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Rate the Dress: 18th century Wild Man costume

Last week’s Rate the Dress was a natural-form day dress in palest blue and silvery ecru.  To no-ones surprise ever, the rosette bows festooning the lower front bodice of the dress were not popular.   You deemed the rest of the dress both boring and fussy. It didn’t score a single 10/10 rating.  The ratings, like the dress trim, mainly slid to the bottom of the rating heap.  Overall ‘Whirlpool: The Dress’, as Rachel dubbed it, managed a paltry 6.6 out of 10.

Moving on: it’s time to look at a historical fancy dress for our annual Halloween Rate the Dress!

Before there was Tarzan, there was Hercules, Bacchus, and Wild Men: all costumes involving animal skins, and greenery.  Variations on the theme date back to the ancient Greeks & Romans, (and possibly earlier).  Wild Man costumes were popular throughout the Middle Ages.  In the 18th century the wild man idea became linked to a romanticisation of nature and untouched society. Thanks to the Swedish monarchy’s fantastic habit of keeping their clothing, we have an extant 18th century Wild Man costume to rate.  This outfit was worn by Karl XIII of Sweden as a prince.

This wild man costumes features an with ivory silk jacket-bodice (presumably to create the impression of a bare chest) joined to a draped ‘skirt’ painted in leopard spots and faced in vivid red silk.  The look is finished off with a bear skin (complete with claws!) and garlands of oak or grape leaves.  It’s a considerably safer costume (literally) than the straw-and-tar Wild Man costumes of the 14th century Bal des Ardents.

Both grape leaves and leopard (or cheetah) skins were associated with Bacchus.  However, the bear skin suggests a more generic wild-man look.  The outfit might have been for a masquerade, or an amateur theatrical or dance performance.

Both entertainments were immensely popular amongst the upper classes in the 18th century, and the decadent Swedish Royal Court  of the 1770s was no exception.  Karl’s sister Sophie Albertine is shown with a masquerade mask in one of her portraits.  Karl himself was known for being a rather good dancer.  His stocking clad legs would be nicely displayed under the draped skirt of this costume (which may or may not have been worn with breeches underneath).

What do you think?  Would this wild man costume have stood out?  Would have been a striking figure at a masked ball, or in an theatrical performance?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10 


1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

A 1900s-1910s tricorne revival hat

The Research:

About this time last year I became slightly obsessed (as I do) with the early 20th century bicorne and tricorn hat revival:

Woman in a tricorn hat, ca 1907 (probably a fashion model)

The tricorne revival was part of the overall 18th century revival that happened at the end of the 19th century, and flowed into an Empire revival in the late 1900s and early 1910s.

The Deliniator, 1916

The Deliniator, 1916

Circa 1900 hat (back view) | Black fine straw. Bicorne style, via Ruby Lane

Hearst's - Nov 1915

Hearst’s – Nov 1915

(more examples are on my pinterest page for the topic)

What’s not to love about it? It’s 18th century meets my favourite timeperiod, it’s wacky and quirky and a little bit pirate-y!

There are mentions of tricorne & bicorne hats being fashionable as early as 1897, and the tricorne revival lasted until the mid 1920s.  Within the period there are definite changes – early tricorne revival hats, are generally very large, like turned-up picture hats, and are overflowing with feathers and flowers.  As the 1900s progress, the hats become smaller and more streamlined.  Mid-1910s examples are often quite severe, with only one upstanding feather tuft, or a sculptural bit of ribbon.  Asymmetry is another major trend in mid-teens examples. Bits of the brim cut away, or one corner of the tricorne made much bigger.  Late teens and early 20s examples are very small, and have floral or other trim that covers the upturned brim.

Bicorne and tricorne revival hats were often made in black plush or velvet, but also came in straw of every shade, and fabric.  Velvet, plush, and dark fabrics were appropriate for winter wear, straw for summer, dark straw and heavier fabrics for spring and autumn.

From enormous picture-tricornes laden with roses, to little ’20s numbers spotted with flowers, I like all the examples of the tricorne revival!

The Make:

With tricornes and bicornes on my mind, I went looking for something for a trial of the look, and found an enormous, terrible, 1990s black straw hat at an op shop:

Felicity 1910s Tricorne Hat thedreamstress.com1

Felicity 1910s Tricorne Hat thedreamstress.com2

With some help from Felicity, I removed the trim, re-blocked the crown slightly, and sewed the hat into a tricorne shape:

Felicity & the 1910s Tricorne Hat

Then I rummaged in my feather stash (look at that face – she desperately wants to destroy them all, and she’s also terrified at the thought of the bird that could produce them!):

Felicity & the 1910s Tricorne Hat

I settled on a big poof of black feathers on one side as my trim. The hat got worn that way for a fantail skirt photoshoot in December:

1910s Tricorne Hat

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

It was fun, but not perfect, even as a simple trial of the look, it just wasn’t finished enough.

So, in a spare moment over winter, I bound the edges of the hat in a rayon satin ribbon I bought at Costume College. Then, to hold the feathers in place, I made a rosette of the same ribbon, joined to be wider.

The Result:

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

The hat got its first proper wearing when I photographed my 1915 ‘Waiting for Bluebell’s’ dress. I’m still trying to figure out how to make it sit properly on a mid-1910s hairstyle.  It’s fine on early 1900s-1910s ones, but in late teens it ends up perched on the side of my head.

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

1910s Tricorne Revival Hat

I’m definitely not done with my experiments with tricorne revival hats. I want a rose-laden number, and a plush one for winter wear, and a 1920s one….

And, even though this wasn’t meant for that, now that I have a tricorne hat, it’s high time I did something pirate-y!

1870s, 1880s, natural form, Victorian dress

Rate the Dress: the Mademoiselles Giroux do natural form, ca 1880

There was a really fascinating range of reactions to Madame Houbigant’s all-white (excepting her vivid red shawl) 1810s ensemble last week.  Some of you felt it flattered her more in the portrait than in real life, and some of you felt the combination of fashionably relaxed lounging didn’t pair with the heavy silk, and just made it look like she had poor posture, and that in real life, standing up straight, she would have looked much nicer.  You were fairly universally not in favour of her extremely ruffled chemisette.  All those ruffles are just one of those aspects of this era’s fashions that are hard to love with modern eyes!

Madame Houbigant came in at 7 out of 10, and while not a winner in the sartorial sense, the topics of discussion that came out of the post definitely make it a winner in my books!

This week’s 1880s natural form dress reminds me of last week’s, in the expanses of smooth silk, and the way it plays with proportions, only with the ruffles and interest inverted: last week they were up around the neck, this week they are down around the hem.  (There is another element that reminds me of a different, recent rate the dress, but I dare not mention it…)

With its extremely fitted bodice and slim upper skirt, with draping and ornamentation that seems to tie around the skirt, confining its fullness, only to explode in a plethora of pleats at the hem, this dress is classic natural form.

The pale colours, while not necessarily characteristic of the natural form era, keep the focus of the dress on the drapery and ornamentation.  The material itself becomes a background to the way in which it is manipulated and shaped.

(We’re going to ignore the hairstyle. The wigmaker had clearly just perfected their paper spiral technique the week they did this one, and got a little carried away showing it off…)

I think this dress does a particularly interesting job of balancing the very simple, streamlined upper body shaping, with the abundance of trims, textures, and detailing around the hem.

The way the drapery spirals around the lower body is also quite fascinating.  Notice how the the drapery is intended to give the effect of being knotted around the dress, and the swags slip through loops of other fabric, fringe and all.

It’s almost as if is meant to give the illusion of folds of fabric artfully swagged around the wearer at the last minute.  The overall effect is a conceit of carelessness, in carefully planned folds of meticulously trimmed taffeta.

What do you think?  Does the faux-casual drapery effect work?  Is this the epitome of elegance, circa 1880s, or a bit too contrived and contrast-y?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10