Thursday, June 21, 2012

Setting myself straight

I think it might be necessary to post a little list to keep myself focused on the projects I need to complete (mostly so all the fabric strewn across the garage can be picked up and put into plastic bins and stored nicely).
Modified from the list in the 2011 wrap up post
1. Garbaldi blouses in red, white, and black
2. a maroon skirt with blue wool trim
3. a blue wool bodice
4. a black/blue striped bustle dress with red petticoat, c. 1869
5. a green skirt with box pleated ruffle
6. the green striped dress with matching Swiss waist
7. Pink and poofy 3 tiered skirt
8.1850s purple striped basque jacket
9. 1960 Princess Margaret wedding dress
10. 1837-41 day dress
11. Green skirt with pink silk basque
12. 1839-45 day dress in paisley
13. 1840s Barbie pink taffeta jacket
14. Short-er sleeved white shirt for summer
15. Early 16th century court dress with brown "fur" turnbacks
16. c.1848 day bodice and skirt in green plaid homespun
17. 18th century stays in red taffeta

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Tribute to the Pink and Green

I have wanted this dress ever since I first stumbled across the fashion plate on 15 Aug 2011.  I printed it, which is amazing for me to do.  It's just too absolutely fabulously tacky.  I actually like both outfits in the print, but the pink and green one is my favorite.
Fashion plate found at The Costumer's Manifesto
One of the new outfits I'm making will be inspired by this dress.  I do not have the time or patience right now to piece together the squares necessary to make such an extraordinary dress.  I will though.  I just have to clear a path in my mess or a garage to get to the pale green satin I have stashed away and hope there's enough to do what I want.  I'll also need a pretty pale pink too.  Instead, I will be doing something similar.  I will still be making a basque, but of solid pink.  It will go with a green skirt.
Portrait of M. Obleuhova by Vasiliy Pukirev, 1855
 The basque jacket in this portrait will be the inspiration for the pink one I'm making to go with the green skirt.

The second outfit is partially inspired by this painting by Lilly Martin Spencer.
Peeling Onions, ca. 1852. Lilly Martin Spencer.
 I want a dress that feels working class, but is made of pretty fabric.  It will be more of a mid 1840s style as I believe this would have been brought to Columbia as a woman moved across the country.  By 1852, it would be well worn and quite appropriate for a woman to work in.  I'll be basing the dress off of the following;
Afternoon dress ca. 1845 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Woman's Dress, c. 1840 from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Made in the USA

The sleeves of this new dress will be cropped off about where the over-sleeve stops on this one.  I fully believe short sleeves could have been worn, besides there is no point in having a bunch of excess fabric pushed up on my arms since I intend to roll up my sleeves anyway.  I'll be using a rather "loud" paisley print fabric on a white background.  This dress helped in easing my fears about it looking too busy.
Woman’s Two-piece Dress, circa 1855 from the LACMA

More 19th century dress research

I have had several new thoughts regarding my new research projects.  I am by no means an expert on 19th century clothing, I'm learning as I go.  I do, however, feel it is important to share this quote before I start writing again:
The V&A's Victorian dress collection represents the fashions worn by the wealthy in the 19th century, and reflects their lives and aspirations. ...The degree of workmanship involved in making these clothes meant that they were expensive to make -they were high fashion comparable to today's haute couture. ... The middle classes generally would not wear such high value items such as these. However, the style of these clothes would have spread further than the small social group for whom they were made, much the same as adapted catwalk fashions can be found in high street retailers today. The middle classes could afford to have high fashion copied by local dressmakers and tailors, or made their own new clothes. ... The poor would rely on the huge second-hand clothes trade prevalent during the period, spending hours altering old clothes for themselves and their families to make them fit or to make them more fashionable. Clothes could be dyed and the good parts of a garment made into children's clothes or accessories, and areas of wear could be patched. There was even a market for ragged clothes that had been through several owners - these were still worn by the destitute. -- "Victorian dress at the V&A" from The Victoria and Albert Museum
There really was no good place to crop that quote off really since it is so very relevant, so sorry for the length.  While it is in reference to the items in the V&A's collection of 19th century clothing and more specifically to England, the sentiment of the quote is still applicable to the United States and specifically to California.  US fashions were influenced by Europe.  The select few that could afford to have the "haute couture" versions of dresses in fashion plates were few and far between.  Those of a middle class background could and did have similar versions of these dresses made.  Those that were poor were left to inherit the secondhand, slightly out of date fashions.

As women (and men too) moved across the US, further away from centralized institutions that controlled social structure, the rules became more relaxed.  The smaller number of women in California presented them with the opportunity to become financially successful themselves.  Several women were able to make a rather impressive living doing the same things women did everyday across the country.  It is likely that the average working woman's wardrobe did consist of secondhand clothes and out of date fashions, but it is just as likely that the new-found financial success also provided a means to either make or have made clothing that was more in line with the popular East coast versions.
Peeling Onions, ca. 1852. Lilly Martin Spencer.
I think this is perhaps more what should be the common attire in Columbia.  It's an actual working dress, not a prairie dress.  Women didn't wear their best clothes to work in.  Not to mention the fact that the sleeves are either short or pushed up to be short.  Seems infinitely more practical to me.
Image found on Pinterest, credited as from
I thought this was super interesting.  I've been told (again no concrete proof on my part) that women did not wear much jewelery if they were unmarried.  This woman is wearing quite a bit, leading me to believe she is married and has a pretty decent financial situation.  I thought it was also interesting that this is a short sleeved, sheer dress not unlike these two below.
from The Met

from The Met
Granted they are from different time periods, the concept is the same.  A summer dress with short sleeves for a WOMAN, not a girl or teenager.

Now apply that quote from the V&A to this situation.  The high class version that mimics the fashion plate could be seen as the period dag of the mid-late 1850s woman with jewelery.  The surviving example available in museums are the two dresses in a late 1840s style.  These dresses probably belonged to women of at least a middle class background.  It still seems probably to me that a dress such as this could have been worn by a working class woman, perhaps not in such fine, easy to soil fabric though.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Research: Short sleeved dresses

Having spent one summer and gearing up for a second working in Columbia in a long sleeved dress, I find it very difficult to believe that women of the 1850s (and the rest of the 19th century) did not have a short sleeved summertime option for dresses.  I know the popular thought around me says that "oh no, they wore sleeves all the time, and bonnets, and doilies on their heads at all times."  I don't believe it, but I digress.

In the interest of saving my dresses from sweat stains (gasp!) and myself from having a heat stroke while I restock wine, beer, and move deliveries around, I have begun a little research project.  I hypothesize that there were short sleeved dresses for women--and not just young ones or ball gowns.  I'm talking about daytime attire.

I have not spent too much time researching (the wedding and life ate up a bunch of my time you know), but I did manage to find a large collection of dresses at the Met that are American made, cotton, from the mid 19th century, not classified as ball gowns, and SHORT SLEEVED.

My criteria to be on this research list:
1. Must be from between 1835-1855.
2. Must not be a dress for evening of dinner or a ball gown
3. Must be for an adult woman
4. Must be American
5. Must be cotton
(note all links to the Met are to the dress's page)
Exhibit 1: Late 1840s Mourning Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of  Art
 This dress, like the others could have had detachable sleeves to make it long sleeved, but they have no survived.  For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume they were not worn with this dress.  The first thing I noticed is that it's a mourning dress, to be worn at a time of great sadness.  If exposing the skin of the arms was not done in polite society, why would it have been done then?  Sure, you wouldn't be out socializing if you're in mourning, but I would assume out of respect you wouldn't have worn clothing that was not generally considered appropriate.  Plus, the neckline is very conservative, there is not much trim on the dress.  It's a simple black and white cotton dress with pleating.

Exhibit 2: c. 1847 Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
 This dress appears to be a day dress to me.  The neckline is not low enough to be an evening or ball gown.  There is no embellishment.  It's a simple cotton dress.  Seems perfectly appropriate to wear in hot weather to me.

Exhibit 3: 1849 Wedding Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
 While this is not a "day dress," but for a fancy occasion, I included it for a reason.  It's simple.  The only fancy decoration is the silk on it.  The dress itself is cotton and modest.  It's got the same almost boat-neck neckline as the other day dresses, the same pleating, and the same short sleeves.  Only difference is the specific event it was made for and the modest silk trim.

Exhibit 4: 1841-1844 Dress from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This is the perfect example of summer.  It's a simple white cotton dress with short sleeves.  No frills, bells, or whistles.  Its screams day wear to me.

From what I can tell, it appears short sleeves are okay to wear.  Sure it's possible these dresses were worn with detachable sleeves, but it's also entirely possible they were not.  If a woman owned them (or something similar) when they were new and brought them across the country sometime around 1850, they would be "old clothes."  These wouldn't necessarily be the dresses you cherished and wore to fancy events.  These would be what you wore around your home or at work, when you didn't need to worry about damaging them.  They are the 19th century equivalent of those faded, torn, and worn out jeans that you wear on weekends or when you want to be comfortable.  Or that thread bare T-shirt that you wear to clean your house.  You don't wear those to make an impression on people, you wear them because they are comfortable.  I doubt very much that a woman living in Columbia, CA c. 1850 that had to work to support herself or even a family would have thought twice about wearing comfortable old dresses without all the fine accessories they might once have had.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Becoming Margaret

When I started planning my wedding dress, there were several possible ideas.  We decided we liked the vibe of the 1950s.  Naturally when I started searching I came across Princess Margaret's dress (from 1960).  I fell in love at first sight.  There were a few other ideas I had but I always came back to this dress.
Photo from

Photo from British Vogue
With these two pictures as a jumping off point (I have a whole folder on my desktop devoted to all things Margaret), I spent a crazy afternoon of mimosas and coffee trying to figure out how the dress works.  The original, from what I discovered, is satin with an organza overlay.  One of the descriptions of the dress I found stated it was made from 30 meters of silk organza and in several layers.  The wikipedia page for the dress states it is made of 30 meters of silk organza, no mention of satin anywhere other than the edging.

Because I was making this dress on a budget, I opted to do mine in a base layer of white slipper satin lined in bleached cotton muslin and an over layer of mirror organza.

The next problem was the pattern for the dress.  It appears that the front does have some sort of hook and eye openings (or so I thought at one point), but the dress is back closing with fabric covered buttons.  The bodice is two layers, one strapless with a sweetheart neckline and the other the higher, sheer v neckline.  I discovered this pattern from Butterick:
Butterick 5556
The basic construction was nearly identical to the notes I had taken of photos of Princess Margaret's dress.  I opted to do full sleeves, ditch the standing collar and belt, and make it full length.  The pattern itself was only used as a jumping off point, most of the dress was draped either on me or my dress form (Margaret).
Silver slipper satin and navy tulle for petticoats

Mock-up skirt draped

My skirt lining

Back pleats of the satin

From the front

After countless hours of beating my head against the wall, chasing the dog away from my fabric, guzzling champagne, and freaking out about deadlines...The final product.  More photos to come eventually, but this is what's available as of now.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thoughts on 19th century things

Now that my wedding dress is done and I'm in the middle of writing thank you notes, cleaning up my house, trying to plan our honeymoon trip, and finishing the painting from before Christmas...I think it's time for some new work clothes.

I've had plenty of time to think about the things I do and do not like or agree with.  While my views on the lack of historically appropriate clothing by and large in Columbia have not changed and I certainly do not mean that everyone associated fits into that category, I have not done my part to help the matter.  I think I tried to do too much at once and in the end discovered a few things to make my agenda more do-able.  Change has to happen slowly; perhaps trying to make clothing appropriate for an "upper middle class" English or French woman was too ambitious and the people around me were not ready.  Perhaps fashions inspired by Empress Sissi were mentioned too soon for the park.  They need to be broken in gradually.

I still maintain that the park does need to make a clear cut time limit and a much more concise mission statement of what they are intending to portray.  I do believe that the portrayal of a Gold Rush era town would imply that clothing should be kept before about 1859.  I also still believe that there should be a wide variety of styles, social classes, and that not all women who worked were dirt poor wearing sack dresses.  Women had quite a lot of power, though they may not have realized it and the modern world has forgotten it.  That's one of the main lessons I took away from my Introduction to Historical Analysis class with Prof. Katz: social and gender rules of the 19th century do not necessarily work in Gold Rush California.

I've decided to strike a compromise with the state of California though.  They seem to imply that women would not have had money for nice dresses or things if they were working or living in the area.  As such, that would mean that for some unknown reason they would have been cut off from any and all literature or examples of popular dress on the Eastern seaboard of the United States and the rest of the world.  This would require women to wear fashions that were "out of date."  As such I will be creating a new dress to adhere with these new guidelines.  I shall limit my fashion interests for work to the period of 1838-1850, leaving at the least a 2 year fashion lag with the date of 1852 that my boss goes with.  I'm not saying that this would be unreasonable or improbable for real women of the Gold Rush, but I do not think it was the only option for clothing.  I will be being more conservative in my fashion choices from now on and striving for the most accurate representation that I can manage despite the fact that I still maintain that it is easier to work in a blouse and a full skirt than a regular dress.

And for now, on to the research...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wedding final photos

photo taken by my boss

I'll try to get a making of post together sometime soon.  I think I did Margaret justice though.