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!
The plan is to do the embroidery for the robe de cour using ribbon embroidery. I hit on the idea as I was thinking of ways to speed this project up, and after I found a few examples of 18th century ribbon embroidery. You all helped out, and with what you came up with, I’m convinced enough that this is a viable, historically accurate option.