Sunday, February 28, 2016

HSM 2016 Challenge #2: Tucks and Pleats

Last year at my museum's Civil War Weekend, I was not very well kitted out. I had a decent corset, a good cage from Kay Gnagey (worth the money, by the way), a secondhand dress that fit perfectly, an 1840s chemise that's too tight under the arms, and a knee-length 1950s-style crinoline I used as a petticoat (which was awful but better than nothing). So the plans I laid out in December have been changed, because without firm deadlines I won't finish anything. Instead, I'm using the first half of the year to get everything together, starting with a pair of petticoats. This is especially important as I'm going to do a "Dressing the Fashionable Woman" presentation and need to have every layer in viewable condition.

Petticoat, 1850-1865; MMA 2009.300.3256 (OASC)
Liz Clark's instructions for petticoats describe pretty much what I did; I used the patterns at the end of Patterns of Fashion I to calculate how much yardage to buy, and otherwise just sort of winged it based on normal skirt construction. At first I meant to gore them to help get the more elliptical wartime look, but extant petticoats show gathered fullness and so I went with that.


(Darn this dress form! I've fitted it to myself twice and done surgery on it, and it's still so big I can't button the waistband. It's pinned on.)

Both petticoats are identical, or at least they're meant to be.


As this is, of course, the tucks & pleats challenge, I put two tucks near the hem on each. This will help the petticoats stand out, as well as be a bit of decoration. If I were to make an 1840s or early 1850s outfit, I could add a couple more and make it the proper length to be worn without a hoop.


Each petticoat is 180" around (kind of excessive, but I felt I'd rather have it than want it), tightly gathered at the top, and stitched to the waistband using the stroked gather technique. I ended up with 22 gathers per inch. It's kind of intense.


The Challenge: #2, Tucks & Pleating

Fabric/Materials: Ten yards of cheapo white muslin, 60" wide, from the Dharma Trading Co., at $4.09/yd

Pattern: None

Year: Mid-19th century, to be worn over a round hoop, so 1856-1862 or so

Notions: A couple of plastic imitation mother-of-pearl buttons that I picked up for fifty cents years ago

How historically accurate is it? They're pretty accurate apart from the plastic buttons and the fact that any Victorian would turn up their nose at the fabric quality. I used my treadle machine to sew the vertical seams, tucks, and hems - according to the petticoat linked above, such things were done. The stroked gathers and buttonholes were done by hand.

Hours to complete: Oh man. About six hours each for the gathering and attaching the waistband. An hour to pin up and sew the hems. Maybe an hour and a half to do the tucks, I didn't take the time to make sure they were properly straight. Another half hour for the buttonholes and buttons. All together that comes to 15, which sort of feels like an underestimation.

First worn: Not yet, but will be taken out at the end of the July for the Civil War Weekend

Total cost: $41.40

Friday, February 26, 2016

Re-evaluating C. Frederick Worth

While there are some (many) times that I suspect my gut reactions of being contrary simply for the same of being contrary, at other times my contrariness seems to lead me in the right direction.

I've been writing about lesser-known contemporaries of Charles Frederick Worth since 2014 (see my first post on the subject, regarding Emile Pingat) in an effort to promote the knowledge that Worth wasn't literally the whole of the Parisian fashion world in the second half of the 19th century. But it wasn't until a recent question on the AskHistorians subreddit about Worth's innovations in the industry that I began to really reconsider his accepted position as a revolutionary who elevated the simple business of dressmaking into the completely new field of haute couture.

There are certain Worthian innovations that I can't question, because I don't have the resources to investigate them, and I've deconstructed the idea of assigning widespread stylistic changes to an individual designer in several of the posts on the myth of Chanel. But there are certain claims of earthshaking changes that really should be questioned, as they seem to be oversimplifications. Namely:

- That Worth was the first to use paper patterns
- That he was the first to add a physical label (in the form of a stamped waist tape) to a garment
- That previous dressmakers always visited the client's home, rather than having an establishment to visit
- That he began the practice of not working collaboratively with the client to design her gown
- That he was the first to provide fabric for the client's clothing
- That he was the first male dressmaker

Fashion plates have been used to show specific gowns from a specific dressmaker since the early part of the nineteenth century. For example:

Journal des Dames et des Modes, January 1823
The caption reads, "Turban of velvet and gold gauze, invented by M Hyppolite. Satin gown, trimmed with rouleaux of gold gauze, of the invention of Mme Hyppolite." While M Hyppolite's coiffures had been advertised in the Journal for several years, this is the earliest fashion plate I can find showing a dress design of his wife's. (La Belle Assemblée also occasionally made it clear that the gown shown in the fashion plates could be found in Mrs. Bell's shop.) The Journal continued to be more forthcoming about the coiffures than the gowns after this point, but did sometimes remind the reader of Mme Hyppolite's creations. In the 1830s, we see dressmakers like Mme Minette and Mme Faulet appear in the captions, and by the end of the decade we start to see fashion plates that break down the ensemble in more detail:

From Petit Courrier des Dames, March 1837; CCDL
The caption reads: "Coiffure executed by M Smal, palais royal, Montpensier gallery, 7. Flowers from M Chaget, rue Richelieu, 81. Gown of silk lace from Mns Violard, rue Choiseul. Rice-straw hat from Mns Lavand Brandry, rue Richelieu. Velvet spencer made by Mme Desertine, end of Montmartre, 9." This trend continued through the 1840s and 1850s, sometimes even specifying the perfumes the imaginary women were wearing, their shoemakers, etc. Periodicals described dresses from specific dressmakers in great detail as well - Les Modes Parisiennes let women know that Mme Olmer "makes a pretty model of this type, thus composed: a gown of silk in two shades, green and purple or blue and black, with brandebourgs in the two shades of the silk crossing each other and diminishing in width around the top of the skirt; the bodice and the sleeves have a trim which matches that of the petticoat." And Mme Camille made a gown for Queen Isabella of Spain with a style of revers she claimed as her own invention, as described in Graham's Magazine in 1856.

It's entirely possible that these plates and descriptions were drawn from gowns that dressmakers had made with significant input from customers, or that they were simply well-drawn illustrations that dressmakers paid to have their names put under. But I don't think it's possible to get away from the fact that these are designs advertised with the implication (or more than that, in the case of the textual descriptions) that a woman who wanted that gown could have it made by that dressmaker. Some top dressmakers, such as Mme Palmyre, were known to give multiple customers the same gown ("It is saddening to find three gowns at a ball whose appearance matches your own, it gives you the vapors," said one writer on the subject) - a phenomenon that could only occur if dressmakers were given design latitude, rather than every dress being a joint effort.

Looking at some of the establishments mentioned in fashion plates is telling. Magasin Violard was given ecstatic praise in Le Follet in 1844: "no maker is superior to Violard in the happy disposition of design, none equal it in execution where a feeling of true elegance without defect is noticed". (This is followed by praise of Mme Ferrière-Pennona and Mme Thiéry, dressmakers.)  The December 1856 issue of the Moniteur des Modes described Pauline Conter, head of the workrooms at Maison Lhopiteau, as "an innovator par excellence"; the house offered gowns and ready-made novelties. This is something I've addressed in the past with Chanel - the fashion press nearly always celebrated the dressmakers and designers they mentioned, so it's important to take their effusive praise and insistence that one person is the best at a certain style of dress as just part of the normal rhetoric around fashion, even if the fashion house, like Worth, is now well-known.

In looking into some of these once highly regarded women, I found that Worth was far from the first male dressmaker - in the July 1843 issue of the Edinburgh Review, a book reviewer reported:
It has long and justly been a subject of complaint in England, that men are rapidly encroaching on the employments of women. Shopmen are now everywhere substituted for shopwomen, under the curious plea that the ladies prefer being served by young men. The same fatal system is silently operating in France. From the Physiology of the Tailor, we learn that men have taken to making shirts; and the author of the Physiology of the Grisette assures us that, within the last fifteen months, male dressmakers (modistes) have made fearful advances; though Victorine, Palmyre, Oudot-Manoury, and a few others, are still unshaken in their supremacy.
However, as far as I can tell, he was the first male dressmaker to reach the top of the Parisian fashion world within the mid-century context: as Andrew Schroeder points out below in the comments, Louis Hippolyte LeRoy was making and trimming gowns for royalty and the aristocracy in the early 19th century.

Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1837, showing two dresses by Mme Oudot-Manoury; VAM E.22396:348-1957
In the interest of  full disclosure: I had thought that one of these forgotten dressmakers led to another interesting wrinkle in the standard Worth narrative. Mme Oudot-Manoury's name appears in many similar lists of the top Parisian dressmakers, and on quite a few fashion plates from the late 1830s and 1840s. (A piece in Blackwood's Lady's Magazine in 1837 even attributes the (unfortunate) trend of reusing 18th century silk gowns to her.) Called "daring" and "inventive", she made several gowns for Sarah Polk, first lady. Several months ago, someone posted a gown from the 1840s to Facebook with some discussion about the maker's stamp on the lining or waistband. I know this for a fact, but it's not to be found anywhere. At one point I was sure that a particular 1847 dress made by Oudot-Manoury for Sarah Polk was the one with a label ... but an email from the curator proved that this was not the case. So there are no pre-Worth gown labels to show.

But even apart from that - labels in hats can be found as far back as the 18th century, and shoes almost as far. While it did not become standard practice to label dresses until the mid-19th century, the concept of labeling an item with the maker's name and address was not an invention of that period. Worth was clever to adapt this practice to dressmaking, but it is not his concept.

Dressmakers before Worth also had their own showrooms where customers visited. Numerous sources describe such establishments before Worth & Bobergh opened: the main area of the dressmaker's shop would be decorated to impress the client and could hold the "confections" she might offer - ready-made items like caps, bonnets, chemisettes, fichus, cloaks, etc. - and Mme Oudot-Manoury's was even said to be "a small chamber full of the most lovely robes". Women who wanted to engage the dressmaker would come there in order to discuss what they were looking for in terms of cut and fabric, and while the woman in the linked dialogue was highly opinionated regarding her tastes, any woman could leave the trimming up to her dressmaker, if she wished. However, it was standard practice for fittings to be done at the customer's home by one of the dressmaker's assistants, at least in the higher levels of society, while Worth demanded that his clients continue to come to his salon.

The paper pattern has a complex history. Although commercial paper patterns sold on their own only began to appear at the end of the 19th century, the history of their use in the industry goes back at least to the middle of the 18th, when Garsault's Art of the Tailor [...] and Seamstress described how dressmakers would use paper patterns matching the measurements of their customers to cut out the fabric. Instructions on dressmaking almost a century later also described developing paper patterns of varying size to help cut out the basic pieces of a dress. (The same author implied in another work that such patterns might have been available for purchase.)

While Worth's reputation for artistry was certainly not unearned, it must be looked at within its proper context. Dressmakers before him were not all obscure women with no power - they had national and sometimes international renown, and their names were recognized as quality brands, commanding high prices and devoted followings. Like Chanel's, his name has benefited through the years from his contemporaries and predecessors simply being forgotten.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Magasin des Modes, 1er Cahier, Planche I


November 20, 1786
In summarizing all the Books where we have presented women dressed in men's redingotes, it will be easy to see which were temporary variations of Fashion. Here is another redingote which shows that its progress has not relented. It was the most difficult step to get over, and it was overcome; it was the most brilliant shape and the most agreeable to take, and it has taken hold.

The Woman shown in PLATE I wears a redingote of dark green wool, embroidered with gold on the fronts, on the side pockets, cut vertically, and on the cuffs.

Under this redingote, a petticoat of glossy pink.

On the neck, a full gauze kerchief, en chemise, with two collars.

On her feet, pink shoes, flounced with a green ribbon.

On her head, a straw hat, lined with canary's tail taffeta or satin, with black stripes, whose very full crown is of pink crêpe, with little black stripes, and which is belted with a wide pale green ribbon, edged in white, pulling up the hat on the right side, holding it inclined on the left side, and forming on this side a large bow, whose ends fall very low in the back.

Her hair is frizzed in a tapet to the middle, and in large curls from the middle to the end. In the back, it is pulled up in a flat chignon.

Two large curls fall floatingly over the chest of this woman, who is supported by a plinth and holds a book in her hand.