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20th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis.  Costumes designed by Sharen Davis.

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Okay, so no doubt you read/heard about this movie when it came out.  Strong performances from many of the cast members, a good quality film but definitely made for Oscars, some issues around the fact that it celebrates a fictional strong young white woman for telling the story of African Americans rather than celebrating real historical strong African-American women.

What I want to talk about is hair.  Specifically, lead character Skeeter’s hair.  Apparently in the book I have not read, Skeeter has curly, frizzy hair that is the bane of her existence (as it is so NOT the mid-1960s beauty ideal).  An article quotes Hair Department Head Camille Friend who says, “In the book, she has unruly hair, and it’s a pivotal story point, so we decided on a blonde, curly hair texture for her lace-front wig” (American Salon, July 2011).

Okay kids.  In the mid-60s, you did NOT want curly hair.

... too curly locks?

This was an era when they didn’t know how to deal with natural curl.  Artificial, styled curl?  Yes.  Natural curl?  Find ways to smooth it out via brushing, cutting, large rollers, you name it.  I can’t even find any images of women with naturally curly hair in this era.  If I could, it would look more like this:

Vintage Postcard ~ Curly Hair

Or this:

Vintage Postcard

Or this:

Vintage Woman

It would NOT look like this:

Emma Stone as Skeeter in The Help

That is all.

My review:  3 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 20th C. Costume Movie Reviews.  If you’re in the mood for better done mid-century, check out An Education (2009), Far From Heaven (2002), and Revolutionary Road (2008).

20th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: Water for Elephants (2011)


Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz.  Costumes designed by Jacqueline West.

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I have a particular connection to the history of the circus, as my father’s family were circus and vaudeville performers in Germany, England, and the US during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  So I may be biased in enjoying this story based in the circus of 1930s.  Robert Pattinson is actually relatively good as the veterinarian who, when his life crumbles, runs away and becomes a circus vet.  Reese Witherspoon is the star performer who, in gorgeous costumes and with faaaabulous hair, does a beauty act with elephants; Christoph Waltz is her anger-management-issues/abusive husband who owns the circus and so has a hold on everyone’s lives.  Of course, Pattinson’s and Witherspoon’s characters fall in love, and tragedy strikes, as you might expect.  It’s not a revolutionary story, but it’s good, and it’s an interesting milieu in which to set a film.  And Uggie (the fabulous dog from The Artist) is in it!!!

The main focus of the costumes are of course on Reese.  She has beautiful sparkly stage costumes and a great casual yet chic 1930s wardrobe.

The only real down side is that after the film’s release, it came out that the trainers may have abused the lead elephant from the film, which is really horrible.

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 20th c. Costume Movie Reviews.  I specifically recommend the following 1930s costume movies:  The Aviator (2004), Cold Comfort Farm (1995), Glorious 39 (2009), A Good Woman (2004), Gosford Park (2001), I Capture the Castle (2003), Love in a Cold Climate (2001), Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008), South Riding (2011), and Upstairs Downstairs (2010). Phew, there’s a lot of great 1930s-era costume movies!

20th century, costume in cinema

Movie (okay, TV miniseries) Review: Birdsong (2012)

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Poesy.  Costumes designed by Charlotte Walter.

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I’ve had this book in my “to read” pile for years, and never gotten around to it.  Yay! said I, when I heard there would be a TV adaptation.  I can decide if I like the story enough to read the book!  The answer:  nope.

I’m not sure if it’s the plot or the production, but it just felt totally lackluster.  Stephen is an Englishman who meets and falls for the married Isabelle, and she for him.  World War I intervenes, and Stephen has a miserable time in the trenches.  The two find each other again, but are ultimately parted by Random Issues That Would Never Really Keep Anyone Apart.  This all (minus the ending) sounds okay, right?  But it’s just a big ball of MEH.  Neither Redmayne nor Poesy give an inspired performance, and their characters are relatively spineless and annoying.  Visually, it’s fine, but the costumes are very “Hey! We’re casual people wearing modern clothes!”  That’s not to say I think they should be dressing like the Tsar/Tsarina of Russia, just that there are ways to make middle class clothing interesting, but the costumer doesn’t do so here.

My rating:  1 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my Edwardian Costume Movie Reviews.  I specifically recommend the following World War I costume movies:  Downton Abbey (2010) and The Winslow Boy (1999).  If you’re down with the cheese, then I also recommend In Love and War (1996).

What did you think?  Have you watched it, and if so, did Redmayne/Poesy annoy you to death?  Do you remember any of the costumes?

18th century, 1938 Marie Antoinette, 20th century, projects

1938 Marie Antoinette – A little bit more + Official photos

So I thought I’d post just a little bit more about the 1938 Marie Antoinette sorta-rocket dress.

The rocket dress from Marie Antoinette (1938), designed by Adrian and conserved at LACMA.

I didn’t take very many pictures while I was making the dress, because I wasn’t blogging about it and I was focused on just getting it done!  But I did take a few photos that show a bit of the process, plus I’ve finally gotten the official con photos of the outfit, and I gotta post those!

Here's a crappy early evening/outdoor photo of the pannier from the back.

I used Simplicity 3635 — I know! — for the pannier.  I looked at the diagrams in Norah Waugh’s Corsets & Crinolines and Jean Hunnisett’s Period Costume for Stage & Screen, and found that they were really similar.  The only real tweak I made to the Simplicity pattern is that I put boning in the bottom hoop.  If you look at the pattern image, you’ll see the pattern breaks off around mid-calf, which I think would look really ugly underneath a skirt!  Plus, I’m 5’11”, and I can use all the length I can get.

Because I am cheap and couldn’t stomach the thought of paying for all that hoop wire, I ended up using 3/8″ half-round caning from the Caning Shop, which was super cheap!  I was, however, terrified that it would break, particularly when packing the giant hoop o’ doom into the car for the drive down to Costume College.  So I ended up doubling the cane in each casing, which worked out great in terms of supports — no cracking, breaking, etc.  One thing I did that you may want to avoid, however, is I initially thought that the half-round cane should go into the casing flat side to flat side, so that it would make one whole round — I thought a flat side against curved side might lay weird.  Well, I found that the cane wants to go around with its natural bend, and when you put the second piece in flat to flat, you’ve got one piece of cane that is trying to bend against its natural curve — and things go wonky!  It didn’t curve nicely and ended up sort of warped looking.  So I pulled it out and put it back in, flat side to round side, both pieces curving along their natural curve, and it all laid fine and made a lovely shape.

A super crappy shot of the base skirt.

I wasn’t sure whether I’d need a petticoat to avoid the individual hoops sticking out, but I decided to make the skirt first and see if I needed one.  I made a base skirt of grey cotton, because in looking at the original dress, I misread the top lace swags as a separate piece, not just applied swags like the lower pieces.  I used Katherine/Koshka’s 18th c. court skirt tutorial to start, although I had to do a lot of futzing to get the end pleats to hang where I wanted them.  It was REALLY hard to level the skirt given that my dress form was a floor model and so has a decided lean and rickety-ness to it!  I ended up marking one side, and then matching the other side to those markings, and crossing my fingers.

The pannier/skirt was SO huge, I had to move it all into the living room while I was working on it.  Luckily my husband was out of town for about 5 days, so I was able to take over!  Unfortunately, the dogs discovered the joys of “I hide under the skirt and get you,” so I had to swat them away.  A lot.

(C) Andrew Schmidt,

I attached the satin skirt to the cotton underskirt.  The base of the satin goes up to about where the hoop starts to go down rather than out.  The cotton underskirt and upper satin skirt are all sewn into the same waistband.

The lace around the overskirt is cut from that same yardage and hemmed.  I made the flowers from the same satin, after trying to find some vintage silver flowers (no dice) or modern fabric flowers that weren’t cheesy (ditto).

A crappy shot of the bodice in progress (crappy photos seem to be a theme here!)

This is the only in-progress photo I took of the bodice, which is very Victorian in approach.  I tried to follow the lace layout on the original, cutting motifs out of the lace yardage I had and hand sewing them to the bodice.

(C) Andrew Schmidt,

The bodice closure uses the technique found in most 18th c. court dresses, where the bodice and lining are separate for about 1-2″ along the center back.  Lacing holes are put into the lining layer, and therefore don’t show through the fashion fabric.

Makeup test #1: Kryolan Aquacolor in white

I did a number of makeup tests with Leia, which didn’t start off too well.  We read a number of posts on, and most everyone recommended Kryolan Aquacolor.  Although we planned to use grey, I had some white on hand that I messed with… and I swear, anything more than the first layer seen above made me look like I was covered in calamine lotion.  NOT good.  And one layer left a lot of pink showing through.

Makeup test #2: Kryolan Supracolor in white mixed with black

Luckily there’s a Kryolan store here in San Francisco, so I went in for help, and they showed me Supracolor, which is an oil-based makeup and therefore SO easy to apply!  It goes on smooth and moist, and you can mix colors easily on your skin or beforehand (I mixed white with black to get grey), and it’s very moveable until you set it with powder and setting spray.  The rest of my makeup I did with standard makeup — grey and white eyeshadows and a grey eyeliner.  I’m a lip balm addict, and was REALLY worried about putting something drying on my lips and having to not touch it all night.  I ended up covering my lips thickly with my usual lip balm, and then coloring over that with the grey eyeliner, which actually made a bit of a lipstick-y paste… and I managed to go all night without wanting to rip my lips off and dunk them in a bath of Burt’s Bees, which is saying something!  (Come on, fellow lip balm addicts, you know you feel me).

Detail from a photo (C) Andrew Schmidt,

I was super excited about my jewelry.  The necklace is FABULOUS and, shockingly, came from H&M a year or so ago, a present from the fabulous Trystan.  A couple of people asked about the matching rhinestone bracelets I wore, which were dirt cheap (like $4-5 each with free shipping!) from Alilang on Ebay.  And this was the first wearing of my SUPER-EXCITED-ABOUT QVC Marie Antoinette earrings, which are amazing reproductions of a real pair of Marie Antoinette’s earrings, conserved at the Smithsonian.

And lastly, a few more official photos!

(C) Andrew Schmidt,

(C) Andrew Schmidt,

20th century, shopping

Button Shopping in the Bay Area

For years I’ve heard about Exclusive Buttons, a brick and mortar-only vintage button shop in El Cerrito (San Francisco Bay Area – East Bay).  I used to live relatively close to them, but never made it by during their limited opening hours.  A few weeks ago the husband and I were noodling around that area, and I finally remembered to pop in!

The store is run by the widow of a gentleman who used to run a business selling buttons to stores (out of his van) since the 1960s.  At some point they stopped the wholesale button business and opened a retail shop.  He has since passed on, but his wife is still running the shop.

The shop is small but FILLED to the brim with all kinds of vintage buttons.  The only modern buttons they stock are Czech glass, and the owner proudly told me that there are no plastic buttons anywhere in their shop (okay, except things like Lucite).  The prices are CRAZY good; the owner told me she hasn’t updated the prices since her husband passed.

I didn’t go in looking for anything too specific, so I just wandered and grabbed what caught my eye.  Here’s a few pictures, plus my haul:

20th century, events, GBACG

I Dressed Up & It Didn’t Kill Me!

I even SEWED — a teeny, tiny bit — and it didn’t kill me!

Just over a week ago was the GBACG Last Dinner on the Titanic. You’ve probably read all about it on other blogs, but just in case…

I wore a “this old thing” that had only been one worn once — my olive green 1910 Lady Maud evening dress. As costumes are wont to do, it had shrunk over the intervening years (I’m convinced there’s something about dark closets that shrink costumes), so I had to let it out a bit.  Of course, I decided to make it harder on myself but not just letting it out but also removing the lining from the overskirt — in my zeal to line everything, I felt like the whole dress hung too heavy for the era, so I took the lining off the overskirt for a hopefully lighter effect. Also, I needed a wider placket in back (that whole shrinking thing), and I had used all the fabric, so I took some fabric off of the underskirt (where it’s hidden under the overskirt) for placket-ing.  I didn’t LOVE altering it, but it didn’t kill me, so that’s something!

My Indian wedding jewelry showed up in plenty of time. Of course, one piece was broken, a drop pearl was missing, and one glass bit needed reglueing — oh, and the whole thing needed a serious wipe down — but that’s par for the course, as far as I’m concerned, when you buy cheap jewelry on ebay.  I have no expectations of perfection when I spend that little money!

I was inspired by the bandeau worn by Perdita Weeks in the recent (very meh) Titanic miniseries, and made one similar with three rows of olive green velvet ribbon. I wanted it to hold its shape without a ton of bobby pins messing up the line, so I sewed the ribbon to some lightweight wire; then I took apart the maang tika (forehead jewel) and used parts of it as decoration on each side of the bandeau.

I was super excited to have both Loren and Jenny-Rose fly in to go to the event! We got dressed at my place — I tried to do something similar to this hairstyle and it worked out relatively well, although the sides got flattened as soon as I put the bandeau on.

The event was at the Bellevue Club in Oakland, which has become my favorite venue and I now think all costume events should be held here.  Yes, it’s expensive, but I’ll pay up!  I have been costumign long enough that I am no longer excited just to get to dress up.  I need value add in the form of a fabulous venue and/or attempts to be in-character/in-period.

Luckily, I was sitting with a group of friends who share my desire to be in-period, so we all chose real people who were on the Titanic to play. I was Miss Madeleine Newell, returning from a trip to Egypt and Palestine with my younger sister Maud (played by Jenny-Rose). We were joined by Miss Edith Russell (a journalist), Lady Duff-Gordon (who designs women’s unmentionables), Mr. Cavendish (of the Devonshire Duchy family!) and his American wife, and two couples whose names I’ve forgotten, but the “wife” of one turned out to be his mistress (which I had no idea!).  Rather shocking!  Luckily, we all have a good time playing characters but are also mellow about it, so we sort of go in and out of character as the mood strikes us — nobody minds if you crack a joke or make a comment as your modern self.  The part that made my toes curl is that the three gentlemen at our table stood up whenever a lady stood, which SO works for me.

The fabulous Richard Man took formal photos, and as always, they turned out fabulous. I’ve heard he’s going to retire from photographing costuming events soon, and I am very sad!  Here’s the best shots he took of me:

(C) Richard Man

(C) Richard Man

Then there were cocktails in the beautiful Mural Lounge, which has 2 story high ceilings, antique furniture, pink walls, and looks like it stepped out of Versailles.  Dinner was in the main dining room, which is equally stunning and decorated in green. Here’s a shot of the dining room before we sat down to eat:

(C) Jenny-Rose White

The food was REALLY good, and they had a live band (a quartet I think?) playing music of the era during dinner. Some people got up to dance, but we mostly sat and socialized and ate and drank and laughed!

Here’s my table, minus Jenny-Rose who’s taking the picture!

(C) Jenny-Rose White

After dinner, there was more dancing, but we retired back to the Mural Lounge to lounge and chat and take photos. Everyone, not just our group, looked amazing — there were so many beautiful dresses (and themes! lots of women in green, and lots in pink/orange/peach) and the gentlemen looked REALLY good.  I’ll tell ya, guys look good in all sorts of historic costume when it’s done right, but NOTHING’s better than a man in a well-tailored suit.

"Our" sharp-dressed men; (C) Jenny-Rose White

I totally failed to bring my camera, but you can see more pictures here: