Monday, January 9, 2017

Regency Attire and the Greeks: Looking at History Through Rose-Colored Glasses

This is a long-standing research project for me, and it has taken me to parts completely unknown. It all began with: what is historicism?

Historicism is a fascinating topic; it is derived from the idea that history long ago is influencing choices that we make today. Well duh! It can be as complicated or as simple as you choose to make it, but there as many different facets to historicism that are played out in different ways. In the world of fashion, we are constantly being influenced by things that have already been done, and finding new ways to make it "the new vogue"; in other words, taking something that was already tried, but in an exciting way that fits the newly adapted modern taste. Sort of a rose-colored glasses-type of thing.

When recreating historical clothing, most people agree that peering through a modern lense of any sort dilutes the true accuracy of any garment, simply because contemporary tastes are different than 100, 150,  or 300 years ago. But another question to ask yourself is, what if looking through a lense would actually benefit us, as long as the lense was situated in the correct position?

Consider this: looking at a garment without any context is rather boring. You can learn a lot with an open mind,  but with no expectation there is not really much to look at. When you look at a dress, you have no idea appreciation for why it is what it is. And we have already established that a timeline working backwards from where we are today is useless, as it tells us nothing we don't already know other than, "My, that dress is ugly!" of  "I can't believe people actually wore that!" or "Wow, I was born in the wrong century! Except for corsets...." You have no historical lense.
1830-34 dress from the V and A....1830's are probably the most misunderstood and most hated decade of fashion in the history of fashion.

To get into the correct mindset, it is important that you adjust your glasses to the date you are researching, and look both backwards and forwards. What has been accomplished at this current point in history? What is happening? What is everyone interested in? What was everyone interested 10 years ago? That is the backwards. Now the forwards: what can I do with this current dress in 2 years to keep it fashionable? Or 5? Is there a forseeable future for the next fashion-forward step, or is it unexpected? The most interesting thing I have learned in this research project is the importance of not only understanding the fashion timeline, but the previous 50 or so years in politics, art, music, religion, and mindset.

For a series of challenges which I sometimes participate in, one of the challenges was Historicism. Cool! I was excited to see what everyone came up with. A few who accepted the challenge chose to use Regency attire, simply because it's an easy default. Literally every costumer knows that as the 18th century came to a close, the good people of Europe and the America's looked to the Greeks for fashion inspiration, particularly when it came to color and a high-waisted, simple style. The Neoclassical era was born, and history was changed forever.
C. 1804 Neoclassical dress from the V and A

I began contemplating what I knew already about the Neoclassical era, which is pretty much summed up in the above statement. As it churned the idea around in my mind, it began to sound off. I pulled out my calculator and punched in some numbers. The amount of time that passed from the end of the Classical era of art (around 31 B. C.) to the beginning of the Neoclassical era was......

 1,826 YEARS!!!  Ludicrous! Hilarious! Actually, quite ridiculous. That's like us, looking to Jesus Christ for fashion inspiration. Or the Bayeaux tapestry.
Those helmets need to make a comeback....oh, and the shields. Note the blue horse.

What the heck were they looking at? No internet, 1,800 years after the fact. As seperated as we feel from even 100 years ago, with internet and resources, the Regency perspective of ancient Greece must have been even more romanticized that ours. Their rose-colored glasses were definitely on for this one as they examined the only source that they had: statues.

Next Up: The Neoclassical Era, and the Reality of 1800 years

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in Review, and 2017 Goals

I am so behind on blogging, I just want to weep and die. Because I really do love blogging, but getting caught up on 8  months of life has felt kind of overwhelming. So consider this a semi-catch up post, and I might go back and include more details on some of the better stuff.

In March, I completed a Regency ball gown for the Victorian ball for my sister Camille.. The fabric was bought in Sept. of 2015, but the Regency ball was canceled. So it was either make a new Regency ball gown to wear, or wear a Civil War ball gown that was really tight the year before. So the Clio dress was born. Camille actually named the dress, "Clio", but in my mind it has been named the Dress that Never Dies. She's worn it several times already with no thought of ever giving it up. No matter what time frame the event is, this is the dress she wants to wear.

This was the first Regency dress where I put some real thought into the physics (ahem, that really means construction) of the flow. What I mean by that is that, I created each layer of the dress (outer sheer, inner solid layer, and a muslin lining layer) to work together instead of get in each other's way. So on the skirt, the muslin layer is really small, the next layer is sort of medium, and then the outer layer was way larger than both so when she twirled they would not conflict. The bodice was made in a similar way, because I wanted the gathers to lay nicely. The more layers you gather at once, the more it puffs out. Camille specificly said, "I don't want to be puffy." So the inner solid layer and the muslin lining was darted together, and then the outer bodice was hand-gathered over it. This dress was for fun, it wasn't a research project or intended to be accurate in any way.  The reason I never got around to posting about it was because I don't have any pictures of her not moving. But that is the best part; this dress looks the best in motion! So here are a few pictures, just so you have idea (on the left in the below picture)

It just sort of floats behind her when she dances!

Every time I see this picture of Camille (with her back to us in this picture) I start freaking out. LOOK AT THAT DRAPE! Am I allowed to fangirl over a dress I made myself?

Between the months of May and June, I finished a pair of long corded Regency stays.  They turned out great, I'm really happy with them. The style is looser than I prefer (they are supposed to be smoothing, not neccesarily crazy shaping), so they are not my absolute favorite to wear. I like my corsets really tight. It just feels good to me. 

For the tucks and pleats challenge in February, I intended to finish my 1863 green plaid. got done in July for Costume College! I hit a wall on the fitting, and just could not bring myself to fix it in a timely manner. In the end, I super love the dress, and it looks amazing! The fitting errors are invisible, which is code for the dress is really really tight. So not neccesarily an error, just a matter of comfort. It was based on a CDV, and it is very, very accurate. The only thing I can think of that is not accurate is I did not bother to research the buttons I used.

During August and September, I made a dotted sheer 1860's dress for Camille. This was her first higher-fashion dress, and she needed a hoop skirt to go under it. So the hoop was made too; that took like an afternoon. This was also the project that got sadly derailed from what I preferred, but only because of conflicting desires. I wanted to re-make this fashion plate, but Camille wanted a jewel-neck and long sleeves. Oh, and no ruffles. And the bretelles are a no-go, they look too babyish. This was also Camille's first dress where I agreed to make a significant drop in the skirt length. She felt super grown up in her longer skirt, hoop and awesome bonnet. The green trim on the skirt and the belt was taffeta from the garment district. These are probably the worst pictures ever....but her hooped silhouette is still super cute.

In October, I started a research project on Neoclassicism, to go along with the Regency gown I wanted to make. I picked an original I liked, and with all the undergarments complete I set out to cross off a bucket list project: hand-sew an entire dress. Normally, a Regency dress takes me somewhere between 20-25 hours. Using entirely different techniques, mockups from scratch, and the handsewing, the projected time frame was 30-35 hours. It took me like 20 hours. Easy peasy! I have plans to get pictures taken professionally, once I am not broke.

 The only reason I include this picture is because of my hair....super awesome tutorial to come. Based on the Kaufman head from the Louvre.

I took a couple commissions this year; that was new, and also fun. I made a pair of Regency stays for a friend, and instead of making it corded I used a stiffer fabric and a little bit more boning. Within the pattern, there is the theatrical version, and the historically accurate corded version. This was a pretty easy 20 hour project; the corded pair I made myself took waaaayyyy longer (like 35 hours, 75% of that on the cording). Next time I will go straight for the theatrical version, although there were a couple differences in the fitting on the theatrical one that were a little weird.

The other commission work I did was I made a riding habit shirt for a side-saddle riding friend, and also a gypsy headpiece for a costume class.

Some goals for next year:

An 1805 day dress
C. 1800-1810 gown from August Auctions

An 1860's green plaid ball bodice
c. 1860 Ball gown from the Museum of Fine Arts

An 1860's Sheer dress with an evening and day bodice

C. 1860 original gown saved from Ebay

A full set of Civil war undergarments 

An 1863 bonnet or hat (my poor head has been bare)

Impart some sewing knowledge to someone else

Make a dress from an entirely new decade. 

On this last one, I'm thinking either natural form (finally!), or 1750's settler to honor my g-g-g-g-g-g-g grandmother Howe, who was kidnapped by Abenaki Indians along with her 5 children.
1881 dress from the MET

Picture depicting Jemima being sold by her (as the story goes) drunk Indian captor to a Frenchman.