Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Exciting News!

I've been gradually releasing this announcement over various platforms as things get more solid. This is a pretty serious platform, so I wanted to wait until everything was totally and completely for certain. (I'm writing this ahead of time, when things are only about 99.9999% certain, and I'm so nervous about that last 0.0001%, I can't even.)

Starting very soon, I'm going to be the collections manager/educator at the Silas Wright House/St. Lawrence County Historical Association (http://slcha.org/)! This is it, this is the first step in my career, my first permanent position in a museum. This is terrifying and unsettling.

This probably means not too much for the blog. I should be able to manage a job as well as one post a week! If anything, I may get to write about specific objects in the collections or people and events of the area, either for myself or for the museum.

Also, you know what's really my bag. Patterns. Access to what looks like a pretty sizable collection of clothes is basically my dream! It's too early to say exactly what's going to happen there, but it's definitely a priority for me to talk to the director and see about producing either a pattern book or packet patterns, either independently or for the museum.

Which then brings me to my sewing output (which I'm pretty sure isn't something that brought you here ...). I'm not quite sure what's going to happen there. I am working on a bustle gown for a wedding, so you know that has to happen. There's also a Regency morning dress that has to happen so that I can, you know, dress Regency and talk about my book, I got Regency boots for Christmas specifically so I could do this.

Apart from that, though, I'm not sure what's going to happen in the year ahead. Canton is too far from the Empire State Costumers to go to our (*sniff* their) events, and I won't have a partner-in-crime to organize mini Victorian picnics with. There don't seem to be many War of 1812 events in the area, and there are only a couple of Civil War reenactments. Well, we shall see what life brings.

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 2e Figure

Boston MFA 44.1527
New coiffure: the front straight, ending in a frizzed hérisson, the bottom of the Coiffure in the back and on the sides like the coiffure à l'enfance. The whole wrapped with a flower crown. (1781)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Galerie des Modes, 38e Cahier, 1ere Figure

(Way back when I was translating the Galerie, I came to two books - the 38th and 39th - which weren't included in the reprint. From the index, I could see that they were coiffures, and since they seemed less pressing than the gowns I let them wait. And then I forgot about them.)

Boston MFA 44.1526

Coiffure of a white straw hat edged with a colored ribbon. Crown surrounded by a wide ribbon, with a bow in the front. It is decorated with flowers and covered with straight hair over a toque which is low in front and larger in the back. Two curls and a favori; loose chignon and two curls hanging in back. (1781)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Marie Antoinette à la Rose (HSM #2)

I haven't done a portrait costume analysis in a long time, but it seemed like the most appropriate way to deal with the second Historical Sew Monthly challenge: Blue.

Marie-Antoinette dit « à la Rose », Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783; Versailles MV 3893
This portrait of the twenty-eight-year-old Marie Antoinette was painted in the same year as the famous portrait en chemise - in fact, it was painted in order to replace the chemise portrait with something less scandalous. (You may notice that she's standing in the same pose, holding the same ribboned rose, with the same hairstyle and same expression.) While this blue taffeta gown is more traditional than the chemise, it's nothing like a robe de cour or a robe parée - two outfits worn daily at court for formal occasions. This is still a very fashionable and casual ensemble.


Starting at the top: instead of the straw hat worn in the original, this version of Marie Antoinette is coiffed with a silk turban trimmed with ostrich plumes. The turban, made of a satin-striped sheer silk, was a fashionable bit of orientalism; a slightly later portrait of Madame Elisabeth shows a pouf cap in a very similar fabric, also trimmed with a white plume. Her hairstyle is an hérisson ("hedgehog"), with curls hanging down behind à la consellière (a style possibly named after Charles Alexandre de Calonne, a French statesman and counselor of Louis XVI).


On her wrists, she wears triple-stranded pearl bracelets, matching the double-stranded necklace seen above. Pearls were highly fashionable and very expensive; perhaps their connotation of purity was meant to counteract the scandal of the original portrait.

So, the gown itself. I'm hesitant to put a name to it, because there was no exact science to gown-naming - Marie Antoinette's dressmaker Rose Bertin could have called it a polonaise, circassienne, or turque if she'd wanted. Why? Well, look at the queen's waist: the dress hangs away from the body, fastened only at the neckline with a parfait contentement (the technical term for a chest-bow). The looseness of the gown was, like the turban, a bit of Eastern influence as the traditional forms of women's dress (the gown and the sacque) were fully fitted to the torso, if only in the lining. All three of the gowns listed above were originally conceived as variations on the unfitted theme. In their original forms the polonaise and circassienne were cut with rounded skirts, pulled up in the back, while the original circassiennes and turques both had short oversleeves; circassiennes often had "exotic" trims, such as tassels or fur. Regardless of the proper term - each one has justification - this is neither a standard fitted gown nor a formal sacque.

The queen could be wearing a very wide stomacher underneath the gown, or a back-lacing waistcoat, as both are attested in fashion plates - either way, there is a strip of white trim down the center, pinched at intervals with a darker material.


The gown itself is trimmed around the neckline, down the front (possibly also around the bottom of the gown, if it really is a polonaise or circassienne), and on the sleeves with either a fine lace or a very clear, whiteworked muslin or gauze: trimming on all edges was a common fashion, as was white gauze. There's also an unembroidered white ruffle along the neckline that is probably a tucker or tour-de-gorge, sewn to the edge of the shift. The ruffle along the front edges of the gown is narrow along the torso and flares around waist level, behind the arm, to several inches wide; along the skirt, the ruffle is sewn down just above the center, creating a long "head". The sleeve ruffles are even less balanced, with a tiny head.

There's an attached collar of the same blue silk as the gown, trimmed on both edges with a white ruffle. This collar appears to have a deep point in back, judging by the edge seen behind Marie Antoinette's right arm. Collars are sometimes seen on robes à la turque, circassiennes, and lévites (although this gown probably isn't a lévite, as they were generally sashed).

It's highly likely that the petticoat had an embroidered volant ruffle that matches the one on the gown. Unfortunately, the portrait isn't full length - so it must be left a mystery, just like the name given to the gown.