Countess of Castiglione costume reproduction
18th century, 19th century, events, Frock Flicks, projects, travel

Countess of Castiligione Fancy Dress

Nobody freak out, but I’m going to write a post. About a dress. That I made! I have wanted to make this particular costume for about 20 years, which is why I am blowing the dust off my keyboard and doing this. I’d like to share some of the making on social media, and I’d like to be able to share more than just photos. So, let’s see if I remember how to do this?

I’ve shared the story of the real-life Countess of Castiglione, Virginia Oldoïni (1837-99), as well as my own personal interest in her, in a review I wrote for Frock Flicks. As I wrote there:

The Countess of Castiglione was Italian; she was married off at age 17 to the count, who was 12 years older. She was renowned for her beauty, which helped take her life in a couple of interesting directions. She got involved in the movement for Italian unification, moving to Paris in 1855 (initially with her husband) to try to gain political support from Napoleon III. She ended up becoming Napoleon’s mistress, and her husband separated from her. She became famous for wearing amazingly gorgeous and inspired costumes to the fancy dress balls that were then popular, and collaborated with French photographers Mayer and Pierson to create these insanely cool, artistic photographs of herself that were meant to recreate important moments in her life, many of which focused on fancy dress costume. She returned to Italy for a few years, then moved back to Paris where she lived in seclusion until the 1890s, when she did another series of weirdly arty photographs.

I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and I played the countess at the Dickens Fair, where I had to make an “everyday” (i.e. not fancy dress) day dress, which I posted a bit about. But the costume of hers that I have always been obsessed with is this 18th century fancy dress/masquerade costume from the mid-1860s:

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

There’s so much I love about this. First, the over-the-top take on 18th century, which is my first love. The lushness of All That Fabric. The INSANELY interesting, very 1860s but not in a butterchurn-y way hair. And the intense gaze — she looks like the best kind of evil sorceress.

I’ve thought before about making this costume for Costume College, because it’s not something you would wear to most occasions. But even Costume College didn’t seem big enough for such an amazing costume! Plus, it would be huge and annoying to dance in.

Well, I finally made it to Carnevale in Venice this past February (back when we were able to do such fabulous things! Remember that time?), and I knew I HAD to make this, finally. I mean, VENICE! Not only was the countess Italian, but Carnevale is about over-the-top, tweaked and twisted and arty costumes, not just showing up in your standard ballgown. And I was invited to an amazing party with the theme of “Royal Favorites,” i.e. dress as the favorite of a king/queen/emperor/etc., which is perfect for the countess. And so, it began.

First, the fabric. The countess was an early pioneer in photo alteration, and in fact she colorized many of her photos using different variations. Here’s some of the ideas she had for this dress (note: I am just now noticing the bows on the petticoat, only because she colored them here):

[Variations on the "Elvira" Dress] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Variations on the “Elvira” Dress] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

However, one of the things that has always drawn me to this photo is the acres of light colored fabric, so I knew I wanted to go with ivory or cream. I originally was looking for silk taffeta, but couldn’t find anything in the exact shade I wanted. Everything was too yellow-y. Then I found a silk gazar, which is basically lighter than taffeta but heavier than organza, on sale at my local fabric store (Stonemountain and Daughter) that was ivory but had a beautiful sheen and a slight peachy undertone to it, and I bought every scrap they had. I was thrilled with how beautiful the fabric was in the end, but this stuff WRINKLES LIKE NO TOMORROW. On the advice of friends, I (for the first time) pre-ironed everything before packing, and then carefully layered things with this dress the most protected. Yeah, that was a waste of time:

What the dress looked like after unpacking.

What the dress looked like after unpacking. Pre-ironing is bullshit!

One of the best things about the countess is the many, many photos she had taken of herself. And this particular costume is quite well documented, although given the quality of the early photos, there’s still some guesswork involved. But I managed to find a number of photos that gave me a lot of information.

The fact that some of the photos call it a “pleated peignoir” let me know that it’s a loose gown, kind of like a robe volante (the full, pleated, unfitted gown fashionable in the 1720s-30s):

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Notice how there’s no fitting around the waist, and the pleated trim along the center fronts is unbroken from neckline to hem:

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here again you can see the unbroken line — the gown is clearly not stitched down to any lining in the torso:

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

La peignoir plisié by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here’s a robe volante, for comparison:

Robe Volante, ca. 1730, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robe Volante, ca. 1730, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I decided to change this. I’m a curvy girl, and while this dress is basically a giant merengue, I wanted SOME kind of fitting. So I ended up giving it a waist seam in front, more like the later robe à la française, although because I was working over a Victorian corset, I went full princess seams as they would have cut this in the 19th century.

I started with a fitted lining with bones at the seams, as I knew they would be needed to support the gown given the low neckline.  I ended up cutting away some of the V waistline when I realized that there didn’t appear to be a “stomacher” effect under the robe:

The lining. I long ago embraced the joy of straight-pinning closed front-opening bodices, so this didn't have any closures sewn to it! And I could hide the overlap under the trim.

The lining. I long ago embraced the joy of straight-pinning closed front-opening bodices, so this didn’t have any closures sewn to it! And I could hide the overlap under the trim.

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Before trimming, it basically looked like a wedding dress. Apologies, my sewing room is SMALL and I had three projects going at once.

Before trimming, it basically looked like a wedding dress. Apologies, my sewing room is SMALL and I had three projects going at once.

The back was hard to figure out. Clearly there’s a VERY low neckline in back (the countess was particularly proud of her shoulders), a train, and the pleated trim goes all along the hem:

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861-67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass] by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861-67, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Well thankfully I found this amazingly sharp closeup, that told me SO MUCH about the back (as well as the trim and hair, but we’ll come back to those). The back is pleated somewhat like a robe volante, with stacked box pleats, although there’s no inverted pleat at the center back.

Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Countess of Castiglione, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Countess of Castiglione, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I did the same, although I skipped the train. I knew I would be wearing this at a crowded party, and I didn’t want to deal with having my (white!) hem stepped on all night. I did give myself a heart attack one evening when I walked by and thought, “Oh my god, I made the back pleats wrong! There’s supposed to be an inverted pleat in the CB!” Luckily I rechecked my sources and was relieved to discover I had done it right.

Pleating the back. I wanted to work on the straight of grain; the lower row of pins were to give me a sense of the actual neckline, although I think it was a scooch higher in the end.

Pleating the back. I wanted to work on the straight of grain; the lower row of pins were to give me a sense of the actual neckline, although I think it was a scooch higher in the end.

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Here you can see that I made it somewhat like a française, adding pleats at the waistline side underneath the back pleats, which have many layers.

Here you can see that I made it somewhat like a française, adding pleats at the waistline side underneath the back pleats, which have many layers. The width of the pleats across the back is more like a volante, however.

Here’s the finished dress, before trimming and sleeves:

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Next up was to start the trim. First, that clear back shot was a life saver in that I could really figure out what was going on with the trim:

The pleated ruches are trimmed with a dark AND light lace along the edges. Each box pleat is sewn down with a pearl at top and bottom. Along the neckline, there's a row of beading lace with a dark ribbon, then three rows of lace forming a tucker.

The pleated ruches are trimmed with a dark AND light lace along the edges. Each box pleat is sewn down with a pearl at top and bottom. Along the neckline, there’s a row of beading lace with a dark ribbon, then three rows of lace forming a tucker.

I bought SO MANY TRIMS, Y’ALL. I could NOT decide what color/effect I wanted. I couldn’t find anything with the two-tone effect that I liked. I really wanted a dark silver, but worried that wouldn’t go with my peachy-undertoned ivory, so bought a couple different gold and copper trims, and then a couple different silver. I finally decided to go with the silver, since that’s how I pictured the dress in my mind, and found a tiny silver braid on Etsy that worked, as well as pearls and vintage lace:

And I hand hemmed/attached the lace, as well as the trim itself, because I'm crazy like that.

And I hand hemmed/attached the lace, as well as the trim itself, because I’m crazy like that.

Then, I trimmed:

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I had to use EVERY SCRAP to eke out enough fabric. This was one of the back hem ruches, so hopefully it doesn’t show given the placement and the pleating:

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The sleeves took some definite parsing. From the photo above, I could see that there were pleats at the armhole in back, towards the interior. Looking at this faint photo, I decided that the sleeve was trimmed on the INSIDE, and then flipped back on itself:

L'Agrèable by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

L’Agrèable by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What I see.

What I see.

I patterned them as HA-UGE versions of pagoda sleeves, which is what I think they are, and tacked the interior back on itself:

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The petticoat is actually three-row tiers of lace, with what I think is flat ribbon in between. I’m not sure how I missed those ribbon bows, except that this was the photo I spent a lot of time peering at, and you can’t see them here:

The wrinkles are what give it away.

I found some various antique laces for the neckline and skirt, but I didn’t have enough of the skirt stuff. I ended up buying some flat nylon lace and was pleasantly shocked to find you CAN tea-dye nylon lace! It looked great after I’d done that. I didn’t have enough yardage to make the three-row tiers, so I went with two, using silk satin ribbon for the join.

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The fan she carries in this photo survives at the Met! Which is SO cool. I had plans to try to make my own — I found lace appliques in similar shapes, and took the leaves off of an antique fan — but I ran out of time. In the end, it probably would have looked janky (I keep picturing a hot-glue nightmare), so it’s probably for the best — but I may try someday!

Fan, ca. 1858, possibly Spanish, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fan, ca. 1858, possibly Spanish, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Of course, I HAD to have that hair. The real countess had blonde hair (which you can see in the colorized photo above), and she was also so into the 18th century that she was known for powdering her hair. I couldn’t pull off blonde, but I could do powdered… but I’ve always seen these photos in sepia in my mind, and dark hair just felt right. Once again, THANK YOU whoever took that back detailed shot, because I don’t know if I ever would have figured out the back otherwise. Here’s my working image board:

hair

And my result. It was a little too wide at the sides, but I played with pinning it and wasn’t sure, so I ended up going with it. I wish my back twist was a little smoother, and may try to comb that out and retwist it at some point:

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Because my BFF Trystan is the best, she helped me take some carefully posed photos in our palazzo before the event. I really wanted to try to recreate the original photograph as much as possible. Unfortunately my version of bitchface mostly looks like “sad dog” (I have a natural downturn to my mouth – resting bitchface!) and the smiley photos ended up much better.

Countess of CastiglioneCountess of Castiglione2Countess of Castiglione3

And, I had a FAAAAABULOUS time:

(C) Alain Trinckvel

(C) Alain Trinckvel

(C) Christine Yoo Millar

(C) Christine Yoo Millar

Countess of Castiglione costume reproduction

pocket detail
18th century, embroidery, projects

A Little (Ok, a Lot) of Broderie and Travestie…

Hey, let’s dust off the old blog to share a project with you! I don’t normally sew for hire, but when my friend Tara was heading to Carnevale in Venice and wanted a hand-embroidered 18th century men’s suit, and I needed the money, a deal was made! She had seen the tambour-embroidered waistcoat I made for Francis, and wanted something similar.

Tara was going to both a Cinderella party AND a cross-dressing party on the same day, so she wanted to go en travestie as a super foppy Prince Charming. She picked out the colors and fabrics. Since tambour embroidery is basically the main 18th century embroidery in my wheelhouse, we decided on that, focusing on this (1770s?) men’s suit at the Victoria & Albert Museum as our model:

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Tambour embroidered men’s suit from the Victoria & Albert Museum. I’d give you a better citation, but someone borked their collection database and I refuse to go through 1000 listings to re-find it.

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Tambour embroidered men’s suit from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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Tambour embroidered men’s suit from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

We mixed up the colors and added spangles for shine. Tara’s signature design element is the bee, so I replaced the main floral sprigs with bees made from spangles and gold-colored thread.

And then commenced endless, endless embroidery!

A fraction of the soie perlée used in the embroidery.

A fraction of the soie perlée used in the embroidery.

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You have to start somewhere…

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Adding spangles for shine!

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The bottom border of the waistcoat.

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Oh wow, I rounded a corner!

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Most of the border, bees, and pocket outline done! Of course, this is just ONE side…

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Close-up on the embroidery.

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And another.

Trying to decide which color to use for an accent (I went with pink).

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Done, with accent and bee pocket! But before buttons and buttonholes.

Making the suit was CRAZY, so I have 0 documentation, as I was doing all this WHILE MOVING. In fact, I had to call in reinforcements and sub-contracted Sarah of Mode Historique to make the breeches! And then had a total melt-down when the pattern I had mocked up TWICE to be sure resulted in breeches that totally didn’t fit. Cue a whole lot of near-all-nighters while I recut the entire backs of the breeches.

We initially wanted to embroider the coat, but there was literally NO time. Luckily we thought ahead and decided on a purple mini-stripe so that the coat would be interesting on its own, and at the VERY last minute I managed to whip out buttons with embroidered/spangled bees (matching the bee-embroidered/spangled buttons on the waistcoat).

Tara is still in Venice, so all I’ve got to share are these two pictures she posted to Facebook. I’ll post some more, and hopefully take some detail shots, when I can!

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Tara rocking the 18th century travestie in Venice!

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She custom-dyed the stockings and shoes to match, and after a crisis with red hair powder getting onto EVERYTHING (thank goodness for try-on’s), Tara restyled the wig I made her and did a great job!

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18th Century Hairdressing Book, 18th century wigs, publications

18th C. Wig Book SALE: Discounted Shipping to Europe!

Save €10 PLUS take advantage of one-time-only DISCOUNT SHIPPING TO EUROPE. Use coupon-code COIFFURE to save €10 (£8.90), and choose ECONOMY shipping for very reduced rates to Europe!

IMPORTANT SHIPPING NOTE: Economy shipping books won’t ship until 15 November. They will ship from France, so they will arrive in 2 days (France) to 8 days (the rest of Europe).

PayPal doesn’t do coupons, so if you’re paying that way, mention the promo code and we’ll refund you the €10 right away!

ORDERS MUST BE PLACED BY 11 NOV 2016!

Buy at 18thCenturyHair.com

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shopping

SF Bay Area Costumers Garage Sale — THIS SUNDAY!

If you’re in the San Francisco bay area, then come to the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild’s “Costumers Bazaar” (ie garage sale) for great bargains on finished costumes, vintage clothes, fabric, patterns, trims, and tons more.

I’ll be there selling stuff, including:

  • Copies of the 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling book, of course! I will have discounted, just-slightly-damaged copies for 40% off (and pristine new copies, too)!

book

  • Styled 18th century wigs!

wigs

  • Pre-made 18th century-style rolls, perfect for adding to 18th century hairstyles and wigs
  • Vintage and reproduction vintage style clothes!
  • Fabric, including 18th century cotton prints and silk taffeta in different colors!

fabrics

  • Books, patterns (vintage and historical costume), fashion plates, and more!
18th Century Hairdressing Book, publications, shopping

Limited Edition 18th Century Wig Book T-Shirts!

It’s time for another round of 18th Century Wig Book T-SHIRTS! Two styles this time, both with a fabulous 1780s fashion plate and the text “I woke up like this.”

Limited edition: these will be available from today through August 31.

Buy them here: http://18thcenturyhair.com/shop/

Costume College 2015 attendees: I’m offering free shipping for those picking up at Costume College — use code CCPICKUP and order by THIS SUNDAY, July 19 at midnight (so I can get the t-shirts in time before I leave!).

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Low scoop neck. Available in sizes Small through XXL.

Buy it here: http://18thcenturyhair.com/shop/

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High neck style. Available in sizes Small through 3X.

Buy it here: http://18thcenturyhair.com/shop/