A brief post spurred by the discovery of this odd garment:

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I found them in this auction listing on eBay. All the eBay seller has to say about them is this perfunctory description: “Circa 18THC, a cream silk brocade corset or stays with polychrome florals and ties. In mainly  strong condition, there is wear and splitting, but overall good and strong. All items we list need to be cleaned.”

The maddeningly menial mishmash of adjectives gives no clue as to the history of the piece, so we are left with the pictures to be our sole diviners.

This looks like a fairly standard set of 18th Century stays. However, a second glance and you will notice that something is “off” about them, particularly the back lacing:

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Yup. It’s sewn on decorative ribbon– not actual spiral lacing!

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When you turn the stays over, it reveals a secret: a second pair of stays!

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The darker linen with all of the boning channels is the original stays. You can still see the original sets of eyelets in both the front and back!

The inside set of stays is fully boned and much smaller than the newer pair. It originally had front and back lacing, perhaps designed to be worn with a boned stomacher like these:

Stays with Stomacher, circa 1750 (French, FIT)

Stays with Stomacher, circa 1770 (Italian, The Met)

This style of stays is from the early 18th century, about 1720-50, though in some countries the style is found as late as 1770. It may even have been a fully boned bodice with matching tie-on sleeves, like this:

Stays with Sleeves, circa 1770 (European, FIT)

However, this particular set of stays was repackaged into its current form somewhere in time. The back was sewn up, the outside recovered with the floral silk, tabs and the faux lacing were added, and the front opening enlarged with unboned (except the front edges) lacing extensions. Why this was done is a mystery, but there are a few possibilities: it could be a refashion in the later 18th century to extend the stays for a larger woman, turn an old pair of stays (possibly bought second-hand from the booming resale clothing market) into a bodice, or, and I believe more likely, the stays were refashioned in the 19th century for wearing to a Victorian fancy dress ball. That would explain the faux lacing and unboned front (since a Victorian lady would likely be wearing her usual corset underneath, so the antique “stays” would not have to support her breasts), and 18th century “shepherdess” costumes were all the rage:

“A Shepherdess Costume” from Thomas Hailes Lacy’s Female Costumes Historical, National and Dramatic in 200 Plates, circa 1865

“Shepherdess” by Leon Sault from L’Art du Travestissement (The Art of Fancy Dress), circa 1880

The stays at the time would have already been over 100 years old, if that’s the case. I wonder if it drove any Victorian historians (the best set of rhyming words ever) mad with frustration the way modern costume historians rage over Edwardian dresses that were turned into Halloween costumes by adding a zipper up the back?

More frustrating still is that the photos from the eBay listing aren’t the only pictures of this intriguing garment! Another photo of them can be found floating around in the blogosphere and archived on Pinterest:

Each photo, however, leads to a dead link–at the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Once upon a time, these stays might have had a collections page (and therefore all the juicy, delicious information about era, provenance, etc. we historical costumers crave) on the Met’s website, but they were decommissioned and the archive page (and all that tasty data) was deleted! Even the controversial “Way Back Machine,” which serves as an archive for websites, does not save copies of museum collection webpages. I know that even if a page did once exist, the Met’s archive pages aren’t always the fount of knowledge we’d like them to be, but perhaps you or someone you know may know more about this unusual piece of history, some other pictures, maybe? I have been combing the web looking for more info, but all I have gathered is this welcome pittance from In Pretty Finery’s Pinterest board:

“18th century, Italy – Stays – Silk, linen”

That is the only extra shred of info I could dredge up about them.  If you have an image of this pair of stays on your Pinterest board or blog and perhaps you had the foresight to copy down the information about them, please add a bit of a description to the image so that others can use the information, as scant as it is. If you have a blog containing an image of this enigmatic garment, feel free to share a link below. This might be the last time we see this object before it disappears back into a private collection!

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I often find objects just like this all over the web. I try to archive many of them by saving them to Pinterest boards as part of my ongoing project, The Ephemeral Museum. I have Pinterest boards about some of these objects here and here. There are other websites that do similar work, like All the Pretty Dresses, if you are interested in seeing more extant antique garments “in the raw.”

Reverse Tweezing: Making Those Brows Beautifully BOLD!

I have lots of projects in various stages of “go” scattered throughout my apartment right now, but the sewing bug just refuses to bite. So, instead of sewing, I have been dallying about, doing boring modern-person stuff like working, cleaning, and other such business. One of the projects that has fallen by the wayside is an Edwardian evening gown. I have the fabric, but have yet to choose a pattern. Instead of getting my rear in gear, I decided to play with make-up instead which, while not sewing related, is one of the first costuming-related activities I’ve done in almost 2 months. So, here’s a mini-tutorial for an Edwardian evening make-up look to go along with a (in my case, not-yet-materialized) ballgown.

I’ve talked about make-up and costuming before in “Saving Face: A Brief History Cosmetics and How to Wear Them with Historical Costumes,” which focused on getting a natural look for historical costumes that would show up well in modern photographs. Victorian and Edwardian women generally did not wear much makeup, but there were exceptions. One of the Edwardian era’s most famous beauties was Lily Elsie. Even if her name sounds unfamiliar, you are probably very familiar with Lily’s many beautiful publicity photos:

Lily Elsie was one of the era’s great actresses. Since actors and actresses needed to be seen clearly at great distances (and be beautiful for publicity portraits like those above), they wore heavier makeup than the average Edwardian woman. Lily’s signature was her dark, luscious eyebrows and rosebud lips. Doesn’t she look just like the dainty bisque dolls of the era?

Kestner Doll, circa 1895-1900

Heinrich Handwerck Doll, 1890-1900

The cosmetic stylings of Lily and her fellow Edwardian starlets marked the beginning of a new, heavier, youth-driven fashion trend that eventually developed into the iconic flapper look of the 1920s. She was, however, one of the last big-browed beauties of the age before the pencil-thin eyebrows took over. Here she is 10 years later, around 1927, her iconic eyebrows still glorious, but tweezed into submission–much closer to our modern arched shape:

You’ll notice that the altered shape of her eyebrows dramatically changed her appearance and makes her look much more fashionable to our eyes. We are used to this eyebrow shape and many of us ladies carefully groom an angled arch into our brows. During the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century, however, thick, evenly-full brows were the coveted shape. During the Edwardian era, cosmetics began to loose much of their taboo and for evenings, a woman might take some notes from the famous female faces of the stage– filling in her brows and giving herself rosy lips for glamorous special events like visiting the opera or going to a ball.

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The following make-up look is inspired by Lily Elsie’s many lovely photographs.  I specifically wanted something that would look good in the conditions of a modern Victorian-style indoor ball. I haven’t gotten to attend a formal ball yet, but it’s always good to practice a look just in case I ever get a chance! I aimed to recreate Lily’s style, but tone it down for the average woman and use makeup I already had on hand. This is not a strictly historical method, nor is it meant to be worn with every day, average Edwardian clothing. The heavy style is made to be worn for glamorous, low-light, nighttime events.

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The goal:

Creamy skin, dramatic dark eyebrows, full lashes, plump cheeks, and rosebud lips

The tools:

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Wet n Wild Matte Lipstick in “Stoplight Red”
ELF Lip Stain in “Nude Nectar”
Revlon Eyeshadow in “Satin Cocoa”
L’Oreal True Match Liquid Foundation in “Alabaster (C1)”
Not pictured: Cover Girl Professional Mascara in Brown

The ideal Edwardian woman had pale, bright, clear skin. I am definitely pale by modern standards, but with a smattering of splotchy freckles, a bit of a tan from wandering outside looking for fossils, and lots of redness from acne, my skin is far from the creamy porcelain ideal. So, I chose a liquid foundation to even everything out:

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If my foundation choice looks far too light for my face, you’d be right. However, it matches the rest of my skin tone, particularly my décolletage, which evening gowns reveal quite a lot of, so it’s important to match. I placed a dot of the exact same foundation on the collar bone (in the lower right of the picture) for comparison. Also, you probably can barely tell, but I’ve already completely covered and blended the foundation into the right side of my face! I really like this foundation because it doesn’t make me break out, it covers really well even without concealer, and it stays put. It is on the heavy side (for me at least), so a little goes a long way!

Next I filled in my brows with the powder eyeshadow. I’ve pretty much let my eyebrows grow naturally over the years because they are so light, but they have been tweezed into more of an arch than an arc at the ends. To get the full, even look, I concentrated powder application from the center back and filled in a little under the arch. This is key to getting an old-fashioned look. Its amazing how just a few millimeters of extra thickness can completely change the timeline of your brows! I chose a dark fill color to match the roots of my hair, but a lighter color closer to my natural brow color would also work. I just really envy those big, bold brows, though!

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Sorry I don’t have an “in progress” comparison shot for this. I didn’t think to do one. :(
A light touch of mascara helped fill in my lashline to match my naturally blonde eyelashes to my new, darker brows.

I used the lip stain to give my lips some natural tint, but I think I could have gone a little heavier. However, if you go too heavy, it starts to look too much like lipstick and looks more 1950s than Edwardian.

Though I just finished hiding my redness under the foundation, rosy cheeks really help bring the look together. Unlike modern  blush which is applied diagonally up and across the top of the cheek, Edwardian blush focused on the rounded apple directly in front. To find your apples just smile!

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I have a very fleshy face with lots of plumpness in the lower front, so I basically end up rouging the whole front of my face! Your apples may vary in size and shape. Here, I used my hand to find where the majority of the fullness was so I didn’t end up applying too much.

Since Edwardians would have used rouge instead of the wide variety of blushes we have now, I approximated the effect with my favorite faux-rouge: cheap matte red lipstick! I dabbed a bit on my finger then tamped it lightly onto my cheeks before blending it with a clean finger.

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I keep a stick of matte red lipstick just for “historical” use. It can also be used in the same manor as lip rouge in lieu of the lip stain. A little goes a long way!

Here’s the completed look:

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Taa-dah!

This makeup look is, like my previous one, designed to photograph well under different lighting situations using a digital camera. The look does dramatically change depending on the light!

Here are some examples of the same make-up with different camera settings and lighting conditions:

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“Soft White” Florescent

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“Normal” Florescent lighting (that typical office-esque blue/green)

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Combination of “Soft White” Florescent and Incandescent

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Low light without Flash

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Low light with Flash

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B&W Filter

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So do I look like Lily? Well…no. I don’t have her naturally dainty facial structure. But did I nail the porcelain doll look?

Bahr & Proschild Doll, circa 1870-1890

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Maybe a bit too well!
;)

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