Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lady in Black

I have a thing for mourning clothes. And mourning jewelry. And mourning customs. It's all endlessly fascinating to me.

It's not often that I see mourning clothes when I'm looking at fashion. The info on this dress, which is at the Met, dates it to 1850. I have my doubts though. The sleeves say it's much later, probably 1855-57. It also closes up the front with hooks and eyes, which wasn't common in 1850.

I'm not dissing whoever dated it at the Met, just pointing out how a familiarity with silhouettes and sleeve styles is helpful when you're looking at mid-19th century women's clothing.

The most interesting thing about it is the pattern on the fabric. This is definitely NOT widow's mourning! Why? Because it reflects light.

This other picture here is a mourning brooch. I have no idea when it dates to and can't even make an educated guess because I just don't know enough. What made me pin it is the hair inside. Whoever owned this brooch, the hair inside is from the person she lost. Could have been her husband, a sibling or a child.

Yeah, I have a thing for Victorian hair art too...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Flowers and dots and stripes, oh my!

Where do I start? I don't even know. I love *everything* about this dress. The lines, the bodice, the fabric, the construction, the trim, the colors. Click on it and make it bigger. I'll wait.

Seriously. Make it bigger!

It's a dinner dress dated 1855-1859, at the Met. I've never seen anything quite like it before. I'd place it on the earlier end of the date spectrum because the bodice doesn't come to the pronounced point that had begun to emerge by 1859.

With such a busy fabric it could easily look cheap and tawdry. This seamstress was a master of her work. Too bad records of who made dresses like this don't exist.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fashion Library Must-Haves

I don't have a question today, so I'm going to share my list of fashion resources every historical author should have on the shelf.

The first is the most expensive, and if you write across multiple decades it is definitely a must have. It's Fashion by the Kyoto Institute. It's a bit pricy, even when used, but worth every penny. At 735 pages it's by no means small and covers the 18th century to around 2000. Granted, most of the stuff from 1960 on is the strangest "clothes" you'll ever see in your life, but everything else is unbelievable. Full color on every page, close ups of some of the most amazing details you'll ever see. Just the back cover can keep you drooling over the details for 20 minutes.

Second is any collection of fashion plates from Godey's Lady's Book. The best ones are from Dover Publishing. The one I have covers 1837-1869. Which happens to be the 19th century decades I either write in or am most likely to write in. Godey's was the gold standard of fashion plates and you'd be hard pressed to find a woman in the 19th century who didn't at least look at someone else's copy of Godey's and love the fashion plates.

Third is a book I don't yet possess, but will very soon. English Women's Clothing in the 19th Century. Also a Dover publication. The best feature is a list of fabrics in the back.

Fourth is another Dover book, Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive. Again, don't own it yet, but as familiar as I am with Dover fashion resources and their pictorial archive collections, I know it's a slam-dunk.

Fifth, the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute. It is rare that I let myself get lost in these archives, because I could spend days looking at stuff and never get any writing done. Or anything else for that matter.

It is possible to be well-researched on fashion without breaking the bank. You will, however, lose precious writing time if you're anything like me. Happy browsing!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going gaga over cartridge pleats

So yeah, that post I said would be up Monday? It'll be up on Friday instead. I was so busy working on the WIP over the weekend and hanging with my sis that I didn't write it.

Anyway, cartridge pleats. Brought on my discovery of said pleats on the cover of Rosslyn Elliot's latest, Sweeter Than Birdsong. I love dissecting the covers of historical romances when beautiful dresses are featured. I have a bit of a reputation in some circles for being nitpicky... it is well deserved, I admit it.

See those gorgeous things over there? Those are cartridge pleats. Click on the picture and make it bigger. I'll wait.

Those suckers are VERY time consuming to make and it does involve math. You're gathering a minimum of 120 inches worth of fabric into a 30 inch or less waistband, while keeping every pleat even. And you don't want to redo and redo your pleats. Waste of time and thread and puts unnecessary wear on the fabric.

But they are so worth the effort. Cartridge pleats is what gives hoop skirts their incredibly graceful sway as you walk. It's not the hoop. It's the pleats. I did not take the time to put cartridge pleats into any of my hoop skirts, but my sister did once and the effect--while subtle--was outstanding.

Another standout feature of this outfit is the fabric itself. It's plaid. BIG plaid. Plaid was all the rage in the 1850's and a way to show your status without shouting it from the rooftops. Plaid was expensive because you have to match the stripes to make it look good.

This particular dress is a day dress from 1855 and it is French. I'm in love with it because of the plaid, the sleeves, and the fact that it's French. I have no great love of modern French contributions to fashion, but the 19th century contributions are nothing short of amazing.

This dress is one of the most beautiful examples of 1850's fashion I've ever seen.