Rate the Dress: Bad or Best of News in Blue?

Last week I showed an asymmetrical bustled 1880s dress that combined three fabrics.  The dress was rather all over the place, and so were your ratings.  There were so many different bits, and some of you liked some bits, and some of them others.  The overall verdict was 6.5 out of 10.  Not terrible, but certainly not great.

This week we’re looking at a painted frock that may be the artists fantasy, though the details are so precisely rendered, from the laced bodice to the seam-lines and creases at the hem, that one wonders if the dress actually existed.

There are two versions of the image, one which shows the whole scene, and a smaller cropped version.

'La mauvaise nouvelle' (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837). Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

‘La mauvaise nouvelle’ (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837). Via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed, we are rating the attire of the blond woman in white and turquoise at the centre of the image. Both she and her friend/attendant are dressed in luxurious, fashionable garments which reflect the strong strong classical influences, particularly in their hair and jewels.

In addition to addition to looking back to Classical Greece & Rome, our heroine’s dress shows the effect of the new political situation in France.  Napoleon became Emperor of the French in 1804, and one of his early moves was an attempt to protect the French silk industry and to limit the amount of cotton being imported into France.

The attendant wears a cotton gown, but our heroine models a dress is the rich, heavy silk satins that Napoleon hoped to return to fashion for the benefit of France’s economy.  Gérard probably approved of the move – she excelled at painting the light reflecting on luxurious silks, while her treatment of cottons was nothing special.

So what do you think of the blonde’s outfit, with its nods to both the ancient past and the new political situation?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Rate the Dress: Bustled swags and bow

Last week’s 1820s mourning dress received a rather unanimous opinion: you really, really liked the overall effect, but that trim was just a wee bit off…or a lot off.  So, for gorgeous use of fabrics, but badly applied trim, the dress came in at 8.2 out of 10.

Personally, I rather liked the peculiar hem trim, simply because it was so weird and imperfect.  It made it interesting, and accessible:  I found the lack of perfection and refinement, without the least bit of overt vulgarity, quite refreshing.

This week, with the Historical Sew Fortnightly Shape & Support challenge, I present a garment that would require a lot of shaping from a corset, and support from a bustle:

Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885, Smith College Historic Clothing Collection, 2008.6.1

Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885, Smith College Historic Clothing Collection, 2008.6.1

This early 1880s asymmetrical day ensemble was worn by a student in the first graduating class of Smoth College.  It’s an interesting balance of aesthetic, fabric, and colour.  The tailored, masculine bodice, with its flat, almost aggressive, appliqued embellishment gives way to an intensely feminine lower half, all bows, swags and pleating, with the sensible beige wool peeling back to reveal delicate floral silks.

Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885, Smith College Historic Clothing Collection, 2008.6.1

Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885, Smith College Historic Clothing Collection, 2008.6.1

What do you think?  Too peculiar and disjointed?  Or an fascinating blend of shapes, textures and colours?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

A rather frustrating Regency wrap corset a la Paresseuse

A month ago Sabine came out with Short Stays Studies 2.0, and a new short stays pattern based on a pair of wrapped short stays (corset a la paresseuse – corset for the lazy) she identified at Centraal Museum, Utrecht.   Cue massive excitement.

So much excitement, that the very day she published her research, I downloaded the pattern, scaled it up to my measurements based on her guidelines, and printed it out.  The pattern was very well drafted – super easy to scale up, and very easy to put together.

Then I did a quick toile, tried it on, and voilà – super easy impressive uplift!

I made a few tiny changes to the pattern based on my toile – longer shoulder straps (not nearly long enough as it turned out), rounded edges to all the straps, and eyelets to lace through and fasten the front wrap, rather than a hook, so the stays would be more adjustable for size (Sabine even suggests that ties rather than hooks may have been how the stays originally fastened).

With the toile sorted I cut out the corset (with the lack of boning, these really were probably called corsets not stays) pieces – one layer in glazed cotton, one layer in midweight raime.  Gussets, side seams, eyelets, and then lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of binding.

They took way longer than expected, thanks to my flu and all that binding (why does sewing binding take so long?), so they were finished today – just in time for the Shape and Support HSF challenge.

Unfortunately, this is what they look like:

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

The falling off the shoulder isn’t a pattern problem – everything falls off my shoulder – I have scoliosis and am seriously lopsided.  The bust though, that’s an issue:

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

The bust, despite using the exact same gussets that worked so well in my toile, gapes terribly.

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

And it doesn’t provide any real uplift.  My bust keeps trying to slip down, so the gussets sit halfway up the bust.  Ouch.

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

The back wrap looks great though, even in blurry, terrible, self-timer photos:

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

Other than the back though, not a success.  So, grumpy, grumpy dreamstress.  I had a play to see if I could improve things (without having to take out and re-do the gussets).

First quick fix: I worked a second pair of lacing holes where the straps attach at the bust, so that the straps would be more secure, less likely to slip off my shoulders, and would provide more lift for my bust:

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

Then I remembered that I’d fitted the toile over a modern singlet, not a chemise.  Would that make a difference?

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

As a matter of fact, yes!  Massive improvement.  Uplift, cleavage, high round bosom.  (Well, more uplift, cleavage, and high round bosom than usual.  I don’t have a lot to work with.)  Unfortunately, wearing the stays with a knit singlet certainly isn’t period!  I shouldn’t have cheated and fitted my toile over one.

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

I’m still not particularly impressed with how they fit my body though, and unfortunately they aren’t very comfortable.  The straps dig into my shoulders, and the wrap gives me a backache.

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

I think these are a really interesting garment, but for me, they didn’t work particularly well.

I could probably improve them a bit with pattern alterations, particularly to the gusset area, but some of the biggest problems are simply the result of my figure, and can’t be corrected.  Anything that wraps that tightly across my lower ribs is going to hurt and exacerbate my scoliosis.

The search for Regency corsets/stays that are comfortable and provide me with the right shape continues.  Time to to try Sabine’s other Regency Short Stays patterns, and some of the other Regency patterns out there!

They do look good laid flat though:

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

Wrapped Regency short stays thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: #12 – Shape & Support

Fabric: 1/2 metre polished cotton, 1/2 metre raime

Pattern: Sabine of Kleidung um 1800s corset a la Paresseuse pattern, based on an original at the Centraal Museum

Year: 1805-20

Notions: Cotton twill tape in 3 sizes, linen and cotton thread, one wooden ruler.    

How historically accurate is it?  I followed the pattern very closely, but scaled it up to my measurements.  My materials are reasonably period accurate (though the ramie would have been nettle cloth), and they are entirely hand sewn.  My alterations are all in line with what might have been done in period (and Sabine even mentions that the corset may have originally tied, not hooked).  So 90%

Hours to complete: 9 hours

First worn: For photos.  Unless I find a model that fits it better than I, it’s unlikely to see much use, because backache: Owww!

Thank you so much Sabine for the pattern and research!  I’m gutted that my version isn’t really working on me, but enjoyed making them and the hand-on research nonetheless.

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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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