follow up with my equally controversial thoughts on Pride & Prejudice (2005). No, much more controversial. Sorry! But my overall opinion of the costuming is positive for a number of reasons.

I have to start off with a disclaimer: I'm just talking about the costuming - my friend Rose wrote a very good post about issues with the writing, although I didn't entirely agree with her - and I'm not saying it's better in costuming or as a whole than the 1995 version. Frankly, the two are so far apart that I hardly see them as the same thing and don't really compare them. One is a faithful, longer form adaptation and one is a more romanticized retelling in shorter form. Though I do think it's odd that the more sexual additions with Colin Firth don't get the same treatment as some of the changes with Knightley and MacFadyen MOVING ON!

The main trouble with the costuming in P&P2005 is that the designer, Jacqueline Durran, mixed the artistic and the accurate without committing enough to either aspect. In short, the more accurate costumes come off as unattractive and the more artistic costumes come off as inaccurate. It's really too bad, because the accurate costumes are decently accurate, and the artistic costumes combine modernity and history in a visually pleasing way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Personal Couture

I'm trying to get more into making my own everyday clothing! Most of the patterns I've accumulated are for dresses, some excessively fancy, so I'm working on reforming in that respect, no longer buying or making summer dresses when I need both casual and work clothes.


To start out, I went with a Vogue Easy Options pattern I've had for a while (V8295). The ABC version, with a straight skirt gathered onto a yoke, seemed very unflattering for me, so I started with DEF - a circle skirt on a yoke. I read the chart wrong and accidentally bought too little fabric ... but it was all okay! As you can see from the model, the contrast/matching band around the bottom makes the skirt end below the knee, also a very unflattering cut for many. Ignoring that pattern piece puts the skirt above my knee.


The fabric I used is a keepsake quilting calico from JoAnn. Usually, I avoid sewing with quilting cotton because it doesn't hang well on the body, but a) a circle or A-line skirt can have more body and b) the print is really really cute. Also, it was on clearance at $4/yard.

Although I cut my dress form down quite a bit, it's clearly not enough as the skirt does not sit at my waist - it's a little lower.
Overall, the project was quite affordable: cheap cotton, pattern from stash, muslin yoke lining also from stash, zipper. Nearly all of the skirt was done on the machine - I sewed the lining in mostly by hand, and had to do the hem that way as well, using my mom's excellent (but slow) iron-into-place-and-pin-and-then-sew method.

I haven't actually read Overdressed yet, but I already have a lot of feelings about the garment industry and fast fashion, and I'm going to go on about that for a bit below the cut.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frances Hodgson Burnett

I love reading, and like many of you my favorite genre is historical fiction. Studying history and historical fashion makes me want to read about people living during these periods, experiencing events we can only read about in hindsight. Unfortunately, I have to admit that a lot of historical fiction simply doesn't work for me - what I'm looking for is an insight into how actual people of the past thought, even or especially when their thought processes and viewpoints differ from ours. I've started a lot of books that I just take back to the library because the heroine seems like she's been transplanted from our era into the past (and usually because of too many accuracy issues re: clothing. It's a gift and a curse).

But the great thing about ereaders is that they facilitate reading classic/historic lit, because so many books have been digitized and are available for free, or for only a couple of dollars. I've downloaded quite a few, and whenever I feel like shopping I end up finding many more to try out. One ebook that I've been very happy with is the collected works of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Burnett's extremely well known as the author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, two hugely popular pieces of children's literature that have both been adapted for film and stage many times. Some also remember that she wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy, once a smash hit that forced hundreds of little boys into velvet suits with lacy collars. But Burnett was primarily a writer of romantic fiction (in both senses of "romance") for an adult audience, and her bibliography is full of novels about older characters in more mature situations.

(I spoil all the novels reviewed in a sort of general way, but I don't give specifics.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fixing the Form

Dress forms are pretty important for sewing, so I wanted one for a long time. My first was an old, hollow adjustable form, the fabric peeling off, a hair smaller than me (and the pieces cockeyed) when fully extended - at times I thought about covering it with two layers of pantyhose and stuffing it with fabric, but just getting a better form made more sense, since it was all rusty and gross.

The Dritz Double looked like a nice replacement, but I have a big fit issue - I'm short and my waist is extremely high. The petite Dritz form is almost short enough, but far from robust, so I fixed my eyes on the Uniquely You form. Not only would it take on my dimensions and peculiarities, it would be soft enough to be fitted with my corsets and stays!

I was psyched when it finally came last year. Okay, the form to be covered was pretty big and had ludicrous breasts, but it's foam, it would squish down. My mother fitted the cover to me and everything was looking great. I took the cover home and sat down to put it on the form ...

Oh dear. As many of you know, that foam does not like to squish - it took me ages and ages, moving the zipper a centimeter at a time. The bust was very low and had to be forcibly pushed into place with only moderate success, at my waist the fabric was strained and at the form's waist it was loose, and everywhere there were horizontal wrinkles because each seam was under such stress. I don't have a before picture, so - basically imagine an overstuffed sausage with monster shoulders. (Oh, didn't I mention? Nothing I owned could be put over the shoulders because they were so big. The arm stubs shouldn't stand out straight like that.) There was no question of getting a corset on it, because it was already squished beyond what it could take.
Closest thing I have to a before picture. Using the form is why my white ca. 1780 gown has such a low waist!
I put up with it for a long time, barely using it or letting it just stand around. At one point, I thought they might have sent me the wrong size body, since I ordered the medium with the largest medium cover and it should theoretically have fit fairly easily. The company wasn't keen on that idea, wouldn't tell me about what base measurements it ought to have for comparison, and wanted me to pay for return shipping plus a restocking fee to exchange it, which I obviously didn't want to do if I wasn't totally sure that it was the wrong size in the first place.

Recently, I decided that the situation needed to be remedied. Julie fixed hers a little while ago, so I knew from her experience that kitchen knives were not the answer. Following my mother's suggestion, I got a boxcutter at the hardware store - you want the kind with a long, thin blade, 18 mm/7 point size - and pushed the blade all the way out. Carefully, I sawed off a thin flake of foam, then another, then another.

(I can't recommend this method enough. The blade does not get dull - I bought a pack of extras and used none of them. However, when doing broad and flat areas like the back it's difficult to get purchase for the blade because there's no room for your knuckles.)

It does take forever. You've got to keep trying the cover back on to see where there's stress, and you still want it to be kind of tight. I did start taking bigger chunks out when I got to the butt, because I knew it was way too low and too big, because of the shortness issue, and it's resulted in a very knobbly texture. It's worth it, though!


It's not hugely different from the way it was before, but the waist is higher, the bust isn't quite as low, and it doesn't look like it's going to burst out of the cover.

What I really could do is add a little bit of padding through the hips, because the foam body's waist being lower than mine means it's a little thin there ... but I don't tend to make anything ever, really that's fitted in the hips, so I don't know when I'll do it. I don't want to accidentally pad it out too much!