Last week I showed you a rather ridiculous (in a practical sense) 18th century riding outfit in white and pale blue-green. You thought the hat was a bit skunk-y, and the lapels a bit rumpled, and the horse just plain un-horse-y, but that overall it was quite something (in a good way) and came in at 8.8 out of 10.
This week I present a ca. 1840s dress in rich plum purple silk satin.
The dress keeps the embellishment to a minimum, relying on self-fabric piping trim on the sleeves, and an pleated wrap front opening for visual interest.
There are some interesting elements to the dress – parts of it are quite fashion forward for 1840, and other elements look backwards to the 1830s. The garment may have belonged to an older woman, who was more comfortable in simple, conservative styles.
Last weeks I showed you a Hattie Carnegie dress in pale pink & green, as worn by the 60ish Electra Havemeyer Webb, sparking an interesting discussion about colour, age, and when is pink too pink. The outfit copped some criticism for the colour scheme (Rate the Dress history on this blog suggests that pink + green isn’t always a classic scheme), for being too shiny (that’s satin for you: even in silk it has a lustre!), and for not looking comfortable, but it came in at a comfortable 7.7 out of 10.
This week I’ve picked another two-tone outfit, but one that takes the idea in a very different direction. In contrast to the simplicity of last week’s dress, this champagne and black dinner dress by Mon. Vignon is the epitome of Victorian detailing, with every square inch of fabric patterned, beaded, ruched, pleated, trimmed, fringed, and otherwise ornamented:
The front of the dress features a ruched panel down the skirt and bodice, framing the bodice buttons, and surmounted by a black bow at the bust:
Even the buttons are detailed, with wrapped threadwork:
The neckline is edged with lace, fine pleating, and an elaborate beaded border. Plus, there is a collar, and a rose:
The rest of the dress is not left to languish unadorned. The train is bordered with black velvet swags, and beaded and tasselled fringe sways round the hem and climbs up the side of the skirt.
Underneath the fringe, there are layers of fine pleating:
The dress dress is definitely a paean to the idea that more is more is more.
Is it too much?
What do you think?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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:
It’s the pattern, with some alterations!
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).
Now, to be brave and cut into that organza…