Overdressed at the Nudes Exhibit: My 1880s Flannel Bustle Dress goes to the Museum

Waaaaaay back in December of 2018, I went to Dickens on the Strand with my friend Megan (aka Mistress of Disguise / Clusterfrock). Since it had been frightfully chilly the week before, I made a flannel bustle dress using the “duct-tape dummy” method (mummify yourself in duct tape and cut the form into pattern pieces) in anticipation of promenading in the cold streets of Galveston (plus, there were many tales of the previous year being rained out). It was my first time ever using the duct tape method and even though it was very time consuming, I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome! I have since made multiple dresses using the original duct tape pattern and each time I have achieved a good fit much more quickly than my previous slopers.

This is the only in-progress shot of have of this dress because I was just trying to buzz through it like a bee in a windstorm in order to make the deadline! You can see the raw duct tape pattern at the top and the absolute wild shape of it to fit my body. It looks insane (3 darts?! Whatever works…), but the resulting fit is unbeatable.

However, in grand Texas style, the weather shifted from being partly cloudy in the 30s to being sunny, 80 degrees, and soppingly humid. Despite being ill-suited for the heat, I wore my flannel dress to a marvelous tea party and had a good time anyway.

Unlike the Victorians who wore their grand, heavy dresses in the midst of a mini ice age, current Texas weather patterns are far from ideal for 5 pounds of fluffy cotton flannel! I meant to write a blog post about my trip right after the event, but never got around to it. So the poor flannel dress hung in my closet, entombed in a plastic dust cover.

Most of 2019 was much the same: far too warm to wear anything long sleeved, much less made of flannel. I made costumes out of cool fabrics instead, like my linen-blend 1878 mourning dress with 3/4 sleeves to beat the heat (also made using the duct tape dummy pattern as the base). Even when December rolled around, we pretty consistently hit temps in the 70s and 80s. If the heat wasn’t going to wane in winter, I decided I was just going to make fresh accessories for my black dress, like I did for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tours:

When 2020 arrived, a new DFW Costumers Guild event was on the horizon: Renoir, the Body the Senses, at the Kimbell Art Museum. Again, I pulled some fabrics from my stash in anticipation of just making a new overskirt, cuffs, and collars for my black dress. But as the day drew near, time ran out!

Life got incredibly hectic: we had planned a nice long visit to my parents’ house, but on the 8 hour drive over, our car died in the desert! We spent vacation wrestling with the dead car and the rest of the week tying to find a new one. By the time the Saturday of the event rolled around, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to sew. I considered skipping it entirely. But Becky really wanted to go and the weather had chilled…the flannel dress called to me from the dark recesses of the closet: IT IS TIME!

I pulled out out and prayed it would still fit. And it did! Huzzah! I always thought the front was too plain, so I had just enough gumption and time to add some navy ribbon to it. Much better!

I have discovered that ribbon—LOTS of ribbon– is invaluable to costuming. Rosettes, belts, hat bands, ties, hairbows, jabots, edging, waist-tapes, binding, accents, purse strings…ribbon is infinitely useful. However, don’t be like me and underestimate how much ribbon you’ll need: I used about 3 yards of antique ribbon just to make these few accents and I didn’t have a scrap left!

So I donned my chemise, undies, corset, corset liner, under petticoat, bustle, over petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice, and hat, tickled the entire time that I’m wearing all these extra layers to go see nudes!

You see, this particular museum exhibit was exclusively Renoir’s nude paintings through the years (with a smattering of nude portraits by other artists that inspired him).

Ooo, lala!

vs. Our Extra-Fully-Clothed Group

Photo courtesy of Christy

Honestly, I think our costumed group provided excellent historical context and contrast to the exhibit. There we were, dressed as the women in the portraits and patrons of the museums viewing the paintings would have dressed in their day-to-day lives– highlighting just how intimate and revealing Renoir’s realistic nudes are and how brave and daring his models were to pose nude in an era where women generally wore very modest clothing and while idealistic, “classically” painted nudes were widely revered, the models/actresses posing for them were still given the disapproving societal side-eye.

I wish I’d gotten some photos of us in costume next to the paintings to show the contrast, but there were lots of people and I always feel a bit rude taking photos in a full gallery when folks are there trying to appreciate the art. I did grab one of Becky and I outside in the lovely, pleasant, absolutely refreshing 50 degree Texas morning air:

10000000% more pleasant than the 80 degree days of December 2018 and 2019!

Afterwards, we went to La Madeline for lunch where I stuffed myself silly with strawberries and cream!

It was a good day, something I sorely needed to lift my mood after the stressful week scraping and scrambling after suddenly losing the car. I am very grateful to my family and friends for helping get us through it all!

Oh! I nearly forgot on of my favorite little details about this dress: the tiny Victorian pin that’s on the collar. I don’t know who it’s commemorating or what significance 1850 has, but I love the tiny mystery!

Reclaiming a Hat Icon: How to Turn a Trilby into a Victorian Lady’s Hat Tutorial

This post is a bit of a weird ride– from Charles Dickens to Trolls to Britney Spears. But you could get a great hat out of the deal!

I should have written this post almost a year ago when I went to Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise back in December of 2018, but I really fell off the blogging wagon and didn’t. So, finally, here’s a blog post about my costumes for Dickens on the Strand 2018– beginning with my thifty hat makeover:

While it’s not the most flattering hat on everyone, the trilby (commonly misidentified as a fedora) comes in a vast array of materials and sizes. In fact, after ballcaps, beanies, and cowboy hats (here in Texas at least), the trilby is the most readily available male hats. You can even buy them at Walmart for less than $10.

via Quora

I have a massive love of hats! I have at least 30 of them, some of them vintage, some new, and many modded for costuming. Some of them are also my husband’s hats, like his tricorn, cowboy hat, and numerous old fedoras/trilbies. However, both fedoras and trilbies have gotten a sour reputation recently because of their association with internet trolls and creepy pick-up “artists.” Due to these bad stereotypes, my husband hasn’t been wearing his old trilbies as much anymore, so they were just gathering dust in my closet.

But did you know that fedoras actually started as a popular unisex, feminist fashion in the 1880s and trilbies are perfect for transforming into Victorian lady’s hats? Yes, indeed! So when I needed a last minute hat to go with my flannel 1880s bustle dress, I decided to take the trilby back from the trolls and give one of those old hats a new life.

During the 1870s, bonnets began to be replaced by hats as the fashionable form of daytime headgear for ladies. The ancestor of the modern fedora was actually created in the 1880s as a hat worn by all-around badass Sarah Bernhardt, who wore the first fedora during a play called, well, Fedora!

I couldn’t find a photo of Sarah Bernhardt in her original Fedora, but here she is in a different cool hat. You can see how you could easily make a similar hat by modifying a modern fedora.

In 1894, The Trilby hat was invented and also got its name from the hat style worn in the theatrical production, but the trilby was worn by a male actor and has thus been a man’s hat from the start. However, the shape shows up in women’s hats of the previous decade, making all our currently-much-maligned trilbies the perfect base for last-minute-panic Victorian bustle hats!

Natural Form Era hats. The Vintage Dancer has an excellent article on 19th century ladies’ hats! Click the fashion plate above to visit.

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

I took trimming inspiration for my last-minute trilby transformation from 1880s hats like the lady’s on the left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any in-progess pics of my Dickens on the Strand hat because– in my usual fashion– I made it literally the night before Megan and I left for Galveston! However, I did absolutely nothing to the base hat, just trimmed it (haphazardly).

I used 1 roll of cream-colored ribbon from Walmart, a netting remnant, and pinned an antique silver dime brooch to the front.

Now, there is a secret to every successful hat…and I’m going to spill the beans just for you.

As I have stated before, this is just a plain old man’s store-bought trilby. Even under all the trimmings, it’s still very visibly a modern trilby…probably because it’s a good two sizes too big! It’s my husband’s, so it’s an XL hat made to fit a 6′ 2″ dude. If I just plop it down on my head, it’s so huge it engulfs half my noggin!

Yet, most modern hats– even ones sized correctly for your head– sit far too low on the face. If you’ve ever gotten photos back from an event only to discover your face is all shadowed over and hidden by your hat, it’s because modern hats have very wide, deep crowns to sit far enough down on your head to keep them in place at the expense of your forehead.

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

Historical women’s hats, however, were designed to perch on top of elaborate hairstyles, particularly buns. Often, they hardly touched you head at all, sitting entirely atop a nest of fluffy hair instead.

 

And instead of relying on a deep crown to stay in place, women used hat pins.

Call the Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

Even if a hat had a deep crown, it often had an interior fabric “cap” or drawstring ring that kept the crown from swallowing your head.

Some well-designed modern hats still use this feature. This is the inside of my favorite modern “church lady” hat that I wear for Edwardian costumes. You can see the drawstring ring inside that adjusts to fit your head so the enormously tall crown doesn’t eat your face.

Any of these things can be done to modify a modern hat to fit in a historical manner. In the case of my trilby-turned-Victorian hat, I didn’t have time to put in a fitting ring, but I did have plenty of hair to stuff into it. This kept it aloft.

In fact, the true secret to historical hat success isn’t just the hat itself: it’s the hair under it!

Properly styled hair– even if it’s the most simplistic version of a period style– instantly takes you from hat rookie to hat champion!

To demonstrate this better, here is a series of hasty, terrible bathroom selfies I took.

Let’s start with a modern trilby I have that actual fits me correctly:

If you want to use a trilby to make a Victorian hat, I recommend starting with one that actually fits, or one slightly too small.

As you can see, it fits much better than my big brown one! But with the deep hat crown and modern hairstyle, the farthest back in time this hat takes me is high school in the early 2000s. No thanks!

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

This is my go-to basic hairstyle. It’s my collarbone length hair pulled up in a simple bun and then my beloved “curl loaf” slapped on the front. Nothing fancy.

This style is perfect for the 1880s and 1890s, but it can carry you from the late 1870s to the 1910s if you really need to. Plus, it works especially well with hats! The bun gives you something to perch your hat on so it stays off your face, and it give you something to safely stab hat pins into to keep everything in place. The curls up front also help lift the crown of the hat away from your face and, if you’ve got strong features or a large face like me, the curls peek out from under the hat a bit to soften your face. Plus, the hairstyle looks good on its own, in case you have to remove your hat.

Now that you’ve got your hair in place, you can play with how you wear your hat! To instantly take a trilby from modern to old-fashioned, wear it on the back of your head for a more bonnet-like appearance:

A fashion plate from the late 1870s showing bonnet-like hats worn on the back of the head to take trimming inspiration from.

You can also wear the trilby backwards so that the curled part of the brim is at the top of your head to help disguise the modernness even more. Covered in trimmings like puffy bows and feathers or covered in fabric to match your dress will further transform it!

Covered in lace and fabric, a modern trilby could be used as a base for these 1870s bonnets! Notice how these bonnets/hats are sitting way up high on a giant mound of hair, as was fashionable in the 1870s. The hats aren’t even touching their faces or necks. Worried you don’t have enough hair? Don’t worry! Most Victorians used plenty of hairpieces to make such fab hairstyles.

Another way to wear it is perched up on your hair completely, tilted forward a tad. Rather than disguising the shape of the trilby, this angle shows off the full shape and works well for the more tailored looks of the 1880s:

Of course, wearing it this way also puts your hair on display more, so make sure the back is nice and neat (unlike mine, ha!).

So many trim options! From the 1870s to the 1880s.

No matter how you choose to wear it, however, you will want to trim it. Depending on your trilby’s material. you might be able to get away with a few ribbons or spray of flowers, but the Victorians loved trims and, as you can see in the fashion plate examples, the base hat is often buried under a mound of bows, lace, feathers, flowers, and other crazy-fun whatnots! So get creative and go wild with the trims!

For my 1880s dress, I wore my/my husband’s giant trilby perched on top of my head. It was so huge it still kind of ate my head, but it worked perfectly for a last-minute hat with not a lick of hat blocking required! Plus, it was inexpensive. Since I recycled an old hat, I only had to spend money on the ribbon, which was, like $3. I guess if you wanted to count it, the $10 brooch was the biggest expense, though I had that on-hand, too, or it could easily have been replaced with a big button. Is this method perfectly HA and the pinnacle of design? Ha, no! But all-in-all, it worked just as I needed it to!

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)

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!

Exploding Roosters, Cloches, and Nellie Mae: The Best Hats Currently for Sale from Augusta Auctions

This is one of those “fluff” posts I love to write when I find something that just tickles me to death.

Augusta Auctions is a vintage/antique textile seller that always has tons of gorgeous stuff up for grabs. I drool over their gowns all the time! However, in their October 25th catalogue, it wasn’t the gowns that caught my eye, but something else entirely.

This latest sale has a superb selection of super-sassy hats and bonnets!

There are plenty of totally fab-o 1880s and 1890s hats with to-die-for trimmings:

Feast your eyes on all that glorious texture! Mmmmmmm…..

1950s and 1960s class and quirk:

Bill Cunningham hat, 1950s

Bill Cunningham Beach Hat, circa 1960
I’ve fondly dubbed this the “Rooster Explosion” hat. I need it. I have the hat basket to make it…

There are also some low-key-cool 1920s hats (with model heads that seemed a little embarrassed to be listed next to the Rooster Explosion) that would fit right in on the later seasons of Downton Abbey:

Two Cloches, circa 1920
So tight lipped! Grandma’s hat mannequins do not approve!

Going back even further, you’ll find the same bedroom-eyed gals modelling another pair of hats, this time from around 1915:

Pair of Blue velvet hats, circa 1915
Matching your eyeshadow to your hat: yay or nay?

And while all those hats are glorious and some are even grand, they are still not what caught my eye when I was scrolling through the online auction catalogue! It was not the stunning straw weaving or the elegant embroidery or even the Rooster Explosion that spurred me to revive my blog after months of total silence. It wasn’t even the sourpuss Bouvier Sisters display heads that made my day.

It was this face that suddenly flashed onto my screen and into my heart:

BEHOLD! Nellie Mae, the antique wax hat model with No Hecks Left to Give!

This is the orange, waxy visage of a Victorian woman who just cannot process the utter hogwash she just heard and is giving you Ye Olde Internal Eyeroll.

These are the eyes of a woman who has survived everything from face-smothering balloon sleeves to monokinis and greets each fresh fashion faux pas with “That’s…..interesting.”

These are the tired eyes of a Victorian woman watching a modern “historical drama” where everyone is complaining about corsets, there isn’t a hairpin in sight, and NONE of the women are wearing hats, but since she was sculpted without hands, she is cruelly denied the ability to facepalm.

This is the expression every woman wears when she’s seen everything, done everything, and had it up to HERE with all that heckin’ ballyhoo, giving that curt little smile every woman knows is reserved for those times where you have to be polite but, golly you just wanna be left alone/punch someone!

Is she angry? Is she sad? Is she happy? NO! After 100 years, she has transcended the realm of emotion to the blissful plane of blasé ennui.

Nellie Mae is that friend that’s all sweet tea, quiet conversation, and floral arrangements until you push her just a little too hard and BAM! The Southerners can hear the “Bless your precious little heart” that’s waiting just behind those pert little lips.

Nellie Mae: My new Hat Heroine!

I love her so much! She’s got so much personality and, dang, she has great taste in hats! ;)
The rest of the auction catalogue can be viewed here (there’s a pair of 1920s marabou robes that you simply MUST see!).

 

Bustling Through Boston: Searching for Mme Chesneau’s Dressmaking Shop

Last time I fell down an enormous rabbit hole, it was while researching this 1840s men’s neck stock from Philidelphia:

Click here to fall into that hole yourself.

I was not only about to find out where the stock was made, but all about the man who manufactured it! Through careful study, I was able to even narrow down the age of the stock to within 4 years– just based on the manufacturer’s stamp inside!

Anyway, this time around I have fallen down the rabbit hole with this skirt:

Isn’t the gold lovely? And that lace! The waist is bitty bitty: only 20 inches.

Some pretty little details to this deceptively simple skirt like floral lace overlay and tiny little knife pleats.

Unlike the stock (which I found in my favorite antique store and now own), this skirt is not mine, but an auction item on eBay waaaaaay out of my price range. I was just going to post a short little Facebook blurb about it because it’s so dang pretty, but then I looked closer at the pictures and found this:

Yes indeed! This skirt has a marker’s mark!

Fortunately, Boston is an old town, so there are plenty of maps available. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Mme Chesneau’s little shop deftly labelled as I was able to do for Mr. Ward. However! Her shop was in the heart of Boston– right off the Commons! The block she was located on is still relatively intact thanks to the presence of the Granary Burial Ground right behind it.

6 Beacon Street circa 2017

Today, the address belongs to a late Victorian building with a mix of offices, condos, and businesses inside. Here’s a realtor’s ad for the building (it’s a PDF, so it will download for you to open), if you are curious about the current interior. Sadly, very little, if any, of the original Victorian finishes appear to remain beyond the outside shell, but the street layout and numbers have not changed much at all (unlike poor Mr. Ward’s store locations which were both obliterated in the 1950s when Independence Mall was constructed). Mme Chesneau would also have been just up the block from the historical Tremont House when she owned her shop there in the late 1870s or early 1880s (judging by the style of the skirt). The Tremont House was a grand hotel built in 1829 and famous for being one of the first “modern” hotels with indoor plumbing, bellboys, and guest soaps:

I’m sure guests made off with all the free soaps just like they do today…and that’s a good thing!

Sadly, the Tremont House was razed in 1895 and the office buildings that now fill the block around the old burial ground went up in its place.

I didn’t delve as much in-depth with this skirt as I did with the neckstock, but here are some nifty maps from the 19th and early 20th century showing how much (and how little) the area where Mme Chesneau would have worked has changed:

This view is from decades before the skirt was made, but it shows you how little the streets of Boston in this area have changed! This is the view of 6 Beacon street from the Boston Commons. The spire belongs to Park Church and the trees behind it are the Granary Burial Ground. It’s hard to tell which side of the street the other buildings are on, but one of them to the left in the background would house 6 Beacon Street. The domed building to the far left is the Massachusetts State House, built in 1798.

The view of 6 Beacon Street from 1877–near the time the skirt was made! You can see the big dome of the Massachusetts State House in the foreground with the spire of Park Street Church right behind it. 6 Beacon Street would have been in or near the tan building to the left of the church.

This view of 6 Beacon street was made at almost exactly the same time as our golden bustle skirt: 1879. This view shows the dark outlines of some buildings, but it’s not a very detailed map. There are, however, 2 dark buildings at the corner where Somerset Street meets with Beacon Street at the turn. 6 Beacon Street would be located in one of these.

This 1885 map is a bit more detailed. In the center you can see the label for the Burial Ground in big letters to the right of the commons. If you look closely, you can see the label for the Tremont House (Tremont H.) to the right. 6 Beacon Street is in the white space just above it (on this map, white space doesn’t necessary indicate an empty lot, but just means there was nothing of importance to the cartographer).

Check out this nifty map from 1894: it shows the subway routes! In the 1890s, Boston began to change very rapidly. This is the year Boston’s first modern hotel was no longer modern enough for the growing city and shut down. The map still labels the plot “Tremont Building,”, but the outline looks much more like the office building the replaced it a year later…

Sad day! The Tremont House is no more on this 1895 map, but the giant Victorian office building that stands in its place today is still there. 6 Beacon Street is right on the other side of the little street leading to the Granary Burial Ground, Tremont Place. The building is labelled as being owned by WJ Otis.

One last glimpse of 19th century Boston and 6 Beacon Street. The building numbered 14 is the office complex that replaced the Tremont House 4 years earlier. Behind it is where 6 Beacon Street would be. I do not know if Mme Chesneau was still in Boston, but it is very likely that the building she sewed the skirt in was long gone by this time (I tried to look up the age of the current building there, but short of diving into tax records, I could not find it).

I could probably look Mme Chesneau up in Boston’s tax and business registration records, but I never thought I’d get so involved with an eBay skirt I could never hope to own! So unless I find a random pile of money to buy the skirt, I’m going to stop obsessing over something I cannot have for now.

However, the story of the skirt does not end with my trunicated quest or Mme Chesneau, the woman that made it. Someone bought and wore this skirt… but who? The seller themselves has a little theory about the owner of the skirt to add to the mix, making this skirt a nifty little diversion for a historical fashion, genealogy  and georeference fans alike:

We found 2 names associated with these clothes [there are other clothes available for auction from this seller]. A Miss D Hurd in a C 1915 dress and a calling card with a Mr and Mrs Ledyard Hart Heckscher. The older 1880s dresses may have belonged to Mrs Heckscher because their names are on a calling card with a note that states ” Fil de Main” Handkerchief sent to your grandmother Heckscher in 1869.”  The calling card looks of the late Victorian period. They may have been from Philadelphia or Boston / New York.”

A dress from a later generation, around 1912, from the seller’s other listings. If these are from a single family, you can tell the love of lustrous satin with netted lace overlay was passed down through the years!

This is what makes historical costume research so fun for me: the human element that leads you on a journey away from the seams and into the streets!

“Looking up Tremont Street toward Beacon Street, with the Granary Burying Ground to the left, taken around 1910. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.” – via Lost New England

The Original Red Death?! An Antique Victorian Fancy Dress Costume Fit for a Phantom

The perfect outfit for threatening guests at your next Masquerade!

Hello and Happy October, world! This blog began over 5 years ago this month when my very first post went live on October 5th, 2011.

Great Galloping Galoshes, how things have changed!

My blog is now old enough to be trusted with knives, open flames, and witchcraft according to antique greeting cards.
I’m so proud…*sniff*

5 years ago to the day (on October 28th, 2011), I posted a photo of a delightful vintage fancy dress costume in honor of Halloween:

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To pay homage to that anniversary, here’s another amazing fancy dress costume I recently found on eBay: a STUNNING Victorian version of a Tudor gentleman!

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Or perhaps, since this fabulosity hails from France, we should call this a Third Republican version of a Valois/Bourbonic gentleman, but that doesn’t sound quite as romantic…

From the seller’s description:

“This is a complete outfit for a young nobleman of the Renaissance, 5 pieces:
– the doublet, (inner front is padded)
– the breeches [trunk hose]
– the cape
– the hat and
– the scabbard belt”

The original eBay listing can be found here.

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It’s encrusted with faceted jet black glass beads and buttons– an elegant look in full sunlight, but even more decadent and  glittering in the light of gaslamps and candles!
(And I can’t be the only one getting Phantom of the Opera vibes, right…right?!)

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Judging by the colors, shapes, and especially the trims, this handsome outfit likely dates between 1885 and 1895–more likely the latter (that’s when black beaded trim was in vogue and just look at that cape…it screams 1890s!) This fabulous fancy dress costume could have either been worn for one of the many costumed balls popular during the late 19th century, made for a sumptuous Shakespearean spectacle, or donned during an opulent opera. Whatever the event, the costume has survived in superb condition! It is made of, as the seller perfectly put it, “soft red silk satin, the finest lightweight silky clothing velvet, very thin brown and cream polished [cotton] for the inner linings of the doublet and breeches.”

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I do believe the trunk hose are displayed backwards. The buttons probably went in back and the open “butt” was worn in front– filled in with a (now missing) codpiece, of course! Since it’s a Victorian recreation, it probably wouldn’t have been a very exciting codpiece by 16th century standards, though. ;P

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The full list of detailed measurements:

Cape height : 29″ width at top: 17″ width at bottom : 107″ 
Doublet Armpit to armpit : 20″  (chest about 40″) length : 20″ 1/2 collar : 17″ waist flat : 21″ chest flat : 19″ 1/2 
Breeches  waist : 15″ 1/2 to 16″ 1/2 legs opening : 21 ” length : 17 ” 
Hat inside: 21″ 1/2 length: 11″

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Such a miraculously fine bit of fantasy to survive in such condition for 120 years!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Click for base image source