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The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #9: Historicism

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #9 is Historicism: Make a historical garment that was itself inspired by the fashions of another historical period.

Up until the early 19th century, to the best of my knowledge (caveat: my pre 1660 fashion history is pretty weak, so I’m happy to be corrected here!) historicism in fashionable dress was predominantly focused on emulating and borrowing from ancient Greek and Rome.  I say fashionable dress, because regional styles in certain areas often used elements that went out of fashion in the main centres decades, if not centuries, before.  This isn’t historicism in its truest sense, because its a case of styles stagnating, rather than intentionally borrowing from the past.

Depending on how you look at historicism, one exception to the reliance on ‘the ancients’ as an inspiration from the past is the robe de coer.  The robe de coer, based on Louis the Sun King’s favourite elements of female dress in his youth in the 1660s and 70s, was implemented as the required court dress in France in the late 17th century, and spread from there to other courts around Europe.  It remained the official dress until the fall of the French monarchy at the end of the 18th century, and while it was updated somewhat to match current styles, it retained clear traces of its 17th century origins to the end.

Read more about robe de cour here.

Sofia Magdalena’s wedding gown, robe de cour, worn at the wedding at the Palace Church November 4, 1766.

Sofia Magdalena’s wedding gown, robe de cour, worn at the wedding at the Palace Church November 4, 1766.

Historicism really took off at the end of the 18th century thanks to the obsession with all things classical that was sparked by excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Wedding dress, 1799, MFA Boston

Wedding dress, 1799, MFA Boston

Evening dress, ca. 1810, French, cotton, metallic thread, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.137.1

Evening dress, ca. 1810, French, cotton, metallic thread, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.137.1

Turn-of-the-19th century accessories could also have a Grecian flair, as seen in these sandals from the Bata Shoe Museum:

Silk and leather sandals, 1795-1805, Bata Shoe Museum

Silk and leather sandals, 1795-1805, Bata Shoe Museum

And tiara modelled after laurel wreaths:

Tiara wreath, 1815 Victoria & Albert Museum

Tiara wreath, 1815 Victoria & Albert Museum

Historicism stayed trendy, even as the Greco-Roman fad faded from the 1810s onwards.  The next big focus of interest was the Renaissance and Elizabethan ages, evoked through frilled fichu which echoed Elizabethan ruffs:

Fashion plate, 1813

Fashion plate, 1813

And standing, pointed ruff collar, as well as the segmented, puffed sleeves known variously as mameluke, marie, juliet or gabrielle sleeves, the later of which names hint at the Renaissance heroines they were meant to evoke:

Ackermann's fashion plate 4, Seaside walking Dress, 1815

Ackermann’s fashion plate 4, Seaside walking Dress, 1815

Sleeves also featured elaborate slash effects, based on Renaissance examples:

Attr. to Joseph Krafft, Portrait of Henriette Rottmann, 1820, via wilnitsky.com

Attr. to Joseph Krafft, Portrait of Henriette Rottmann, 1820, via wilnitsky.com

As skirts widened in the 1830s and 40s, design elements were lifted from the last period of full skirts, the 18th century.  Note how the fichu robings on this 1840s dress so clearly echo the wrapped fichu of later 18th century styles:

Dress with fichu robings, 1840s, The Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil de Terrassa

Dress with fichu robings, 1840s, The Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil de Terrassa

Robe de matin à l'Anglaise avec des manches en amadis jupon coupé à grand volant de mousseline fichu à double garniture Cette femme est coëffée d'un chapeau de Vegogne a long poil avec un ruban au tour, Gallerie des Modes, 1782, MFA Boston

Robe de matin à l’Anglaise avec des manches en amadis jupon coupé à grand volant de mousseline fichu à double garniture Cette femme est coëffée d’un chapeau de Vegogne a long poil avec un ruban au tour, Gallerie des Modes, 1782, MFA Boston

Possibly the simplest and most direct form of historicism is the use of older fabrics, and the re-making of older fashions, into newer styles.  18th century brocades silks were particularly popular for re-use, as in this 1840s evening gown:

The 1860s saw a brief neoclassical in fashion, usually in accessories, such as the following diadem, though the vogue (fashionable in some places, obligatory formal occasions at Napoleon IIIs court) for white evening gowns draped in gauzy fabrics which helped Charles Worth to make his name could also be argued to be an example of the neoclassical revival.

Hellenistic Revival gold Diadem by Castellani c1860, Christies

Hellenistic Revival gold Diadem by Castellani c1860, Christies

In the 1850s, helped by Napoleon III’s desire to gain legitimacy by positioning himself as the true heir to Napoleon and the French Monarchy, and by Eugenie’s fascination with Marie Antoinette, everything 18th century was fashionable again:

Empress Eugénie as Marie-Antoinette, 1854, Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Empress Eugénie as Marie-Antoinette, 1854, Franz Xaver Winterhalter

From bergére hats (learn more about them here):

To warp printed silks, which were called ‘Pompadour silks’:

Dress, American, about 1865, warp-printed figured silk taffeta, bobbin lace MFA Boston, 46.105a-b

Dress, American, about 1865, warp-printed figured silk taffeta, bobbin lace MFA Boston, 46.105a-b

(learn more about warp printed/chiné silks here)

And Louis or Pompadour heels (more about them here):

Evening shoes with Louis heels, 1875–85, French, silk, glass, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1582a, b

Evening shoes with Louis heels, 1875–85, French, silk, glass, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1582a, b

….the 18th century was a perpetually popular source of inspiration in the later half of the 19th century:

A dress featuring a 'Watteau' back, September, 1872 - The Young Englishwoman

A dress featuring a ‘Watteau’ back, September, 1872 – The Young Englishwoman

 

"Hat of blue straw, bergére shape" from the Auckland Star, November 1898

“Hat of blue straw, bergére shape” from the Auckland Star, November 1898

Tea gowns are one of the most frequent types of garments to utilise historicism, to the point that strong historical or exotic references are almost part of the definition of what makes a garment a tea gown.  Read more about them here.

Tea gown with 18th century inspired back pleats, ca. 1905, Callot Soeurs, silk damask, lace, Victoria & Albert Museum

Tea gown with 18th century inspired back pleats, ca. 1905, Callot Soeurs, silk damask, lace, Victoria & Albert Museum

The new century saw a new obsession with ancient Greek and Rome, called the neoclassical revival, and characterised by the raised waist of the Empire line.  Examples could borrow directly from Greek and Roman garments:

Evening ensemble, 1910, French, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 009.300.3221a–c

Evening ensemble, 1910, French, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 009.300.3221a–c

Or through the lens of early 19th century Neoclassicism:

Evening dress, House of Drécoll, 1910, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2500

Evening dress,
House of Drécoll, 1910, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2500

The Empire line came into vogue in 1908, but it remained fashionable into the late ‘teens and ’20s:

Paquin, 1918-1919, France

Paquin, 1918-1919, France

Historicism can sometimes blend with exoticism, as in the 1910s and 20s fad for all things Oriental (hugely inspired by the Arabian nights), and, more obviously, in Egyptomania, which was took its cue not from modern Egypt, but from Ancient Egypt:

 Forsythe Apparel Clothing advertisement featuring Egyptianism & Rohsanara Crepe, 1923

Forsythe Apparel Clothing advertisement featuring Egyptianism & Rohsanara Crepe, 1923

Another element of 1920s fashions was a rebellion against the straight, androgynous line, particularly through Robe de Style, which borrowed freely from 18th century and mid-19th century designs for inspiration:

Mary Pickford in a Robe de Style, possibly by Lanvin, c. 1920

Mary Pickford in a Robe de Style, possibly by Lanvin, c. 1920

Libby Holman, by Sarony New York, c.1928

Libby Holman, by Sarony New York, c.1928

Smaller elements of the past made their way onto accessories like purses:

While 1930s fashions often look like the epitome of sleek modernity, they often used elements of the past for inspiration in small, subtle ways.  Designers looked back to the 18th century:

This evening dress comes from a very important dress making establishment and goes by the name of Charlotte Corday. Made up in white mousseline de soie with a red stripe, completed with a fichu of the 1790s Auckland Star, 11 January 1936

This evening dress comes from a very important dress making establishment and goes by the name of Charlotte Corday. Made up in white mousseline de soie with a red stripe, completed with a fichu of the 1790s Auckland Star, 11 January 1936

To the Romantic era:

In printed crepe-de-chine—powderblue scattered with flowers—this afternoon dress, with its little velvet bolero and corselet to match, and its 1830 sleeves, strikes an original note Evening Post, 5 September 1931 via Papers Past

In printed crepe-de-chine—powderblue scattered with flowers—this afternoon dress, with its little velvet bolero and corselet to match, and its 1830 sleeves, strikes an original note Evening Post, 5 September 1931 via Papers Past

And as recently as the 1910s, for touches such as these flounced hip ruffles:

Excella E3137 ca. 1930 frock

Excella E3137 ca. 1930 frock

And quirky statement pockets:

1930s nautical sailor dress

1930s nautical sailor dress

While most examples of historicism appear in women’s fashions, there are elements of menswear that looked back to earlier periods too.

This greatcoat, ca 1810, features buttons that nod to earlier periods, when menswear was more elaborate, and back vents, originally seen in the 17th century, which were originally intended to allow a sword to project through the vent.

 

While womenswear borrowed heavily from the medieval and Renaissance periods in terms of applied decorations in the 1820s and 30s, menswear sometimes took the simplest route of historical interpretation, as in this waistcoat made of fabrics depicting jousting knights:

Weddings, as formal, traditional occasions, often involved clothes that evoke elements of the past, as seen in these mid-century wedding vests, with embroidered designs that give an obvious nod to 18th century waistcoats:

Breeches ceased to be standard menswear for business in the 1810s, but they did not disappear entirely.  They were retained as standard attire for the most formal of occasions: at court, where mens dress retained all the elements of formal 18th century menswear into the early 19th century:

They also made appearances in the least formal type of outerwear: sportswear:

Gazette of Fashion and Cutting-Room Companion 1872

Gazette of Fashion and Cutting-Room Companion 1872

Note how much this sporting suit looks like a late 18th century example:

Men’s leisurewear, particularly robes and smoking jackets, often evoked earlier styles.  This dressing gown is heavily influenced by 17th and 18th century banyan in shape, and also has a more direct form of historicism: it’s made from an earlier 18th century paisley shawl, which has been cut up and re-used now that it is no longer fashionable:

This turn-of-the-20th century smoking suit nods to the 1860s with its vivid aniline dyed shades, and uses rolled collars and touches of quilting also borrowed from mid-century designs.

BEALE & INMAN, A GENTLEMAN'S SMOKING SUIT c. 1900 vivid red and purple silk satin suit comprising drawstring trousers and jacket, with quilted lapels and accents, sold at Christies

BEALE & INMAN, A GENTLEMAN’S SMOKING SUIT c. 1900 vivid red and purple silk satin suit comprising drawstring trousers and jacket, with quilted lapels and accents, sold at Christies

For more examples of Historicism, check out the V&A Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail book, by Lucy Johnson, which has a whole chapter on historicism.

And these pinterest boards:

Historicism (sadly in need of annotation and organising – will try to get to that).

Re-Use

Pompeii to Paris: Classical Inspiration

 

And these Rate the Dress posts:

1825 with Renaissance inspiration

1885 childrenswear with 18th century inspiration

A paisley tea gown featuring re-use and 18th century inspiration

A Grecian-inspired 1910 evening dress or tea gown

 

Other relevant posts:

A 1920s tea gown with a nod to the 18th century

Rate the Dress: Emerald green in 1914

Last week I showed you an early 1870s dress in pink and white stripes, with butterfly patterned lace trim, and black bows.  While not everything about the dress tickled my fancy, I thought the half & half black and pink bows were a brilliant touch, but many of you did NOT agree.  In the same way, opinions differed greatly on whether the front to back skirt wrap was brilliant, or tablecloth-y.  In fact, the ratings were all over the range for the dress, bringing it in at a 7.4 out of 10.

This evening dress in deep green silk didn’t come with more of a date range than 1910-15, but the  fullness at the lower hips and tapering hem, paired with the skirt drapery, place it firmly in 1914, give or take a year.  The mix of textures is typical of the 1910s, giving complexity to an otherwise simple design.

What do you think?  

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Regencydressesthedreamstress3

Etiquette for costumers: how to behave when out and about

There has been a bit of a brou-ha-ha in costuming and re-enacting circles over the last week over how to behaving in public while dressed up, and how much we should expect from the public to accommodate our particular needs due to our lifestyle choice.

I don’t want to get involved in the specific drama that has triggered this, but I thought that a bit of a guideline of the things that I keep in mind, and the things that I warn models and friends dressing up with me to be aware of, when dressed in costumes of period attire, might be helpful.

These are rules of etiquette I stick to when I’m out and about in costume or historical dress, whether it’s just having fun wearing a costume for a day, being in a public space for a photoshoot (formal or informal), stopping at the supermarket on my way home for a talk, or living as much as possible in the past for the Fortnight in 1916.

My goal is always to be as courteous as possible to the general public and the businesses and institutions that generously allow me to use their facilities, and to give people a positive impression of costumers.*

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

1. When you’re in public in a costume or historical dress, you’re an ambassador for all costumers and re-enactors.  

Most of the public don’t encounter a huge number of costumers or people in historical dress.  So whatever impression you give will be the impression that they take away of costumers.  If you are kind, welcoming, and polite, they will assume we all are, and will treat us in like manner.  If you’re snobby, and demanding, and a know-it-all, the next five costumers who encounter this person will pay for your rudeness.

So when people say ‘Oh, you look just like Belle from Beauty and the Beast‘ when I wear Ninon, I smile and say ‘thank you!’ and take the compliment in the spirit it was intended, although I personally do not care for Disney princesses.  Then, if they seem really interested, I may tell them my dress is actually based on a 17th century portrait of the French kings cousin, wearing a style of dress that did indeed influence the design for Belle’s gown (via Robe de Cour).  But I do this with enthusiasm, and a smile, so they learn something, but don’t go away feeling that historical costumers are snobs, or that all I did was correct them.

I try to behave well in public at all times, but I try particularly hard in costume: I’m less anonymous, and I represent a group.  Unless it’s for a large public event where lots of people will be in costume, or I’m feeling particularly and unusually extroverted, I do find it a bit hard to be so noticeable, but I smile and respond to comments, and be as outgoing as I can, so that people don’t think costumers are mean and cliqué-ish.

2. If you assume that people will react positively to you in a costume, 99.9% of the time they will.

If you go out assuming you will get a positive reaction, and treat people well, in my personal experience, people will react positively.  I have never encountered a negative reaction to going about in costume or period dress.**

I have met dozens of little girls who asked if I was a princess, delighted hundreds of tourists who asked if they could take my picture at scenic spots, been told I ‘looked just like my wife did when I courted her’ by an elderly man, complimented on how elegant I looked by staff in stores, and asked if I was dressed for an event, or where someone could get a similar outfit.  Dozens upon dozens of people have said I looked like (insert current most famous period drama here).  Most often I’m given a slightly startled look, and then treated exactly as I would be in normal clothing.

The many people I know who costume report the same experiences: people either like (or love) seeing something a bit different, or don’t mind, as long as we don’t interfere with their life and rights.

3. Always check ahead to ensure that the event or place you are going to is OK with your outfit and event plans.

When I’m in outfit I’m usually planning to do something: have a picnic or high tea, give a talk, take photos, go to a movie or a museum exhibition, etc.  I’m familiar with most venues in my area, and what their rules are, but when going somewhere new, or somewhere that might be different than usual (a particularly popular film or museum exhibition, for example), I always check to make sure that what I plan to do is acceptable to the venue.

Some venues do not allow costumes.  I have found that with some venues that don’t allow costumes, if you call and manage to speak to someone a bit higher up, and explain your situation if it’s a bit unusual, and if you’re extremely polite and charming, you can be given an exemption (and sometimes venues say ‘oh, we’ve been thinking about changing that, why doesn’t your group come as a trial, and we’ll see how that goes’, in which case your group should try exceptionally hard to behave exceedingly well so that other groups can have the privilege).  Most of the time though, venues have chosen a ‘no costume’ policy for really good reasons, and that’s that.

If you do happen to get caught at a venue or event in an outfit that is deemed a costume (after all, I wear a lot of ’20s & ’30s, stuff, complete with hat, as normal attire) and not OK, ask if there is anything you can do to tone down your outfit be allowed in.  Be polite, and work with the venue.  If you’re apologetic and courteous and willing to compromise, I’ve never encountered a venue that won’t try to make it work for both of you.  You may have to take off your hat and most of your accessories, or put someone’s cardi on to tone it down, but you’ll get to be where you want to be.

Checking ahead applies to talks and movies and shows and museum openings, unless the host/business has specifically indicated that costumes are OK.  People often ask me if it’s alright to dress up for my talks, and while I’ve always been delighted to say ‘yes’, I really appreciate that they ask.

If you’re going to an event specifically to outshine the show.  Don’t.  That’s just another level of rude.

4. While we may be dressed for another timeperiod, in public we’re still in the 21st century, and need to behave according the rules and mores of this time.

You may be doing extremely serious re-enacting, following the social rules and mores of another timeperiod in every way for days on end, but once you leave your reenacting area, even if you’re still in costume, you’re in the 21st century and you need to act like it.  You can’t expect men to open doors for you as a lady (unless that’s still the standard where you are), or that you should be able to make decisions for women if you’re a man.  Continuing to act in period, and expecting the world to act along with you, and to be aware of the dictates of polite society that ended decades or centuries ago, is rude, selfish, and frankly, incredibly immature.

Remembering that we’re still in the 20th century includes things like taking off hats if you have to go into a bank, and removing masks and any weapons (even peace bonded ones) for any business.

And finally…

5. Our needs in costume or historical dress are not more important than other people’s right to use a venue, and to go about their business in normal fashion.

Whether we’re cosplayers, re-enactors, or social historians doing living history experiments, we’ve chosen to wear the clothes we’re wearing.  And it’s a lifestyle choice, not a religion, so we don’t get the same rights and allowances as people who wear clothes dictated by their faith do in most Western countries.  We can’t expect society to rearrange itself to accommodate our needs in costume.

Remembering that we only get the same rights as everyone else can include things as simple as not hogging a desirable photo location.  Most people will give you right of way, and more time at a pretty spot, if you are particularly dressed up, but you have to be very, very careful not to take advantage of this.  Tourists in pants-that-unzip-to-shorts have just as much right to get their picture taken as a group in historical dress.  Step aside, give people time, be quick, don’t take more time than anyone else if there are others waiting.  Costumers hogging spots is a good way to get costumes banned from a venue permanently (I’ve seen it happen).

If you’re going to the theatre, make sure your hairstyles aren’t going to get in anyone’s line of vision.  Make sure your skirts aren’t so big they take more than your chair space at a restaurant.

If you need to be sure you won’t burp while wearing a corset (yes, this is a problem!), call ahead to a dinner event and make sure that there will be non-carbonated options, and that supplying them isn’t too much of a hassle for the venue.

Just be aware that there are other people in the world, and they need to get their business done.  Don’t make your choice a problem for them.

A 1900s Anne of Green Gables skirt thedreamstress.com

* For the purpose of simplicity and brevity I’m going to use costumers as a general synonym for anyone in non-standard, non-period to the 2010s attire.  I know that not everyone feels it is the most technically accurate term for people in period dress, but in this case I’m sure you will all understand the intent of my usage.

** For the purpose of honest, I suppose I should acknowledge that I was once yelled at by men driving past while taking photos near a road, but since I have been yelled at by men dozens of times while in modern clothes, I think we can safely (or un-safely, as it were) say this is about men who feel they have a right to yell at women, not about whether I was in a costume of not.