Find of the Month: The Story of a Turn of the Century Woman’s Life in Bodices

July 2014

I actually found this month’s “FOTM” way back in May, but I just now got around to photographing them. I found this set of three Victorian and Edwardian bodices for sale on eBay, and at $16 for the lot, how could anyone (even on a tight budget like mine) resist?

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The woman I bought them from didn’t know much about them except that she got them as a lot together from an estate in northwestern Pennsylvania. The trio span the decades from the 1880s to about 1910.

The oldest bodice of the lot is the small brown one on the left. When I say small, I do mean small: 32 bust, 22 inch waist, and teeny 14 inch shoulders! It’s a young misses’ bodice, however, so the numbers are quite average for a teenage girl in the era. It was likely made for/by the young lady around 1886 or so:

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Young Misses’ Bodice, circa 1886

I can’t be certain of its exact age, but in 1886, “fluffy” pleated fronts like this came into fashion. You can see a similar bodice treatments in this fashion plate from the same year:

Fashion Plate, circa 1886

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The bodice is fairly simple in design. The main body is made of fine wool with a central panel of dotted silk. There is braided trim and little trailing branches of embroidery up the sides (commonly seen on crazy quilts of the era, so perhaps the wearer enjoyed quilting as well). It is missing its collar and two buttons and has many little moth holes, but is otherwise in lovely condition.

The other two bodices/blouses are post-1900. The brightest of the bunch is the eye-catching purple silk stripe blouse (It’s boned inside, so it’s technically a bodice, but the look is that of a blouse):

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Bodice, circa 1901

The colors, styling, and especially the sleeve decoration all point to a date right around 1901. The pouter pigeon front (sort of hidden by my mannequin’s lack of bust) and the bottom-heavy “bishop” sleeves can also be seen in these period fashion plates:

Fashion plate, September 1900

Fashion plate, circa 1901
Yay! Matching purple stripes!

Once again we have lovely dotted silk, this time in lavender and violet with cream stripes. In this case, the seamstress let the fabric do all the talking, cutting it diagonally for the front pieces and leaving it mostly untrimmed. It is missing its collar and most of one cuff, but the other cuff is still intact:

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The final bodice in this lot is a somber black shirtwaist made of very thin, fragile silk:

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Shirtwaist, circa 1908-10

It dates to about 1909, though blouses of this type had been in production for about 20 years between 1895 and 1915. The clues to dating this one are the collar, wide shoulders, and relatively plain, straight sleeves, much like these:

Wool Shirtwaists Ad, circa 1908

This particular blouse was made at home, not at a factory. In fact, it looks very similar to this shirtwaist pattern from Past Patterns:

The pattern is based off of a Butterick pattern from 1909. It has similar sleeves, pleating, and stitching. However, the front pleats on my shirtwaist are separate instead of overlapping, so I’s probably not made from the same pattern, but there were many other patterns available in magazines and mail-order catalogs that a home seamstress could buy, so the pattern this shirtwaist was made from may be out there somewhere still, waiting in a shoebox to be discovered!

Though it may seem rather dull in comparison to its companions, the black shirtwaist does have one standout accent– a fabulous beaded collar:

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This thing weighs more than the rest of the blouse!

The collar is older than the blouse by at least 20 years and is slightly too large to fit properly, indicating that it was probably recycled from an older dress. It brings to mind mourning clothes from the previous century. Though mourning clothes were still around in the Edwardian era, it wasn’t nearly as common as it had been during Victoria’s reign. As you can see in the wool shirtwaist advertisement above, black was a common, fashionable color in its own right. Not every black dress, shirtwaist, or skirt was for mourning purposes! Black has frequently fluctuated in and out of style of its own accord. Still, the measurements of this shirtwaist (38 bust, 30 inch waist) indicate that it was probably worn by a mature woman. She may have carried the customs of her youth in the 19th century with her into the 20th century.

Discovering a trio of bodices together from a single estate with such a clear timeline makes me wonder if they all belonged to a single woman over the course of a lifetime. The way all three are styled reveal a love of simple, unfussy design and, who could forget, the love of polka dot silk! If she were 15 in 1886, she would have been wearing the bright purple blouse right around age 30 and the darker blouse around age 38-40. If only I had an 1890s bodice to complete the decade by decade look at turn of the century clothing! It might just be coincidence that all three were found together, but I treasure the possibility that they belonged to a single woman, mapping her life in fabric and thread as she sewed her way through the changing fashions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Previous Finds of the Month:

 

January 2014

December 2013

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A Treasure Trove: Enameled Jewels from 1550-1700

Some Other Color than “Gold”

This post was inspired by my project for HSF Challenge #7.

The Renaissance and Baroque periods were immensely ornate. Deep colors were indulged in and everyone rich enough to afford them was donning clothes made of a ransom’s worth of fine silks, velvets, pearls, and gemstones. Why should gold be left naked? Though we sometimes feel that enameling is tacky looking (thanks in part to terrible mass-produced Christmas pins), the enamel artisans of the late-16th and 17th century achieved a look that is anything but cheap!

Enameled Gold Pendant with Rock Crystals and Pearls, circa 1610-20

Enameled Gold Cross Pendant with Rubies, Diamonds, and Pearl, circa 1610-20

Enameled Gold Ornament with Pearls, circa 1600

Small enameled gold ornaments like this would be sewn directly onto clothing. Many were later converted to have brooch-backs made, especially in the 19th century when Renaissance Revival style swept through European fashion.

Enameled Gold Brooch (later conversion) with Diamond and Pearls, circa 1610

Enamel work was often mixed in with precious stones. Even if the front of a piece was paved with large table cut gems, the smallest tongue of gold that showed between the stones would be covered with enamel. Early jewels are covered in bold, primary colors like deep red, bright blue, emerald green, fiery yellow-orange. Most pieces before 1660 feature enamel work applied to sculpted, 3-dimentional pieces. Though the actual thickness of the metal may not have been great, the combination of careful sculpting and enamel gave the pieces depth and presence. Many of the larger pendants were made and worn in Spain. Spaniards adored bold lines and colors. Their enamel work was often some of the most intricate and dense.

Enameled Gold Pendant (front and back) with Emeralds, circa 1650

The back of pieces were often more elaborately enameled than the front of the piece. Since almost all stones were placed in closed-back settings, there was plenty of space for the enamel artist to display his skills. Jewelry was made to be admired both on and off the body, so being beautiful from all sides was essential. Because enamel is made of fused glass particles, the colors do not fade as readily as other paints and pigments, so a piece enameled over 500 years ago will have colors as brilliant as the day they were fired. Bright colors were, of course, very popular, but the all-time favorite color combo was the dynamic duo black and white.

Enameled Gold Monogram Pendant (front and back) with Lapis Lazuli and Paste stones, circa 1600-30

Enameled Gold Ring with Garnet, circa 1550-1600

Rings, though small, almost always had at least a touch of enamel on the shank. Many of the gold rings from between 1500 and 1700 once had colorful enameled designs on the band and were not as plain as they appear today (it’s kind of like the famous Grecian marbles which we always admire for their clean, white simplicity, but many were brightly painted). The enamel wore off after years of wear, often helping save the metal underneath from damage or erosion, especially on silver pieces.

Enameled Gold Ring with portraits of Anne of Austria and her son (King Louis XIV), circa 1625

Enameled Gold Frame around an Enameled Gold Holy Shroud Scene under Crystal, circa 1650

During the 17th century, small scenes stamped or sculpted of thin, enameled metal set behind panes of rock crystal or glass soared in popularity. Religious scenes, mementos mori, and symbols of love were popular themes. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, versions of these rock crystal jewels called Stuart Crystals made from woven locks of the king’s hair or his portrait became immensely popular among Royalists. Later monarchs were also honored in this manner, including Queen Mary and William III.

Rock Crystal Pendant commemorating the Death of William III, circa 1702

Enameled Gold Memento Mori Pendant, circa 1660

A popular motif since ancient times, the memento mori gained huge popularity as early Christian morality took hold of Europe. The focus on life after death was a big theme and the pivotal moment of death–the last moment to escape from the bonds of sin and hell–was an important event. The Latin “memento mori” roughly translates to “remember death.” Pendants, charms, and rings served as daily reminders of the fragility of life and the need to both live well and/or righteously. Due to their connections with death and the afterlife, memento mori motifs like the skull, skeleton, and crossbones also served as symbols of mourning.

Enameled Gold Mourning Ring surrounding a Lock of Hair, circa 1661

Enameled Silver Miniature Case, circa 1660

Enamel wasn’t just applied to gold. Silver gained popularity in the latter half of the 17th century as light blues and pinks came into fashion. A cheaper alternative to gold, silver was often used to make more utilitarian objects, such a chains and cases for sewing kits. The miniature case is an early incarnation of the locket. It is larger and deeper than a modern locket and would have held a portrait miniature, a popular aristocratic gift to send to friends, family, patrons, or lovers. Many of these cases reveal the trend towards more painterly decoration than enamel work of the earlier half of the century, which focused on accenting shapes rather than being the focal point of the design.

Enameled Gold Miniature Case, circa 1650-1660

Enameled Gold Bow Pendant with Ruby and Pearl drop, circa 1630-1660

Enameled Gold Badge, circa 1650-75

Enameled Gold Pendant with Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, and Diamonds, circa 1680-1700

By the 1680s, enameling styles had changed. The major difference between earlier pieces (those from before 1660) and later pieces (those after 1660) is that the way the enameling is applied slowly began to change as tastes in fashion changed. Stones and enamel were no longer melded together so freely, though the style remained relatively common in Spain and Germany. France was rapidly rising in power, bringing with it lighter, more romantic tastes in color and texture. By the mid 18th century, almost all decorative enamel work is smooth and is painted on relatively flat, 2-dimentional surfaces rather than the highly sculpted surfaces of the centuries before.

Enameled Watch and Case, circa 1686-1700

All of the pieces featured in this article are from the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can find many, many more beautiful examples of enamel from different eras by using the handy advanced search option to narrow your search by year, technique, material, or object type.

(Note to American researchers: Use “jewellery” instead of “jewelry” as a search keyword. The former is the British spelling of the word and the V&A, being British, does not recognize the American spelling as well)

For more examples of Renaissance enameled jewels, you can also check out the Jewel Book of the Duchess Anna of Bavaria.

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button!!!!!

September 2012

I’m crazy for Stuart Crystals. They’re tiny, old, glittery, sentimental masterpieces: all my favorite characteristics of an object! However, I never dreamed I would ever be able to hold one, much less own one. Besides the fact that they are exceptionally old, they’re fairly scarce since they were only made in England between the 1650s and 1730s. All these factors add up to one well-deserved, but hefty price tag!

Going broke for Baroque!

There was no way I could afford one of these beauties, not without winning the lottery or selling vital organs, or so I told myself.

I was scanning the internet for a set of Victorian button for the Gabby dress when I found this:

OMG! OMG! Was it, maybe? Yes? Could it…?!

It was listed for $40. The seller called it a “18th century rock crystal breeches button” and only listed the dimensions (1/2 inch), but I had to have it. When I bought it, I thought it was empty–no hair, no cypher, no colored foiling. When it arrived, it was scratched, yet underneath you could see that it actually did have a little trefoil cypher inside which you can just barely make it out in the original scan!

Stuart Crystal Breeches Button, circa 1690-1700

Cut Collet Detail

Silver back of the Button

Trefoil Cypher (off-center)

For being over 300 years old, it is in remarkable shape. It has lots of surface scratches and has lost pretty much all of it’s foil color, but I love it–squealing like a giddy school girl– love it!

I am beyond thrilled to own this tiny piece of British history.

:D

Facebook circa 1595: Fashion Plates of the 16th Century

From the Album Amicorum of a German Soldier

Sadly, LACMA (the museum currently holding this wonderful book) has since changed their collections and removed all of the photos of the book’s contents from their website. The only places to find pictures now is elsewhere on the web where smarter researchers and bloggers downloaded the pictures rather than linking directly from the now-defunct museum archive pages. I am leaving this post here in the hopes that LACMA will one day re-post photos, but until then, you’ll only get to see my vague translations for pictures you can no longer see. :(

I explore hundreds of online museum items a week, digging up historical sources for my research, and sometimes I start feeling like I’ve seen it all. Then–it never fails–I find something amazing. For example, this:

Vedua di Bolloga, circa 1595
“Bolloga” may in fact be Bolonga. There was a  wealthy Vedua family living there in the 16th century

Renaissance Fashion plates! Or, more accurately, Renaissance portraits of real people. It’s thrilling to see such early sketches depicting what people were really wearing. They are not quite as detailed as a professionally painted portrait in oils, but these simple gouache pictures provide a fascinating look at late 16th century fashions.

Le Ceuallier de Angleterre an son habit de lordre, circa 1595
“lordre” is probably “l’ordre” which means of the order, so this Englishman is wearing the “dress of his order.”

These images all come from the Album Amicorum of a German Soldier. Amicorium is Latin for “of  friends,” so this Italian folio is titled Album of Friends of a German Soldier. Albums amicorum are early versions of autograph books which originated in Germany. Usually these albums have heraldic marks or notes only, but some are elaborate portrait collections like this album. Albums amicorum are the Facebook of the 16th century. A traveler would sketch a picture of a person and then “tag” the picture with their name or title, so when he returned home, he would have a record of people he’d met. And golly did this German soldier meet some interesting people in some beautiful fashions!

Here are some of my favorites:

Unknown noblewoman (possibly of Naples or Rome) looking in a mirror, circa 1595

Cortegiana Veneta, circa 1595
“Courtier in Mourning.” The modern spelling is “Cortigiana” which can mean either courtier or courtesan

Donzela Ferarese, circa 1595
“Donzela” is Portuguese and “Ferrarese” is Italian. Together they mean “Maiden of Ferrara

Sposa Venetiana…terra, circa 1595
A “Venitian Bride” and she’s wearing a white wedding gown!

Gentildona Venetiana come vano nele lor case, circa 1595
If this phrase is actually spelled “come vanno nel loro case,” then this is a sketch of a “Venetian Gentlewoman as she goes into their home”

Donzela di Napolli, circa 1595
“Maiden of Naples” with a beautiful pastel color palette.

Donzela Veronese, circa 1595
“Maiden of Verona.” Perhaps this is what Shakespeare’s Juliet would have looked like! It’s from the correct decade and everything. I love the veil on her collar/headdress.

La Consorte del Castelan di Roma, circa 1595
“The Consort of the Castellan of Rome.” A castellan is “the governor or captain of a castle.”

This album has a variety of origins: the titles are mostly in Italian mixed with French or Portuguese terms, the artist is supposedly a German soldier, and a few of the portraits are of English nobility. I have tried to roughly transcribe and translate the handwritten names for you. I think knowing who you’re looking at makes history much more real! If you find any mistaken identities (some of those letters can be darned tricky), let me know.

Did you notice how severely divided and high the front of their hair was styled? Though their dress styles vary vastly by region, their hairstyle is the one thing these ladies all have in common. Also, if you look at the rather swayed-back ladies, you will notice how long their skirts are in proportion to the rest of them and even in comparison to the other ladies. This is because many of these fashionable Italians would have been wearing tall chopines under their lengthy skirts.

A satirical etching card of a courtesan with a flap that lifts to reveal her underpinnings, circa 1588

Both “ladies of good character” and courtesans wore chopines which were both a status symbol and a fetish. These tall shoes made more room to display fancy, expensive fabrics.

This album amicorum reminds me of the sketch books I see lots of people carrying around at events. I have a little notebook of my own that I take everywhere in my purse so I can jot down quick doodles and notes, though I do not collect autographs of the people I sketch…yet. I’m going to start my own album amicorum next time I travel somewhere exciting. I think it will be a little more intimate and fun than just posting pictures on Facebook!

(Also, notice how most of the portraits in this album face left? That indicates that the artist  of this album was probably right handed!)

I Need Your Help making a Stuart Crystals Wikipedia Page!

Help Wanted!

I was doing research the other day on Stuart Crystal Jewelry and was stunned that there wasn’t a Wikipedia page for it. I attempted to create one, but according to Wikipedia, I do not have enough credible sources to back up my article. I am pasting a copy of what I wrote (along with the few sources I found) in the hopes that someone else here might be able to either expand on what I wrote, add sources, or perhaps make a fresh version of the article. I think that Stuart crystals are historically important and if Morris the Cat can have a Wikipedia page, why don’t these pieces of history have one?

Here is the entry I drafted:

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History

Stuart crystals are a form of 17th and 18th century mourning jewelry. Stuart crystals get their names from the House of Stuart. The crystals were pieces of political jewelry that commemorate the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The first jewels were made from locks of King Charles’ hair preserved under faceted rock crystal (quartz), often decorated with his initials or miniature portrait. They were worn by Royalists who opposed the king’s execution on the grounds that as God’s chosen leader, Charles I was above the law and his death was not justice, but murder. Later, the crystals were adopted by Jacobites who opposed the deposition of James II and the Stuart monarchy in 1688. Since supporting fallen monarchs was dangerous, many Stuart crystals are small and were worn in secret. However, as the 17th century continued, Stuart crystals evolved into mementos mori and generalized commemorative jewelry. They remained popular into the 18th century until larger, more neoclassical jewelry came into fashion.

Description

Stuart crystals come in three main forms: slides, rings, and earrings. Original Stuart crystals were rings or ribbon slides, but many were later converted into other types of jewelry. Stuart crystals almost always contain hair, often woven so finely it appears like cloth. [1]

In addition to hair, a Stuart crystal may contain gold initials, filigree designs, colored foil, portrait miniatures, and enameled symbols. Skeletons, skulls, doves, angels, cherubs or putti, and flowers are the most common type of symbolic charms found inside Stuart crystals.

References

Gordon, Cathy. “Stuart Crystal Jewelry.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://imageevent.com/bluboi/stuartcrystal

The Three Graces. “Reference – Helpful Terms & Glossary.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.georgianjewelry.com/reference/helpful_terms

McFerran, Noel S. “The Jacobite Heritage.” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.jacobite.ca/

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Charles I (1600 – 1649).” Web. 18 June, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/charles_i_king.shtml

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I know that it isn’t a full article or anywhere near complete, but I thought it would be nice to have at least a little stub for people who are trying to find out more information about these fascinating gems. There are tons of historians and jewelry experts out there who could really help fill this little gap . Any information (and especially sources) would help!

Ruby Laners and Costume History Enthusiasts, here’s looking at you!

If you are savvier with creating entries than I am or want to view the critique on the entry I submitted, here’s the link to the Wikipedia Talk page so you can edit it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:Articles_for_creation/Stuart_Crystal_%28Jewelry%29

I also posted this as a note on Facebook so you can share it with anyone you know on FB who might be able to help:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-pragmatic-costumer/stuart-crystal-jewelry/474290149267295

I’ve never actually made my own Wikipedia page before, but I knew when I submitted it that it was a little low on sources (and pictures). Sorry if it seems like I’m getting a little frazzled by this, but I’m a strong believer in sharing information and making research easier for everyone. If you have any sources, links, or information that could help out, please leave a comment!

Thanks for collaborating on this project with me!