Category Archives: 19th Century Research

Old Photos

I went out into the frigid coldness, just to get out and do something, and wound up at an antique mall. Oops. I came back with a stack of 1880s-1920s photographs for very little. Huzzah! So here they are. All except one are undated, with no notes at all. So have fun imagining who these people were.

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This woman is just so fabulous – the anti-flapper. I love her (tiny!) shoes, with the added, contrasting strap, and her long necklace, a nod to one fashion of the day, and a stereotype decades later. Her hat is just too cool, too – I think it’s got a wire frame, you can make it out under the brim. She’s here to tell us that not everybody was a skinny jitterbugging flapper, and that’s awesome. This photo is dated July 4, 1923 – if she is about 60 years old here, she was a baby during the Civil War. Think of the things she saw.

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I dare you to find a photo of stronger, more independent, capable looking women. I love them – a range of ages, possibly all related, probably sometime between 1919 and 1923-ish. The two younger women have dresses to die for – look at the sitting woman’s sleeves. Ugh. Want. What I really like is the variation in fashion here. Take off those thick-rimmed glasses for the portrait? Nope. Crazy flapper eye makeup? Nope. Bobbed hair? Nah, I’m just going to wrap my 4 feet of Gibson Girl leftovers around my head in a braid (see the two younger women) – or just keep wearing my ca. 1905 poufy thing (the seated older woman). This undated photo is one of my favorites. I want to high-five them all.

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That mustache. Oh my gosh, that mustache. First came the ‘stache, then the ‘stache grew a man as a support system, so it could wear awesome ties and generally be the definition of ‘dapper’. Undated, but taken in a photography studio in Wilmington, DE.

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This poor woman looks like she’s drowning in her own dress. Mid-1890s, taken in Wilmington, DE.

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He shot the sheriff, but he didn’t shoot the deputy … haha. If I had half a chance I’d wear that jacket of his. How cool is that contrasting binding? Undated, from Wilmington, DE.

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She’s so pretty. If you look closely, you can see she has a little tiny watch pocket on the front of her dress, and a little tiny watch in it. Probably early 1890s, from Wilmington, DE.

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Probably from the 1890s – I think this might be a second photo of the poor woman who was being suffocated by her dress, above. Wilmington, DE.

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Wilmington, DE, probably 1880s-1900. This is one tough looking woman.

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Aww, a little baby, looking kind of lost propped up on that big chair. This photo’s also from Wilmington, DE, but as baby’s clothing isn’t easily date-able, I have no idea when it’s from. Sometime between the 1880s and 1910s, at the most.

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Sewing, sewing, sewy sewing

My hands hurt.

In the past few days, I’ve hand-sewn half a silk regency gown, half a bodiced regency petticoat, finished repairing a quilt for a friend (by hand), begun a c. 1760-70 linen and figured wool waistcoat for my dad, and made a hand-embroidered reticule.

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It’s kind of saggy-looking without anything in it. Linen with linen embroidery, cardboard base, and a silk bow. Eventually I’ll add some nice silk handles/drawstrings.

I’ve shelved the cote idea until next year’s Renn Faires. I don’t have the time to sew a new cote this year. Meh.

I’ve been putting more time into is my 1790-1810s clothing. I’m realizing that I’m really lumping a lot of variances into one outfit. I’d love to specify the outfit to a smaller, earlier year span, but that’s going to have to wait, too.

So today I’m (writing my paper for school) assembling a bodiced petticoat, which is  confusing me. Not over the construction, that’s fairly straightforward, but over its actual existence. The bodiced petticoats I see seem to actually be bodiced skirts, meant to be seen, and worn with a short jacket over them.

I’m having trouble finding attributed 1790s-1810s petticoats. Usually I would interpret that as meaning this garment wasn’t so popular.

But women had to wear petticoats, right? From what I can tell from prints and paintings, women’s skirts are too full in general to be just a dress skirt worn over a chemise. Maybe the petticoats of that era were often remade into other garments, and just didn’t survive very well. Or maybe I’m missing something!

I found one from The Met: linen, from America, and dating from the early 19th century – and the only photo of it is super cropped.

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Bodiced petticoat, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can still tell that it’s got little straps over the shoulders, a surprisingly low waist, and a drawstring neckline that ties near the left armpit. It’s almost a modern slip, rather than a petticoat.

I’ve also seen a few unattributed photos of empire/regency bodiced petticoats floating around the interwebs – some have bodices, and some just have little suspenders. I think I’ll go with the suspender model; while I can’t find much to back up this style, it makes sense to me, and will eliminate some bulk, since I’ll be probably wearing it in warm weather and inside heated buildings.

So my petticoat is made of a nice, fine 100% linen, and all hand sewn with linen thread.

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I left the selvage at the hemline and added a pleat. I’m hoping this adds a little more body to the skirt, especially at the back.

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The waistband, halfway pinned on.

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… and now halfway sewn on …

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… and finished, with the gathers concentrated at the back. I was lazy and didn’t want to go buy tape for the ties, so I just cut the selvage off some linen. It’ll work for a few wearings. The ties are sewn into the waistband a few inches in, so they serve as a partial drawstring.

So now all that’s left is to add the suspender-things and try it on …


When in Rome …

I’ve seen a lot recently about Regency and Empire clothing, and so here’s my addition: this past weekend, I decided that I was going to finally finish my late 1790s-1800 outfit. Here’s what I got done in a three-day weekend:

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Shoes! A dress! And a real live corset! Yay! But no stockings yet.

Shoes:

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I came across these awesomely ridiculous pointy-toe 1980s shoes a few months ago, and have wanted to remake them into 1790s shoes since then. My inspiration were mainly the blue and black shoes second from the the top of American Duchess’s blog post, here, which suited the toe and heel shape as well as giving me a bold design to disguise all the faded marks on the toe.

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In progress. I had to move the mid-foot seam back to the heel a little, since I couldn’t get my needle through the layers at the ball of the foot.

They were so much easier to remake than other shoes because I didn’t have to cover the toe, and because of the the sling-back design. I sewed leather to the heel, then folded it up and sewed it to the slingback. Pretty simple. I painted the toe and heel with nail polish (which looks like patent leather when it’s dried) and tacked a silk ruffle and bow to the front of each, and voila!

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They’re not perfect, but I’m pretty pleased. The paint job is a bit crude. They’re certainly garish enough.

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They really need binding around the top edge and down the seam at the back of the heel, but right now my fingers hurt from trying to sew these things, so binding will come later. Another thing I’d like to do is paint the front of the heel brown, to look a little more like a sole.

Corset:

I started this corset almost two years ago! I didn’t have a pattern for it; I drafted it by wrapping the cotton around me and marking where I thought darts would be nice. Then I ran out of thread, wound up busy with work and school, lost interest and/or forgot about it.

So, this weekend, I picked it up again and finished it in a few hours. Booyah. It’s not super accurate, but it’s 100% hand sewn and gives the correct shape though it doesn’t have a busk yet. It’s corded a little, and it’s got four pieces of boning – that’s it. It’s a bit too long to sit comfortably in. I think I can take the front up a little, but I’m just so pleased that it’s finally wearable that I don’t want to sew it anymore.

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I had an awful, awful experience when I was sewing this corset. I was holding a mug of hot coffee when I sat on the couch, and accidentally sat on the corset, and accidentally sat on a HUGE steel pin I had holding the busk channel together. It was traumatizing, and I know I’ve watched that scene in an old cartoon somewhere. I wound up with coffee scalds on my legs and a welt that made sitting a little uncomfortable for a day. I will never sit on a couch without checking first again …

Dress:

My goal was to make an unlined, very light dress. I’ve seen a few Regency and Empire gowns, and am always struck at how deconstructed they are compared to 1770s and 80s clothing. So I avoided my 1812 dress pattern with puffy lined sleeves, and started from scratch: no pattern, no lining, and 100% hand sewing. I draped it on myself, which went better than I expected.

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The air conditioning dial and me.

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It needs a little more Grecian Bend for the late 1790s. I’m getting there.

My design inspiration was mainly this dress, with the sleeves de-poofed a little because I wanted to go for a slightly earlier look. I’ve seen a lot of neoclassical gowns that close with two tiny ties or drawstrings in the back, but that doesn’t work well if you line the bodice and have bulky machine seams. I had to line the back of my bodice to help hold the weight of the skirt. Then the back didn’t quite close. Nothing uglier than corset laces sticking out of the bodice.

I came up with a kind-of solution that I’ve seen on one original: an inner flap to cover the crack where the bodice sides didn’t meet. Since this new solution doesn’t completely work (every time I move my arms it pops open again) I’ll add a third tie in the center and that should fix things. I hope.

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Ew! Still ugly!

Reticule:

Still in progress, but so far I’m super happy with the effect of the hand-sewn linen embroidery on linen. I’m going to make it a flat-bottomed bag shape, gathered with a drawstring at the top, and lined in cream silk.

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Beginnings.

And now, since I can’t seem to find a living history group in the NYC metro area, the first time I may get to wear these will be in January or February. Boo.

But, on a better note, I have two awesome costumey events coming up in the summer & fall, so I’ll be sewing for those soon. Yay!

 


An Edwardian bib-front … skirt?

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I got this piece over the past weekend, and I’m not 100% sure about it.

I’m 80% sure it’s from between 1900-1910. There are no tags or marks of a tag, which would be helpful in dating it. I can tell it was sewn with a treadle sewing machine. It’s made with the correct techniques and materials, but it’s sooooo new-looking. Like, made-yesterday new. Was it?

I’m most puzzled about the bib front. It’s made without hooks or any remnants of straps or suspenders for the bib, and though there are no pin-strain marks I’m guessing it was pinned (I looped a piece of black thread over the shoulders of my dress form so I wouldn’t have to pin into my 1890s silk shirtwaist). The bib is cut as one with the front of the skirt and the lace insets, so it’s not added on in any way.

Has anybody ever seen a petticoat/skirt like this before?

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I’m baaack!

I finally got WordPress working again, after it was glitchy for over a week. This past week, my 4-year old MacBook decided it was time to start acting geriatric and have a little meltdown, but it looks like it’s gotten over itself for the time being. Yay, I now have computing abilities again!!

So, STUFF has been happening. My awesome mom picked up a few things for my collection: a 1890s shirtwaist, a turn-of-the-century baby dress, a 1950s purse, a 1890s girl’s dress, and three 1960s dresses. How cool is that? I’m working on the first two items, which I’ve been able to look at. I’m getting around to writing detailed blog post on those, but until then here’s the shirtwaist, paired with my 1850s-1870s Quaker bonnet.

10455822_10203984176273056_703664233068884189_nThe kitchen turned out to be the best-lit room in the house … yeah whatever. And yeah, the two pieces are decades apart; I’m just so excited to have vaguely similar pieces to almost make into kind-of outfits that they’re close enough for my brain right now!

 


On My Bookshelf: The Mode in Costume, 1942

IMG_1462I have a difficult time appreciating older costume books. I’ve been kind of scarred by Earle and McClellan. When I got this book, a first edition of The Mode in Costume, I wasn’t expecting much, and the book really delivered for a while …

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So where do we start on this black gown … neckline, sleeves, waistline, skirt cut … The francaise next to it is pretty much okay, though. Any book that uses Earle as a source, however, is going to be kinda-sorta okay in some places, and hideously awful in others.

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Oh gawd!!! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

It’s one of those here’s-what-everybody-everywhere-wore-since-the-dawn-of-time books, and you can never expect these books to have enough detail to satisfy a moderate interest, or to have thorough enough research to build upon. I flipped from Egypt to 1800s Europe in a few minutes and didn’t see anything that really caught my attention – until I realized that the clothing in the book went right up to the date of publication. There’s no way the authors could have gotten their own clothing wrong.

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Just that line of cigarette smoke screams 1930s-1940s.

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And here we see the entire male wardrobe for the movie Casablanca …

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Huzzah, authors! I mean, these are gorgeous. For fun (because I don’t know what the rest of society deems fun) I went back and read the forward.

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Yes, it’s a statement of the state of the fashion industry at an incredibly turbulent time. I’d always heard fashion professors say that 1930s fashions ‘fossilized’ through the 1940s until Dior’s New Look came in, but I never knew that people acknowledged this during the war. The forward also notes the opportunities American designers had during France’s occupation, without naming anybody.

So do I like this book at all? Kind of. If you’re doing historical clothing research from before 1900, don’t you dare use this book. Really. If you want an overview of 1910-1940 clothing in France and the USA, it’s a start. If you want to know what people thought of fashion history in the 1940s, and what inspired costuming, go for this one. For the history of fashion history, it’s pretty awesome.


Exposed: A History of Lingerie

The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC has a new exhibit which opened today at noon – Exposed: A History of Lingerie. I had a few hours today to go see it. I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the last time I went to see a FIT exhibit. I was really hoping for a better experience this time.

IMG_1418The exhibit begins with a few historic pieces such as 1880s corsets, and modern counterparts drawing on those designs, such as Rudi Geinrich creations. The rest of the gallery is a timeline of underwear, starting with rare 1770s sleeved stays and ending with a handful of 2014 pieces. The garments on display are all wonderful examples of their type. For the constricted gallery space, there’s a lot of stuff to see, though many facets of 18th/19th century lingerie (such as drawers or chemises) are not shown.

IMG_1419Since the exhibit was in the same gallery space used for RetroSpective, the clothing was poorly lit. The beautiful, flowing lace, silk and tulle were reduced to 2D shapes, seen from 4-6 feet away, tucked into the shadows. The curators could have achieved better visuals with large poster prints.

Through the gallery I saw some incorrect terminology, but nothing else stood out to me. I have a feeling that the labels are farmed out to undergraduates for grades.

I thought the most misleading thing about the exhibit was how some of the garments were displayed. You can’t understand a 1815 corset when it’s laced onto a modern form and has no busk: you’ll never know the real shape. There was also a 1890s princess slip with a corset over it, the garter straps hanging down to nothing. It was apparent that whoever dressed some of the mannequins really had no idea what he or she was doing, and had no desire to learn how do it it right.

I was moving through the 1960s pieces when a tiny old woman next to me tapped me on the arm and pointed to the 1962 pantygirdle. “I have that in my drawer” she said. Apparently, she was a lingerie designer from the late 1940s up through the 1960s, and had designed pieces that were in competition with pieces FIT had on display. She knew her stuff.

And man, was she pissed.

“That’s incorrect. And that, too. He never designed that. He never used that dart in the sixties. This isn’t his. He wasn’t known for these. That’s not a babydoll dress.”

Obviously insulted, she systematically took apart every label from 1950 through 1980, then she told me “I’m 97, I lived this.” and to the side, “I’m gonna call up Valerie and spank her.”

In my less-than-perfect opinion, this exhibit was more of the same let’s-put-the-Delphos-dress-on-display and let’s-shock-people-with-corsets. The gallery space is poor, and the exhibit isn’t very informative or accurate. In the opinion of the designer I met in the 1960s section, the exhibit was a completely incorrect view of her life and career – she’d both made and worn these garments. She had every right to be pissed.

And according to her, Valerie Steele has some explaining to do!