A Time-Travelling Ballerina

When I was a child I was given Tom Tierney’s ‘Ballet Stars of the Romantic Era‘ paper doll book.  Though I enjoyed the occasional girls ballet book, I wasn’t ballet obsessed.  This was mostly because ballet was simply such an abstract concept for me – in Hawaii little girls learn hula, not ballet.  I read about ballet, but the scenes they were described were as remote and exotic as Heidi’s Alps.

Although I couldn’t grasp the idea of a modern person being a ballerina, I loved the paper dolls.  The beautiful costumes (of course) and the stories of the ballerina’s lives (affairs with mad kings and all) appealed to me.

Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot's Zéphire et Flore. London, 1831, Lithograph by Chalon and Lane.  Victoria and Albert Museum, Sergeyev Collection

Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot’s Zéphire et Flore. London, 1831, Lithograph by Chalon and Lane. Victoria and Albert Museum, Sergeyev Collection

Later on, when I finally saw ballets at the San Francisco Ballet and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, I was hugely disappointed by the costumes.  They were beautiful and striking, but in my mind I’d always imagined the soft, floating swish of romantic-era skirts of silk tulle.  The stiff nylon platters of the modern ballerina just didn’t live up to my expectations.  If I was going to design a ballet outfit, it would look like something Taglioni, Grisi, or Essler would wear.

Carlotta Grisi in the tite role of Adam's Giselle, Paris, 1841, lithograph by an unknown artist

Carlotta Grisi in the tite role of Adam’s Giselle, Paris, 1841, lithograph by an unknown artist

Somewhere in a scrapbook I have a picture of Selma Blair in the dress she wore to the 2003 Met Costume Gala.  She said of the dress something to the effect that she never got to be a ballerina as a little girl, so the dress was her ballerina moment.

For some reason that quote has always stuck with me (although I’d forgotten all the details of the dress except that it was vaguely ballerina-y), and I’ve thought, ‘yes, every girl should have a ballerina moment’.

The closest I’ve ever come to a ballerina moment was the outfit I wore to the Fairies & Dinosaurs party, but it wasn’t quite the vision I had.

This year I’m becoming aware, as the wrinkles don’t quite go away and I get too many grey hairs to honestly claim that they are all sports, that my time to have a ballerina moment is going to run out.  I should do it now!

This year I have the perfect excuse – the Windy Lindy ball theme is ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ (a la Back to the Future), and a Romantic era ballet costume is close enough to a ’50s prom dress, right?

I also have the perfect fabric: 5 yards of vintage silk organza in pink with three-dimensional organza ribbon roses that my Grandmother brought back from a trip to Japan in the late ’50s.

A romantic-era ballerina meets 1950s dress thedreamstress.com

The clock is definitely ticking on me in that much pink organza too!

So, inspiration for a romantic-era ballerina, meeting 1950s full-skirted romanticism:

Marie Taglioni dancing the title role in La Sylphide, 1832

Marie Taglioni dancing the title role in La Sylphide, 1832

I love the simple fitted bodices, pointed waists, and the soft, swooshing fullness of the skirts.

Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito surround Marie Taglioni in Jules Perrot's Pas de Quatre, Lithograph by T. H. Maguire from a drawing by A. E. Chalon, London, 1845

Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito surround Marie Taglioni in Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre, Lithograph by T. H. Maguire from a drawing by A. E. Chalon, London, 1845

I went looking for 50’s dress with the same elements, and assembled a pinterest inspiration board.

Then I went browsing in my pattern stash, and unearthed my Grandmother’s copy of Butterick 6485 from the early 1950s.

It’s got a fitted bodice, pointed waist, a full circle skirt with gathers (circles for that extra swish, and to maximise my fabric) and is perfect!

Butterick for a ballerina dress thedreamstress.com

When I opened it up, I discovered that my Grandmother had definitely made it, and even created two new pieces to add a peplum.

For a moment I was back with her, mixing and matching pattern pieces and drafting new ones to create the ideal gown.

As I looked at the longer view, and the peplum pieces, I suddenly realised that not only did I know what her gown would have looked like, I own it!

This is me, aged 20, in one of the three items of my grandmother’s finished sewing that I own:

My grandmother's altered version of Butterick 6485 thedreamstress.com

It’s the pattern, with some alterations!

Oh, happiness!

And, as further proof that the dress was meant to be, my toile fit perfectly straight off the pattern!  (or, at least it does with the correct bra under it).

Butterick 6485 for a ballerina dress thedreamstress.com

Now, to be brave and cut into that organza…

A romantic-era ballerina meets 1950s dress thedreamstress.com

Clothing the world of Katherine Mansfield

Well, it’s been almost a week since the Katherine Mansfield talk, and I am mostly recovered, and most of the stuff is washed and put away and life is mostly back to normal!

I’ve seen some of the photographer’s images from the talk, and they look amazing.  Definitely something to look forward to!

For now, here are a few more informal glimpses from my camera, courtesy of various models backstage, and Madame O in the audience during the talk.

Zara from Off-Grid Chic (modeling my green ’20s gown) and Juliet of Crazy Gypsy Chronicles (in the 1910s longline) have a modern technology moment in the middle of historical costuming.

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Sandra of Flossie FT doing hair:

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

All dressing rooms should have spectacular stained glass windows:

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

And then, the talk!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

How adorable is Martha in the 1920s bathers?  

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Yellow stockings!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

And a dress with wings!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Rate the Dress: red velvet spencer

Last week I showed you a very fashion forward lady of 1914, to mixed reviews.  Some of you simply didn’t like the period, others simply didn’t like the way the ensemble wouldn’t suit most figures, and most of you weren’t too keen on the hat.  But lots of you did like it: thought it elegant, avant gard, and just ‘zingy’ enough to be interesting.  It rated a 7.4 out of 10 (it would have been a higher score if the two people who said they loved it, with exclamation points, had rated it!)

As the next HSF challenge that I’m supposed to write a (well overdue) inspiration post for is the HSF Choice Gentlemen challenge, I thought showing you a bit of menswear-inspired fashion was appropriate.

As soon as I selected this item I also realised that it is exactly the 1810s version of the 1910s suit I showed you last week: luxurious, slightly quirky, both very practical and very unpractical, very feminine with a nod to menswear, and possibly, just a tiny bit silly.

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice.  KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice. KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Last week’s offering was luxurious in being a couture item, this one is made from a most luxurious fabric: silk velvet cut in a chequered pattern.  Both share quirky buttoning detailing, and other whimsical trim. With the high, lifted bust of the spencer jacket, and the hip-emphasising skirt of the suit, both outfits make their wearers femininity abundantly clear, yet both are styles taken from men’s fashions.  Spencers were meant to be practical garments, as were suits, but in delicate silk velvet and hobbled hems, neither garment quite lives up to its promise of ease of wear.  And with layered peplums, fan hats, and little sticky-out spencer ‘tails’, both might cop a share of ridicule.

What do you think of this weeks outfit?  Better or worse than last weeks?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

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Meet the Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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