Saturday, April 29, 2017

Some (Unasked-For) Advice

So, there's a stylistic issue that's started to stand out to me in 18th century costuming. And you can feel free to disregard this post if you want to; I'm not the reenactment police.

The issue is: stomachers and petticoats that match each other while contrasting with the gown.


Outlander here serves as a great example, since so many 18th century films are either set in the 1780s or have anachronistic stomacher-less bodices in earlier decades. But others do it too!

The look of a stomacher that matches the petticoat seems to have been really attractive to people through the nineteenth century, and continues to be so up to today! For starters, this illustration dates to only a couple of generations after stomacher'd gowns were being regularly worn:

Image of marriage from The Stages of Man, ca. 1815; the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection
Many museums have dressed mannequins like this through the years, matching up a gown they own with a lone petticoat, then making a stomacher to match the petticoat - which unfortunately is taken by many as evidence of practice.

There are a few period images that show this kind of styling. For instance, Zoffany's 1769 portrait of the Bradshaw family (Tate Collection N06261) shows Elizabeth Wilson Bradshaw in a green gown with a dark pink quilted petticoat and light pink stomacher, sleeve ribbons, and neck frill. Susanna Gale was painted by Reynolds in a costume-looking pink gown with what seems to be a vertically-ruched white petticoat ca. 1763. There are also a few portraits by Francis Cotes, such as this portrait of an unknown lady in 1768:

Tate Collection N04689
This is very similar to the outfit in which Cotes had painted Princess Caroline in 1767, though that has a white petticoat, and in which an unknown artist painted a Mrs. Cadoux ca. 1770. (I think it's a possibility that this was a studio outfit and that the latter portrait is also by Cotes; obviously there would have to have been certain liberties taken, removing trim for the unknown lady and such, but it seems rather a strange coincidence to me that three portraits would happen to make use of such similar gowns in this very striking combination of pieces and colors that doesn't turn up that frequently otherwise. The princesses and Mrs. Cadoux have faces that look like they could have been done by the same person, don't you think?)

But apart from a handful of examples, the majority of French, British, and American artwork pre-late 1770s - from portraits to genre prints - shows women of any means matching their petticoats to their gowns (if not also the stomacher, but if there's contrast, that's where it is most of the time). It's a simple detail, but it makes a great deal of difference when someone looks at your reenactment kit or the costume you've designed. Or at least ... it's started to make a great deal of difference to me!

Madame Sophie, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, ca. 1773; Rheims Museum of Fine Arts

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Invention of the Fashion Label

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about re-evaluating the many claims made about Charles Frederick Worth's innovations in the couture industry. It included a paragraph on how there aren't any labels in dresses that predate Worth's career (or, technically, the existence of Worth & Bobergh, 1858-1871) and on the existence of labels in other items of clothing from the late 18th century, but ultimately didn't come to a conclusion on the matter. A recent discussion on a fashion history board brought the issue to mind again.

Lacking documentary evidence for sewing brand labels inside gowns - even Ingrid Mida says in The Dress Detective that Worth is only "said to have been the first", and The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet, and Pingat, which might be one of the best sources on late 19th century haute couture, says that "whether this house was the first dressmaking establishment to identify its creations is not known ..." - I thought to go looking into extant garments with labels. We have a fairly solid baseline to look earlier from, given that the labeled Pingat evening gown in the Albany Institute of History and Art was purchased on an 1867 trip to Paris.

The earliest I thought that I'd found was this wedding dress from the Chicago History Museum, dated to 1861. However, reading the description made it clear that there's no label inside - the gown is only attributed to Worth & Bobergh (perhaps because of family lore or historic correspondence). There is also a dress that appeared in the Worth and Mainbocher exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York which looks to date to the very early years of Worth & Bobergh (39.26a-b; it's placed at about 1896 in the timeline for some reason), but it likewise is not labeled, per correspondence with the museum. So, one moves on.

The earliest Worth & Bobergh piece with a label, according to museum dating, seems to be this gown with evening and day bodice from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Day and evening dress, Worth et Bobergh; MMA 2009.300.1372a–d
It is there dated to 1862-1865. However, with apologies to the team that catalogued the Brooklyn Museum collection, this just doesn't feel right to me. Sleeves this narrow came into fashion in late 1864; the skirt also seems to fit over the more elliptical hoop of the middle of the decade. I cannot find any fashion plates to compare the skirt trim to, but the overall size and direction of the ruffles is somewhat reminiscent of a style of overskirt fashionable in 1865. The evening bodice is also cut straight across at the waistline (and adorned with long, narrow tabs) rather than being pointed, which inclines the date to 1865.

Day and evening dress, Marguerite; MMA C.I.69.33.9a–e
This robe à transformation from a dressmaker known as Marguerite bears the hallmarks of the same time period, and I would be reluctant to say that either was definitely made before the other.

Evening dress, Pingat et cie; MMA C.I.69.33.12a–c
This evening dress by Pingat & Co. is also likely from 1864-1865. These seem to be the last years in which an evening waist with a pointed lower edge was worn (for a while), and we also start to see long vertical skirt trims in 1864 turning up more frequently in early-to-mid 1865.

One last example dated early:

Evening dress, Pingat et cie; MMA C.I.69.33.1a-b
This Pingat gown is a little tricky to date. The label reads "Pingat & Cie", which puts it after 1863 or 1864 and, since labels from the late 1860s and beyond usually just have "Pingat", probably before 1867 or so. With the elliptical skirt and peplum/overskirt emphasizing the back, it appears to be from the very late 1860s or early 1870s, and the pointed waistline is an infrequent but actual design element in the early 1870s. However, the pointed waistline is also a design element very common to the early 1860s, as described above. The museum dates it to ca. 1860, but the skirt simply seems too long in the back to be worn over a round hoop; The Opulent Era dates it to 1864, but also dresses the skirt over more fluff, and it really looks ca. 1872 there. So I'm not sure what to make of this one, but I think it does not represent the earliest known labeled gown.

Anyway, what's the verdict? To me, lacking the smoking gun of a noticeably early labeled gown or a document of the period mentioning the labels, it seems very uncertain that Worth was necessarily the first to use a dress label - or at least, if he was, it was not the case that he was the only one doing it for very long. Perhaps it's time to insert some doubt into the usually definite statement that the House of Worth invented the fashion label.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Magasin des Modes, 2e Cahier, Plate III

November 30, 1786
ENGLISH FASHIONS.

May young people not follow the fashion of the cramped and stiff attitude of the young Englishman shown in this Plate; may they feel that this young man lacks the liberty, the ease which makes grace, that the French possess more than any other Nation, and which must be recherchée at least by all the Votaries of Fashion. We only give English Fashions in order that those who will desire it will adopt the costume, which does not allow being piquant, but never in order for them to adopt the discomfort, the contortion, which would give, it is true, a foreign air, but not an agreeable and seductive one.

We will never argue here whether English dress is preferable to French dress, which differed so much hardly twelve years ago; whether it makes the body better, pronounce accents better, and give it more grace: we have not yet produced enough Prints of this to establish this comparison, and we lack the space in this Book to give this discussion a fair expanse. It will find its place in the course of our work.

The young Man shown in this Plate wears a coat of dead leaf colored wool, with green stripes. This coat has a very short waist, and very long basques. It is trimmed with nine square white medium buttons, on the front, four on the pockets, under the flaps, cut in points, and two on the sleeves à la Marinière. It is lined in green wool. His collar, mounted very high, is of natural green silk velvet.

Under this coat, he wears a white gilet with wide vertical and horizontal stripes in dark unbleached-linen color, forming large squares. From the bottom of the chest to the top, this gilet has revers, lined with the same fabric. This gilet isn't cut at the bottom of the revers; it only gets larger from this point to the top.

His breeches are of dark unbleached-linen colored satin. They have a very big fall-front, and come up very high, over the hips. They are slit on the sides to the middle of the thighs, and button with seven white buttons. His garters are attached with long and wide oval buckles.

His stockings are silk, with white and unbleached-linen stripes.

His shoes are open over the instep, and bear silver buckles in perfect ovals.

His shirt is trimmed with a very wide jabot, and with long, scalloped ruffles.

His hat à la Jockei is very high in the crown, in a half square, and has a very wide brim, trimmed with a black silk ribbon. The crown is wrapped with a wide ribbon, which passes in front through a very long silver buckle, flat and rectangular.

He holds in his hand a large bamboo cane, surmounted by an ivory knob, turned in a mushroom shape.

The hats à l'Androsmane are still fashionable in Paris, and M. DONNET, Merchant Hatmaker, rue St. Honoré, near the rue de l'Echelle, still continues to sell a great quantity.