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

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