Costuming Year in Review: 2018

This year I didn’t feel like I did much at all in terms of costuming, but I did make 3 new dresses and finish 2 others!

NEW STUFF I MADE

Game of Thrones Dress

Pattern Used: McCall’s 6940
Material: Silk
Event: Scarborough Faire with friends
Notes: First fantasy dress in AGES! The pattern is pretty darn good and I learned how to do a full-bust-adjustment on a wrap-front, princess-seamed dress.
Blog Post Link: A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

Obnoxious Plaid 1830s Dress

Pattern Used: “Duct Tape Dummy” Method + Simplicity 3723
(Lucy’s Corset Duct Tape Pattern Video) (CospLAZY How-To Writeup)
Fabric: Blinding Orange Faux Silk
Event: Georgian Picnic with DFW Costumers Guild
Notes: This dress was my first dress using my duct tape dummy pattern. I had a cold the week before the event and wasn’t going to go, but the day before, I was so bored and crabby, I needed to do something, so I pounded out this dress from pattern to wearable in less than 24 hours. The sleeves are gussied-up versions of my fave long sleeve from the Simplicity 3723 pattern. I also learned how to alter a pattern to sit off the shoulder thanks to a great tutorial from Elisalex de Castro Peake on By Hand London.
Festive Attyre’s Flickr Album: 10th Annual Georgian Picnic

Flannel Bustle Dress

Pattern Used: “Duct Tape Dummy” Method and Draping
(Lucy’s Corset Duct Tape Pattern Video) (CospLAZY How-To Writeup)
Material: Cotton Flannel
Event: Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise
Notes: I made this dress to be as warm as possible since it was for Dickens on the Strand in December. The weather, however, decided to be summery! Thank goodness the flannel was cotton, though. It was warm, but breathable. I highly recommend cotton flannel. It’s easy to sew and so cozy! The underskirt was made completely out of rectangles gathered to a waistband and the overskirt was made by dressing up my dress form and just pinning a 3 yard length of fabric over it until I got something that looked decent before tacking everything down.
Flickr Album: Dickens on the Strand 2018

UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) COMPLETED

Green 1840s Dress for my Sis

Pattern Used: Butterick 5832
Material: Quilting Cotton
Event: EXTREME GUILT
Notes: This dress was literal years in the making and I am both embarrassed it took so long and proud I finally made good on my promise to my sister!
Blog Post: My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

Mermaid Ballgown (Re-Vamped)

Pattern Used: Simplicity 4244
Material: Rayon Blend
Event: Dickens on the Strand
Notes: I didn’t have the time or the money to make a new ballgown for the Dickens Soiree, so I revamped my ancient blue Ariel Ballgown for two years and 25 pounds ago with yards and yards of lace to cover the gap where the front doesn’t quite close anymore. I also rearranged the train and added silk flowers.
Flickr Album: Dickens on the Strand 2018
Blog Post of Original Version: Conquering the Croissants Part III

I was feeling pretty down about how little it felt like I’d done this past year, but looking back, it wasn’t as empty of a year as I thought! Thank for hanging out with me here and on Facebook. Another year goes flying by!

Here’s to a Hopeful and Happy 2019!

Bonnets that Deserve Better: A Dozen Ugly Ducklings in the Met’s Headwear Collection

I love a good bonnet, even if badly photographed. <3

Museum photography has come a long way in the past decade. I remember when the only way to explore a museum’s collection was to physically travel to view an exhibit in person, be buddies with a curator, or read about them in textbooks, sometimes with a blessed-but-grainy black and white picture the size of a domino. Now museums around the world have their collections photographed and available for free online!

We have gone from this:

To this:

Bonnet, circa 1870

Huzzah! Hooray! Oh, happy day!

And believe me, I am infinitely grateful. But, I am also infinitely concerned with systematic forward progression and implementing improved standards of quality (i.e. I am demanding and persnickety). Today, I am picking on the Met because the Met is one of my favorite museums. They seem open and honest about their collections– even candidly blogging about some drawings in their collection were massively mis-attributed! You can even give them feedback about their website, rating it and saying what you liked and what you didn’t. I appreciate their openness and make full use of it. MMoA, you asked for it!

In my many invested hours of research (i.e. PINTEREST), I have discovered many beautiful Met Museum objects with hideous photos, in particular, 19th century bonnets and hats. Granted, there are plenty of hideous objects with lovely pictures as well. There is clearly a miracle-working photographer in the costume department because they made this clunky sunbonnet look so lovely I kind of want it…which is saying something because I LOATHE 19th-century sunbonnets!

Cotton Sunbonnet, circa 1860
This photo makes it look good enough to actually wear!

Now, compare that picture with this one:

Sunbonnet, circa 1838
Ah, there’s the warm, familiar hatred again. If Jedi had to wear sunbonnets, I would instantly become a Sith. No questions! Sunbonnet Crusher duty? SIGN ME UP!

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a little. You see, that second bonnet isn’t terrible at all! In fact, it’s actually way more adorable than the photo lets on. It’s made of a spotted calico that’s kind of polka-dotty from a distance, it’s got pinked trim, a nifty straw brim, and a sweet bow perched on top. But that photo just does not do it justice when you compare it to other bonnet photographs in the collection:

Snedden Designer Bonnet with Pearls, circa 1883
(another bonnet that has benefited from the leap in photography technology)

Velvet Evening Bonnet, 1802

Bonnet, circa 1887

“But, Liz! Those are all fashionable, fancy-lady bonnets! You can’t compare a daytime 1850s sunbonnet to a 1880s millioneress’s bonnet!”

True: there are many bonnets of vastly different styles, decades, price-points and occasions, but being fancier doesn’t make them any less likely to be photographed poorly. The Met does not discriminate based on social class! Case in point:

Which of these two photos looks like a million bucks to you?

I started making note of all the bonnets I found that were begging for a better photo. The list was quite long! However, I narrowed it down to just a few.

MOST of the bonnets are this list were not picked just because I thought they needed a prettier photo–though, confession: some are on the list because they are OMGorgeous! There are so many pretty-but-not-artistically-photographed bonnets in the Met’s collection, like this early 19th century bonnet. However, many of them, despite their flash-blasted, yellow-tinged photographs, still shine through with clear detail. Instead, I chose bonnets that I thought were actively hampered by their photo– those with great texture that was lost, fit that was hard to judge, or colors that weren’t properly portrayed, all details that are actively explored and sought after by costume and textile researchers.

THE TOP 10 BONNETS AT THE MET THAT DESERVE BETTER PHOTOS!

#10: “Ye Old Bonnet?!” circa 1799-1810

Originally #10 was this straw bonnet that I loved the shape of, but there is no view of the front. However, I stumbled upon this bonnet/headdress just before publishing my list. I was so intrigued, I knew it had to be on the list! There is no other “bonnet” like it in the Met’s collection and if that date is correct (question: has anyone seen something like this from the era?), it would make it one of the earliest pieces in the bonnet sub-category. I want to know more!

#9: “Happy Spring Day in a Dust Storm” Bonnet, circa 1860

This is one of those “It’s just so pretty it needs to be shown off!” bonnets. The layers of trimmings are so lovely, but the dingy, grainy photo does its richness a great disservice.

#8: “Black Velvet Mystery” Bonnet, circa 1850

This bonnet already has a beautifully lit, crisp new photo, yet, it’s impossible to tell how it fits! It’s listed as a bonnet, but the shape and fit isn’t obvious. Does it perch on the back of the head? Is it a child-sized cap? Or is it bigger than it looks? This is a piece that would really benefit from a display head.

#7: “Snow Princess” Lace Bonnet, circa 1885-90

Another stunner suffering from bad lighting and graininess! This bonnet is mummified in lovely lace, has a velvet edge, and a feather on top! The interplay of textures and true color are lost, though, and the angle of the two photos almost look like two different hats! Click here to see the second photo of the back. You’ll see what I mean. Also, this hat has a photo of the designer’s label, but it’s not listed in the description (J. Pendlebury / Wigan). This was a very expensive hat during its day! It would be so lovely for a bride.

#6: “Scarlet’s Envy” Promenade Bonnet, circa 1851-1862

The vast majority of the Met’s mid-19th century bonnet collection suffers from small, badly-lit photos. I imagine they must have been doing them all in a  swift batch in order to give us, the demanding costuming community, visual references. The Met has worked hard to get photos for every object’s online catalogue page! They are getting closer to achieving that goal. I am so thankful for their hard work. However, this gal is beautiful, but the silk gathers and layers upon layers of delicate trimming aren’t very well portrayed. I also think it’s later in date than listed. Any bonnet experts have a firmer date for it?

#5: “Autumnal Delight” Bonnet, circa 1864-1867

This bonnet is just fabulous! At first I thought that it was a lovely example of straw work, but then I read the description…can you believe this bonnet is made of horsehair?! I would have never guessed!  Once again, the small, grainy photos erase this bonnet’s main draw: the unique materials and lush interplay of textures. Just look at those woven plumes and tiny tassels! This is probably my personal favorite bonnet on the list. I would wear it in a heartbeat.

#4: “The WAT?!” Bonnet, circa 1800-1925

I’m calling this one that “WAT?!” bonnet not because I find it poorly designed (though the display certainly makes it look odd), but because it is in desperate need of a cleaning, some context, and a more accurate date. 125 YEARS, MET?! REALLY?! This bonnet/hat is from around 1900 and would have been paired with a Gibson Girl hairstyle, hence the shallow back (to fit around a chignon) and large forward swoop (to go over the puffy pompadour front). It even has a designer label inside that they photographed, but the cataloger failed to note in the description. It’s not a show-stopping hat by any means, but it certainly deserves better basic cataloguing in addition to a fresh photo!

#3: “Cinderella” Bonnet/Cap, circa 1845-50

Just look at that lace and ribbon! Wow! Even in that terrible lighting, it looks amazing. However, the image is small and grainy, so you can’t see all the wonderful details. This one is just too pretty not to have a better photo!

#2: “Faceplant” Poke Bonnet, circa 1840-69

This bonnet is so sad! It looks like a jellyfish washed up on the shore or a snail trying to crawl away. I suppose if you were a nice “Sunday’s best” bonnet that got labelled as a poke bonnet, you’d be sad, too. This bonnet would be so much happier if its beautiful silk satin shirring and lace were properly photographed on a stand or mannequin!

#1: “Moping Mop” Ribbon Bonnet, circa 1841

The last bonnet  looked sad, but this poor bonnet is actively trying to hide. Perhaps it’s in such poor shape that this is the only way to display it (like this crumbling 1830s straw bonnet), but it’s completely impossible to tell that it’s even a cap/bonnet. What’s even odder is that unlike many of the bonnets in the collection which suffer from dating swathes that range from a generalized 20 year period to the egregious 125 YEAR RANGE OMG MET WTF, this bonnet has been dated precisely to 1841. In addition, it was purchased with donation money in 1982, apparently by choice. Either it was part of a lot that had other pieces in it the Met wanted and the cap just came with, or they purposefully bought it, possibly with provenance granting it such a firm date, like a letter or label. And yet, here it is, just flopped on a table like a mound of seaweed.

The more I looked at these bonnets with less-than-ideal photos, the more I realized how shallow and callous it was to judge a bonnet by its photo. In our massively visual online culture, objects with the prettiest images often get sharing priority, meaning that many perfectly fabulous fashions get ignored! This affects not only personal research, but can affect the quality of conservation, too. Many objects that receive well-made professional photographs often receive special cleaning and repairs in order for them to display and photograph to the object’s best advantage. In a collection like the Met’s–with over 300+ bonnets alone– such a large undertaking would involve not only lots of time, equipment, and effort from the photographer(s), but a large investment from the conservation department– and let’s face it: we may love bonnets, but there are probably more pressing conservation projects than cleaning a common straw sunbonnet, no matter how cute it is.

Interested in seeing more awesome bonnets with horrific pictures?
Click here to view the Met’s bonnet collection online

Let me know which one is your favorite! Is it a delicate straw bonnet from the 1840s? A sky-high feathered stunner from the 1880s? A tubular Regency poke bonnet? Post a link below so I can see it!

Find of the Month: Early 19th Century Gilt Buttons

October 2016

My new favorite antique store, Maine Barn and Attic Antiques, has oodles of raw, dusty crusty buttons for 10¢ to $2 each, depending on the bin you dig them out of. Usually I paw through the enormous 10¢ button bin, but this past weekend, I ventured over to the smaller more expensive bins (50¢ each. Living the high life!) and was excited to find what I thoughts were 18th century buttons:

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All of them are smooth and plain except for this gaudy little guy.

They are very weighty! These would definitely have to be attached using the taped method used on men’s coats during the 18th and early 19th century. Taped buttons are attached to the coat by making an eyelet where the button sits, poking the shank through to the back of the garment, and threading a narrow ribbon or woven tape through the shanks to hold them down. American Duchess has an awesome guide for this handy technique here.

This is the best illustrated guide to the technique ever! Thanks, Lauren!

Attching buttons that way makes sure they stay flat, flush and firm instead of flopping around. That’s how all those enormous, ornate buttons you see on 18th century coats stay so neatly in place despite being so heavy!

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They have large, round “omega” style shanks.
Button Shanks Guide by Button Country
Guide to dating buttons by shank style: DAACS Cataloging Manual for Buttons

All of them have detailed stamps on the back with interesting sayings like “Orange Colour” and “Treble Gilt London.”

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In reality, they are not quite as old as I first believed. Research led me to lots of metal detecting and mudlarking websites where I learned that these buttons are commonly dug up across the English and New England countryside. My buttons date from about 1810 to 1840. The English discovered a process for gilding buttons in the late 18th century and by the 19th century the manufacture of gilded buttons was in full swing. For a more detailed account, I’ll direct you to this short, well-written PDF on the subject.

I tried to do a bit more detailed research on the individual button back stamps, but haven’t delved too deep yet (too busy prepping for Georgian Picnic!). Still, I took pictures of each button back so if anyone else finds one, we can compare notes. :)

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“B & BURNHAM – TREBLE GILT” with a chain design around the shank

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“—-GE (Probably “ORANGE”) COLOUR” with dotted borders
This is the back of the smaller engraved button.

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“TREBLE GILT – STAND (D) COLOUR” with dotted borders

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“STAND (D) TREBLE GILT – LONDON) with stamped sun design around shank.

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“WARRENTED – FINE GOLD SURFACE” with dots and sunburst/starburst design around the shank

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“BEST QUALITY” with eagle
I think this button may be later, closer to 1850-1860, judging by the font and styling. It is also the thinnest and lightest of the bunch.

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“LONDON GILT” with a laurel/leaf design and two rings of dots around the shank

Other Find of the Month posts you might like:

Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button

Find of the Month: Gentleman’s Black Silk Stock Collar circa 1840-1844

July 2016

I always seem to write these “Find of the Month” posts when I have otherwise been highly neglectful of this poor blog! I have been working longer hours over the summer which has left little time for costume projects, but has given me a little extra money. For a weekend treat, Christopher took me to a new antique store we’d been trying to visit for a year now: Maine Barn and Attic Antiques on Highway 199 outside of Azle. The only catch is that Christopher and I both work on Saturdays — the only day the shop is open! We finally got to visit and it was WONDERFUL!

Inside is a dreamland. It’s the classic antique store I remember from my childhood before “antique stores” became expensive craft and clothing boutiques with a few overpriced knicknacks scattered about. I have nothing against craftshops or boutiques, but nothing beats a smorgasbord of true antique finds in the rough– dusty, weathered, and crammed in every corner! The Maine Barn and Attic is huge and is packed floor to ceiling with everything imaginable, even a not-so-shiny-but-very-romantic little surrey with the fringe on the top. I wish I’d gotten some interior pictures, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. The place is THAT GOOD. They do have a Facebook page.

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The prices were all very reasonable and the variety of goods endless. However, they only take cash or check– no credit cards! I did not know that, so I had amassed a small pile before I realized that I didn’t have a lick of cash on me. The proprietors kindly offered to hold my pile (“Happens all the time”) and I returned the following week to pick up treasures…and then some.

In the darkest corner of the shop, I was ecstatic to exhume one piece in particular: a black silk stock collar!

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I found it folded like this in a plastic bin filled with crumbling beaded trim and ric-rac. I literally “squeed” out loud and clutched it to my chest. 

Stocks are such a fascinating piece of clothing. Men had been wearing tall, stiff collars in various forms for centuries, but early 19th century stocks are a very distinctive garment. A brother of the cravat and jabot, stocks are high collars made in one piece, frequently stiffened with horsehair or boning to keep them standing tall. A stock accentuates a man’s neck’s length and *ahem* girth, swathing his face to the jaw and sometimes even to the cheeks! They were common in military uniforms, always a source of inspiration for civilian fashion, and were further popularized by King George the IV, the foremost dandy of the time:

Portrait Miniature of King George the IV by Johann Paul Georg Fischer, circa 1815

Some say that George wore them to distract from his chubby face (he was frequently lampooned for a being a larger fellow), but stock collars also helped military officers and civilians alike maintain a ramrod straight posture, projecting strength and control with a dash of mystique. Usually thought of as a Romantic Era (1825-1840) item, stocks were widely worn into the 1850s until fashions shifted to a more boxy, relaxed day look for men.
The stock I stumbled upon at Maine Barn and Attic Antiques is made of very lustrous black silk with a very stiffly starched linen collar basted inside.

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The stock is 15 inches long not including the tab and is 4 inches tall at the center, 5 inches if you include the linen collar.

The edges close with a three-pronged steel buckle. The prongs of the buckle are very sharp, designed to pierce directly through the fabric tab rather than to fit through pre-made eyelets.

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When I first saw the stock, I was struck by just how tall it is! I wouldn’t say I have a long neck, but I don’t have a stumpy one either. This collar would not fit me comfortably no matter how good my posture is! A gentleman would have to hold his chin tilted quite high in order to accommodate it.

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When you look at the stock laid out, it has a very definite taper. It is wider in the center and smaller at the buckled ends. It would seem, then, that for comfort and ease of dressing, a gentlemen would wear it buckled in front so that the narrower end would tuck under his chin, like this:

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However, this does not seem to be the case. Many extant stocks have both a buckle behind and a decorative bow to adorn the front:

Silk Wedding Stock, circa 1835

Black Silk Stock with long ties, circa 1820

While mine lacks the decorative tie in front, it is shaped the same and is probably designed to buckle in back like so:

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You can see the graceful curve in the center. It’s not boned, but the horsehair/canvas interlining is plenty stiff to keep the shape. The collar inside has what appear to be decorative pressed folds (though they may just be from how it was stored).

The stock forces the wearer to tilt his chin up in a rather proud posture, very different from the modern slumped posture we’ve adopted with our chins tucked back and down. Such tall stocks are usually found in paintings and fashion illustrations from the earlier decades of the 19th century, from about 1810 to 1835.

David Lyon by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1825

Men in Tailcoats and Top Hats (french), circa 1830-34
Cravats and stocks create similar looks. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell in drawings and early photos which is which, but they could be worn together as well.

Portrait Miniature of a Gentleman by John Wood Dodge, circa 1833
For a lovely collection of late Georgian fashion plates showcasing some impressive neckwear, click here.

 Stocks were considered one of the many accessories needed to be a well-dressed respectable gentleman, but the garment also features prominently in satirical cartoons poking fun at the ever-flamboyant dandy whose fashion faux pas often included preposterous proportions and pretentious postures aided by hyperbolic stocks long enough to make a giraffe uncomfortable:

“An Exquisite” Satirical Cartoon of a Dandy from around 1820

Thanks to its size and styling, I thought for certain I had a Georgian stock from around 1825-1835 in my possession. However, when I folded it open and took a closer look, I discovered some damning–albeit awesome–proof that my stock isn’t as old as I originally thought.

The inside is in rough, but not terrible, shape. The collar is still papery crisp from the last time it was starched all those years ago. It is mounted on a neckband that has a pointed dip in the center to somewhat follow the lines of the stock.

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Other than the large basting stitches holding the linen collar on (which are kind of sloppy even for basting. One basting stitch even nipped through the black outer silk. If you look close at the pics of the outside, you might see the tiny white blip) everything is hand sewn with absolutely beautiful, tiny stitches.
Here’s one of my cheap, slightly bent hand needles looking absolutely vulgar next to the dainty stitches that hold the silk lining to the leather piping along the top edge of the stock:

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19 stitches per inch– yes, I counted!

The tiny stitches, beautiful as they are, have split along the bottom edge, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of the pad stitching inside! Once again, the stitches are dense and small enough to make a fairy cry:

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Compare the stitches to the tiny fashion magazine print on the left—each stitch is barely the height of an i!

Inked under the linen collar are a few odd markings, perhaps laundry or ownership marks? They are done in blue ink which has blotted a bit:

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I also discovered the greatest gift any random antique object can possibly give: The original maker’s stamp, clear as day, fabulously green, and perfect!

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“Ward Manufacturer. No. 116 North Fifth Street. Philadelphia. & No. 40 North 4th”

I HAD to look the company up! And I found…..a modern pipe fittings company that started in 1924. Hint: this stock is far older than that.
But the Wards Manufacturer that made my stock did me a huge favor: they included not one, but two addresses in their stamp! So, where would a gentleman need to go in order to buy this stock?
I looked up both addresses and quickly realized that this stock was going to push me down a deeper rabbit hole than I had anticipated.

As it turns out, the old part of North 5th street has been renamed Independence Mall East. You can search for the address in google maps, but it is now part of Independence Mall– mere blocks from Independence Hall and right across from the Philadelphia Mint! The shop is now a parking lot; the building was destroyed in the 1950s to clear the land for Independence Mall. 40 North 4th was also lost to time; it is now near a modern office building.

116 and 40 in the same picture modern day

Approximate Locations of 116 North 5th and 40 North 4th in the modern world. Neither of these addresses belong to buildings anymore, so Google only offers approximations.

I refused to resign myself to this unsatisfactory answer. Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network to the rescue! I found this amazing research website through this “How to Research the History of a House” packet. The GeoHistory Network website is chock-full of amazing features for anyone wanting to research historic Philadelphia.
The most fascinating tool is the Interactive Map Viewer which allows you to view, at full scale, antique maps overlayed over modern Google Maps, so you can find exactly where something was even if that street or building doesn’t exist anymore! And guess what: I found 116 North 5th street!

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The most detailed map is the 1875 Atlas map, which even has some lots and businesses labelled. Here, you can see 116 (labelled with only a 16) across from Appletree Alley/Lane, a street which once ran where the Philadelphia Mint is now.

116 north 5th street philadelphia penn 1858

1858 Map of Philadelphia is the earliest map with clearly marked building numbers, proving that 116 N. 5th existed back to at least 1858 in the same location.

These maps don’t have “street view” like Google Maps, but I learned that William H. Rease, a Philadelphia lithographer, did a series of illustrations in the 1840s and 1850s of local businesses. He didn’t makes an illustration of Ward’s shops specifically (darn). However, he did do an illustration of the businesses mere steps away at the corner of N. 5th and Market Streets:

Detailed view of “Bennett & Company, Tower Hall Clothing Bazaar, Number 182 Market Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets, Philadelphia” circa 1853
There’s also a great vintage photograph of this same section taken in 1949. These buildings were also leveled in the Independence Mall project.

I also found 40 North 4th which, despite playing second fiddle, turned out to be the key to dating my silk stock! Here it is on the 1875 and 1858 maps:

40 north fourth street 40 north fourth street 1858

Unlike 116 N. 5th, the 4th street address is labeled with a name on nearly every map: It’s the Merchant’s Hotel!

“Merchant’s Hotel, Number 38, North Fourth Street, Philadelphia” circa 1838

The Merchant Hotel was built in 1837. On the bottom floor were spaces rented out for shops. It was not demolished in the  Independence Mall project, but burned in 1966, so it’s no longer with us either.
Street numbering in Philadelphia was changed a few times throughout its history. So the 1830s illustration above shows shop #38 on the right while the 1857 illustration below shows a different set of numbers:

40 N. 4th street was either in or right next to the hotel, depending on the street numbering that year. No one said doing research was easy!

Since the Merchant’s Hotel wasn’t built until 1837/38, my stock could be no older than that.

The GeoHistory website had another tool to share with me: a digital library of City Directories dating all the way back to 1785! City Directories were the phone book in an era before phones. It listed every tradesperson, their occupation, and their shop’s address. I dove into the directories starting at 1837 and I emerged triumphant!

Ward’s Manufacturing, as it turns out, was owned by one George W. Ward whose business life is chronicled by the annual city directories of the late 1830s to the 1850s:

1837 phil bis directory ward dry goods1837: His first appearance at the address listed on my stock, 116 N. 5th Street. He is listed as a general dry goods seller.

1839 phil bis directory ward stocks1839: George W. Ward decides to specialize in manufacturing gentleman’s stocks. Philadelphia had a large garment manufacturing industry and there were a few other stock makers/manufacturers in the area besides Mr. Ward. 116 North 5th Street placed him right in the midst of the bustling shopping district.

1840 phil bis directory ward stocks1840: He’s still there! Merrily manufacturing stocks on N. 5th Street.

1841 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1841: BINGO! Mr. Ward expands his stock manufacturing business to a shop in the Merchant’s Hotel. This is the first year that both addresses are listed in the directory as they appear in the stamp on my stock.

1842 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1842: Putting his stock in stocks!

1843 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1843: Ditto.

1844 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1844: Still merrily manufacturing stocks!

1845 phil bis directory ward gents furnishings1845: Mr. George W. Ward is no longer making stocks, but moves shop to #38 (from the engraving above!) and decides to go back to the dry goods he sold before, but this time with a specific, posh clientele in mind. “Furnishing” in this case is not furniture for a room, but men’s clothing and accessories. As a gentleman’s furnisher, he would have still sold stocks, but he likely outsourced production to a different stockmaker.

An advertisement for a Victorian furnishing store. Mr. Ward’s shop would have sold similar items.

George W. Ward was a very active man, constantly evolving and moving his business, even starting a short-lived weekly newspaper called the “Sunday Ledger” around 1850:

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 george w ward newspaper 1848

Mr. Ward certainly liked to stay busy!

From all this, I know that my stock must have been made between about 1840 and 1845. Less Mr. Darcy and more Charles Dickens, but still very exciting!

Charles Dickens by William Powell Frith, circa 1859

1840s Fashion Plate showing three fashionable gentlemen.

Black Silk Stock, circa 1840

Portrait of Michael Faraday by Antoine Claudet

Daguerreotype of the cutest 1840s couple ever!
If you love daguerreotypes or early Victorian fashion, you’ll love this site: Archive of Fine Daguerreotypes

Even though Mr. George W. Ward’s company only made stocks for about 5 years, the stocks they produced were very well designed. Ward Manufacturing’s stocks even earned a commendation for their quality in the Franklin Institute’s 13th Exhibition of American Manufactures in 1843:

Journal of The Franklin Institute 1843 ward stocks

You’ll notice there are a few other quality stock manufacturers in Philadelphia at the same time, so he might have run in to some fierce competition that prompted him to diversify.

I’m no expert on 19th century stocks, yet I can instantly feel how well-made mine is. I mean, it has survived for over 150 years in very good shape! I am so happy to have found it– and at $9.50, it was an excellent bargain!

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Though that stray little basting stitch is slowly driving me batty! :P

The Genteel Fashionista’s Dialogue: A Humorous Timeline of Fashion

In the Classic Style of Historical Fashion Satire and in the Spirit of Congenial Camaraderie, I Present to You the Product of an Overly-Active Brain in the Form of a Fashion Timeline in which there is much Over-Generalization, a Single Expletive, and a Dearth of Illustrations:

THE GENTEEL FASHIONISTA’S DIALOGUE

The Genteel Fashionista Dialog

1770s – Let’s flaunt how wealthy we are with lots of delicate, expensive fabric and wall-like skirts so wide we need special doors, furniture, and houses built just to accommodate them! Pass the hair powder and Pomeranians!

1780s – Thanks to new technological advances and the start of the Industrial Revolution, I am enjoying my emerging merchant-class lifestyle! However, panniers get in the way when I try to navigate city living. High hats and hair, though, I can do. Also, I am strangely beguiled by these cork rumps….

1790s – The peasants are pissed. Maybe big hair, big hats, and big butts weren’t the way to go. Plus, there’s a bunch of cool Greco-Roman stuff in style. Let’s ditch ridged stays and huge skirts for the more refined Empire look…YIKES! A PIKE!

1800s – What a mess that was! Now that the bloodshed is over, I can safely wear white again. These fine, diaphanous fabrics are really expensive and the white makes my spendy imported shawls really pop! I feel on top of the world again!

1810s – Slim sleeves and silhouettes make me look like every other belle at the ball. Some fancy hem trims and puffier sleeves will make me stand out!

1820s – MORE TRIMS! MORE SLEEVES!
Also, maybe some petticoats to help show off ALL THESE HEM TRIMS better.

1830s – F*ck yeah, giant sleeves! Also, I’ve got a pretty hot bod. Those old Regency sacks hide all my hotness, so let’s go back to natural waistlines and open up the neckline for some shoulder action. I am ready for some romancin’!

1840s – Hmmm…maybe I went a little too crazy with the sleeves, low necklines, and bonnets the size of a serving platter. But I like having a waistline again. Let’s see just how much waistline we can get. Longer! I NEED LOOOOONGER!

1850s – Thanks to my corset, my waist is looking better than ever! However, I’m beginning to miss big sleeves. Every belle needs bell sleeves. I could layer them, like those exotic Asian pagoda roofs I saw in a book once. Speaking of roofs, these stacks of petticoats are getting tough to walk in. Maybe I need some rafters…

1856 – HELLO STEEL HOOPED CAGED CRINOLINE, MY NEW BEST FRIEND.

1860s – These hoops are awesome! Now I can display yards and yards of expensive fabric easily again and everyone has to clear the sidewalk to let me through, like Moses parting the sea. Bonus points for getting the sofa all to myself! Let’s see just how big these hoops can go.

1870s – I’ll admit that I might have gone overboard with the hoops, but now that I’ve turned them into a bustle, I can hug people again and the sidewalks of town are cleaner than ever! The sewing machine makes adding trims to my trim’s trim so easy, too!

1875 – The bustle’s poofs and swags are hiding my hot bod again. :(

1878 – This princess line gown shows off my naturally-enhanced-by-a-corset form perfectly. I’ll never hide my glorious bum under a bustle again! What a folly!

1882 – Well, a little padding back there couldn’t hurt…

1885 – HELLO BUSTLES, MY OLD FRIEND.
I’m sorry I ever doubted you!

1890s – Okay, I’ll admit that the bustle thing got out of hand, but I have learned the error of my ways. Let’s go back to the classic combo of tons of petticoats and huge sleeves.

1900s – I have given up big sleeves in favor of something new: tons of lace and s-bend corsets! They say a puffy breast makes my waist look tinier, but in reality, it makes me look like I am careening forward towards social, industrial, and technological progress, just like a new-fangled motorcar draped in an heirloom tablecloth!

1910s – Rushing towards progress is hard to do in full skirts. A slimmer skirt line is in order. Should I go hobble skirt to display my fashion prowess or skirt suit to further the march towards women’s independence? Either way, it will need more decorative buttons.

1920s – Corsets and curves have been incumbent for too long! I vote for President Bob Haircut and Senator Cloche! Drop waists from the ballot and pass the mascara! The world is ready to finally revel in the glory of my knees!

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Here is 160 years worth of fashion plates!
See if you can spot the trends:

1770s fashion plates

1780s fashion plates

1790s fashion plates

1800s fashion plates

1810s fashion plates

1820s fashion plates

1830s fashion plates

1840s fashion plates

1850s fashion plates

1860s fashion plates

1870s fashion plates

1880s fashion plates

1890s fashion plates

1900s fashion plates

1910s fashion plates

1920s fashion plates

New Friends Do Not Replace Old Ones: Why I Still Wear My First OTR Corset

The average Victorian woman wore OTR corsets ordered from one of the many corset manufacturers operating at the time. Because corsets were pretty much universal in Western society, Victorian OTR corsets came in many different proportional variations to fit every body type. It is currently much more difficult to find this sort of variety in modern OTR corsets, but as the popularity of corsets grows, so does the selection.

In both the costuming and corsetry communities, there has been a debate brewing about off-the-rack (OTR) corsets vs. custom corsets. Here’s a link to an example of the OTR vs. custom debate on Lucy’s Tumblr page followed by her opinion on the matter. Both communities agree that a custom corset is the safest, most comfortable option, but OTR corsets are the most accessible to beginners who are still learning. I know I made mistakes with my first few corsets purchases. The learning curve is why OTR corsets are often recommended to beginners, but it is also why some corset wearers do not like OTR. Why risk wasting money on an ill-fitting corset that could potentially turn someone off of corseting? Going custom right out of the gate assures a better fit and often better materials. That’s very true, and an excellent point, but depending on the wearer and their goals, an OTR corset may be a good fit right out of the gate at a much lower price than going custom. It is also a good option for someone who doesn’t have the time, skill, or desire to sew their own corset.

—-*—-

Before I go much further, I want to identify, specify, and clarify that I am talking about corsets used for costuming, not modern waist-training. Waist-training is a form of body modification that takes dedication and time to achieve, as well as a different set of criteria for the corset itself. Waist-training corsets are usually underbusts and are designed to comfortably provide the maximum waist reduction possible. Historically speaking, underbusts weren’t really used until the late 1890s (though you can use them in a pinch for historical costuming, too). The majority of corsets used in historical costuming are mid/overbusts, which are not recommended for modern waist-training. Regularly wearing an overbust corset for costuming purposes may serendipitously cause your waist to train down (our Victorian ancestors wore theirs everyday, effectively waist training), but a corset used for costuming does not need to provide much waist reduction at all to be effective. For this reason, it is very important to identify your goal and purpose for wearing a corset before choosing one.

For information and advice about using corsets for waist training rather than costuming, please visit Lucy’s Corsetry or one of the many other corset community blogs/tumblrs/YouTube channels that deal specifically with waist training.

—-*—-

My first “real” corset was an OTR overbust. At the time, I had no idea that there was a debate raging or that there were online communities dedicated to corset wearing and buying. I approached the situation purely from a historical costuming perspective: I needed a historical-looking corset that would be hearty and give me the shape/support I needed to costume. That’s all. I made a wishlist, set price point, and got to shopping on the one website I knew I could find them: eBay (from “Glamorous-Corset-Boutique“) . And despite what many people assume are huge odds, I successfully acquired an OTR overbust that has lasted over two years now!

About 1 week after purchase.
You can read about that adventure here.

Two Year Old OTR Corset

Two years later: still cinchin’!

I made a few mistakes. For example, I bought a long line corset thinking I needed one since I have a long torso. While I do have a long torso, the majority of the length is above the bustline. I am actually short waisted, so the long waist-to-hip length of my first corset means that the bottom jabs into my thighs when I sit down. This is no fault of the corset itself, simply user error. It was a learning point, though, since I discovered that more measurements matter than just bust-waist-hip. Vertical numbers are important, too! Which is why I eventually saved up and bought a custom corset from Hourglass Attire that was drafted and fitted to my individual measurements.

Corset by Hourglass Attire

However, just because a corset is OTR does not mean that it can’t do its job and do it well. My white satin OTR corset, despite its flaws, still has many positive qualities. Indeed, the flaws in some cases are actually helpful which is why I continue to wear it even though I own other, “better” corsets.

— Materials/Construction —

Con: The fabric and sewing of the corset are of poor quality. The satin has stretched over time.
Pro: The satin is soft and forms well to the body without adding extra bulk.

My OTR corset is made of two layers: a very cheap, thin white satin with a cotton twill strength layer, all rather inelegantly sewn. It does have a waist tape, but over the years, the fabric has stretched, so it is about a half inch bigger (~24.5″ rather than 24″) than when I first got it. However, I have the smallest external measurement in this corset despite the fact that it has the largest waist measure of all my corsets because it lies so closely to my skin. Its thinness and rather lax rigidity molds to my soft body while still pulling in my waist. It’s lightweight to boot, and not too hot. I don’t think this corset is suited for daily wear, but it has lasted over 2 years of occasional (rather cruel, careless) wear. Because it’s not the finest quality or very expensive, I can use and abuse this corset without feeling guilty–okay, maybe a little guilty since it has served me so well!

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— Shaping —

Cons: Standardized shape does not fit my body exactly- Corset bust too small, length too long. Bland shape with minimal reduction.
Pros: Standardized shape creates a pleasant silhouette, smoothes, and makes fitting patterns easier. Reduces waist slightly comfortably and easily. It also more fully encases my torso, giving me good posture and alleviating my upper back pain as a bonus.

I’ve discussed this in a few other posts, but the shape of my OTR overbust is slim, long, and standardized. The corset is not overly hour-glassy and since it is made to fit about a B cup, it simultaneously tamps down and lifts my F cups. It basically transforms me from a short-waisted, low/big busted tube into a very average, moderately curvy figure all over. Surprisingly, it does so without being uncomfortable (lap-length aside). One of the big complaints about OTR corsets is that they are uncomfortable. I have worn uncomfortable OTR corsets, but this one is actually quite comfy aside from its excess length. In addition, the slim shape means I don’t need to perform as many pattern alterations to fit and people focus on/ask questions about my dress rather than gawking at the extremity of my figure. Make no mistake, I do like a very curvy shape, which is why I ordered a custom corset later. However, a corset doesn’t necessarily have to reduce your waist much or be a perfect match for your personal body shape to work. A corset can alter the natural shape depending on the wearer’s preference (lift/compress/enhance the breasts, nip in/elongate the waist, cup/shape the ribs, etc). So long as the size is carefully chosen and you aren’t trying to squeeze into a too-small corset, a little bit of body shifting can be a good thing. OTR corsets are not all created equal, so careful planning is need to make sure that the fit is going to be comfortable, even if it’s not perfect. The shapes may be similar between brands, but subtle style variance can make a world of difference!

differentcorsets

Top left: 1830-40
Top right: 1870s
Bottom left and right: 1890s

Corsets were not all the same shape or construction throughout the 19th century either. The ideal body shape varied by decade as did the construction of the corsets. While you don’t have to have an ideal body shape to wear a certain era of style, having different corsets with different shaping properties can help achieve a more accurate look. For example, my low-bosomed, short-waisted natural shape was in vogue during the 1860s and 1870s. My custom corset accents that shape even further, making it ideal for wearing under the fashions from those decades. However, other decades, like the 1840s, 1880s, and 1890s, favored longer waists. I still use my custom corset for these eras, too, but my OTR corset is perfect for giving my torso a longer look for these decades if I so choose.

—To Conclude —

There is nothing wrong with wearing an off-the-rack corset. If you find an OTR corset that works for your body and your costume, there is no reason to shun it. Wearing one does not mean you are lazy, poor, or somehow ill-educated about corsets, either. A corset’s main function is support and smoothing, so as long as yours does that comfortably, it will work just fine! You also don’t have to suspend all OTR corset purchases if you bought a custom. Once you get a custom corset, you may not find OTR as comfortable or satisfying as they once were, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop buying them. Au contraire! Unless you have lots of money to spend on many different custom corsets (or the skill to sew them yourself), OTR corsets can offer you a wide variety of styles, fabrics, and trims and are a great way to test out different silhouettes.

—A Note on Corset Ethics—

Symington corset production line, circa 1895-1900
Most major corset manufacturers from the 19th century went out of business when corsets fell out of favor during the 20th century. Now that corsets are regaining mainstream popularity, new commercial corset manufacturers are popping up to fill in the gap.

There are some ethics-based arguments about OTR corsets to take into consideration.  Many OTR corsets are made in China, Pakistan, and India in less-than-ideal conditions. There is a reason many are so inexpensive, and it’s not always the materials. Cheap corset sellers import their corsets from overseas where fair labor laws are minimal if they exist at all, raising ethical concerns about supporting OTR corset companies that may be exploiting their workers. If you are concerned about the ethical origins of your corsets, many individual corset makers offer their own lines of OTR corsets made to a standard set of measurements for a lower price than their custom pieces. Many historical corset shapes aren’t manufactured OTR at all, so depending on your desire for accuracy, a semi-custom or custom corset may be your only option if you do not want to make one yourself. Plus, if you’d like to support your local economy and artists, Lucy has a corsetiere map to find a corsetiere near you! Other places to find fairly-crafted corsets include Etsy (though you must beware of resellers), Tumblr, artists’ personal websites, or through forums and Facebook groups.
(That’s not so say that people can’t take advantage of corsetieres as well. Even if people tell you that a corset can be put together easily with the right pattern and some time, the price of a corset also reflects the maker’s time invested in learning the skills necessary to design, pattern, and sew. Don’t expect to get a corset from an artist for the price of an outsourced corset from one of the big corset importers!)

Lords of Lapels: Flamboyant Tailcoats and Frock Coats of the Early 19th Century

Reveling in Revers
The 1970s only dreamed of being this flamboyant!

I love lapels and collars. The bigger they are, the better! Toss in some velvet or fur and I will swoon!

hermes

Trompe l’oeil lapels by Hermes?
Yes please!

And this one?
We’ll call this the “Margarita collar” because I’d wear it, but it might take a few margaritas to get me there!

Ladies have a large variety of fabulous lapels to choose from, but most men usually only wear lapels on business or formal suits. Apparel prior to the late 18th century was also seriously lacking in the lapel department. The 1780s decided that this lack of lapels was a crime and by the 1790s, men were wearing lapels so large they dwarfed the coat they were attached to! Not satisfied with just a single magnificent lapel, gentlemen and dandies layered lapels. A coat might have double lapels, resting over a waistcoat (or even two), also with lapels! Incroyables, fashion-obsessed youth with a flair for the outrageous, wore the largest and most ostentatious lapels of all:

Tailcoat, circa 1795-1800

“Ha! Those lapels are so puny and insignificant I need an eyeglass to see them!”
A close up of an Incroyable sporting a jaw-dropping set of revers/lapels in an original engraving by Carle Vernet
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Thus began a golden age of menswear–the Age of Lapels!

Silk Tailcoat, circa 1790-95

“Portrait of General Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux” by Andrea Appiani, circa 1800
While teh lapels themselves are rather tame, the layering makes them pop.

Wool and Silk Velvet Frock Coat, circa 1820-30

Man’s Dressing Gown, circa 1820
Even at home wear in the 1820s had lapels! How sexy is this toile dressing gown?!

Wool and Silk Velvet Frock Coat, circa 1830-38

Modern menswear is all about making a man look as angular as possible, boxy, even. In the early 19th century, men’s fashion was all about the inverted triangle. Layers of high collars on coats, waistcoats, and shirts –not to mention the massively wide stocks and cravats– combined with tight-fitting boots, breeches, and trousers further enhanced the top-heavy shape, which, admittedly, is not unlike an old-fashioned Barbie doll. Indeed, by the 1830s, you might even say the ideal male shape matched that of his female counterparts:

Fashion plate, circa 1829

Pouf sleeves made the shoulders look larger and nipped-in waists look even smaller. King George IV was rather barrel shaped, so he relied on a belt-like waist cincher to help firm up his middle for a more fashionable appearance. For other fashionable men, even wide lapels and pouf sleeves were not enough, so they, too, turned to corsetry to get the popular pigeon-breasted look. Many cartoonists enjoyed lampooning dandies, poking fun at how similar a man’s dressing routine was to a lady’s. Indeed, a fashionable man during the 1820s wore just as many layers as his female counterpart and put equal effort into his hairstyle, accessories, and cosmetics:

“Dandy’s Toilette: Stays” by an English Satirist, circa 1818
I don’t think a dandy would put his stays over the top of his trousers since it would make unbuttoning them impossible and block access to his fob pocket. However, he was quite wise to put on his boots before lacing up!

“Dandy’s Toilette” by an English Satirist, circa 1818
The final look, though sadly lacking in lapel eye-candy. Still, he cuts a figure anybody, man or woman, might envy! The tailor/manservant is brushing down the tailcoat with a garment brush to remove any loose hairs or dust. Until sticky lint rollers were invented in the 1950s, no wardrobe was complete without a good garment brush (as this 1940s video will tell you).

The ultimate Lord of Lapels was none other than the dashing young Napoleon Bonaparte. Besides sporting large lapels, Regency, Napoleonic, and Romantic era coats were usually coated (Ha ha ha! Coated.) in buttons. A gentleman could decide for himself just how much lapel he thought was appropriate for the occasion. For example, Napoleon’s coats were often worn buttoned to the neck for formality and warmth, but most were also decorated on the inside so he could fold back the lapels for some extra pizzazz!

“Bonaparte, First Consul” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (based on a portrait by Antoine-Jean Gros), circa 1804
This painting has an interesting history (which you can read here).

BAM!
“Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, full-length, as First Consul” either by or copied from Antoine-Jean Gros, circa 1803

He must have really loved this particular coat/style because he is frequently painted wearing it in various states of un-buttoned-ness. Coat fronts designed to fold back into lapels displaying a fancy lining like this are called “revers.” Wikipedia credits the term to the 1860s, but the technique was used long before then. The fanciest revers were worn by the French officers in the Napoleonic wars. Military fashion has always influenced civilian fashion trends and the luscious lapels of the upper military echelons made their way into the formal wear for non-military personnel soon enough. After all, who wouldn’t want lapels/revers like these?

“Portrait of François Paul de Brueys d’Aigaliers” by an unknown artist

From the 1790s to the 1820s, the tailcoat was the go-to men’s garment. Frock coats became fashionable in the 1820s and 30s. They are called frock coats because they have a full skirt around the bottom, unlike a tailcoat which is cut away at the front. “Frock” was originally a general term for loose outerwear for both men and women, but over the years, it developed feminine connotations. Indeed, many modern women’s coats look identical to early 19th century menswear! Modern men’s frock coats are still available, but they are more columnar than their 1830s predecessors.  If you are a slim-shouldered gentleman, you might be able to find the perfect Georgian frock coat in the lady’s section of your local department store!

 coat

Lady’s Fit and Flare Coat by Next
The 1820s and 1830s style of frock coat is now known as a “fit and flare peacoat” and if you find one with buttons that end at/above the waist and big, bold lapels–JACKPOT!

Many modern coats can be quickly modified to look more antique by “down-dating” the lapels. For example, a coat styled like the one above can be left unbuttoned at the top just like Napoleon’s uniform. Add some decorative braid or velvet to the inside edges for glorious Napoleonic-style revers! A stunning fur shawl collar is another easy way to dress up a frock coat for late-Georgian costumes. You can simply tack a crescent-shaped piece of faux fur or a vintage fur collar to an existing coat to mimic the look of an elegant Georgian frock coat:

Winter Frock Coat with Fur Shawl Collar, circa 1828-30

Men weren’t relegated to dark colors, either! While the most popular 19th century colors for men’s coats were blue, brown, and black, there were exciting coats out there, too:

Silk Dress Coat, circa 1825-30
Day coats were generally subdued, but evening wear and dressing gowns were frequently bright and colorful.

By the time Queen Victoria inherited the throne in 1837, lapels had calmed down considerably. Large shawl collars stuck around, but the true golden age of ostentatious lapel tailoring lasted from about 1790 to 1835. If you aren’t as enamored with giant lapels as I or an Incroyable might be, don’t fret. There were many styles and sizes of lapels to choose from and many modern coats will work just fine as-is. For example, for Christopher’s Georgian Picnic outfit, he just wore his everyday modern wool coat:

15620928860_34645fdbda_k

Large, full-length coats like this were called “great coats.” They were often worn over tailcoats during the late 18th and early 19th century for extra warmth until frock coats came into fashion. You can read more about Chris’s 1820s outfit here.

Honestly, a coat, waistcoat (vest), pair of slacks or trousers, and dress shirt is all a gentleman needs to start putting together a handsome Regency outfit. So go big, go small, or wild but don’t go home because, seriously, ladies love a man in costume! Fancy lapels are just a bonus.

:)

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Aaaaannnd….bonus picture of Alison’s awesome Marat cosplay/costume with the most redonk set of leopard print lapels!

There are no words…
Check out her tumblr and deviantart pages to check out her fantastic cosplays, historical costumes, and more!

Also, here’s a great suit-coat-to-tail-coat tutorial.