Rate the Dress: Flower Fantasy

Some of you may have wondered why there was no Rate the Dress when you got up this morning.  I’m just really tired, and overworked.  There is a lot going on this time of year: Windy Lindy, student marking, and me trying to do everything all at once!  So RTD just wasn’t a priority.

Which is why there is now a rate the dress, but no tally-up of last week’s selection (hehe, THAT is going to be fun).  I’m going to go hang out the laundry and do a bit of gardening to relax, and then I’ll get back to it.

At least picking the rating choice was easy.  This has been in my file as the selection for the week before Halloween for almost a year now.  How could it not be?  It’s a fancy dress that has enormous beetles and insects all over it!

Fancy dress, circa 1900

Fancy dress, circa 1907

So what do you think?  If you saw someone dressed as this at a costume party circa 1907, would you think ‘That is SO AWESOME!” (or whatever the ca. 1900 equivalent of “SO AWESOME” is – I welcome your suggestions on that point).  Or would you think “Creepy and horrible”?  Or “Random and messy?”

What’s the verdict on the buggy flower frock?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

*And if anyone has a link to the original source for this image, that would be much appreciated!  I’ve seen it pop up on pinterest, but never with a link back to an original page.

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

Rate the Dress: Brown Wool & Paisley

Last week I showed you Barrocci’s young man in doublet and ruff, and the print of the doublet and the size of the ruff were just a bit too much for some of you, so the young man only managed a 6.8 out of 10.  While I feel a bit sorry for the poor young man who had tried so hard, I was pleased that no-one seemed to be swayed by the fact that I’d raved about his outfit in a post only a week earlier!

This week I’ve picked an outfit that looks like it could have been from an alternative universe.  Somewhere a bit steampunk-y perhaps….

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

This ensemble / dress in two parts of brown wool with paisley ‘blouse’ features trim in the paisley, and in a plush camel fabric.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

The dress is typical of the fashions from between 1902-05, both in its silhouette, with slim sleeves, narrow shoulders, and an elegant skirt with suppltle drapes, and in its use of adventurous and inventive detailing.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

The detailing is particularly adventurous in the bodice, with it’s faux half-over jacket.  It’s made even more unusual in its choice of fabrics: dead muppet is not a fabric I usually associate with the Edwardian era.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

What do you think?  It is, admittedly, a rather strange and peculiar outfit.  But strange and peculiar can be a good thing for a lady who wants to stand out as being distinctive, rather than generically pretty.  So, for a sartorially adventurous lady, whether or not she was a lady adventurer, does this cut it?  Or is it just too wacky for anyone to pull off?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

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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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