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The quest for Regency uplift: J.S. Bernhardt’s 1810 Stays, View C

I love ‘Regency’ and Empire fashions: the high waisted silhouette of the 1790s to the late 1810s.

Ladies’ Museum, Morning Dress for December, 1799.

However, my body does not.  I’ve got small, firm, low-set breasts, very sloping shoulders, a relatively large square ribcage, and scoliosis.  It’s a natural fit for 1910s, but not ideal for ca. 1800.  Most of the bust supporting undergarments (whether they are stays, long or short, or jumps) of that 25-year span that I have made or tried on haven’t really worked for me.  Some are literally painful: twisting my already twisted spine into unhappy positions, or trying to use my shoulders to yank my very-resistant-to-upwards-yanking bust up, and thus cutting into my shoulders.  Others are just disappointing: flattening my bust into total nonexistence, or gaping sadly over each cup.  Some seem OK at first, and then get progressively less comfortable over hours of wear.

I’ve felt like a total costuming failure with all my attempts at making Regency/Empire stays.  Some have been so bad I haven’t even been able to make myself blog them.  Some of it is my dislike of gussets, but mostly it’s my body, because my staymaking attempts have looked great on friends without my shoulder/ribcage/spine/bust issues.

When I’ve worn dresses of this era I’ve just cheated, using the dress itself to support me – with a small bust, it works OK, but it’s not ideal, and I don’t really end up with the right silhouette.  And I end up with the same painful using-my-shoulder-to-yank-up-my-bust issue that the stays have had.

So one of my goals for this year is to make a pair of 1790s front-thrusting ‘transitional’ stays that really work for me, and a pair of ca. 1810 bust-separating Regency stays that also really work.  I’m going to try every available pattern until I find the two best ones, and then do my best to perfect them for me (unless I get really lucky and manage to make something that is perfect the first try).

My first attempt was the View C short stays from J.S. Bernhart’s 1810 book, via the fantastic formula and research that Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 has done:

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

I’m actually pretty pleased with this pair. They have a couple of issues that need working out.

First, I need a longer busk – I haven’t been able to find the one I want in New Zealand.  I’ve done the best I can and used a too-short option and sewn a channel for a wider busk as well as the narrow one shown here.  I’ll order a couple from Redthreaded when I’m back in Hawaii in September.

Second, the pattern itself needs a little tweaking.  I suspect the formula works really well at small sizes, and gets progressively less accurate as you get bigger.  It’s definitely too big on me: the stays lace completely closed:

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

The straps angling in to the centre back are brilliant for my sloping shoulders, and really take the pressure off of them.  However, if I want to wear anything with a lower back, they are too high, so I think I could tweak them to have a lower back, but straps that still angle inwards.

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

Simply making the pattern smaller may fix the next issue:  separate breasts are all well and good, but I think my bust gussets are too far from the centre front.

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

The final issue is the hip gussets.  Sabine was super helpful in figuring out the size of my gussets, but I haven’t gotten them quite right.  Bernhardt’s pattern is very much just a suggestion: my hip gussets are way bigger than Bernhardt’s suggestion, and still not quite big enough.

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

I think the hip gussets are also not quite at the right place – they would sit better right at the outward curve of my hip, instead of slightly to the back.

It’s almost as if the stays are too wide only at the front.  If I took just an inch and a half out of the centre front seam, it would move the bust and hip gussets towards the front, and give me a lacing gap.  I’m really tempted to do it, but am not looking forward to the binding issues that would create.

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

The other plan would be to simply make another pair, with the alterations.  I did have these as a working-toile in my mind, which is why I used shortcuts like metal grommets.

Short stays from J.S. Bernharts 1810 book, View C thedreamstress.com

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #3: Comfort at Home

 

In any case, these were finished in time for the Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #3: Comfort at Home

What the item is: 1810s stays

Material: midweight linen (lining), midweight cotton twill (outer)

Pattern: J.S. Bernhardt’s short stays pattern C, as translated and gridded by Kleidung um 1800

Year: 1810

Notions: synthetic whalebone, wooden ruler, cotton thread, metal grommets, cotton lacing cord

How historically accurate is it? Construction wise, not so much – I used metal grommets, and sewed by machine. I also have no idea if my fabric is a correct match to this style of stays. I wanted to test the fit and wearability of these over time, and was less concerned with total accuracy of construction. Once I’ve got the fit totally sorted, I’ll make a more-close to accurate pair.

Hours to complete: 12 or so

First worn: For photos on the 30th of March

Total cost: $15 or so – the fabrics are all pieces I picked up for very little at op shops, the ruler was $1, the only real expense was a bit of boning and the grommets.

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Bartholomew Dandridge (British, 1691-1755) Portrait of a girl with basket of flowers, ca 1740

Rate the Dress: Bartholemew’s Beauty in Bizarre Silks

This week’s Rate the Dress is chosen from one of my favourite historical eras of all time – at least where fabric is concerned!  Will it be as popular as last week’s smash-hit Pingat?

Last week: A very large Pingat ballgown 

The very large Pingat ballgown received an equally large and enthusiastic response.  The only things it was marked down for were the overly-enthusiastic berthe (as an underly endowed woman, I cannot sympathise, as I need all the help I can get from berthe in 1860s dresses!), and the ‘bookmarks’ on the skirt (another thing I can’t sympathise with.  Secret book geek dress sounds like pretty much the best thing ever.  Even the colours were book themed!)

The Total: 9.6 out of 10

Undercover nerd dress ftw!  Would wear blue silk stockings with any day of the week!

This week: An unknown young lady of ca. 1740

We don’t know the identity of this young lady, or when exactly Bartholemew Dandridge painted her portrait, but we can tell a bit about her from the clues in the painting:

Bartholomew Dandridge (British, 1691-1755) Portrait of a girl with basket of flowers, ca 1740

The girl wears a formal dress in a brocaded silk, with a ca. 1740 design that transitions between the bold colours and unusual shapes that characterised bizarre silks, and the more delicate, naturalistic rococo silks of the mid-18th century.  The lacey, lattice-like shapes on the dress are a classic feature of 1740s silks.

Bartholomew Dandridge (British, 1691-1755) Portrait of a girl with basket of flowers, ca 1740

Bartholomew Dandridge (British, 1691-1755) Portrait of a girl with basket of flowers, ca 1740

The girl is definitely that.  While the full, round skirts, elaborate stomacher, 3/4 length sleeves, and lace-trimmed chemise are all common in fashionable adult dress of the 1740s, the dress bears streamers at the back – typical markers of a girl’s dress.  The are usually described as vestigial leading strings, but as they appear primarily in portraits of girls on the brink of adolescence, I also see them as nascent sacque back pleats.  They are transitional markers: taking a dress feature associated with childhood (leading strings) and mixing it with a garment feature more common in adult dress (pleats).

So, as an 18th century version of a girls-first formal dress (still sweet and young, but with a few adult features), what do you think of this?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting, but it’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is crazy/totally lacking in taste.

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)

 

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May detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

The Historical Sew Monthly 2018: Inspiration for Challenge #5: Specific to a Time of Day or Year

The Historical Sew Monthly 2018 is well underway now, and it’s my duty and honour to write the inspiration post for our fifth challenge of the year: Specific to a Time (of Day or Year).

I was slightly panicked when I realised this theme would fall to me.  I’m not at all an expert at pre-1700s fashions, and this is a challenge that’s particularly tricky before the 19th century (ish), when specific garments for different times of day became common.  But with help from my awesome co-moderators, I’ve found examples from a range of eras – enjoy!

In chronological order:

This ca. 1400 cycle of frescos of the months from the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy, provides a wonderful look at late Medieval fashions by season, with warm layers for winter snowfights:

January detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

January detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del’Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

Flowing garments for spring romance (note the love-knots on the gentleman’s tunic):

May detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del’Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

And sunhats and light shirts (and sandals!) for harvest labours.  The sunhats do double duty for this challenge, being both daytime, and summer, specific:

May detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del'Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

May detail, Cycle of frescos of the twelve labors of the months, Trento (Italy), Castello del Buonconsiglio (Bishops Castle), Torre del’Aquila (Tower of the eagle), otherwise unknown Master Wenceslas of Bohemia, after 1397

Elizabethan costume plates also show wonderful examples of sunhats, like this charming bowl-shaped number.

Portraits are so formal it’s tricky to identify seasonal and time changes, but I’ll guess that heavy fur lined cloaks like the one sported by the Earl of Pembroke were far more popular in winter than summer:

Henry Herbert (1538–1601), 2nd Earl of Pembroke

And, while fans are a popular accessory for ladies in late 16th and early 17th century portraits, I can’t help but to suspect that they were even more common in the warmer months than at other times of years:

Elizabeth Stuart, Princess Royal (later, Queen of Bohemia), Robert Peake (1551-1626)

Elizabeth Stuart, Princess Royal (later, Queen of Bohemia), Robert Peake (1551-1626), 1603

Queen Christina of Sweden by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas, 1634

Queen Christina of Sweden by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas, 1634

Going back to winter, we have the wonderful fur-lined jackets that appear in many Dutch interior scenes of the mid-17th century.  This one gives the central figure a place to warm her hands, while also refusing to take the gentleman’s missive.

Gerard ter Borch II, The Letter, 1655

The advent of fashion plates in the late 17th century makes identifying seasonal specific fashions much easier.  This elegant lady’s soft quilted hood, cozy quilted petticoat, and warm muff all seem perfect for winter, but the caption leaves no doubt at all about the seasonal-appropriateness of her dress:

‘Femme de qualité en habit d’hyver’ Nicolas Arnoult (France, circa 1671-1700) France, Paris, 1687 Prints Hand-colored engraving on paper, LACMA, M.2002.57.64

Her informal summertime counterpart, on the other hand, wears much lighter dress, and carries a fan.  Although they are half a century later, the frequency in which fans appear in 17th century summer-themed fashion plates, and their infrequency in winter plates, makes it likely that the same seasonal shift appeared (or was at least starting to appear) earlier in the century.

Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 'Femme de Qualité en Deshabillé d'Esté' Jean LeBlond (France, active circa 1635-1709) France, Paris, 1682 Prints Hand-colored engraving on paper, LACMA M.2002.57.65

Recueil des modes de la cour de France, ‘Femme de Qualité en Deshabillé d’Esté’ Jean LeBlond (France, active circa 1635-1709) France, Paris, 1682 Prints Hand-colored engraving on paper, LACMA M.2002.57.65

If the 18th century is your thing, you could make a bergére, suitable for summer, daytime wear from the 1750s onwards:

Bergére hat, English c1750, Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Princesse de Lamballe, 1782, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Princesse de Lamballe, 1782, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

(pictorial evidence suggests that chemise a la reine were primarily daytime wear, but I’ve found a few images that suggest they were also worn to nighttime events, so you’d need to make an argument for them being specific to a time of day if you wanted to make one for this challenge).

While chemise a la reine aren’t clearly for one time of day or other, and dresses like this could be worn to formal events at any time of day or year, masked balls were, as much as I can determine, purely nighttime events, so a masque would be a suitable item:

Anton Raphaël Mengs, Arabella Astley Swimmer, Lady Vincent of Stoke D'Abernon, 1753

Anton Raphaël Mengs, Arabella Astley Swimmer, Lady Vincent of Stoke D’Abernon, 1753

Masquerade mask. 1780s © Museum of London via BBC Radio 4

Riding habits were daytime dress:

Collett, “Officer in the Light Infantry,” 1770

And fur line cloaks, and muffs of all description, were clearly cold-season accessories:

Elizabeth Farren (born about 1759, died 1829), Later Countess of Derby by Sir Thomas Lawrence (British, Bristol 1769–1830 London), 1790

Muff English, 1785–1800 England, MFABoston

As were quilted petticoats:

Caraco circa 1780, quilted Petticoat circa 1770-1780, Mint Museum

Leaving the 18th century behind, and moving into the 19th, the distinction between daytime and nighttime dress, and thus things that qualify for this challenge, becomes much clearer.

Short sleeved dresses were primarily evening appropriate in the early 19th century:

Full evening dress, June 1809, La Belle Assemblée

And long sleeves were daywear, as were, generally speaking, chemisettes and other neck fillers:

Portrait of a Lady (possibly Caroline Bonaparte-Murat, Queen of Naples) by Robert Lefèvre, 1813

While top hats were worn year round for men, there are some summer-specific versions in straw:

Straw as a summer specific material is a common thread throughout this theme, from the medieval examples we started with, all the way through the 19th, and into the 20th century.

Straw bonnet, ca 1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Winter hats, in contrast, came in dark colours, and furs and fabric:

Hat Mme. Mantel (French) Date- ca. 1885 Culture- French Medium- fur, wool, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

While the 18th century primarily had formal or informal clothes, rather than day and evening clothes, as the 19th century progressed the break between the two became quite rigid, though some robe a transformation dresses came with both low-cut, sleeveless evening bodices, and long sleeved, high necked, daytime bodices:

Dress in three parts, Italian, silk taffeta with straw embroidery, 1867, Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, 00000101, via EuropeanaFashion.eu

Dress in three parts, Italian, silk taffeta with straw embroidery, 1867, Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, 00000101, via EuropeanaFashion.eu

Dress in three parts, Italian, silk taffeta with straw embroidery, 1867, Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, 00000101, via EuropeanaFashion.eu

The growing power of the Industrial Revolution also made seasonal clothing distinctions even clearer.  No longer was seasonality just about fabrics that were warm vs. fabrics that were cool, it also took in colours.

Coal powered machinery made industrial cities very dirty, and light clothes impractical.  The advent of rail travel made getting away from cities easy – especially for the well off.  They signalled their summer escape from hot, dirty cities by donning white clothes, and then put back on dark ones when they returned in the autumn, leading to sayings like ‘no white after labour day’.

Suit, 1875–90, British, linen, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.487a–c

Woman’s Polonaise Dress, England, circa 1875, Cotton plain weave with wool of discontinuous supplemental weft, silk satin ribbon, and machine lace, LACMA, M.2007.211.777a-f

Woman’s dress, American, 1905–10, Embroidered cotton with lace inserts, MFA Boston 2007.523

One of my favourite time/seasonal distinctions is when the same garment (by name) would be specific to very different times of day or season, depending on the design, and what it was made of.

So, for pyjamas, we have beach pyjamas (daytime, summer)

Beach pyjamas on the Cote D’Azure, colourized postcard, 1930s

Evening pyjamas (nighttime, summer or winter):

Evening suit and blouse (or evening pyjamas), Chanel, 1937-38, collection of the V&A

And lounging pyjamas (day to evening, usually winter), and pyjama pyjamas (nighttime, sleeping):

Pyjamas and lingere in rayon, 1934

Can’t wait to see what you make this is Specific to a Time!

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