Nobody freak out, but I’m going to try to start blogging again! These days, so much of the conversation around historical costuming happens on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, but I and some other costumers have been discussing how much we miss reading. Blogs allow for longer content, are easier to find and refind, and crucially for those of us who just can’t get into videos, are easy to SKIM. Oh how I love skimming!
So with that in mind, expect some Actual Posting around here. I’ll try to keep up with my current projects, but also go back and discuss some projects I never blogged. I’ve been thinking about what else I can contribute to the historical costuming conversation, and realized that one of my specialities is research. Professionally, I’m an academic librarian who works with history and fashion students, and I write academic research in the history of dress (so far, peer-reviewed journal articles, but I’m working on a book). Furthermore, I think that with so much online content, many may not know just how useful and crucial books can continue to be to your knowledge of historical costume — both the aesthetics of fashion but also their cultural context, as well as cut and construction. Given that my area of expertise is the 18th century, I thought I’d start off with a discussion of the books that I consider core to my bookshelf for this era. This is just a start, I’ll do some future posts on more specific areas of eighteenth-century fashion.
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
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:
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.
Howdy! I haven’t forgotten about this here dress diary, I’ve just been so busy SEWING that it’s hard to pause to blog! The bulk of the base dress is done, and I’m now in the hemming yards of organza and fiddling with things stage. But today I want to talk about the bodice!
Following up on all those thoughts — and that mockup! — about flared-front 18th century stays, I 1) found more examples, and 2) made up my stays, and 3) wore them to the Northern California Pirate Festival where I performed with Bella Donna as the House of the Rising Sun!