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19th century

19th century, 20th century, research

Powerhouse Museum Electronic Swatchbook

Thanks to Fran on the GBACGCostumers Yahoo group, I’ve discovered the Powerhouse Museum’s Electronic Swatchbook.  Swatchbooks were designed so that fabric manufacturers, agents and merchants could show samples of their fabrics.  The museum has scanned several from their collection from the 1830s through the 1920s.  What’s cool is you can not only browse by year but also by color.  The swatches themselves are scanned in high res and you can zoom in really closely.

A great resource for dating fabrics and identifying good reproductions!

19th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: Bel Ami (2012)

Hey look at me, doing all this blogging!  I’ve been thinking that I will post costume movie reviews as individual blog posts, and then also cross-post them to the appropriate Costume in Cinema page for posterity.  That way, it creates a bit more content for this here blog, plus allows you to let me know what you thought of the movie (and/or my review).

Bel Ami (2012)

Starring Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Christina Ricci.  Costumes designed by Odile Dicks-Mireaux.

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Based on an 1880s French novel written by Guy de Maupassant… and if that doesn’t give you an idea of the tone of this movie, then let me summarize late 19th century French literature for you:  the people are pretty, but the emotions are BLEAK and will hammer you over the head with their BLEAKNESS!  My boyfriend Robert Pattinson is Georges Duroy, a poor Algerian vet who climbs the Parisian social ladder by manipulating various women.   Pattinson’s performance is better than you might expect, you Twilight haters, but there’s a bit too much grimacing instead of emoting; the three female leads turn in nice performances, but nothing that made me jump up and down.  It’s unclear just what Duroy’s charm over women is supposed to be, exactly — most men can’t stand him, but when he smile/grimaces at a lady (or brings her a pear?), she just keels over, which never ends up working out too well for her.  The costumes are very pretty and quite accurate — I think the opening title card says it’s 1890, but I could be misremembering — they perfectly capture that transition between late 1880s bustle and 1890s.  Lots of pretty sleeveless evening gowns with that vertical line, hair up on top of the head in that pre-Pompadour (except Thurman, who randomly has hair that is about a decade out of style).  None of the gowns made me jump up and down, but they all looked RIGHT, and that’s saying something!  Also, I kept hoping Pattinson’s brows were going to get shaped up as his lot improved, but no dice.

My rating:  2 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my Victorian costume movie reviews.  I specifically recommend the following late bustle/early 1890s costume films:  An Ideal Husband (1999) and Tipping the Velvet (2002).


1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, balls, Bella Donna, events, projects

Fix This Costume! Meh Edition

So last year, I made a Victorian fancy dress costume — specifically, a c. 1886 “champagne” costume.  You can read more about it here, if you’ve totally forgotten about it by now.

Last time we talked, I made some undies.  Well, I also made a dress.  I was really sick the week before wearing it, but pushed myself through finishing by telling myself, “It doesn’t have to be god’s gift to costuming.”  Well, that prophecy came true, as it wasn’t!  Didn’t help that I was still woozy and fever-y and sick on the night I wore it, but I had to go as my singing group (Bella Donna) was performing at the Vampire Ball.

So yeah.  I never found the right trim for it, even after looking at gazillions of beaded trims and christmas ornaments, so maybe it’s the lack of trim that made me feel so meh about it that I never finished blogging?  I don’t know!  I also think maybe the sleeves (which were supposed to be more interesting, but lack of time made for a crappy pattern, so I had to ditch the original plan and go simple) should be A) more interesting and B) in the gold fabric?  Or maybe a sheer, shiny gold tulle, and then echo that in a center front opening showing a faux underlayer in shiny gold tulle, as in the inspirational fashion plate?  And the skirt hem could be shorter?  Help me figure out why this costume is so unexciting, and maybe I can wrestle it into shape?  Or at least do better the next time I attempt fancy dress!  And for trim, go for shiny gold balls, or clear glass balls?  Had a long debate with my husband about that one — I was picturing shiny gold balls, but he kept pointing out that champagne was clear…

A note on the photos — I had to photoshop the base skirt on photos #2 and 3, as the settings on Trystan’s camera were off and it turned my green skirt purple.  So the color/shine is most accurate in picture #1.

17th century, 18th century, 19th century, interesting reading, research

V&A Fashion Department Online Resources

Possibly old news to you, but the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Fashion department has recently-ish revamped their website and added a lot of interesting content — mostly articles, some videos.  You can get to the main hub here, but here are some specific items of interest:

Finally, I noticed that they’ve started the V&A Online Journal — so far, there’s three issues.  The most recent one has a very interesting article for those of us who like to geek out scholarly-style:  “An Adorned Print: Print Culture, Female Leisure and the Dissemination of Fashion in France and England, around 1660-1779.”
19th century, 20th century, Edwardian suit, projects, research

Cool Image Resource

Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and in addition to having an AMAZING collection of interesting historical resources, I recently found that they have digitized some really interesting images… most particularly, a number of press photos of fashions worn at horse races from the 1900s onwards.  The 1910’s images are particularly stunning, and there appears to be more from the 1920s-30s, but I haven’t delved too deeply in the later stuff.

This stripey dress on the right is particularly calling to me — I’m wondering if I could repurpose my supplies from my long-planned-never-made 1909 suit project?  Or is the stripe not strong enough?

Fashions worn at the Auteuil races, June 1911

This outfit is also pretty kick ass:

Fashions worn at the Auteuil races, 1911

Here’s a link to all their images with the subject of fashion (“mode”) — 552 total, seems to cover late 19th century and into the 20th century.  If you’re interested in a more limited date range, try using their advanced search page and enter Subject: mode, By document type: Images, and then put some dates into By publishing year.

1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, projects

Champagne Fancy Dress: Undies Edition

So I am forcing myself to go back and do a retrospective dress diary for this project, just for documentation purposes!

If nothing else, I’m glad I made it because it forced me to FINALLY make myself a new corset.  See, waaaaay back in college lo those many years ago, when I first started really getting into costuming, I bought myself a standard size corset from Amazon Drygoods, who resold Vollers corsets.  Vollers’ corsets are actually pretty nice — their base pattern was created by the company in the 1890s, so it’s actually a vaguely period shape, and they’re well made, with a REALLY nice feature whereby they include a separate 2″ish wide piece of boning underneath the center front busk, so it’s really supportive. At some point, that one shrunk* so I bought another one, because I was so happy with my first, and I was still at the point where the idea of making a corset seemed terrifying.

Fast forward a number of years, and laziness plus the fact that the corset still seemed to (sort of) fit meant that I never bothered to upgrade. I did start having acid reflux issues with it, however, which made me less excited about wearing Victorian costumes (of course, it took me years to figure out that it WAS acid reflux and not just instant-dehydration). Oh, and as the corset became less and less “sort of fitting” and more and more “barely fitting,” I increasingly got the dreaded Side Boob Cleavage. Ugh!

I’ve been meaning, for the last year or so, to get Jenn to make me a new Victorian corset. Not because it’s TOTALLY out of my skill set, but because I feel like I’m still learning about patterning corsets. Sure, I get how to pattern a corset, but the finer points – making sure the fit is perfect for THAT body – is still something I’m learning; and Jenn is a Master Ninja when it comes to that!

However, the idea for this project came up, and I’m broke and I knew Jenn was busy making her own costume for the Vampire Ball, so it was either keep on with the now-REALLY-doesn’t-fit-plus-acid-reflux Vollers corset, or make my own.  Something I realized making my 1780s stays is that I really never know how a corset fits me until I’ve worn it a few times. So I decided to make a working mockup corset, so that I could be more comfortable for this costume AND hopefully be closer to the final corset shape I’ll end up (which means I could maybe wear it with whatever mythical “final” corset is forthcoming) — plus, hopefully I could do something about the massive acid reflux.

So I hauled out my Jill Salen Corsets book and decided to work with the black & yellow 1890s corset. It was close to the 1880s shape I wanted, plus it looked do-able.

I started to look at Cathy Hay’s corset patterning instructions (more on that in a sec), but then thought, “Whatever, I know how to grade up a pattern!”  So I measured me, and I measured the corset, and I got to work… and made the corset pattern/mock up of ASS.  It TOTALLY didn’t fit, and I wasn’t really sure what to do about it.  So I forced myself to sit down and actually USE Cathy’s method, and let me tell you, WOMAN IS A GODDESS.  She’s got a method that actually WORKS, and it’s relatively intuitive, esp. for someone like me who is a draper/not a drafter and isn’t all anal and left brain-y.  I managed to make a pattern/mockup that fit ME relatively closely, and I was singing her praises (to the cats, natch)!

I did fiddle a bit with the pattern, in that I’m really trying to avoid too much waist constriction, esp. in front, in order to avoid acid reflux issues.  I’m still not sure exactly what it is that causes it, as I don’t get it in my Renaissance or 18th century corsets, but I got it up the wazoo with my old Vollers/Victorian corset.  Was it that it was too small?  Or was it that Victorian corsets are more fitted to the body throughout the waist-to-underbust area?  Not sure, but I tried to not constrict my waist too much, esp. in front, and then tried to do some nip at the side waist so that I’d have something of a nice shape.

I didn’t end up with the world’s perfect corset, but I did end up with a strong working mockup, which is what I wanted. Clearly it needs to be let out a bit more at the hip, and I’m not 100% positive I ended up with the waist in the exact right point, so I either need to monkey with it a bit more or hire Jenn to fine tune it for me.

I was happy to eliminate most of the side boob cleavage issue, although there’s still a bit — not sure if that’s entirely avoidable with a strapless corset, so I need to pick Jenn’s brain about that one too. I moved a seam slightly so that I could get boning where I thought it was needed at the side to push my boobs in toward the center, rather than flatten them back towards the chest.

I’m glad I decided it would be a working mockup — it’s made of coutil without any covering — as I proceeded to set a grommet in the wrong spot, too high, on one side of the back. Duh, but luckily I can ignore that as this is only a mockup, right?

I also made a petticoat to fit over my bustle, since the skirt would have a shorter hemline and I didn’t have anything that length.  Nothing rocket science-y — I used the Truly Victorian early 1870s skirt pattern, as the fancy dress illustrations all seem to have fuller skirts than your typical 1880s dress would.  Bad photo courtesy of my cramped sewing room, which is currently in process of being shifted and reorganized for better usage of space, but more on that in another post!

In the next post: the dress itself!

*Or I outgrew it.

18th century, 18th century wigs, 19th century, research, teaching

JASNA NorCal Lecture by Me, Plus Champagne!

I’m vaguely organized enough to tell you that I’m giving a lecture on hairstyles of the Georgian & Regency eras on Dec. 10 in San Francisco, for the Northern California chapter of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America).

My talk will be:

“As Fashionable and Deceiving as Ever”: English Hairstyles in the Late Georgian and Regency Eras

The changes in fashion from the Georgian to the Regency will be traced, focusing on a changing hairstyles worn in England, and their social, cultural, and political context. From women’s gigantic “poufs” and men’s wigs of the late 18th century, through the “natural” and classical styles of the Regency, hairstyles underwent significant stylistic changes. These styles both represented the changes in politics and society and served as a locus for debate around issues of gender, class, and politics. This talk will trace the fashions in hairstyles from the late 18th century through the Regency Era, and analyze their perceived meaning and the debates around them.

There will also be other lectures, readings, brunch and high tea!  If you’re interested in attending, the deadline to register is this Friday. Read more about it, and download the registration flyer.