Friday, August 10, 2012

Dress of the Day: Elizabethan Costume

My theater group is putting on a production of Shakespeare in the Park, so this week I felt like a bit of whimsical costuming is in order. And since in Shakespearean theater all actors, regardless of the play's period, wore contemporary dress, here is a lovely Elizabethan costume.

Fancy Dress,  1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 

Fancy Dress, back, 1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 

Fancy Dress,  detail, 1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 
Date: 1890–1909
Culture: French
Medium: silk, metal
Dimensions: Length (a): 18 in. (45.7 cm) Length (b): 74 in. (188 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Orme Wilson and R. Thornton Wilson, in memory of their mother, Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson

Sadly, this is not a real Elizabethan dress. Historical clothes is very difficult to find and preserve since they age, wear out, lose color and are altered by their owners. There are very few real pieces left from 16th to17th century. We must content ourselves with imitations, reconstructions, and of course, wonderful peices created in other periods for fancy dress balls and masquerades.

This is a beautiful dark plum silk velvet gown decorated with faux pearls and embroidered with gold metallic thread. I especially love the lines of pearls sewn along the sleeves. The dress follows the late 19th century silhouette, but borrows elements from Elizabethan gowns, like the wide sleeves and the ruff collar. Costume balls were all the rage at the end of the 19th century. They were not just fun, but also educational. Guests were encouraged not only to research dressmaking of their character's time period, but also learn as much about the character as they could and portray him or her as accurately as possible. That way parties would become wonderful improv shows were all the guests were expected to 'perform' for their supper. Ah, if only our own Halloween parties were more like that.          

Source: The Met Museum             

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