Friday, August 30, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 51e Cahier, 5e Figure

Young Lady seated in a promenade; she is dressed in a robe à l'Anglaise edged à la Harpie, and coiffed with a straw hat edged the same way.  1. Baigneuse with a ribbon à la Harpie. 2. Straw hat, streaked ribbon and plain ribbon, laurel garland. (1786)

"Many hats are made today, with gauze and fine muslins, or fine batistes, or fine crêpes, on which are embroidered different little wildflowers, like the cornflower, the daisy, the poppy, etc.: in observing, however, these brocaded gauzes are only for the crown or cap, the brims are of gaze reine.*"

Le Magasin des Modes, 1787

* See Caroline Weber again.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 51e Cahier, 4e Figure

The young and amiable Cephise dressed en Amazone and coiffed with a hat trimmed with aigrettes and panaches.
1. Hat edged with flowers, surmounted with gauze and trimmed with ribbons and pearls. 2. Hat trimmed with oval sequins with two follette* plumes. 3. Hat à la Harpie, trimmed with flowers, and surmounted with gauze. (1786)

"Women come closer as much as they can to our practices.  They actually wear suits, as they engage in male occupations; with the difference, however, that they seem only to adopt such suits and such manners that men have abandoned.  We no longer cover ourselves with long, three-collared redingotes; women wear them.  Our watches are now trimmed with simple cords; women burden their with a quantity of trinkets.  Our Petit-Maîtres of the latest taste work their hands into their pockets or their arms dangling; women play with a toy or a light cane in their hands; their hair is now tied very low in a large cadogan, because ours is braided à la Panurge, or put in a queue."

Le Magasin des Modes, July 15, 1786

* "A little crazy", used in a directional manner - the way the plumes lean in different directions.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 51e Figure, 3e Figure

Young Lady dressed in a caraco à la Berrot with a trained petticoat, holding in her hand a little switch.
1. Cap trimmed with a ribbon pleated down the length. 2. Hat à la Harpie.* 3. Hat trimmed with plumes and ribbons. (1786)

"It is true that Zulmé was dressed in a caraco and a petticoat of striped muslin, very white, very fresh, elegantly flounced; the petticoat and the pink corset beneath, which was shaded by and made a base, so to speak, for the white, spread overall an air of sweet freshness and an agreeable variety: but to be dressed thus is the least difficult thing.  I ask you for the maintenance, you can as easily as she put on your head a straw hat, in the natural color, wrapped with a garland or artificial roses, surmounted by four plumes (three white and one pink) and to which hangs, attached behind, a large veil of white gauze falling to the waist ... but still one time of the maintenance:** there is all the magic of Zulmé."

Le Cabinet des Modes, June 15, 1786

* According to Caroline Weber, the à la Harpie style referred to the bold zig-zags and triangles.
** This is clearly wrong, but I'm not sure how to make it correct.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 51e Cahier, 2e Figure

Young person dressed in a light gown and coiffed with a hat with zig-zags surmounted by two plumes.
1. Ribbon streamer trimmed with aigrettes and rooster plumes. 2. Galant hat.  3. New baigneuse seen from the back. (1786)

Accessories made for the Countess Gabriel by Rose Bertin:

"1784, January 28. - A coiffed hat edged with bouillons of Italian gauze, a garland en Reine Marguerite of all colors on top, a lot of gauze pulled up behind, a panache of 3 beautiful white plumes, of one white heron and a fine aigrette. ... 96 livres.

"A belt of Reine Marguerite garland mounted on two and a half ells of wide white satin ribbon. ... 27 livres.

"A necklace and two bracelets of the same garland. ... 30 livres."

Dossiers Bertin, Doucet Library

Monday, August 26, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 51e Cahier, 1ere Figure

Young person coiffed with a hat au Vauxhall in the latest taste and dressed in a flowered taffeta gown. (1786)

"It is unnecessary for us to say that since Pentecost men, like women, have worn taffeta.  We would say that women have also taken on summer gowns, if we hadn't announced all the gowns that they wore in the spring, like gourgouran, gros de Naples, muslin, linen, and which are also summer gowns.  If one once dared to wear taffeta in another season than summer, or satin in another season than winter, there would no longer be, for women, distinction in fabric for this or that season.  They would all be for all seasons."

Le Magasin des Modes, 1787

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Myth of Chanel and the 1920s: IX - The Bob

She cut her hair short 'because it annoyed me'.  Everyone cut off their hair in imitation.

This is probably the most concretely bustable myth about Chanel.  It is very popular, appearing frequently in fashion blogs.  Even when academic writers acknowledge that she did not invent the style, she is given top billing and the bulk of the credit for popularizing such a daring innovation.

The main strike against it is that the date of her bob is given as 1916 or 1917 (one blog calls this "long before the look became popular", which will be refuted in a minute).  As was demonstrated in Part II, Chanel was successful but not the über-popular figure until later in the 1920s, and it would be difficult for her to have such a widespread effect midway through the 1910s or early in the 1920s.

1916 or 1917, that is still later than 1915, which is when the bob starts to be discussed in magazines.  In madly famous dancer Irene Castle's own words:
The next time I heard the call of the scissors was just before I was going into the hospital to be operated on for appendicitis. I never liked having anyone comb my hair, so, to assure as little combing as possible, I cut it all off. I say all; it never fell much below my shoulders.

After I came out of the hospital I tried to cover up my clipped head by wearing, whenever I appeared in public, a tight turban or toque under which I tucked every spear of hair except some little square sideburns. Those of my friends who saw me in the country without a hat begged me to wear my short hair in public, and so one night when we were going to town to dinner I wore it down, and in order to keep it in place wrapped a flat seed-pearl necklace around my forehead—which was, I think, the beginning of what they afterwards called the “Castle Band.”
From The Dry Goods Reporter, June 1915, p. 34
 In 1915, references to the Castle Bob (either as an actual haircut or as a sort of hairpiece) and its popularity among young and old started to pop up, and they proliferated in 1916.  Whether or not Chanel had the star power to make the bob at this time, it was consistently attributed to Irene Castle and it was regarded as popular before Chanel was supposed to have cut her own hair.

Chanel's own account of the bob was apt to change.  She first stated that she shortened it bit by bit because, as Nicholson quoted, it annoyed her; later, the story was that a sudden gas burner explosion dirtied her hair and her reaction was to chop it off as her maid begged her to stop.  It's impossible to determine which story is true, but it must be acknowledged that one is certainly more theatrical and interesting than the other, and that Chanel is known to have invented myths about herself to suit her personal and business needs.

"Good taste in children's dresses", pattern magazine, 1914; NYPL 816966
In addition, young girls of the 1910s commonly wore their hair short.  They also wore waistless and dropped-waist dresses, which would become as common as the bob in the 1920s, and it's quite possible that these elements' transition from children's dress to fashionable dress are related.

Lastly, I would like to note that in 1931 Chanel told a reporter from the New York Times that "long hair would be coming back into general fashion soon.  If a few smart women wear their hair long the rest will follow."  She was aware that hair length was a fashion choice, rather than a reliable indicator of independence or modernity.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Last 18th Century Patterning Visit*

(* until I become a big name and they let me pattern at the Met and I do a second edition of the book with MMA 1991.6.1a, b in it**)

(** and until I start patterning outerwear and underwear, so maybe this was a poor choice of title)

I actually made a visit prior to this one that was intended to be the last, but it transpired that I could not pattern four gowns and a petticoat in a day, so the second round of New York State Historical Association (at the Farmer's Museum) patterning took two visits.  Since I never posted about the last one, I'll condense them here.


This is (the back of) a gown for a quite pregnant woman.  In my opinion, it was cut down from a gown or sacque that was made in the mid-to-late 1770s to fit with the styles of the late 1790s - I would have simply considered it a fashionable update, except that there are a few aspects that are decidedly unfashionable and the front shaping implies that it's for maternity wear.  And there's a small housewife sewing kit made of the same silk, which I patterned as well.


Satin is such an amazing weave structure - the few 18th century silk satin garments I've encountered have been in excellent condition, supple and soft, which makes patterning them just a little easier.  And this satin sacque with matching petticoat (petticoat detail above) also has a solid provenance tying it to a wedding, and therefore a good date.  With several self-fabric serpentine trims and three volants, it is a very, very formal ensemble.


At first, I thought that this was a fairly ordinary gown - but I pattern everything in order to figure out exactly what's going on with it and to see if there's anything at all of interest.  I can definitely tell you that this is not your average anglaise, and I don't believe I've seen a pattern anywhere that involves a back quite like this one.  The reasoning and cutting is somewhat specific to this particular fabric (which you can see involves multiple kinds of stripes), but could be adapted to different patterns.


Strictly regarding aesthetics, this might be my favorite of all the 18th century garments I've patterned.  This is a brocaded mantua, ca. 1760 - one of the older garments in the book.  There are some very strange aspects to this one that bear some more thought and research and which I will not go into now, but a very beautiful unusual aspect is the deep blue silk lining of the skirt.  (The bodice lining is an extremely fine, light linen.)  That is not something you see every day.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 6e Figure

Servant woman, in a caraco à la Pierrot with a petticoat of particolored taffeta, covered by a spotted apron behind the petticoat.
1, 2, 3. Fashionable hats in the newest taste. (1786)

"Zulmé shined well in a muslin caraco, all simple, all plain; and do you want, Zélis, to shine with the same brilliance?  No richness in her dress, no laden ornaments, taste only made them fresh; and do you want to seize this taste, this manner, which has seduced you?  Listen, Zélis.  Zulmé owes less of her brilliance to her dress and her coiffure than to her bearing where an amiable liberty reigns, a soft surrender and a sustained ease.  One never saw her sometimes bend, sometimes stiffen and sometimes lean to the right or left, to give herself an air of the petite-maîtresse: no, her gait is forthright, without affectation, she never spites nature, she is never studied.  Born with these infinite graces shared by nearly all of your sex, she never offends them, she never smothers them under all the affectations that a woman who doesn't have a just and proportional mind overburdens herself with.  Make no mistake, it takes a mind and a rather good one to have taste ..."

Le Cabinet des Modes, June 15, 1786

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 5e Figure

Young Elégant sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg in a spotted suit with bavaroises, a fashionable cane, and a steel sword.
1. Hat à l'Anglo-Americain.  2.  Hat à l'Androsmann.*  3. Boots buttoned like gaiters, etc. (1786)

"The Indolent. - While you tire yourself out, working from morning to evening, this other man lives in the most absolute inaction.  No business, no service, no occupations, not even reading.  All his time escapes him, he doesn't know what he does with it.  What did his morning produce?  Nothing.  He got up late, he dressed slowly, he took several walks, he waits for dinner.  Dinner came: the afternoon will pass like the morning, and all his life will resemble this day.

"Does he merit the name of man, when he lives in a state so unworthy of a man? ... But what am I saying! he has a considerable office, a beautiful woman, twenty lackeys; he is permitted to have an empty head and heart."

Sebastien MERCIER, Tableau de Paris, 1782

* Also called a hat à la Androsmane or Androsame.  Called a "kevenhuller" in English.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 4e Figure

Young Elégant of the Palais Royal in a Levite Anglaise with revers trimmed with oval steel buttons and with pockets trimmed in the same fashion; he is coiffed with a round hat à la Jacquet* with a ribbon cockade, and English boots. (1786)

"After so many bizarre inventions, we only lacked for Anglomania.  Thus it came to seize our agreeable people, who now, without wide braids, with large canes, with large cravats, want absolutely to pass as bourgeois Londoners.  One has seen even lords take the costume of jockeys, slouching ridiculously on a horse, to better mimic a lugubrious milord."

Paris en miniature, 1784

* A jacquet is a pilgrim on the Way of St. James of Compostela.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 3e Figure

The beautiful Arsène meditating in Luxembourg: she is in an informal morning gown with a fashionable mantelet, and coiffed en négligé.
1. Pouf à la turque.  2. Grande baigneuse à la Creole. (1786)

Prescriptions of fashion:

"Wear, as before, a robe à l'Anglaise, a robe en chemise, a robe à la Turque, a Pierrot, a Caraco: wear a very ample kerchief on the neck; let three curls fall on your breast, let only two fall, let only one falls; let your hair hang behind, let it be pulled up in a flat chignon: I consent to it; be free in this regard; but at my express command, wear the plain chapeau-bonnette.

"If however there were some rebels ... who still like best to renounce this coiffure and depose all the panaches except that which I've permitted to be retaken, to adopt the chapeau-bonnette, as my empire is sweet and easy and I only want to command my subjects with good will, it be permitted to coiff one's hair en cheveux and to wear for the whole parure on the head only two knots of ribbon, of which one is attached in the back over the toque or the chignon comb and the other is on the front of the head to three or four inches over the forehead."

La Magasin des Modes, July 15, 1786

Monday, August 19, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 2e Figure

Elegant Petit Maître in a light suit with brandenburgs, vest of Indian taffetas, trimmed with little steel buttons; he is coiffed with curls.
The border is surmounted with different fashionable buckles of the newest taste; at the bottom, several painted and embroidered vests. (1786)

"The Elégants. - There are no more men of good fortune, that is to say those men who make it a glory to alarm a father, a husband, to carry trouble into a family, to make themselves exiled from a house with a great noise, to be always mixed in the news of women: this ridicule is passed, we have no more petits maîtres: we have the élégant.

"The élégant is never frozen in amber, his body does not appear for an instant under I know not how many attitudes; his spirit never evaporates in compliments to loss of breath; his fatuity is calm, tranquil, studied; he smiles instead of responding; he never contemplates himself in a mirror, he has his eyes constantly fixed on himself, so as to admire the proportions of his waist and the precision of his dress.

" ... Men's hairstyles have become very simple: they no more wear their hair en escalade.  These high toupets, so justly ridiculed, have disappeared.

" ... The most difficult thing today, for a man of letters, is not speaking of erudition with wise men, of war with soldiers, of dogs and horses with aristocrats; but of nothing with several women who no longer want to speak, for example of the élégans."

SEBASTIEN MERCIER, Tableau de Paris, 1782

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cabinet des Modes, 2e Cahier, 2e Planche


It represents a Man in full Dress.
His coiffure: square Greek, with three curls.
Full collar of muslin, à l'Anglaise.
Sleeve ruffles of point [lace].
Coat of light Monsieur's prune satin, with pink and green silk embroidery.
Vest of white satin, with embroidery matching that of the coat.
Breeches of satin matching that of the coat; garters embroidered the same.
Under the arm hat, with small white plume.
Sword with a steel hilt, trimmed with a bow of sea-green ribbon.
Stockings of white silk.
Squared shoe buckles.
Shoes with red heels.
---
Recappée hat, à l'Androsmane.

It is a little pulled up, open in front.  The brim is 6.75 inches in the back; 6.25 inches on the sides; 5 inches in the corners; 4.5 inches in the front; the gance is a wide ribbon made to form a V; the button is silk, wide, and flat.
---
Round hat, à l'Anglaise.

Its crown, very square, is 4 inches high.  The brim is 3.25 inches wide, and is turned up in front and behind.  It is trimmed with a little black satin ribbon, with a little rosette on the side.

They are found very good and very attractive, together with those à l'Androsmane, at the shop of M. Donnet, Hat Merchant, rue Saint Honoré, near that of L'Echelle.

The same Merchant sells also all types of silk stockings, and of a notably superior quality, really no. 44, the most beautiful for dressing.
---
The most fashionable coat buttons

Of mother-of-pearl, nearly the size of a six-franc écu, corded all around, a monogram engraved in the center.

Yellow, flat, a ligne and a half* smaller than the previous; engraved in the middle, with a cord around it.

Of colored crystal, with a pearl in the silver gilt center; said button mounted on silver gilt.  Same width as previous.

Of colored crystals, with a brilliant in the center, mounted on silver gilt.

Idem, trimmed with brilliants all around; base colored.

Flat, in silver or silvered metal, with a cord around it.
---
Shoe Buckles, of the latest taste.

Of an oval shape, and cut in diamond points.
---
Gilets of the latest taste.

They are made of a fabric with a satin ground, striped with velvet or plush; the stripe is the width of the little finger.  They are found in all colors.

The most Fashionable are:
Bronze and canary's tail.
Dark green and canary's tail.
Violet and canary's tail.
Dark blue and green.

Colors of Wools for frock coats.

Bottle green.
Bronze, or the color of Henri IV's horse's hoof.
Of four colors, bronze, aurora,** violet, and dark green.

* 3/24 of an inch. very precise
** A golden yellow

The Myth of Chanel and the 1920s: VIII - Expensive Poverty

The flamboyant colors of Paul Poiret's pre-war designs and the theatricality of Bakst's influential costumes for the Ballets Russes suddenly seemed tawdry and overdone. ... A look of luxury was achievable through the severity of simplicity.  Expensive poverty was the aim.  She dared to suggest that clothes themselves had ceased to matter and that it was the individual who counted.

The story of the first three decades of the twentieth century can be seen as a narrative of increasing simplicity.  Not to continually beat Poiret's drum - no single designer can be held responsible for such a grand shift in style - but his simple black kimono coat, originally introduced in 1903 (itself deriving from the frequent use of orientalism in fashion and interior design in the late nineteenth century rather than springing forth from Poiret's head fully formed) started the general trend in outerwear.

Lord & Taylor advertisement, Burr-McIntosh Monthly, December 1907; NYPL 816513
Other designers followed suit, leading to the incongruous pairing of ornate turn-of-the-century evening gowns in a multitude of frothy fabrics with plain, unshaped, and unstructured evening coats. The columnar coats' success likely led to Poiret's introduction of the Directoire revival by the end of the decade.  While the newer high-waisted fashions could certainly be heavily embellished and somewhat form-fitting, the overall trend was toward a kind of simplicity that prized rich, relatively unadorned fabrics and their drape, with ornamentation concentrated only or mostly on the bodice.  (It must be noted that unadorned evening dresses were worn by the very wealthy before this point as well, however.)

"Étole et manchon d'hermine des Fourrures Max", Les Modes, 1909; NYPL 818412
The shift to a higher waistline also led necessarily to one-piece gowns becoming the norm, which further simplified construction.  In general, the turn of the previous century was seen as a time of great simplicity in dress, and it is clear from Iribe's 1908 Les Robes de Paul Poiret that imitating Austen-era clothing was the goal.

pp. 2-3
But this does not directly contradict Nicholson's claim that Chanel invented simplicity, as simplicity in cut, ornamentation, and color are not the same things, and these are quite bright colors.  What would be more apropos would be to look at Chanel's early years once again, to evaluate her severity and poverty.  Did she really advocate a starkly plain, unembellished style?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 50e Cahier, 1ere Figure

The young Eglé crying over the absence of her lover: she is dressed in a robe à la Turque* with gauze sleeves which are rétroussée with ribbons, she is coiffed en cheveux with poppies.
1. The Hat which crowns the whole is of gauze and relieved by laurels, called à la Victoire.**  2. Hat à la Calprenede.†  3. Pouf à l'Oriflame.(1786)

"As the flat chignons are worn very low, and it is impossible that all hair be equally long to be caught into the comb which holds them up, some time ago a sort of ligament of bronze iron was invented that is attached inside the chignon, around the middle, and which keeps the hair firmly embraced. Chignons are seen no more detached, to fall in scattered wisps on the neck, and to present to the eye a disagreeable mat."

Le Magasin des Modes, July 15, 1786

* It's very interesting that there's nothing much to tie this to the turque as it was originally conceptualized in the 1770s.  I speculate that perhaps the term came to mean what we now call a "zone front".

** As far as I can tell, no specific victory was being celebrated.  The name is simply due to the laurels.

† Probably a reference to Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède (ca. 1610-1663).  The Van Dycking and plumes are often used as references to the seventeenth century.

‡ It was difficult to find the meaning of "Oriflame" as the term is now the name of a cosmetics company, but the Oriflamme was the red medieval banner of St. Denis.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 49e Cahier, 6e Figure

The mincing Marinette with her dear lapdog in a public promenade: she is dressed in a light morning gown; her coiffure is a hat à la Zinzara. (1786)

"We will announce twenty gowns of different colors for the summer, and will will announce them all in taffeta.  Women do not wear those that are of another fabric than silk.  The newest for color have small prints and narrow stripes.  The only gowns in which Women change from taffeta are those of muslin or white gauze and gauze striped with different colors, with a satin stripe; or brocaded linen, with little bouquets.  Under these white gowns, they only wear white taffeta petticoats."

Le Magasin des Modes, July 1, 1786

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 49e Cahier, 5e Figure

The provoking Eriphile traveling to the voice of that which possesses her heart: she is dressed in a caraco and fourreau of taffeta: she is coiffed with a hat à la Marigny.* (1786)

"We wear successively black-striped or white satin-striped white muslin caracos, and taffeta or other colored fabric caracos.  We also wear sky-blue caracos, with unbleached linen petticoats; caracos with wavy green stripes, and with white stripes, with puce petticoats; caracos with straw-colored stripes and moire puce stripes, with water-green petticoats."

Le Magasin des Modes, July 15, 1786

* Possibly Charles de Bernard de Marigny (1740-1816), a French naval hero.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Galerie de Modes, 49e Cahier, 4e Figure

The young Elvire conversing in the evening of the pleasures that she must taste with Lindor in a tête-à-tête: she has a hat à la prétention; her gown is à l'Anglaise, kerchief with two gathered collars and mantelet of black taffeta. (1786)

Public gardens. - "The Parisians never walk, they run, they rush.

"The most beautiful garden is deserted at such a time, at such a day, because it is the practice of today to crowd elsewhere.  The reason for this exclusive preference is not seen; but this tacit convention is observed exactly.

"In the chosen walkway where the multitude ebbs, you are bothered, bumped, elbowed, and the waves are not less agitated than these performances ...

"No feminine face which is studied decreases its age.  That of secret cares to conceal emerging wrinkles!  But the lisp of weak pronunciation doesn't serve to disguise one's years.

"The kept girls are very decently set up, and if they continue, it would be necessary to know them in order not to be misled, and to distinguish them from honest bourgeouises.

"One notes from all these promenades that women have great need of seeing and being seen ..."

Sebastien MERCIER, Tableau de Paris, 1782

Monday, August 12, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 49e Cahier, 3e Figure

The beautiful dreamer sitting in the summer in the middle of the Champs Elysées, waiting on her favorite with impatience: she is dressed in a caraco à la Chérubin with a hat à l'Erigonne.* (1786)

Champs Elysées. - "A very agreeable glance is still that which offers the Jardin des Tuileries, or rather the Champs Elysées, on a good day in the spring.  The two rows of pretty women which border the grand path, crushed against each other on a long train of chaises, watching with much liberty those who watch them, resemble an animated parterre of several colors.  The diversity of the physiognomies and finery, the joy that they have on being seen and seeing, the type of assault that they make when on their faces shines the desire to eclipse each other, all add to this diverse tableau which bind the looks and give birth to a thousand ideas on what fashion removes from or adds to beauty, on the art and coquetry of women, on this innate desire to please those who make their good humor and ours."

SEBASTIEN MERCIER, Tableau de Paris, 1782

* There are two Erigones in Greek mythology: one hanged herself after her father's murder and became the constellation Virgo; the other was Orestes' half-siser and the mother of his child.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Myth of Chanel and the 1920s: VII - Jersey Cloth

During the war she discovered the versatility of jersey cloth as used by stable lads for shirts for training sessions, and began to make sweaters and waistless dresses for women from the same supple fabric.  The ornate Edwardian costume that according to a scornful Chanel had 'stifled the body's architecture' started to disappear. 

Chanel was quite certainly not designing waistless dresses from the beginning of her dressmaking career (as evinced by the plate below), and of course the "stifling" Edwardian costume was gradually evolving on its own.  Fashionable dress was much looser at the waist, but still frequently had a defined waistline, and even Chanel partook in the general complication in decoration and fastening that fashion involved at the time.

"Jersey Outfits; Designs by Gabrielle Channel [sic]", Les Elegances parisiennes, March 1917
However - again, as evinced by the plate - jersey did play a significant role in Chanel's career.  There are varying reasons given for this: that jersey was the only fabric she could buy in bulk or that she got a large amount of it cheaply, that she used stablehands' sweaters for her raw materials, that had to start with a non-dress fabric to avoid violating the terms of her lease.  And Chanel did continue to show jersey dresses into the beginning of her career, probably more than other designers did, but others were using jersey in haute couture by 1916 as well.  It is possible that their use of the fabric was based on her own success, but there is something else important to consider.
Good Housekeeping, September 1918, p. 9
Jersey fabric was seen as a sensible choice for consumers like "business [or] professional women" who required a sturdy and lasting cloth, especially when it was made in rayon.  It was also handy from a price point of view, as jerseys were (and are) made in the round, allowing for simpler cutting.  When woven wool cloth was in shorter supply due to the war, it was seen as an acceptable substitute for use in fashionable dress.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Program, 1917-1918, p. 1274
The explosion of jersey during the war years (although it appears to have been used in women's dress as early as 1880) occurred too quickly to have been due to a single woman's idea and limited influence among the smarter set.  Indeed, while Chanel seems to have been leading the way with jersey in the couture world, the majority of the references I find to it in period texts are aimed at women "who appreciate quality and reasonable prices", who were trying to make ends meet during wartime.  Its use in Red Cross uniforms (due to the fact that it was warm and didn't require much washing - so practical that nobody cared that it went against regulations) probably also spurred an understanding of the material's advantages.  It is seen more frequently in high fashion after the war than before it, but the references actually fly thick and fast in magazines selling patterns for the middle-class consumer.

Jersey is part of Chanel's story, but the trouble is that the way it's usually presented as her sole discovery combined with the fact that much of our clothing today is made of knits implies a far greater influence on her part than exists.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 49e Cahier, 2e Figure

The frisky Lisette on a morning walk in the Jardin du Luxembourg: she is coiffed with a pouf à la Almaviva and dressed in a caraco and petticoat of taffeta striped à la Baroco. (1786)

"It was useless to recommend to our young beauties walking exercise, if fashion was mixed on it.  One tronchined* because coquetry found something in it.  The négligé toilette is a refinement of the art of pleasing.  A fine and delicate waist never fears to show itself in a caraco; the other sort is best in the gown à la polonaise and the pulled in mantelet.  The shadow of an ample calash lends more piquancy to the attractions which dread the brightness of the day.  A beautiful hand rounds itself on a cane which has no other use; frail ornament, that reluctantly takes these to which it becomes a necessary support."

* Took morning walks; from the name of Theodore Tronchin.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Galerie des Modes, 49e Cahier,1ere Figure

The blonde Mélite walking at noon at the Palais Royal in the grand path of the fair, hoping to see the one who has fixed her heart: she is dressed in an English gown, with a Devonshire hat. (1786)

Accessories made for Mme Fléminard by Rose Bertin:

1786, December 9 - a rose bouquet with two sprigs. ... 30 livres.

December 10 - A pelisse of white satin lined and padded, bordered with white fox fur all around. ... 144 livres.

December 16 - A straw hat lined and covered with white satin, a pink satin ribbon around the crown and a black ribbon. ... 36 livres.

December 17 - Furnished a petticoat of good crêpe, trimmed with a volant with a turned-down head of the same crêpe edged with cones of white satin. ... 96 livres.

A white straw hat lined and covered with white satin, trimmed around the crown with a white ribbon, a panache of 3 plumes on the side. ... 96 livres.

A very large kerchief of brocaded gauze, edged with white quilting. ... 21 livres.

A belt of very wide ribbon, striped green and white. ... 15 livres.

A pair of little manchettes of finely-embroidered gauze. ... 10 livres.