Friday, March 25, 2011

Favorite 18th Century movies

Someone asked me yesterday what my favorite 18th century movies are. This is a particularly timely question, as I'm pretty sure I've watched Every Single One that's out on DVD in the last 6 months.

Hand-stitching a set of stays will do that to you. By the way, 5 panels out of 8 finished!!

So, I'm not sure how long this list will end up being, but I'm going for at least top 5 here.

5. John Adams (miniseries). Laura Linney looks SO lovely in her 1790s gowns with the big poofy hair and her rosy cheeks... There's not a lot to love about Paul Giamatti, but I'm pretty sure that sums up John Adams as a character anyway.

4.  The Duchess. Mostly for the scene in which Ralph Fiennes unstitches Keira Knightly's stomacher. Because NO ONE EVER DOES THAT AND IT'S SO DARN ACCURATE!

3. The Madness of King George. Unintentionally hilarious, poignant, the costumes are lovely, and the acting is just FABULOUS.

2. The Patriot. Yes, it's cheesy. The costumes are painfully inaccurate at times. But... Jason Isaacs as a redcoat? SIGN ME UP. The uniforms on the whole look awesome (accurate, I can't speak to, but they're sure pretty) and despite the equally-inaccurate history, I do love me some good old fashioned bayonet and cannon and cavalry warfare.

1. Brotherhood of the Wolf. It's French, it's trashy, there's gore and bad CG and as usual, the bad guy is trying to screw his sister, but it's darn pretty and I can't find a lot to complain about costume-wise outside of the brothel scenes.

Movies that did NOT make this list:

Marie Antoinette - It's like Easter candy. Unnaturally pastel, great in small doses, but don't have too much and don't take it seriously or you'll get sick.

Jefferson in Paris - While, surprisingly, the costumes aren't bad, the acting is horrendous. Come on Thandie Newton, I know you're better than that. Sally Hemings did NOT need to be a caricature of what 19th century slave-owners thought slaves should be.

Dangerous Liaisons - I know, I know, the classic, the standard, etc. The getting dressed sequence is marvelous. But the movie is just So. Darn. Boring. I'll take Cruel Intentions any day, thanks.

Amadeus - I remember watching, and liking this as a child. As an adult and a costumer, I got about halfway through and I had to turn it off. You know, right about the point when the female lead unhooks the front stud busk on her corset (with CUPS) and then removes her bloomers. Yeah. It's That Bad.

King of the Wind - I can't FIND a copy!! It only came out on VHS and darned if I just can't get ahold of it now. So, you know, if any of you out there in blog land know where I can get it, do say something.

The Affair of the Necklace - Because I often make love with my panniers still on. Don't you? Tack on some ridiculously artificially-colored silks and the fact that no one would ever accuse Hilary Swank of great beauty in the 18th century, and you have a travesty of an unwatchable movie. The only bright spot? Joely Richardson's Marie Antoinette and her blithe detachment from reality. And tact.

On that note, it's been a long week, I'm sick to death of WHITE COTTON DRESSES, and I have about 20 different projects incubating for tomorrow. What am I likely to do? Work on my stays. What do I WANT to do? FINISH something.

On the work table right now:

-Spring dresses, including a white knit covered in red lobsters. Schiaparelli much?
-Thesis project - Hand-stitched stays, chemise and cap. Mostly hand-stitched gown and petticoats.
-Frock coat for Other Half
-Fixing the waistbands on my 1870 evening dress, and attaching the lace to the sleeves. Stitching the belt into place so it doesn't look like I tied it while drunk.
-Bustle for under 1870 dress so I can stop tying a pillow to my butt every time I wear it

And still incubating:
-1880s morning ensemble in blue satin and black velvet
-Regency dress using replica cotton that I'm digitizing myself
-18th century gown using Williamsburg cotton I bought last week (that I actually like much better than my Duran Textiles replica print I bought for my thesis, but don't get me started on that.)
-Day bodice and separate peplum for 1870 skirts
-Waist cincher out of Bright Pink cupcake print cotton. Because who DOESN'T need one of those?

It must be spring, I seem to be getting a bit manic...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Breaking the Rules

Very little in Victorian menswear is more iconic than the frock coat. From Wyatt Earp to Mr. Rochester, it's everywhere.

So it seemed like a marvelous idea to make one for the Fancy Dress Ball of the 1880s, coming up in just a couple of weeks.

Silly us.

My dress is a perfectly correct ca. 1870 evening dress. It's certainly not fancy dress, but I'll put something bizarre on my head and call myself "a lady dreadfully behind fashion" and be content for this year.

For him, we selected the Laughing Moon Frock Coat pattern.

"But wait!" you say. "Isn't the frock coat dreadfully informal??"

Yes. Yes it is.

The Manners that Win, from 1880, describes a frock coat as part of morning dress - "A black cut-away coat, or a frock coat and dark vest, with lighter trowsers, silk tie, either black or of some neutral color, and gloves of a medium or neutral shade -- is the proper calling costume for a gentleman."

For different occasions, you can add some variety - "Gentlemen, at a kettle-drum, wear the usual morning dress; a black cutaway, or a frock coat, dark trowsers, black silk necktie, and a medium or neutral shade of gloves, if gloves are worn at all. In warm weather, light gray or colored trowsers, colored neckties and white vests may be worn.... Neither white tie nor dress coat... must appear at a day reception of any kind."

For a morning wedding: "full morning-dress is worn by the groom and groomsmen... a dark blue, or black frock-coat and vest, light tie, and light trowsers. The groom wears white gloves, the ushers light gloves of some delicate shade. White ties are never worn with frock coats. At an evening wedding... all wear full evening-dress."

So, it doesn't get much clearer than that. Dear Boyfriend will be woefully underdressed.

Of course, I've now gone down the rabbit hole into 1870s and 80s etiquette manuals, and it seems like such a shame not to round out this post with some corroboration.

Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society, Customs, Manners, Morals, and Home Culture (1878) has the following tidbits to share:

"A dress-coat at a morning or afternoon reception, on any one but a waiter, is as much out of place as a frock-coat would be at a large dinner. The frock-coat and gray trousers, make quite as becoming a costume, and one that is established for morning dress by the same regulations which prescribe our evening dress."

"Much confusion has prevailed in the minds of some American men as to the occasions when a dress-coat is to be worn. It has been shown that morning dress and evening dress for men varies as decidedly as it does for women. A gentleman in a dress-coat and white tie feels as uncomfortable in the daylight as would a lady in low neck and short sleeves. The gas should be lighted, and the shutters closed, on ceremonious occasions where evening dress is desired in daylight. Frenchmen are married in dress-coats at morning weddings, Englishmen in frock-coats."

Sensible Etiquette and Good Manners of the Best Society, For Those About Entering and Those Who Desire to Become Educated and Polished in General Society. Containing Nice Points of Taste, Good Manners, and the Art of Making One's Self Agreeable - A Manual of Manners and Customs at Parties, Balls, Dinners and Sociables... To Which is Added the Art of Writing (1882) - which, by the way, is one of the more entertaining of these that I've yet read - offers these prescriptions to weigh into our debate:

"There is a scale of honor among clothes, which must not be forgotten. Thus, a new coat is more honorable than an old one, a cut-away or shooting-coat than a dressing-gown, a frock-coat than a cut-away, a dark blue frock-coat than a black frock-coat, a tail-coat than a frock coat. There is no honor at all in a blue tail-coat, however, except on a gentleman of eighty, accompanied with brass buttons and a buff waistcoat. There is more honor in an old hunting-coat than in a new one, in a uniform with a bullet-hole in it than one without, in a fustian jacket and smock-frock than in a frock-coat, because they are types of labor, which is far more honorable than lounging."

So it's pretty clear we're breaking all the rules... That being said, if Other Half should happen to die from shame, he'll be set...

From The Cynic's Rules of Conduct (1905): "At afternoon funerals, wear a frock coat and top hat. Should the funeral be your own, the hat may be dispensed with."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Victorian Tailor

As evidenced previously, I love books. Every time I start a new project, I end up buying at least one to tell me what I need to know.

So this weekend, we're starting my other half's Victorian frock coat. This resulted directly in the purchase of an extant example from the very early 20th century, and the brand new book The Victorian Tailor: An Introduction to Period Tailoring, by Jason MacLochlainn.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Original edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780312642334
I first learned about this book when I was Google-searching Victorian tailoring for men, and Jason's name came up again and again, on his Livejournal, on the bespoke and historic tailoring forum The Cutter and Tailor, and on numerous other forums. It seems that in this world, he's one of THE authorities, and I noticed his very affordable (approximately $18) book was only a week or two from release. So, I ordered it.

Let me tell you, I am SO IMPRESSED.

Jason has crammed an amazing amount of information into such a manageable-size book, from a general chronological survey of historic drafting techniques and measuring systems and a detailed decade-by-decade timeline of men's fashion 1830-1900 to the proper tools of the tailor's trade and (my absolute favorites, and those of my other half) extremely detailed diagrams of tailoring stitches that are completely clear to both experts AND beginners.

The second half of the book covers pattern-drafting using included scales, an approach familiar to those who have used any of the La Volta Press publications, including the Fashions of the Gilded Age books. It contains patterns for waistcoats, pants, and coats, and takes you step by step through drafting, cutting and making-up the included examples.

It concludes with what is essentially a "workbook", several small exercises to practice your skills before you turn yourself loose on your expensive piece of wool or silk.

I found this book to be invaluable to both of us. Other Half is just learning to sew, and since he got to read this book first, he was quite gratified to share with me all the cool facts and tidbits he picked up from it, as well as finally understanding some of the concepts of pattern grading I tried and failed to explain to him. He understood almost all of it, and has been asking some very good, educated questions instead of the typical learner's helpless "What do I do??"

Jason is so clear and thorough in his instructions that I don't see how anyone could try to make a garment from this book and NOT succeed. He breaks down every single step of assembly into numerous individual sub-steps, illustrated with period illustrations, clear modern line drawings, and quotes from period sources.

This also leads directly into my only complaint about this book. He often gets so deep into the nitty-gritty of things like pocketing or inserting lining that he misses important concepts like fitting the coat, or altering for atypical bodies. He does promise more information in future books, though, so don't go and lynch him yet!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Bookshelf

Fashion people don't read books, right? We don't spend hours cooing and squealing over pretty pictures and someone's new economic analysis of the hemp trade in 15th century Uzbekistan. We certainly don't go running to each other every time Amazon informs us of a new upcoming title and buzz amongst ourselves about how amazing we're sure it's going to be... certainly not.

Oh.... wait.

I, like all other costumers, have a serious problem. I'm addicted to books. From the Hands-On History series for children to the heavily (literally) scholarly work of Aileen Ribeiro, Naomi Tarrant, Janet Arnold and Maria Hayward. It got so bad that I would find a book at The Strand, and be sure I'd never seen it before, and it was the only copy in the entire world, and I just HAD TO HAVE IT and I would buy it, and I would get home, and I would go to put it onto the bookshelf.... and find its twin already there.

Especially in the process of writing my thesis, when I was hauling my books everywhere and they were getting beat up and written in and marked with sticky notes and covered in sand, I accumulated a lot of books very fast. I would rather abuse my own books than someone else's. And the collection got way out of hand.

One day, I was sitting at my desk, writing away frantically as my end-of-semester deadlines loomed... and my bookshelf collapsed. My carefully-organized titles leaped from their shelves, committing literary suicide upon the floor in all sorts of undignified positions, and I was left with a pile of splintered wood and a bigger pile of books.

Enter LibraryThing.

I'd been meaning to catalog my library, if for no other reason than so my mother would stop calling me every time she entered a book store, asking me if I had such-and-such latest book and could she borrow it if I did? This disaster posed the perfect opportunity.

I bought a new bookshelf, and a CueCat, and a lifetime membership to LibraryThing, and as each carefully-hoarded acquisition was re-homed on the shelves, it was entered into my virtual bookshelf as well. LibraryThing allows you to not only keep a private inventory of what you have, it also allows you to make this list public, search it, read reviews, find recommended books that you DON'T have but others with similar tastes do, and connect with those other users who own many of the same books. In my case, I was gratified to find that many of my "similar users" were in fact other members of the online costuming community whose names I knew, and several were even LiveJournal friends of mine already.

Now, when I'm out and about and find that book I simply MUST have, it's a simple matter to pull out my phone, check my LibraryThing inventory, and sternly remind myself to go home and re-read the copy I already have, because obviously its contents didn't stick the first time.

For the curious: 

Hello World

Well... welcome.

I have about 30 million thoughts all swirling about in my head, not least of which is "do I really have anything to say that people want to hear?"and "What is this new venture going to be?" There's also painful self realization. "Will I be able to keep this blog current and updated?"

So I'm going to set some frameworks here.

First of all, a shout-out and a thank you to the lovely Abby of Stay-ing Alive. This week I had the privilege and pleasure of watching her present her research into the impact and reach of historical costume blogs, and then speaking with her afterward. She and her work inspired me (so if this blog turns out to be a dismal failure, well, it'll be my fault, but you can blame her anyway.)

Second, while I might currently have the coolest job in the entire world, I can't really tell you about it. Or talk about it. Because anything said publicly about my museum or what goes on there must be carefully vetted for public consumption, as befits an institution of great dignity. And yes, I can't say that I blame them.

Third, this blog will be (to the best of my ability), separate from my personal costuming business and all associated advertising. That doesn't mean I won't post personal research and photos of things I've made, both my own costumes and those for my customers, it just means that I won't be selling anything here, including advertisements or endorsements. If I tell you I love something, you may be sure it isn't because they bribed me.

Because I'm not here to make money or advertise for myself or anyone else, my hand is a bit more free with regards to online images for research and illustration purposes.  I can genuinely show you what I want to show you, in an academic context.

This is a huge step for me, both in terms of committing to updating something regularly (I am ashamed to admit that the greeting on my business site is roughly a year old, and the content is at least 2 years behind) and in using my own name publicly, not embracing the anonymity of the internet to say whatever I want without fear of reprisal. If I expect to be taken seriously (and I do - usually) then I need to be accountable for every word here set forth. I want an open, honest dialog with the costuming community, and if I screw something up, for heaven's sake, TELL ME. I came out of graduate school feeling like I knew everything, and the more I interact with the very talented people in this little world of ours, the more I realize that I still need to learn.

So.... teach me. And hopefully somewhere in this process, I'll find my wings.