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Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

The 1913 Lounging Pyjamas finally get a red carpet

Or, Leimomi find out why bifurcation never really took off in the 1910s…

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

My Costume College Gala outfit didn’t get a lot of wear at Costume College because I was ill, so I really wanted another excuse to wear it.

The Downton Abbey movie seemed like the perfect excuse – I certainly got enough Lady Sybil comments at CoCo!

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

And it was a good excuse for the other Wellington historical sewists and I to go out dressed up. Our most extroverted member says that we need to stop hiding in the bushes and start wearing our dresses in public!

We did a little searching, and found out that one of the Wellington theatres had not one, but two Downton themed events: an afternoon tea and an evening red carpet event.

Unfortunately tickets for the one we really wanted: the afternoon tea, sold out before we found out about it. So we had to do the evening event.

At least it would mean my outfit finally got a red carpet!

But first…my outfit needed a little makeover.

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

I just could NOT get the bodice to a point I was happy with in the run up to Costume College. I spent 4 days working on it, which is 3 days more than I’d estimated it would take, and still ended up ditching most of what I’d done and putting together a whole new bodice in under an hour at 10pm the night before I flew. It was not my best moment (but was also rather impressive, in a slightly insane way…).

The resulting bodice, while better than the overcooked one I slaved over for four days, wasn’t great. My attempt at 1913 droopy bodice just looked saggy on one side, and pulled up on the other.

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

It also wouldn’t stay in position, and just looked messy and unintentional and generally stressed me out.

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

I do love the back view, though, which utilises a piece of antique lace.

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

So, for wear #2, I took the bodice apart again, and replaced the under layer of the front bodice with another lovely bit of antique lace, and re-did the overlap and drape.

Much better!

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA
Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA
Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

(the new necklace is clearly not much better – there is a reason for those knots on really long bead strands!)

The event, alas, was a bit of a damp squib. $33 on top of the film ticket price for one small drink (non-alcoholic in my case) and and a single hors d’oeuvre, (and they had run out of vegetarian options by the time we arrived 10 minutes after the event started). Other than that it was a trio of musicians (nice), one of those horrible photo booths where you do 4 poses in 8 seconds and get a GIF and a print out of (always) the worst one, where at least one person has their eyes closed.

And then a lot of standing around uncomfortably waiting for the film to start.

There was a costume contest, but it was one of those one where they have the audience cheer for each person, so I lost out to the lady in the bathing costume (in the mob cap in the photo below) who was willing to flip her skirt up above her head to show her drawers and wiggle her bum at the audience.

Standing up in front of an audience for something like that is scary enough – I’m never going to win a ‘do something outrageous’ contest!

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

But afterwards the lovely young man seated just down from us told me I’d been robbed, simply robbed, which, to be honest, I enjoyed a lot more than I would have any of the prizes! And I did win a sweet little headband (which I shall have to find a little girl to give it to) in a random draw, and three people asked me if my outfit was vintage.

So I felt lovely, and did have a lovely time just being with friends, but I did discover the major drawback to my outfit.

Remember that one small drink? It’s a good thing that was all they gave us, because I was wearing the equivalent of an impossible to get-in-and-out-of-by-yourself jumpsuit.

Think about it. It’s the world’s most elegant diaper/loincloth, with holes just big enough for your feet, and a complicated mainly-back hooking opening. And it’s meant to be worn over a corset (though I skipped that for the film).

There is NO way to get in and out it in under 8 minutes, much less by yourself. Which I discovered standing in the (very pretty) bathroom of the theatre. It wasn’t a problem at CoCo because I was so dehydrated, but I was incredibly grateful I hadn’t tried to fight my was to the bar for another drink before the film!

Lounging pyjamas inspired by a pair by Callot Soeurs at LACMA

So, now I know why bifurcation didn’t really take off in the teens! In an era of corsets, complicated fastenings, and irregular indoor plumbing, skirts are your friend….

Movie review

Look, if you loved Downton Abbey, you’ll love the movie.

And, if like me, you gave up two episodes into Season 2, because it was clearly just a soap opera with better costumes, you’ll find the movie slightly less annoying than the show, with all the best bits (Maggie Smith), and none of the worst.

It’s hard to kill off too many characters in improbably ways, send the ones that survive to jail multiple times, have people change personality from storyline to storyline with no reason, and bring back someone from the dead in only 2 hours.

(I tried to watch the whole series in the run up to the movie, got mad about the tedious, frustrating, Bates thing partway through Season 3, read up on what his whole storyline was, and said “Nah, I’m not here for this nonsense”)

That’s not to say the film is sensible. There are no less than 9 different, all slightly ridiculous and overcooked, plots happening in the film in order to give all the characters a look-in. One involves an older cousin who is Lady in Waiting to the Queen, who (for some daft reason) the daughters have never heard of or encountered in any way – stretching the bounds of reason and the English social scene in the early 20th century to the absolute limit.

Weirdly, the only one I found emotionally touching involved everyone’s least favourite character. So, big bonus for making least-appealing character someone you actually rooted for.

Much fuss was made about the extra budget for costumes in the film, but I actually thought what the TV series did with existing costumes, making them look lush and rich and new, was much more impressive.

There were a couple of nice vintage pieces in the film, but I didn’t always feel they were used to best advantage to support the character wearing them. Sadly, Mary’s much-talked about Fortuny gown was mostly shown seated, so didn’t get a chance to shine.

Her final ball dress was quite nice though. (American quite, not British quite. I’ve realised I use both, which is quite, quite confusing). I recognised a couple of the inspiration pieces for it, and wouldn’t mind having one in my wardrobe!

The jewellery was probably where the money went – some of the best pieces were borrowed, but there were some fabulous reproductions.

And the outfits for the older characters, and the royal family, were spot on for what more conservative people were wearing in the 20s.

The one place the movie really failed was the hats. With the exception of one divine cloche on Mary they were awful. Heavy, obvious petersham bindings. Trims that looked like they were tacked on from $2 shop tat at the last minute. Lots of mid century tulle. My costuming students do better on their first millinery project (and I’m not claiming they are millinery geniuses). They just looked heavy and stiff. As soon as the film was over my friends turned to me and said “what was up with those hats!” It was particularly disappointing in comparison to how good the hats were in the TV series. More money is not always better!

Rate the Dress: Callot Soeurs & a quest for the source of inspiration

I swear I wasn’t thinking about a continuous theme at all when I browsed for this week’s Rate the Dress! But what do you know…it’s once again a back vs front dress, this time with a very ornamented front, and quite plain back.

Last Week: an 1890s Liberty Tea Gown 

Although tea gowns weren’t primarily meant for tea parties, the ratings for last week’s Liberty example were rather like black tea with milk: very popular with most (at least that’s how tea goes amongst most of the people I know), and vehemently opposed by a small group (you know who you are, oh thee of ‘tea should NEVER be taken with anything but lemon’!).

Those who didn’t care for the tea gown were either not a fan of the droopy sleeves, or not a fan of orange.

The Total: 8.5 out of 10

Not quite as good as last week, but eminently respectable.

It was quite a fun score to add up, because I put the votes in columns of 10, and add up each column, and then add the columns and divide by the number of submissions. Every week I try to guess the exact final total as I add, and this week I got it spot on just by glancing at the numbers.

This week: a mid 1920s evening gown by Callot Soeurs

The Goldstein Museum of Design describes this 1925 Callot Soeurs dress as a classic example of 1920s Egyptomania sparked by the 1921 discovery of King Tut’s tomb. However, I personally don’t see anything specifically Egyptian inspired about it.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, GoldsteinMuseum
Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, silk with beads, Goldstein Museum of Design
Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b
Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

Other than a slight resemblance between the dangling central ornamentation of the dress, and the elaborate belts or central border of men’s shendyt, none of the design elements seem to owe their inspiration to Tut’s tomb or other Ancient Egyptian art or artefacts. Instead they are typical of the types of generic orientalism that were popular in dress design throughout the 1910s and 20s – well before Carter’s discovery.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

The design could just as easily be inspired by a peacock feather. Or, with its formal central rose or cross, delicate trellis work, and acanthus leaves, the dress could be inspired by illuminated manuscripts and the dangling belt of a medieval gown.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b
Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

Or perhaps the basis for this dress came from the far east. The border of beading around the neck, and running down the front of the dress, do seem to evoke elements of late 19th century Chinese dress. The blue and white of the patterning, combined with the jade green hues of the dress, could have been taken from different varieties of pottery. Chinese textiles and pottery were both imported into the West in large quantities, and the textiles in particular were popular sources of inspiration for designers.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

It’s actually typical of the the work of Callot Soeurs that the inspiration for the dress is not as literal as to indicate one easily identifiable source. The design house’s brilliance was in delicately combining and re-imagining many pieces of inspiration into garments that were evocative, without being obviously derivative.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b
Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

While the inspiration for the dress is unclear, the actual construction is quite simple, but interesting. Like many 1920s dresses (including, quite fittingly, the 1920s tea gown in my collection given to me by the wonderful Karen), the dress is made in two parts. It includes an underdress/slip, with a plain top, and a skirt that forms the dark green under-layer, and a second overlayer of the lighter green.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

This method of construction provides a built-in slip and the opportunity for a layered tunic effect without the need for a joining seam. It allows the overdress to float about the wearer, without the weight and bulk of the underskirt dragging it down.

Dress, Callot Soeurs, 1925, Goldstein Museum of Design, 1990.003.005a-b

So, what do you make of this dress, with its simple silhouette, but clever construction, and ornamentation of un-specific origin?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

The Star Trek Shawl

I’ve done a fair amount of reasonably geeky things in my life, but I reached peak geek this June.

I was having a lovely research and crafting day when I suddenly realised I’d spent four hours going through museum collections and making tables of the average sizes of Kashmiri shawls from between 1800 and 1810.

Not for work, or for a research project, but so I could make a Star Trek themed Regency shawl for our Regency Voyager cosplays…

It’s not overkill unless it’s actually fossilised!

Set Phasers to Stunning: Regency Star Trek cosplays

My Star Trekashmiri Shawl happened because I realised that

1. I was going to a ball in the middle of winter as Regency Captain Janeway in a light cotton frock and;

2. I’m always cold and;

3. I had a length of slightly moth-eaten wool crepe in a lovely cranberry red that would make an excellent shawl, and;

4. I wanted my Captain Janeway cosplay to be a little more obviously Star-Trek-Voyager-y. (I didn’t quite succeed with that last bit, but I’ll get to that).

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

So I got all excited about researching, and looked up a bunch of shawls and collecting dimensions (which I will share as soon as I find the notebook that I wrote them in), and then pulled out some lengths of fabric to have a feel for how big the shawl would be.

Which is when I realised how ENORMOUS and heavy a 3m x 130cm length of wool, even lightweight wool, was going to be!

No wonder they made dresses out of the things: 3m of 130 wide fabric is what I calculate I need for a simple Regency frock!

Not only was that going to be ridiculously heavy, but my length of red wool crepe was only 160cm long, which means I couldn’t have gotten a shawl center or border out of it without some awkward piecing.

I measured the fabric I did have, and did some calculations, and realised the biggest shawl I could make with my red wool and a 152cm wide x 70m long remnant of black wool crepe I dug out of my sash was about 2m x 1m.

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

The entirety of the 152 x 70cm black remnant forms the centre panel, framed by 15cm wide borders of the red, with long shawl, with 15cm wide lengthwise borders, and 45cm tapering to 25cm squared off triangles forming the end pieces.

Very happily, the layout also avoided the worst of the moth holes. I was left with only a few small ones on one piece. It felt lovely to give a piece of fabric that seemed close to destroyed a second life – very #costumersforclimateaction.

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

I made the shawl by finishing all the interior cut edges with narrow overlocking, and then appliquéing the pieces together with zig-zag stitches.

(below is the exceedingly happy moment when I finished my bobbin exactly at the end of the seam)

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

I then added an extra bit of decorative stitching (literally the only time in 5 years I’ve used one of the decorative stitches on my machine…)

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

Then I overlocked the outside of the shawl. Easy peasy! When you’re making a Star Trek themed shawl, you can’t get too, too fussed about historical accuracy!

Felicity, of course, helped. Felicity always helps!

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,
A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

It was simple, but effective, and lovely and warm and snuggly. Especially when the electricity in the old hall the Time Travellers ball was in wouldn’t support a heating system in both rooms.

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,
Set Phasers to Stunning: Regency Star Trek cosplays
Set Phasers to Stunning: Regency Star Trek cosplays

I had grand plans of stencilling boteh STV insignia along the edges of the shawl, but my test stencils looked terrible.

A Regency Captain Janeway cosplay,

So, the new idea is to appliqué the logos along the border of the shawl. But that’s not going to be quick…

I’m glad I haven’t gotten around to it, because I took the shawl to Costume College for the Thursday Night ‘Garments of the Galaxy’ pool party, and I was a little short on luggage weight, so I used the shawl as my airplane scarf.

I can confirm that extremely large wool crepe stealth-Star Trek scarves are excellent travelling companions. Big enough to use as a blanket, warm enough you can leave the jacket at home and only wear a sweater. And classic enough to make you feel stylish even after 20 hours of travelling.

I’m all about stealth cosplay, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to casually wear a more obviously Star-Trek-Y shawl across three airports and two countries!