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!

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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:

clock-fancy-dress

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!

tutdorvictorian1tudorvictorian10

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.

tudorvictorian2  tudorvictorian5

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?!)

tudorvictorian3

tudorvictorian7

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.”

tudorvictorian9

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

tudorvictorian11

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″

tutdorvictorian1

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

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Click for base image source

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

A Simple 1870s Hairstyle Tutorial and a Review of Mona Lisa’s Curly Bangs Wiglet from Hair World By Jamie

Hair styling is not one of my talents, so, logically, one would assume that I might turn to wigs to make up for my skill deficit…until, of course, you hand me a wig…

Expectation:

s-l300

Sexy Pin-up.

Reality:

Captain Hook

Captain Hook.

Part of my problem is that wearing and caring for a wig still requires some level of hair competency and, frankly, I just am not a wig person. I am a hat person. A hat/bonnet/veil covers a multitude of hair sins!

She may or may not be wearing a giant plastic claw clip and three glittery butterfly barrettes underneath…

However, there are a few eras when hairdos outshone (or overshadowed) the hats. One of those eras is the 1870s. If you love fancy hair and lots of it, the 1870s is the decade for you!

The 1870s were all about big hair, big curls, big braids, and big lies. Fake hair was pretty much required for a properly full 1870s look. Most fashion-conscious women owned at least one switch of hair that wasn’t theirs. Indeed, nearly every fashionable hairstyle involved different hair extensions lie tiny curled frizzettes (fuzzy, short bangs) or even huge braids and entire chignons made of someone else’s hair:

Variety of fashionable hairstyles and the hair extensions (called switches) used to create them, circa 1867.

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1875

There were also all manner of Victorian hair “hacks” invented to help create the elaborate updos in vogue, not unlike all the “As Seen On TV” bun makers and curling contraptions we have today.

Hair dressing combs from Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1878
These combs were sold with instruction pamphlets so ladies and their maids could create stunning hairstyles with “less effort.” I can feel my hair knotting up just looking at them!

A later Edwardian ad for Hair Switches and Chignon Forms from a 1912 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog

As my Simplicity 4244 Natural Form Era project inched closer to completion, I realized that I was going to have to do SOMETHING with my hair in order to properly top off my new 1870s outfit. Hair can really make a or break an outfit, especially a historical one. I wanted to do Simplicity 4244 proper justice, and, honestly, crazy-huge hair has always been my unattainable dream. I figured it was time to give some proper historical hairstyling a try!

I assessed my skills: I could make a high pony tail and I could curl it. Oh, and I could use one of those mesh donuts to make a smooth faux bun, like I did for the DFW Costumers Guild’s outing to Dracula:

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Confession: Christopher actually curled my hair. I just stood there and wept silently at my ineptitude.

Since then, I have learned to operate the curling iron on my own, so now I can make passable spiral curls! Huzzah! I also learned the value of sectioning hair, like parting it from side to side and dividing it to make simple braids. It all sounds so ridiculously basic writing it down, but considering I struggled to make a high “Barbie” ponytail for years, the skills many women take or granted are huge victories for me! With these few triumphs under my belt, I found inspiration in both historical and modern hair tutorials:

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“Details d’une coiffure en cheveun” hairstyle guide from 1873

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Explicación del peinado a dos cogas (Guide for a hairstyle with two rolls), circa 1866, from La Moda Elegante

Modern bridal hairstyles like this one by Ulyana Aster (especially with hair jewels), remind me of Empress Sissi’s hair.

Many of the tutorials I found were for women with thick, textured/curly, or extra-long hair. My natural hair is thin and slick, but fairly plentiful. It is all the same length and doesn’t hold curl really well, but will make a nasty knot in an instant (teasing is not my friend).

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24 hours after cowashing and air drying in the Great Texas Blow-Dryer (sweltering sunshine and western wind). It’s not a dream to style, but it is now much easier to work with than before I began cowashing and using homemade dry shampoo, which more closely mimic historical hair care methods.

With a little experimenting, I came up with an 1870s hairdo that can be done in less than 30 minutes, alone, with minimal tools and techniques. I figured there must be other ladies out there that struggle with historical hair, so I shut myself in my horribly lit bathroom for half an hour to make a photo tutorial.
My hair is below-shoulder length right now, but the method I came up with will work for shoulder length hair, too.

General Hairstyle Suitable for 1867-1880

You will need:

1 ponytail tie/elastic
1 smaller hair elastic
A curling iron
Hair pins, bobby pins, or a snap clip

Step 1: Brush your hair back into a smooth, high ponytail at your crown and secure it with a hair tie.

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 You can experiment with the height of your ponytail so it works best for your hair length and comfort. If you choose to wear a hat/cap/bonnet, make sure it will sit properly over the ponytail. You might need to raise/lower it accordingly.

Step 2: Divide your ponytail into two sections–top and bottom– and bundle the top section together with a hair elastic.

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The top part of your ponytail will become the twist and the bottom part will become the falling curls. Divide the hair according to your preference. Dividing it evenly in half will result in a fuller top twist. Taking only a third of the ponytail for the top will result in a fuller set of curls in the back.

Step 3: Curl the bottom section of your ponytail into ringlets.

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For best results, use a 3/4 inch or smaller curling iron. Mine is 3/4 of an inch and it is about as large as you can go for good period ringlets. Curling irons in the era were generally smaller or women would use rag curls, another option is you have the time. Here are some photos showing Late 1860s-1870s falling curls in a few different sizes and styles: large and tumbling, medium and neat, and small and tight.

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Step 4: Twist (or braid) the top section of your ponytail.

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To get a nice, pretty loop, I loosely twisted the top section. If you have fuller/longer hair, this section would look extra fancy braided. Braids were all the rage during the 1870s– the bigger, the better!

Step 5: Loosely loop the top section around the back of the ponytail and secure the end in front/underneath.

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This sounds tricky, but it’s really more complicated to type/photograph than to actually do. You just drape the twisted top section over the curls in the back, making a nice, languid loop. Then secure and hide the ends. I used a snap clip to secure mine, but a more subtle and period-correct method would be to use hairpins or bobby pins. If your hair is really long, you might even be able to loop it twice or make a bun!

And that’s the end of my basic 1870s style!

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You could stop here, or add a decorative comb or some flowers to dress it up. The style is very similar to this lady’s, especially if you separate the ringlets a bit with your fingers:

Kate Beckinsale…Is that you?!

However, I felt that my hair was a little too smooth and flat to look really 1870s-chic, so I decided to buy a hairpiece!

My first idea was to buy a fancy bun cover, like these:

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Bonus: bun covers are historically accurate! (see Figure 17)

Big braided buns are so totally 1870s that I just KNEW that if I could get one, I would look so incredibly fabulous that clouds would part, angels sing, and unicorns would frolic around me! However, I was dangerously close to my event deadline and most of these glorious chignons are only available directly from China. I couldn’t find a braided bun sold by a US seller, but I did find a large, curly one I thought might work okay and the seller advertised that their stock was shipped from the US and could arrive in 3-5 days.

lies!

LIES!

After placing my order, I got an apologetic email informing me that they actually didn’t stock my color in the US despite what the listing said, so it shipped directly from China anyway. I was miffed that I paid extra money for this style because I thought it was US stock, only to have it ship from China like the fancier, less-expensive versions I actually wanted. My order did arrive in time, though, BUT, it was nothing like the color in the picture! It was waaaaaay too dark. I think they sent me the next color down.

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The one on the left is the color I ordered (light brown). The one on the right is closer to the color I received (dark brown).

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So close, and yet so far!

So I paid more and waited longer for an item that I couldn’t use. I was disappointed to say the least– and rather heartbroken because I had invested so much hope into it, dreaming of solving my historical hair woes for good. Honestly, it is a super cute hairpiece that could have worked so well if it had been the right color!
After so much anticipation only to have my hopes dashed, I was really worried I wouldn’t find a good hairpiece in time for the event.

Still, I knew I needed something to complete my hair. I crossed my fingers and bought a little curly wiglet from Jamie’s Hair World on eBay. They assured me that they were US based (my item shipped immediately from California), and my item would arrive in a week. They were right!

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Doesn’t it look like a hairy cell phone cover? It’s about the right size and shape!

My camera sucks at capturing true colors in the awful florescent light of my room. The color is accurate to the color chart’s “Medium Golden Brown.” It is synthetic hair and is not overtly shiny. The texture is what I would call “quality Halloween wig,” not particularly soft, but not crunchy.

Before I show you how it looks on, here’s the main listing picture:

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Mullet madness!

The picture does not lie. You can make a pretty darn sexy mullet with it:

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This is fresh out of the package with no fluffing or styling which is why I call it my “curl loaf.”

While it might seem hideously wrong for the period, this wiglet is perfect for late Victorian hairstyles. Victorians loved big, curly bangs just as much as party girls in the 1980s! According to an article from 1894, full, curly bangs like this were called “Titus” bangs and were available as hairpieces just like mine (see Figure 31). If the Jamie’s wig model above just curled her “party in the back,” she’d be a dead ringer for the Victorian Goddess of Curly Bangs, actress Sarah Bernhardt!

If you collect Victorian Photographs on Pinterest, I can guarantee you that, at some point, you have seen or even pinned a photograph of Ms. Bernhardt. If by some miracle you haven’t, this webpage is full of her photos and portraits. Go forth and adore!

Rawr!

So despite its dubious appearance, the reason I chose this little wiglet is that it’s extremely versatile. Besides being worn as bangs, the pictures also show it styled as a curly chignon:

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And I decided to place mine at the top of my head to give my otherwise flat hair the tall, voluminous look of classic 1870s hair.

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Unlike many hairpieces which have only a few basic color choices, Jamie’s Hair World offers this hairpiece in over 20 hair colors! My hair does this funky natural ombre thing–brown at the roots that lightens to strawberry blonde– so I didn’t quite know which color would work best for me. Since I was going to wear this nearer to my roots, I chose the Medium Golden Brown. It was a good match!

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It’s super easy to put on. You just snap the little bottom combs open and clip them shut into your hair. Mine stayed perfectly in place through a whole evening in theater under my heavy tiara and didn’t budge all day in the blustery Texas wind at the Cowgirl Museum.

As I said, I’m not very adept at working with hair or wigs, so the addition of a small hat instantly hides any of my styling shortcomings and completes the look.

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This wiglet is quick, easy, and works exactly as I wanted it to. The color match was true to life as were the product pictures. As a bonus, I caught mine on sale for $15, though it is currently priced at $18 including shipping, a little more expensive than other hairpieces directly from China, but the color choices, quality assurance, and quick domestic shipping are wonderful perks. The styling and texture are very convincing in real life even with my lack of styling skills. Overall, I would give this Mona Lisa Wiglet from Hair World by Jamie a very satisfying 4.5 out of 5 rating! The perfect hairpiece for beginners!

brushes rating

Conquering the Croissants Part III: Simplicity 4244 FINAL RESULTS

For 10 long sewing-skill-and-weight-gaining years, I had been beguiled by bake-shop beauty Simplicity 4244, the infamous “hip-croissant” Victorian wedding dress pattern:

“You promised the bread jokes were over…”
I LIED.

While the build-up took nearly a decade, the actual sewing itself took only about four weeks to make a double batch of dresses: one week to work up the gumption to cut the pattern, one week to fiddle with the mockup, one week to sew the ballgown for Tiaras and Toe Shoes, one week to turn the mock-up into a real dress for Bustles and Bullets the following weekend.

Though it was begun second, I finished the ballgown version first:

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Simplicity 4244 Evening Gown Cost Breakdown

8.4 yards rayon/nylon fabric – $27.66, Hancock Fabrics
1 king sized grey cotton sheet (dress lining) – $4.99, Thrift Town
1 twin size polyester sheet (bustle lining) – $1.99, Thrift Town

1 spool thread – $2.49, Walmart
17 hooks and eyes – $3, Hobby Lobby

Total: $40.13

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Yes, my tiara is on crooked. I took these pictures on a whim 20 minutes before I had to transform back into my regular librarian form for work, so my hair is a mess, too. Don’t care! Still fabulous! If I were real royalty, I might just start a jaunty-tiara trend.

I fondly think of it as my “Ariel” dress because halfway through sewing it together, I realized the shimmery–and impossible to sew– material is similar to Ariel’s modern Disney princess dress:

2013 Princess Ariel Redesign

I didn’t really have time to really roll with the theme, but I did give a little nod to her with my mermaid-tail bustle:

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The bustled train and pleated chevrons are the same fabric as the body of the dress. The right side used for the accents is very shimmery and iridescent. It’s very pretty, but I thought a whole gown of it would be kind of overwhelming and not so historical looking. So for the main body, I used the “wrong” side of the fabric which is lighter and not so shiny.

You may be getting the feeling that there’s something else different about this dress. It seems to be missing something….

Oh! I know! To make a ballgown version, I left off the sleeves:

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To slow off my toned-by-ten-hours-of-typing-a-day upper arms, of course. Why pretend to look rich if you can’t flaunt your sedentary lifestyle?

Fashion Plate, 1880

Well, that is true: my version is missing the sleeves of the original, but that’s not quite what’s bothering you?

Hmmmm…

Is it the plainness of the design? I did leave off all the trimmings except for the pleated chevrons on the skirt. Indeed, my ballgown is rather plain compared to the original pattern design and other fancy gowns of the era. I started it only a week before the event (a bad habit I’ve developed, I know!), so I didn’t get to add all the extra bits that would really make it ball-worthy. I did try to glam it up with a glittering golden floral spray I found for a steal on eBay:

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Jealous? Don’t be! Get one for yourself (or two) here!
I always expect eBay jewelry to be a little less pretty in person than the professional photos show, but this floral spray is just as gorgeous in person as it is in the picture.

Besides, I didn’t want my dress to outshine my glorious eBay tiara!

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If you need a princess crown on a pauper’s budget, this tiara was only $25 with shipping!
It’s good quality and the seller I purchased from is in the US, so if you live in the States and need a tiara quick (like I did), I highly recommend this shop.

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What? I’m STILL missing something?!
Well, let’s look at the original again:

Ah! I’ve got it now! You’ve noticed that my ballgown is COMPLETELY GLUTEN FREE!

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No breakfast foods in sight! It is a dinner dress, after all.

I am aware of the letdown this must be. After all, the whole reason everyone is so fascinated by this pattern in the first place is the handbang-sized puffs ballooning out of the side, but I SWEAR I have an excuse!

Simplicity 4244 calls for 14 yards of fabric to make according to the directions (not including all the bias binding and pleated trim). The shimmery teal fabric I chose was one of the bargain bin closeout bolts at Hancock Fabrics (*weeps silently*), so I only had 8.4 yards to work with. As I revealed in my post about constructing this gown, the pannier swags at the hips are formed by two very long polonaised bodice pieces:

simplicity 4244 pieces

Pattern pieces #1, #1A, and #3 become the swags.

With only 2/3 the fabric I needed to make the pattern as designed, I had to choose between these fabric-hogging swags and the full, luscious bustled train I desired. For the sake of my time, sanity, and design sense, I chose the full bustle.

My sacrifice (*more silent weeping*) does have an upside besides a swanky mermaid bustle: it shows the most basic structure of Simplicity 4244 and how easily you can change the design to suit you or your fabric. To do away with the overlay, I just cut pieces #4, #5, and #6 (the bodice lining, front and side skirt pieces) as one. That made the full front without the need for the polonaise layer over the top.

It also proved that the identifiably Natural Form Era lines of the dress are not dependent on the panniers. Since the pattern pieces themselves are historically accurate, the Victorian framework is already there for you to work with.

Lessons learned: The bare minimum amount of 45″ wide yardage to make an 1870s dress from this pattern is about 8 yards, and the design is not dependent on the panniers for the historical look.
Also, every women needs a tiara
!

Rest assured, friends, I did not neglect the fluffy polonaise croissants entirely.

Baking bread and latent ideas are two things you don’t want to neglect.

Before I made the ballgown, I made a mock-up. Since my initial half mock-up for this dress had gone so well, I decided to make my full mock-up a wearable mock-up. A wearable mock-up is one that you finish just like a regular gown, essentially a full garment. It was still an experiment, though, so I didn’t want to waste money on fabric if it wasn’t going to work. I chose a cheap $1-a-yard plaid cotton gauze from Walmart and used a king-sized cotton sheet for lining. Since I had the full 14 yards–well, 13.75 yards as there were some mangled sections– of fabric, I was able to make the polonaised front sections and even have enough fabric left for long sleeves and pleated trim around the hem!

BUT…

I did not make the croissants as directed!

I guess you could say that instead of full, fluffy French croissants, I made Pillsbury crescent rolls. I pleated the polonaise down the entire length of the side and skipped the rear swag entirely.
Here is the result:

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There she is!

I know, no delicious hip pastries, but the construction of the front remains nearly the same. The bottom of the polonaise front “floats” over the lining beneath:

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Since I made the mock-up with the ballgown in mind, the square neckline is a little too…ahem!…sexy for respectable daywear, especially for a old married missus like m’self! So I accessorized it with a fabulous micro-pleated cotton collar I hacked directly off an old button front blouse I’d found at Goodwill three days prior. I thought the shirt was hideous, but something in my mind nagged me to take it home. Glad I listened! The collar slips over my head like a scarf and is just the right size to keep me looking proper:

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The bows were made from the very last bit of ribbon left over from my 1850s bonnet. I used this amazing bow tutorial from The Ribbon Retreat to make the two big bows.

My dress form is a little wonky and no where near my shape, so the fit of the bodice and booty isn’t the greatest on her, but you get the idea. This dress isn’t designed to be worn over a full bustle. Instead, the bustle ties inside and my ancient tablecloth bum pad give it the right amount of fullness. Despite reducing the size of the train, it still ended up rather sizable for a walking dress. I can walk in it, though, and walk I did– around the Fort Worth Cowgirl Museum with the DFW Costumer’s Guild!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
(with some help from an obliging gentleman in the lobby!)

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
I love this picture because I actually wrangled my hair into a passably suitable hairstyle despite being hair illiterate!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

We had a wonderful time together dressed as 1880s city folk and turn-of-the-century country cowgirls! As you can see, I was the “oldest” of the bunch, just eking over the 1880 mark. There are more photos of our outing in Jen’s Cowgirl Museum album on Flickr and if you’d like to play dress up with us, check out the DFW Costumer’s Guild website for a list of events!

Simplicity 4244 Plaid Day Dress Cost Breakdown:

14 yards of plaid cotton gauze – $14, Walmart
1 king sized sheet – $4.99, Thirft Town
Hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
1 nearly-full spool of thread – $2.49, Walmart
Ruffle collar stolen from blouse – $4.29, Goodwill
Navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay

Total: $32.52

Alrighty! Review time!

Let’s take off the rose colored glasses and get going.

This gown is tricky for me to review because while all the techniques and the pattern pieces themselves are all fairly straight forward, the sheer amount of fabric and the fitting requirements make it unsuitable for a beginner.

If you forgo the trimming, as I did, I think a confident (or stubborn) intermediate seamstress could tackle this project with good results. I consider myself an intermediate seamstress, and I was challenged, but not frustrated, by this pattern. I would NOT try to make a ball gown out of it in a week as I did! Take your time and go slowly. You will need to be willing to work with your body in order to get the smooth fit over the torso required to make this pattern shine, so be prepared to practice making lots of darts! There is a fair amount of hand finishing: facing the neckline, sewing hooks and eyes or buttons, and sewing on the bows. If you choose to do a proper hand-sewn hem instead of a machined hem, be prepared to spend a few hours to sew the 100+ inch length (depending on your train). The large pattern pieces require lots of space to cut and assemble and can be unwieldy around the sewing machine. However, I feel the work is well worth the result you can get. The accuracy is spectacular and, as a base, the pattern offers plenty of opportunities for customization.

I had fun making this pattern and will likely make it again in the future–perhaps this time with all the carbs included!

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Part I: Researching Simplicity 4244
Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

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Sadly, this pattern is Out of Print (OOP), so it can only be purchased through private sales. If you want a copy, check online auction and craft sites. I think it’s a good candidate for a re-issue by Simplicity. Maybe if enough of us “Conquer the Croissants,” they’ll consider re-printing it so everyone can more easily get a copy to play with!