Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Waistcoats: 19th and 20th Century

Apart from certain stylistic keys, I've always had a harder time dating men's clothing. It's just not as interesting to me, so I haven't taken the time to really study dated extant pieces and images and improve my skills. But lately I've come across more undated waistcoats while cataloguing - it's become something that I need to work on. And how better than by putting together a blog post?

Wedding waistcoat, 1808; MMA 2009.300.7449 [OASC]
At the beginning of the century, fashionable waistcoats were cut straight across at the bottom to match fashionable coats, although the vests often protruded slightly below the waistline of the coat. High collars, also matching the coats, would cover the sides of the shirt collar that extended up to the jawline. Both coats and vests could be single- or double-breasted, generally with self-covered buttons. While coat lapels were generally wide, waistcoat lapels were somewhat narrower.

Toward the end of the first decade of the century, the openings above the buttoned areas in both tended to be shorter and narrower, and around 1812 they began to appear sometimes almost fastened up to the neck. The standing collar was much shorter by this point, no longer covering the shirt. (In formal dress, waistcoats retained the longer, angled hems and types of embroidery that had been worn in the later eighteenth century.)

Around 1814-1815, the fashionable male figure began to have a distinctly nipped-in waist, which could be reflected in the cut of the waistcoat or in padding added to the chest. Emphasizing this, they would generally be buttoned only at the bottom, the shirt's jabot bursting from the opening. The waisted effect increased and continued through the 1820s, though the fashionable waist was located lower toward the end of that decade.

At first the trend of only buttoning waistcoats around waist level had no effect on cut, but at the end of the 1810s the construction changed: buttons and buttonholes were placed only on the lower half or two-thirds of the opening, and the front edges themselves might be cut on a curve so as to keep the lengthened lapels narrow all the way up, with only a slight notch.

"Waistcoat of gros de Naples with pearl buttons, lined with a contrasting color," Petit Courrier des Dames, ca. 1835; NYPL 802030
The bottom edges of the vest remained horizontal for most of this time; around the middle of the 1820s, they were cut with a slight curve to create separate points at the opening below the buttons when worn. As the puff of the chest was emphasized more at the end of the decade and the front edges were curved more, the lowest button was left unbuttoned and the points were then larger. However, these points didn't last very long - by the very early 1830s, it was more common for the fully-closed vest to end in a gradual slope to one point, or simply a straight line, the latter especially if the waistcoat were double-breasted.

Very little change occurred over the rest of the 1830s, but the unnotched shawl collar began to be more prevalent at the end of the 1830s; the angled breast pocket seems to have begun to appear between 1840 and 1845. Lower points without buttons reappeared after 1840 as well, whether single- or double-breasted, and while very narrow lapels remained in use wide ones were seen as well, more and more frequently toward the end of the decade.

Wedding waistcoat, 1846; MMA 1985.363.6 [OASC]
Early in the 1850s, the points dropped out of favor for a flat lower edge: at first with some space below the lowest button to create two wide points, then a completely straight line around 1855. While a deep opening to reveal the shirtfront remained in use, especially in evening dress or at home, for day dress a higher neckline became more common around 1855 as well. By the end of the decade, when buttoned high a waistcoat could have no lapels at all.

The greatest change in the mid-1850s was that a pinched male waist was no longer fashionable. The chest was still to be rounded, still enhanced with padding, but the defined difference between waist and hips was smoothed out. Vests less commonly flared below the waistline.

Waistcoat, ca. 1865; MMA 1979.346.47 [OASC]
In the early 1860s, slight points reappeared at the lower edge of waistcoats, and the shawl collar began to be set aside in favor of either no lapels or notched and pointed ones.

Around this point, it becomes very difficult to find images of men's waistcoats, as it was common to keep the coat fully buttoned, or just fastened at the top, during the day. Magazines aimed at gentlemen and their tailors, however, such as the Gentleman's Magazine of Fashion, made an effort to show or at least describe them, and it's clear that the era of the three-piece suit had begun: many waistcoats were made in the same fabric as a coat and trousers. When not made to match, vests were generally plain, not in the bright patterns and colors of prior decades. Their forms stopped changing, pointed lower edges and no (occasionally notched) lapels remaining most common through the early twentieth century, though double-breasted vests with flat lower edges were also worn. (A second breast pocket seems to have been frequently added after the turn of the century.)

Formalwear fossilized to an even earlier shape, with shawl collars and deep necklines. White and black fabrics were the only ones used - for, respectively, white and black tie.

Howard Fenton Ross's wedding portrait, 1905; CHM 1983.15.8


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tableaux Vivants at Clermont

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


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


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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fashion History Mythbusters: The Cage Crinoline or Hoop Skirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Delphos Dress

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

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

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

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