Friday, February 15, 2013

Dress of the Week: Striped Taffeta Day Dress

Oh, how I long for something bold and whimsical to wear during the day! Fortunately, this striped taffeta day dress is perfect for it.  

Day dress, 1820. Source: The Kyoto Costume Institute

Date: 1820
Country: Unknown
Medium: Silk taffeta
The early 19th century was a blur of white muslin imitating Ancient Greek statues and the classical silhouette, but by 1812 color and trimming were coming back in vogue. Gothic, Tudor and Elizabethan elements were making their mark on day and evening fashions. The waists were still high, but the skirts were getting wider and decorations on the hem and bodice were abundant.        

With this lovely brown and blue striped silk taffeta gown the Gothic influences can be seen in puffy sleeves and the cording and puff decorations on the bodice as well as the flounces along the hem of the skirt. Despite its very bold choice of colors (blue and brown stripes) and silk taffeta fabric, it is not an evening gown. It is a day dress, which means that it was an appropriate outfit for informal occasions before dinnertime. It could be worn around the house or while visiting close friends and neighbours. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Many Dresses Does a Regency Lady Need?

We all aspire to be fashionable Regency ladies, do we not? But how does one accomplish such a task?

First, you must consider your wardrobe. Do you have enough gowns? Are they elegant or vulgar? Whatever shall you wear on your trip to Bath? All important questions, which I will attempt to help you answer.

Let's start from the basics.

Unless you are a very fast lady, drawers are a no-no. Start with a shift, a long sack-like gown worn underneath all your other clothes. Linen is best - it is light and easy to wash. Gone are the days of the conical stays that your grandmother wore with such pride. Your stays are longer to flatten out the stomach and smooth out the silhouette.  Last comes your petticoat. Stocking are essential. Wool for winter and cotton for summer. And go glam with silk for a ball.

Stays, 1819, Source: Jane Austen Centre 
Morning Dress
Between the hours of rising and sitting down to dinner, you may wear a morning dress. It is a simple, practical gown made of muslin, calico or wool. Your arms, neck and bosom must be covered. But just because this is your at-home dress does not mean it should be shabby. Remember, lace can make any gown elegant. But all in moderation, you do not want to appear vulgar.  

Morning dress, France, 1818-1820. Source:  Les Arts Décoratifs

Day Dress / Afternoon Dress
For at-home visits and family time change into a day dress. But remember, modesty is everything. The French may suffer to wear deep decolletes, but as a proper English lady you better cover it up. Chemisette or fichu should do the trick.
Dress (open robe), 1795. Source: Met Museum  

Walking Dress / Promenade Dress
When out shopping or making formal calls, wear a walking dress. And out in a public place, go for a promenade dress. The two are often considered to be the same, but a promenade dress is usually a little more fine. Fabrics are light in the summer and heavier in the winter. Choose appropriate outwear for the season: shawl or warp for warmer weather, a spencer or pelisse for a colder day. You don't want to catch 'the muslin disease'.

Pelisse-coat, 1823. Source: Museum of London

Evening dress
Dinners at home or abroad are grand occasions. And you must show off all your finery. The neckline is lower and you may bare your arms. However, watch the fashion magazines. Sometimes long sleeves are in vogue, at others, short ones are popular. Fabrics can be rich: silk and satin. And if you are sick and tired of the dull 'classical' style, go for more recent history as Medieval, Renaissance and Gothic elements are very 'in' for both morning and evening wear.      

Evening Dress, 1823, Ackerman's Repository

Ball Dress
Some ladies are content with one fine evening gown for balls and dinners, but you should consider having a ball gown made especially. Fabrics are light, as you will be dancing, but rich. Popular choices are fine muslin, silk satin, duchesse silk and light taffeta. For a risqué look go with velvet. You may show your bosom, it is all right. A débutante ought to wear white and light pastels; married or older women may go with darker shades. To truly stand out in the candlelight adorn your dress with metallic trims, nets and beads. Gloves are a must for dancing and a fanciful turban will show your excellent taste.

Ball dress, 1812, Ackerman's Repository

Ridding Habit
A lady must ride; if only to accompany her husband. The dress for this activity is naturally darker, sturdier and heavier than your other gowns. Male fashions are de regulier with many masculine and military elements. The skirt is fuller than on a regular dress - you do not wish to show the world more than they ought to see.  

Ridding habit, 1817, Ackerman's Repository

Mourning Dress
When that disagreeable relation with a very large estate falls ill, start preparing a mourning dress. Black is for full mourning. For half mourning you may wear lilac, purple, grey or lavender. Avoid any shiny fabrics or jewellery. During half mourning a few black trinkets are acceptable.  

Mourning dress, 1823-1825. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Thus concludes our look at a wardrobe of a fashionable lady. Of course, one must not forget the dresses you will need for seaside resorts or evenings at the opera and numerous lovely accessories that a lady of quality simply must have at hand to be truly elegant. But that is a post for another day.    

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Brief History of Mascara

I had a wonderful time researching 18th century makeup tips and tricks for a modern lady, and so I wanted to do a few more pieces on makeup through the ages.The first on my list is mascara.

What makes mascara so interesting? Well, it is one of the most recent beauty products. Both men and women had been emphasizing their eyes for thousands of years, but eyeliner and eye shadow seemed to have prevailed through history. There is some evidence that in Ancient Egypt people used a substance known as kohl to line the eyes, darken the eyebrows and possibly even the eyelashes. This trend was picked up by fashionable ladies of Babylon, Greece and Rome. Women in Roman Empire used burnt cork to thicken their eyelashes.

The Middle Ages had a very bleak outlook on makeup in general; and mascara, like so many other cosmetics, was ignored. In fact, between 14th and 16th centuries in Renaissance Europe eyelashes were considered unattractive and many women who were cursed with dark and thick lashes would pluck them out to achieve the blank look.       

Agnolo Bronzino - Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, c. 1540
Up until early Victorian period eyelashes, and eyes in general, were mostly ignored. It was not a very prominent age for eyelashes, though ladies on the stage would use eyeliner to make their eyes more expressive.

Big prominent eyes came back into vogue in early Victorian times. Ladies would concoct mascara at home by heating a mix of ash or lampblack and elderberry juice and applying the mixture to their lashes.

Victorian ideal of feminine beauty "The First Lady of the Silent Screen," Lillian Gish
The first non-toxic and commercially produced mascara was invented by a Victorian named Eugène Rimmel in the mid-19th century. This mascara consisted of petroleum jelly and coal. It was incredibly messy and many women did not know what to do with it preferring to use the true and tried eyeliner instead. However, the invention was immortalized in languages of a few countries as 'rimmel'  means 'mascara' in French, Italian and Portuguese.

A box of Rimmel Cosmetique with the standard block, brush and mirror
And on the other side of the Atlantic another gentleman, T.L. Williams, was working on a very similar product for his sister Maybel. He later started a mail-order business which grew into a company known    
as Maybelline. This was still a pretty messy substance and an improvement soon followed. Mascara was now sold as a hard block containing soap and black dye. A dampened brush had to be rubbed against it and then applied to the lashes. An improvement, but still pretty messy.

Maybelline, 1917  
With the development of photography and motion pictures mascara became very prominent. The great stars of the silver screen were known for their sultry looks and glamorous eyelashes. Women flocked to get products that would help them look like these sirens and femme fatales.

Bette Davis 
A great leap for mascara was made by a shrewd business lady and the empress of cosmetics Helena Rubinstein. In 1957 she turned the hard cake mascara into a lotion based cream that was sold with a brush. It was still a bit messy, but a great improvement.

Mascara Matic by Helena Rubinstein, 1957
And so it went on. The 1960s embraced long eyelashes including false lashes and mascara has remained in good graces ever since.
Jean Shrimpton, 1960s
Today ladies enjoy a wide range of brands; and there are mascaras that promise to make lashes thicker, longer or fuller and some that offer a myriad of colors from the mundane blacks and browns to blue, yellow and pink. By all accounts, mascara is here to stay.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Video from the Edwardian Ball

This Mark Day's short video of the Edwardian Ball in San Francisco.

Though it seems more like a mash-up of styles, with steam punk being the most prominent, rather than straight up Edwardian, it still looks absolutely amazing. If there is a place that I'd like to be right now, that is it!
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