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HSF/M ’15: Challenge #4: War & Peace

April’s Challenge in the Historical Sew Monthly 2015 is War & Peace: Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.

You may not know this (because it’s not always obvious from what I blog about), but as an undergraduate, I studied international relations.  And art history.  And costume design. (yes, I like to stay busy).

The relationship between the latter two was obvious: I was focusing on textiles and costume in art history, and in historic costume in costume design.  The first one confused a lot of people. It seemed quite random.  What does international relations have to do with costume history?

Well, everything.  IR is everything that’s going on in the world: looking at why it happens, why countries interact the way they do, how they are likely to act in any given situation, why wars happened, and how their repercussions will effect the rest of the world.

Anything event that significantly impacts your country, or the world as a whole, is going to significantly impact on what you wear.  War is, obviously, one of the most significant events that can happen to a country.   Get involved in an extended war, with all your nations resources turned toward the war, and there are going to be clothing shortages, and a rise in patriotic and military inspired motifs.  The flow of raw materials: oil, cotton, silk, linen, dye, may be interrupted, meaning that those materials are unavailable.

Clothing shortages famously occurred during both World Wars, with Germany resorting to making ‘austerity’ corsets out of fabric woven from paper thread in WWI, because Germany been importing most of its cotton and wool.

Patriotic motifs and colours were common in WWII: one of the most popular shades in the US was ‘Air Force Blue’.  The Dazzle frocks and swimsuits I posted about last week are another example of patriotism in fashion, as was the name Government silk for rayon.

"Dazzle Bathing Suits the Latest Vogue', Free Lance, 6 August 1919, Page 18

“Dazzle Bathing Suits the Latest Vogue’, Free Lance, 6 August 1919, Page 18

Military-esque trimmings on women’s spencers and pelisses were very fashionable during the Napoleonic wars.

Regency Silk Spencer Jacket. Front Shoulder Detail View. Circa 1819-1822, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.34.9

Regency Silk Spencer Jacket. Circa 1819-1822, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.34.9

During the American Civil War the South did not sell cotton to the North, and the North attempted (mostly successfully) to blockade the South, preventing goods from reaching the South, and Southern cotton from being exported to Britain, resulting in cotton shortages across Europe, and everything shortages across the South.

While the affects of war on fashion are quite famous, extended periods of peace can also affect fashions.  Their effect is more subtle, and harder to pinpoint, but it can be seen.  With extended peace countries are able to trade goods and ideas freely, new materials are seen, fashions become more elaborate and decadent, as resources and innovations can be focus on domestic goods and fashions.

Extended periods of (relative) peace along the Silk Road, for example, allowed Chinese silks to make it all the way to Rome (much to the governments displeasure, as they disliked the sort of free trade that saw Roman gold leaving the country for foreign silks.

Maenad in silk dress

Maenad in silk dress, Roman

For much of the 19th c., from the Congress of Vienna to the outbreak of WWI , Europe benefited from the (relative) peace of the Pax Britannica.  It is not a cooincidence that this era saw enormous advances in science and industry, all of which affected fashions.  Trains, steamships, telegraphs, photography, and advances in printing all assisting in spreading new fashions around the globe at ever increasing rates.

ca 1850’s hand-tinted daguerreotype portrait of a young woman posed in front of a cloud backdrop

ca 1850’s hand-tinted daguerreotype portrait of a young woman posed in front of a cloud backdrop

Ackermann's fashion plate 4, Seaside walking Dress, 1815

Ackermann’s fashion plate 4, Seaside walking Dress, 1815

There were also advances in what kinds of fashions could be spread, like the discovery of aniline dyes (hugely helped by the peace, and an exchange of ideas between Britain and Continental Europe).

Reception Gown dyed with aniline purple & aniline black, 1870s, Whittaker auctions

Reception Gown dyed with aniline purple & aniline black, 1870s, Whittaker auctions

I will admit that tracing a fashion to a lack of a specific incident (war) can be trickier than tracing it to a specific incident, and not all fashions that arise during peacetime develop specifically because it is an extended peacetime, but it’s still a fascinating idea to tease out.

I hope I’ve given you plenty to think about!  Whatever you make, be sure to consider how it was affected by war or peace, and how that shaped it as a costume and fashion.

Rate the Dress: Mrs Lockett Agnew by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes

Usually when I show you 1910s evening wear, I assume it’s a shoe-in for rave reviews and +8 scores.  Not last weeks dress though!

True, 1/4 of you liked it, but of the other 3/4, 1/4 of you liked the fabrics (but not the skirt draping) 1/4 of you liked the skirt draping (but not the fabric) and 1/4 of you didn’t like the skirt draping OR the fabrics.  It received quite a few comparisons to playing dress-ups with window curtains.  I think the dress has suffered with age associations: in 1912 that sort of lace wasn’t used for curtains, but now it is (and not even elegant ones), so we can’t look at it without thinking curtains, so the poor thing came in at a paltry 5.4 out of 10.

This week lets look at an entire ensemble, on the actual wearer, the better to assess how it looked in-period.  This is Mrs Lockett Agnew (nee Augusta Isobel Sheil) in a confection of ivory stripes and gold and yellow embellishments.

Portrait of Mrs Lockett Agnew, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, 1887-88

Portrait of Mrs Lockett Agnew, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, 1887-88

Mrs Agnew’s ensemble is the height of late 1880s style, with strong elements of the 18th c revivalism that was in fashion at the time.  The tilted brim of her ostrich feather hat is a nod to late 18th c hat styles, and her jacket, trimmed with decorative gold buttons, references the jackets of Georgian riding habits.

While historically inspired, the outfit is also redolent of its own era: the broad tone-on-tone stripes are typical of the bold yet subtle fabrics popular in the 1880s, and the curved front of the jacket and decadent under-bodice emphasise her fashionably ‘neat’ figure, with narrow shoulders and a long, rounded torso, very much in the style of the acclaimed beauties of the period, such as Alexandra of Denmark.

Mrs Agnew was probably described as ‘handsome’, or perhaps ‘elegant’, rather than ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’, but we’re not here to judge her looks, but her choice of outfit.  Do you think it elegant and beautiful?  Suitable to the wearer?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

The HSF/M ’15: Favourites for Challenge #2: Blue

Whew!  Almost caught up!  Here are five of my favourite entries among the myriad of gorgeous items created  for the HSF Blue challenge.

What a fun post to pick favourites for – so many shades of lovely blues!  I think it was even harder than usual to pick favourites (and it’s always, really, really hard!) – there are so many amazing things that have been produced, and such a range of periods, experience levels, and personal taste.

I’ve chosen the items I thought best represent the spirit of the challenge and the Historical Sew Fortnightly; the quest to explore history, raise our skill levels and standard, stretch ourselves (or sometimes just get something done, rather than just procrastinating).

Inevitably there are some projects that I adored that I just haven’t been able to post about, so go see them find your own favourites through the challenge page, and in the FB album (yep, you do have to be a member to see it, yep, if you ask to be a member we’re going to ask you some questions, and yep, it might take us a few days to answer, but if you are really interested in the HSF, as a participant or active cheerleader, we’d LOVE to have you)

And now, to the wonderfulness:

  1. Tessa at Miss Hendri’s WWI VAD uniform.  Tessa gets massive bonus points for making something that was specifically blue in-period, giving the blue hue further significance for her project.  Plus, impressively researched, well made, and fascinating.  How could I not love it!
  2. Anna’s blue wool liripipe hood (for her husband).  It’s iconically blue, perfectly period, and beautifully made.  What’s not to like!
  3. The Modern Mantua Makers 1818-1823 Spencer.  The kind of garment that makes us all drool with delight, and weak with envy.  Stunning, and exquisitely made.
  4. Dawn’s silk dress based on an August 1815 fashion plate.  A lovely recreation of a less seen style.  Plus, check out that bonnet!  Oh my!2 Dawn's dress based on an August 1815 fashion plate, HSF 15 Challenge #2
  5. Just Sewingly’s blue embroidered 18th c pocket:  Her method of replicating the pattern from the V&A pocket is brilliant, and the result is charming.