December 2, 2013
I went to the Montgomery Street Antique Shop for a girl’s day out. There is a small restaurant in the center of the enormous antique store that serves absolutely delicious tea, sandwiches, and quiche. Absolutely fantastic! If you are in Fort Worth Texas for any reason, it is really worth a go, but be warned: you have to walk by hundreds of thousands of superb antiques on your way in, and if you are like me, you won’t be able to resist wandering around for a few hours. After tucking into a lovely lunch and poking my head into every possible corner, I left the shop with a few lovely pairs of antique eyeglasses:
Silver Framed Eyeglasses, circa 1850-80
Rimless Pince Nez with Retractable Chain Pin, circa 1910-1930
Available on Etsy
Folding Pince Nez, circa 1885-1925
I love them all, but as is so often the case with second-hand eyeglasses, I didn’t expect to be able to wear any of them in a functional capacity, but I love to try things on anyways. The first two pairs are very high magnification, much more than my eyes need (I am quite nearsighted thanks to years of miniature making and book reading). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the very last pair of pince nez not only still worked, but had suitable lenses as well!
The magnification on them is very light, perhaps 1.25x, but I can see clearly through them even at a distance. The bridge of my nose is nearly too prominent for the glasses to sit well, but if I wear them angry-librarian style, I can make quite good use of them both as a costume piece and handy computer glasses.
Can you believe the local library wouldn’t hire me? The nerve! I would have looked so fabulous re-shelving novels…
When I first found these dark-rimmed pince nez, I was befuddled by a pin that stuck out of one side. A little research revealed that this is a folding model; the little pin holds the lenses together so you can discreetly pocket your glasses when you don’t need them!
I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving! We are gearing up for Christmas and it may be a little slow posting for a while. However, I will definitely keep a steady flow of entertaining history and costuming tidbits on The Pragmatic Costumer Facebook page!
November 27, 2013
A Designer of Dreams
Elsa Schiaparelli Butterfly Evening dress, circa 1937
With a matching parasol!
The iconic Elsa Schiaparelli butterfly dress is the perfect introduction to one of the most ingenious designers of the 20th century. Elsa was a butterfly herself: a metamorphosis out of the fashion conventions of the past and into a new, colorful world of her own fearless design.
Elsa Schiaparelli Seed Packet Dress, circa 1939-41
Elsa’s designs are playful. Always one to lighten the mood, Elsa’s collections often have distinct themes, often involving butterflies, mythology, the zodiac, and natural curiosities.
Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Dress with Plastic Flowers, circa 1938
The flowers adorning this dress are made of plastic. Elsa embraced new materials and loved to play with texture.
Elsa Schiaparelli Musical Evening Dress, circa 1939
This lyrical creation was worn by Millicent Rogers who was a big admirer of Schiaparelli’s imaginative fashions. Besides the bright musical notes applied to the dress itself, the belt buckle provided more music from a working music box built inside. Elsa’s belts are some of my favorite pieces. They are cheeky and very modern looking. Many of them would still be considered on the cutting edge of fashion today.
Elsa Schiaparelli Sequined Evening Blouse, circa 1938-39
Feeling a little bit of a 1980s flashback coming on? Elsa’s brilliant and over-the-top fashion designs featured padded shoulders, layers of embellishment, and the decorative use of zippers, studs, and buckles 50 years before “Power Dressing” for women became fashionable; she was like the Vivian Westwood of the 1930s and 1940s! Her fashions were considered quite daring–shocking even–and she collaborated with many surreal and dadaist artists throughout her career. For example, she collaborated with Salvador Dali to create the Circus Collection, which even by modern standards is considered avant-garde.
Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí Skeleton Dress, circa 1938
Elsa Schiaparelli Clasped Hands Belt, circa 1934
Elsa Schiaparelli High Heel Hat, circa 1937-38
Elsa played both sides of the fashion card: she would design swoon-worthy, romantic pieces, then mix in pieces with modernist angles and experimental shapes. Many people would find this seesaw rather jarring, but Elsa always struck a balance between old and new. She enjoyed change and was always looking for the next fashion adventure without abandoning what she already knew was beautiful.
Two Schiaparelli Pieces from the same Year and Season:
Elsa Schiaparelli Ivy Necklace, fall 1938
Elsa Schiaparelli Rhodoid Insect Necklace, fall 1938
What is truly wonderful about Elsa’s designs, however, is that as couture and over-the-top they are, they are still wearable. She doesn’t reach so far into surreality that function disappears. Many of her pieces would still be considered chic–even comfortable–by the women of today.
Elsa Schiaparelli Sweater, circa 1932-38
Elsa Schiaparelli Taurus Belt, circa 1938
Elsa Schiaparelli Jacket for Millicent Rogers, circa 1938-39
Sadly, the austerity of 1940s wartime and post-war fashion did not meld well with Elsa’s vision and she closed her fashion house in 1954 as Christian Dior’s “New Look” became the favored style. However, the beauty of her work has not diminished and her collections continue to inspire fashion designers, costumers, and artists around the globe.
November 24, 2013
Guest post by Helene Cooper: The Costumes of the Rio Carnival
The costumes of the Rio Carnival are known for their flamboyance, colour, embellishment and design. The Carnival is one of the most celebrated annual parties in the world. However, the costumes weren’t always about glitz and glamour; to begin with, skin was hardly ever on show.
Image provided by Dragoman
Most things that become immensely popular often become commercialised and lose their tradition; the Rio Carnival is no exception. The annual event that captures the attention of millions worldwide has gone through many facelifts since the country’s colonial days when the first costume emerged. With ideologies changing, finances altering and the introduction of new materials, the costumes have had to evolve.
Death was once the pivotal inspiration for the costumes with skull masks and devil outfits becoming regular features. Other themes that were fondly considered for the Rio Carnival included:
- Donkey, chimp and bat costumes
- Elderly disguises
- Prince, Mandarin, Maharaja and Rajah costumes
These costumes however experienced a swift death following the ban of masks in 1685, the Great Depression and the price of materials escalating in the ‘30s. Masks were banned from carnival celebrations and anyone who was seen wearing such accessories was either whipped in Rio´s public square or became a convict to Sacramento Colony depending on the colour of their skin.
Rules and regulations loosened in 1950s due to Rio’s weather conditions being too hot for heavy costumes. This was the time when women began to feel a lot more comfortable in their own skin, choosing two piece swimsuits over full length costumes. Not only did this allow women to feel cool in the Rio heat, it also gave them freedom of movement.
Woman in Carnival Costume
Image provided by Dragoman
During the ‘70s the Sambadrome was built and samba schools were organised; something that remains to this day. Each samba school chose its theme, which allowed for a wider variety of costumes, sparking further creativity. The costumes became more vibrant and daring, although it wasn’t until the ‘80s when men could dress how they wanted, with many opting to cross-dress.
Image provided by Dragoman
Since the first carnival in 1723 there is one tradition that remains intact: making your Rio Carnival costume. It is a true art form with many people taking to their sewing machines, embroidering and embellishing their costumes by hand. Each sequin, hem, feather and bead is individually sewn, requiring skill, technique and patience from the costume makers. The BBC followed Lucile, a carnival costume maker in a documentary to discover how these glorious creations come to life; you can view the documentary here.
Helene Cooper, a travel enthusiast, has seen most of what South America has to offer, trekking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, exploring the Amazon jungle, seeing Iguazu Falls as well as visiting the glorious city of Rio.
November 20, 2013
Le Chapeau Rusé – Using Bad French to Disguise Excellent Hat Trickery
To complement my Robe pas Cher and to ensure that I was suitably dressed for an outdoor excursion, I needed a hat to wear for Georgian Picnic. In addition, I had sorely neglected the past, oh, ten or so Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges and I wanted a good stepping stone project to get back on track.
Enter Le Chapeau Rusé!
I had plunged myself so deeply into making a suitable costume for Christopher that by the time I got around to my own costume, I was a little burnt out and very very far behind schedule. I managed to eek out a wearable muslin from my test pattern, but I always feel under-dressed without accessories, so I decided I needed a hat. I didn’t have time to order one and I had foolishly missed out on all the post-Halloween sale merchandise. However, there was no need to worry because I had long ago discovered this post about placemat hats by the Thread-Headed Snippet:
With a title like that, how could I resist?
Inspired by Miss Snippet’s thrifty, simple solution to my problem, I set out to make my own version.
What follows is the three basic steps to making a super-cheap 18th century “Chapeau Rusé” out of an old placemat.
1. Pick a Proper Placemat
15 inches is a good, easy-to-find placemat size, but if you can find larger rounds, they’ll work as well. Hats were rather sizable during the 18th century, so don’t be shy!
If you can find genuine straw placemats, more power to you! Mine was a completely fake polypropylene straw placemat I found for $1 at Garden Ridge (the picture is the same brand on Amazon). Fake straw placemats have the advantage of being very springy and forgiving, but they are not historically accurate in the least. Real grass or straw mats are more period appropriate, but straw can be brittle and crack, so how you plan to wear the placemat/hat dictates which material is more suitable. While a natural, tawny straw color is a safe choice for both materials, almost any color of placemat will work as long as it matches your outfit (though I’d avoid brighter colors if you want an authentic look). Also, if it has bands of decorative braiding or a little extra color woven in, that’s perfectly fine for an 18th century hat.
2. Settle on a Shape
18th century hats for ladies come in many shapes and sizes, but the quintessential mid-century hat is the bergère, a wide brimmed hat with a low crown:
“Portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie” by Henry Pickering, circa 1753
This is the type of hat the Thread Headed Snippet made her placemat into; it is also the shape I chose for Becky’s hat. Originally, I was planning on making another bergère hat for myself, but I was horrendously jealous of Christopher’s tricorne, so I decided to make a folded straw hat which, while more uncommon, was not unheard of:
“Portrait of a Lady in a Straw Hat” by by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, mid-18th century
Another option is a giant D-shaped hat, like these:
“Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster” by Angelika Kauffmann, circa 1785
D-Shaped Dutch Straw Hat, 18th century
If you can find a big enough straw mat or if you want to make a smaller version, just carefully cut off one edge of your placemat and finish it with glue, or when you decorate your hat, place the “crown” closer to one edge.
If you were lucky enough to find a real straw mat, you can even reshape it to have a crown. My fake straw placemat, however, wasn’t malleable in the manner traditional straw is, but it folded beautifully. To figure out the shape I wanted, I held the folds in place with pins so I could adjust the placement and size as needed before I tacked everything into place with sturdy stitches. You will find that pliers are exceptionally helpful to get a needle through all that plastic!
Once you settled on a shape, add ties so your hat won’t fall off. Most 18th century straw hats had ribbon ties that were secured to the underside of hat near the place where the brim and the crown connect:
Bergère Hat, 18th century
I used 48 inches of 7/8″ grosgrain ribbon for mine, but most ribbon between 1/2″ and 3″ wide will work:
For flat hats, the farther from the center of the hat you sew your ribbon, the more bowed downward and bonnet-shaped your hat will become. If you want the hat to lie fairly flat on your head, I recommend tacking the ribbon down 3-4 inches from the center on each side. Use pins to hold the ribbon in place before you sew it on so you can fiddle with how the hat will sit on your head.
Real straw placemats pretty much become suitable hats the instant you apply the ribbon in Step 2, but without decorations, a synthetic straw placemat hat will look like you’re wearing..well..a placemat, so don’t be too miserly when it comes to trimming. There are infinite ways to decorate your hat. Popular trims include:
I chose to use fabric scraps left over from my dress to create ruffled white trim and two types of bows from pinked purple fabric (I love saying “pinked purple” out loud, no matter how many weird looks it earns me!).
I used a large bow called a Double Ruffle to trim the back:
I found the free tutorial on the wonderful Ribbon Retreat website which has plenty of other tutorials for different styles of bows. I was also inspired by the Flower Loop bow because it reminded me of 18th century cockades, so I made two for each side of my hat and put a silvery button in the center of each for a little textural contrast (all the fabric and ruffles gets a little too fluffy for me sometimes and I need to balance it out with a harder edge).
To turn a placemat into a bergère, add a small circle of puffed ribbon to create the illusion of a minute crown. Otherwise, trim, trim, trim until you can’t see the straw anymore or leave it fairly plain with only a bit of ribbon or a light net veil– it’s up to you!
More 18th Century Lady’s Hat Resources
“18th Century Women’s Hats” research collection at Larsdatter – Great for inspiring your creativity. This site is downright amazing!
“How to make an 18th century hat. A tutorial in pictures.” by Dressed in Time – Sew your own hat from scratch.
“An 18th Century Hat” by The Fashionable Past – How to cover a straw hat with pleated silk.
“Tutorial: How to turn a straw sunhat into an 18th century bergére” by The Dreamstress – Exactly what the title says!
“The Amazing Crafthat Pt. Deux : Finishing!” by American Duchess – How add a stylish, floppy fabric crown to a straw hat.
“Le Chapeau Rusé” – 18th Century Folded Straw Hat
The Challenge: #23 Gratitude
Fabric: White cotton and purple polysatin scraps
Notions: Poly cotton thread, buttons, grosgrain ribbon, and I guess the placemat would count as a notion???
How historically accurate is it? 40% It is entirely handsewn and trimmed with appropriate trimmings inspired by extant examples, but it’s made from a faux straw (read: plastic) placemat.
I am grateful to: The Thread Headed Snippet for sharing her placemat hat (http://threadheaded.blogspot.com/2012/08/so-you-want-hat-but-you-have-will-power.html) and Ribbon Retreat for their free bow tutorials (http://www.theribbonretreat.com/Catalog/free-hairbow-instructions.aspx)
Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: In my bathroom for fitting, but officially at Georgian Picnic in the park
Total cost: $1 for the placemat, 50 cents for the buttons, $2.50 for the ribbon
I must disclaim that my French is limited to what I remember from an old library book I read in 6th grade and what Google translate can help me piece together. Many 18th century fashions came from France and thus had French names, so in that tradition, I decided to play around a bit with giving my cheeky 18th century creations equally cheeky French names (unless you are fluent in French; then you are council to all my poorly-translated secrets)!