Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paul Poiret's Fancy Dress Costumes

My friends and I had our Halloween masquerade on Saturday. And while I am waiting for some pictures to come my way so I could share them here, let me direct your attention to some more vintage Halloween ideas.    

If you still don't know what to be this Halloween, let Paul Poiret inspire you with his amazing fancy dresses. Some say that Paul Poiret was the first fashion designer, though I believe that distinction should go to Rose Bertin, milliner to Marie Antoinette and the “Minister of Fashion”. Poiret, though not the first fashion designer, was certainly an artist of fashion. Just look at some of these breathtaking costumes he designed.

 'Oriental' Costume

Oriental fancy dress costume, Paul Poiret, 1911. Source: Met Museum
This fancy dress ensemble was created for Poiret's 1002nd Night party in 1911. I absolute love the silhouette and the gems.

'Elizabethan' Costume

Elizabethan fancy dress costume, Paul Poiret, 1910-1920. Source: Met Museum
The gown is clearly inspired by Queen Elizabeth fashions, yet it does not strive for absolute historical accuracy. It is cream colored silk, trimmed and embroidered with metallic thread and synthetic gems.  

'Fountain' Costume

Fountain fancy dress costume, Paul Poiret, 1920s  
And last but not least, my favorite of all Poiret's fancy dresses. This Fountain costume was worn by Marchesa Luisa Casati, an Italian heiress and, by her own account, 'a living work of art'. The dress is so simple in its eccentricity. I love the elaborate two-storey hat and strings of large beads streaming down the body and the hoop skirt.

Of these three, which one would you wear to a Halloween party?  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dress of the Week: Carousel Fancy Dress

Sometimes you come across a costume so brilliant, so fabulous, so spectacular that you immediately fall in love with it and decide to elope to Gretna Green. Like today's Dress of the Week, the unbelievably intricate Carousel Fancy Dress

If nothing else, this dress would get first prize for most effort. Thecostume, probably from early 20th century, has the lady dressed in a skirt with horses going around the hem and an organ just above it. The hem of the skirt is adorned with frills and attached to a very high waist with bejeweled strings. The huge hat with lanterns and large beads represents the roof of the carousel.

If you think that this costume looks strangely familiar, you are not wrong. You may be thinking of Manish Arora carousel dress worn by the ever whimsical Kety Perry.

While I don't have the time to construct anything so elaborate for Halloween this year, I will certainly look into for our next costume party.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

DIY: How to Make an Elizabethan Ruff

This is it! The week before the big Halloween Party. Which means I must finish my costume forthwith.

And I am in need of one very specific accessory - an Elizabethan ruff collar. These collars look quite beautiful and are surprisingly easy make. All you need is some patience and a whole lot of ribbon.     

First things first, you will need a good tutorial. After looking over countless Elizabethan ruff how-tos, I have found this great video

- Ribbon
- Needle and thread
- Scissors
- Ruler or measuring tape
- Pencil
- Matches

Start with the ribbon. I used about 5 meters of 4 cm wide satin ribbon. It looks quite nice, but it's very slippery when you work with it, and if you want a wider collar it may droop a little. If you prefer something more solid, a grosgrain ribbon would probably be better.

Make sure you have enough thread. If you run out in the middle of the sewing project, it's going to be a real pain to tie it off and add another one. When you start sewing the dots together, keep in mind that the ribbon will bunch up. Be very careful and make sure that you do not  miss any pleats. Once you miss one, it's almost impossible to go back.

Adding the neckband ribbon was a very long and painful process. But I'm very happy with how it turned out. I think I'll start making these ruff collars for fun and profit.


Sorry about the lighting. I took these pictures in the dead of the night.  

Next week I'll have a longer post about the party and my costume. Stay tuned! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dresss of the Week: Iphigenia Fancy Dress

Today Dress of the Weeks takes a turn for the scandalous. Do you dare emulate the rakish Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, who dressed as Iphigenia ready for the sacrifice?

Elizabeth Chudleigh as Iphigenia, 1740
In 1740 Elizabeth Chudleigh appeared at a private Subscription Masquerade at the King’s Theatre wearing a costume of Iphigenia. Though no accurate description of a costume exists, and all subsequent artistic representations of it are nothing more that fanciful imaginings, it is said that she outraged the guests by being practically naked.

King George II, on the other hand, liked the costume very much. On seeing the lady he asked to touch her exposed breast, to which Lizzy replied, with a coy smile, I should imagine, that she can put his hand on a far softer place. And she placed the King's hand on his own head. What a gal!

So this year, forget about the old and tired sexy nurses, sexy kittens and sexy vampires, and, instead, go as Iphigenia ready for the sacrifice. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shakespeare Inspired Halloween Costumes

If you've run out of great Halloween costume ideas, you can always turn to classical literature for inspiration.And no one has created more colorful and memorable characters than William Shakespeare. You don't have to go full-on Elizabethan with this. Shakespearean theater was highly anachronistic, and Athenian nobles, fairies and Italian lovers all dressed in contemporary English fashions, though they were always very theatrical.

Here are just a few of my own ideas of how to make great Shakespeare-inspired Halloween.

Lady Macbeth
Probably the easiest costumes to make. All you need is a gown and a dagger, but if you want to go with something a little more recognizable I recommend Ellen Terry's green dress.

Lady Macbeth

You will need:
- Green floor-length gown
- Golden metal belt
- Crown
- Dagger
- Long red wig

The character is very dark, so dramatic eyeliner and red lips are in order. Some fake blood on your hands and a dagger, complete the look.

This is a great costume if you have a limited budget and no time. The character is very recognizable, but to make it easier for your fellow party goers to figure it out use a painting as inspiration. Pre-Raphaelites have created some of the most famous Ophelias in art.


You will need:
- White floor-length gown (check out thrift stores for some wedding dresses)
- Wreath of flowers for your head
- Garlands of flowers to hold

Ophelia drowned, so go for pale makeup with hints of blue. Using a slightly blue lipstick will give you that ephemeral look. Go barefoot or wear soft slippers. Hair doesn't need to be neatly done, and even if you have a shortcut, you can probably get away with it and avoid the wig.

This Lady of the Nile has always been a Halloween classic. And Shakespeare's Cleopatra doesn't have to be very different from any other. You can use a store-bought costume or put something together yourself.


You will need:
- White Grecian-style gown
- Leopard-printed shawl
- Lots and lots of gold and turquoise jewelry
- Toy snake    

Remember, Cleo is all about the hair and the eyes. No need to be subtle here. There's some great makeup tutorials online. And don't forget to take a toy snake to add some drama to the costume.  

What could be more fun than a costume of a girl pretending to be a boy?  You can go full-Elizabethan here, but if that's too much for your budget, you could always put together something a little more stylized.

Viola / Cesario

You will need:
- White flouncy shirt with puffy sleeves
- Dark tight pants
- High boots
- A vest (look for one that has a slightly military look)

To finish the look, make sure you have a short haircut. If you have long hair and don't want to lose it for the sake of a Halloween costume, just hide it under a cap.  

Zombie Romeo and Juliet
Romeo & Juliet is a great costume for a couple, but it's been done to death. Unless, you make your star-crossed lovers into a couple of zombies. Nothing says "Halloween is here, baby", like a pair of famous dead lovers.

Romeo & Juliet

You will need:
- Medieval/Renaissance costumes (local costume store) Extra points if they match
- Vile of poison
- Toy sword

This one is all about the makeup. Check out some videos on how to create a zombie look. If your costumes aren't too expensive give them a tattered look. Your Romeo will need to have a greenish or bluish tint to his skin, especially around the mouth, to give him a poisoned look. Get some fake blood over the chest and don't forget the bloodied sword for Juliet.

Do you have some great Shakespeare inspired costume ideas? Please share!  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dress of the Week: Bat Fancy Dress

While masked balls were somewhat stigmatized during the Georgian era, by the time Victorians came about, fancy dress balls were all the rage. And fashion publications of the time had plenty of creative and sometimes bizarre costume ideas. And since I love Batman this Victorian Bat fancy dress is especially appealing to me.

Bat costume, La mode illustrée, Journal de la famille, 1887

Bat fancy dress based on 1887 fashion plate

This whimsical costume consists of a flounced skirt with crinoline, polonaise, corset bodice, opera gloves and a fichu with a cape shaped like bat wings attached. Two little bats perch on the shoes and a slightly larger bat is spread over the bosom. Add a cute bat-hat and the costume is complete. For me it's the hat that makes this costume absolutely worth the effort. And who can resist coming to a Halloween party dressed as a Victorian Batgirl?

The best part, you can actually buy a pattern for this outfit! Unfortunately  the bat-hat is not included. And Sewing to Distraction actually recreated this look last year. Check out her step-by-step journey into Victorian fancy dress.     

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

DIY: Great Halloween Makeup Ideas

I've been so busy this week that I haven't had a chance to post any new Halloween costume ideas. But to get you all Halloween-ready, here are some wonderful makeup tutorials from the ever brilliant Kandee Johnson.

Poison Ivy (Batman & Robin)

Queen of Hearts (Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland)

Edward Scissorhands

Betty Boop

Princess Jasmine

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dress of the Week: Electric Light Fancy Dress

Since it's October, also known as Halloween month, my Dress of the Week posts will be about great fancy dresses of yore. First up is this electrifying, pardon the pun, gown from the House of Worth.

Fancy Dress, 1883, House of Worth. Source: MCNY   

Fancy Dress, bodice, 1883, House of Worth. Source: MCNY

Fancy Dress, bodice detail, 1883, House of Worth. Source: MCNY

Fancy Dress, bodice lining 1883, House of Worth. Source: MCNY
Date: 1883
Material: Yellow satin; golden yellow satin; metallic thread embroidery; paillettes and beads; midnight blue velvet; yellow tulle with applied tinsel; tinsel and looped cord edging; glass pearls; fringe 
The "Electric Light" is a really gorgeous gown created by Maison Worth for Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt II that she worn to the Vanderbilt Ball on March 26, 1883. Despite being just a fancy dress, the amount of work that went into it and the intricacy of detail is amazing. It is yellow and golden yellow satin with a midnight blue velvet underskirt and yellow tulle drapery falling from the shoulders. The dress is covered with gold and metallic tinsel and embroidery with clear and gold beads arranged in lightning bolt and starburst shapes. 

This gown definitely does not lack embellishment with metallic tinsel, cords, glass pearls, gold beads and copious amounts of fringe. The skirt has a very pronounced bustle, with the overskirt gathered at the center and open at the back to show off the lovely embroidery on the underskirt and train.

Mrs Vanderbilt as Electric Light, 1883 
The dress does look absolutely stunning and must have made quite an impression when Mrs Vanderbilt graced the ball with her presence. The idea of dressing up as a common utility may seem a little strange to us  modern folk, but it was still quite novel to the people in the late 1800's. Electricity as a fancy dress seemed to have been rather popular in Victorian times. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Taking Back Halloween: Some Great Costume Ideas

Ok. I love, love, love Halloween. It's by the far the best holiday of the year. So to celebrate, I've decided to dedicate the month of October to posts on all things fancy dress and Halloween-y.

If you have trouble coming up with the perfect costume this year without breaking the bank, you might head out to your local fancy dress store for something simple and affordable. Unfortunately,  if you happen to be a girl, your choice is probably going to be limited to sexy witch, sexy vampire, sexy nurse, or possibly sexy Sponge Bob. I am forever baffled by the ability of marketers to slap 'sexy' on almost anything.

I know how you feel, little girl. Cartoon by Andy Marlette

If you feel that a short-short skirt and some high-heeled boots is not the way you want to go this year, some folks over at Take Back Halloween have come up with a whole bunch of really great and creative costumes that channel your inner goddess, celebrate your personal heroine or pay homage to a historical figure.

These are just a  few of my favorite costumes, but there are lots more over at Take Back Halloween


In Greek mythology Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter, was abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and forced to become his bride. Due to some unfortunate lunch that involved a pomegranate, Persephone was doomed to spend most of her time in the Land of the Dead and came back to her mother only for a few months each year, during which time flowers would bloom and we mortals experience spring and summer. If this is not a perfect Halloween costume, I don't know what is. It's a really easy outfit to put together - it needs nothing more complicated than some sheets, shawls and poppy flowers.

Ada Lovelace 

This costume I chose not just because I love all things Regency, but also because I find Ada Lovelace absolutely fascinating. She was the daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke and was the first computer programmer in history. Yes, together with  her friend Charles Babbage she created the first ever Analytical Engine to crunch numbers. Ada was a visionary who realized that this new device can not only solve mathematical problems, but do all sorts of things as long as they can be treated algorithmically. The costume is beautiful and fun, as well as educational.

Josephine Baker 

For those of you who love to channel some old-school pizzazz, Josephine Baker is the perfect inspiration. Baker was not only a beautiful woman and a great entertainer, but also a dedicated Civil Rights activist and a member of the French Resistance during World War II. Certainly a lady worth celebrating. This costume will require a lot of bling, pin curls and very 1920's makeup. Though I would advise against bringing a live cheetah to the party. Remember,  folks, cheetahs are not pets. Take a stuffed toy instead.


Himiko was the first recorded ruler of Japan back in the 3rd century. Historians are still debating whether she was a real person, somebody's consort or a purely fictional character. But the Chinese chronicles describe her as shaman queen who managed to unite 30 warring clans, establish the imperial throne, send envoys to China and rule her people with "magic and sorcery." And who would not want to be a shaman queen for Halloween? I do love the white kimono with the wreath around her head. 

Lizzie Borden 

No Halloween lineup is complete without infamous Lizzie Borden. Even though her body count is much lower than that of Jack the Ripper, she is no less notorious. Lizzie allegedly killed her father and stepmother with an ax. Though she was acquitted at trial, she never quite managed to live down her fame. All you need for the costume is some late-Victorian dress and an ax. Make sure it is very, very bloody.        

What are you planning to be this Halloween?  
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