Monday, 28 January 2013

Inspirational primary resources - Part 1 Fashion Plates

Fashion plates are a great resource for the Victorian costumer.  In a time before the wide spread use of ready-to-wear clothing, these illustrations would taken to the seamstress or tailor or used as inspiration for ladies sewing their own clothing at home.

Le Moniteur de la mode - 1855

The history of the fashion plate can be traced back to the 16th century, but it is in the 18th and 19th century that they saw a real surge in popularity. 

Journal des Femmes 1842

These fashion plates are useful in the planning of Victorian costume in numerous ways.  Firstly it is instructive to see how Victorians put colours together.

Le Moniteur de la mode 1855

A common mistake I've heard with costumes is the belief that everything should match, closely followed by the view that Victorians would only use dowdy colours.  The illustration above from Moniteur de la mode, with the outfit of eggshell blue matched with a yellow bonnet (trimmed with black velvet, lace, white feathers and ties) and a red cashmere shawl, is a good illustration of how in many cases this just wasn't so.

 Le Moniteur de la mode 1855

If you find these fashion plates within the magazine in which it was published you can often get a wealth of information on the fabrics used and what the dress was intended for.

 The new monthly belle assemblee 1851

The full length figures in the plate above (1851) are described as wearing two public promenade dresses and a young lady's promenade dress.  Here is the description for the lady in the pink bonnet :

"Robe of one of the new winter silks, a crimson ground with stripes and wreaths of flowers and foliage in black, a high close corsage, and sleeves a three-quarter length.  Green velvet mantle, lined with sating to correspond; it is a half-length, the skirt cleft at the sides, rounded behind, and easy but without fullness.  Triple pagoda sleeve; it sits quite up to the throat, and is closed nearly to the waist.  The entire is trimmed with embroidery in galons and braiding to correspond.  Rose-coloured satin capote, a drawn shape; the interior trimmed with tulle and brides, both of the same colour."

Because fashion plates often depict the height of fashion they can be useful in pinpointing trends in clothing.  For example the above costumes from Le Moniteur de la Mode shows the changes in dress from 1853 with the more gentle shape of the corded or horsehair crinoline petticoat, to the height of the hooped crinoline with its full skirts of 1859 and the more elliptical crinoline of 1863, a trend which would eventually lead to the bustles of the 1870s.

 Le Moniteur de la mode 1859

A note of caution however.  Don't think that to be historically accurate that you have to copy a fashion plate exactly.  Fashion plates were similar to fashion illustrations now, in that they were sometimes on the exaggerated end of fashion and often used as inspiration rather than canon.  Much like a high street chain might look at a designer fashion display and make a more practical and affordable option, ladies would look at these plates and do the same.  Indeed Godey's Magazine in it's redrawing of European fashion plates often simplified the designs to make them easier to make, practical and more affordable.  Also these clothes were often aimed at young ladies of fashion.  Just as today a wealthy 18 year old would dress differently to a 50 year old of modest means.  One might go for the latest look in the newest fabric, the other might prefer an earlier style or have to make do with less expensive materials.

Godey's Lady's Book 1863

So to recap, fashion plates are a great resource for seeing the palette of the times, you can often get information on the fabric and appropriate use of a garment. However often the image displayed is the height of fashion, expensive, difficult to make and more often than not it is not the everyday wear of you average Victorian family.  They are though a great source of inspiration. 

Some online resources for fashion plates:


Part two of inspirational primary resources will focus on my favourite - period photographs.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Reenactment Myths - Or things I've been told as fact

Oh to be young and innocent again! :D  I started Victorian reenactment at the tender age of 10 years old, and during the subsequent 20+ years I've been told so many things as fact that I either knew or later found out that were completely wrong.  So I thought I'd share the ones I can remember on here.

1. If you wear your shawl over you're shoulders it means you're a tart

 Queen Victoria - Lady of the Night

TP Hall c.1850

The story of "The Bruce" c.1861-2  Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is one of the "facts" that I believed for years, that shawls worn by ladies were only to be worn around the waist and looped over the arms.  If they headed anywhere near your shoulders it meant that you gained your money via interesting means.  It was only until I started using the internet, and saw numerous illustrations and photos of ladies of all ages with shawls adorning their shoulders that I realised my mistake.  Either that or there are a lot of Victorian prostitutes.

2. If you wear red it means you're a tart.

 Queen Victoria again - no wonder she had so many children!
1856 Charles-Lucien-Louis Muller

 Dress c.1845 - 49 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Another good one, and the reason I was put off making a red dress for many years.  Now if the lady in question has a red light, then that's another matter. Now this nugget of wisdom ties in with the next one....

3. If you wear bright colours it've guessed it... you're a tart!

 I couldn't resist another image of Queen Victoria  c.1856

You know dear, I think I'll wear my black bodice, green skirt and yellow bonnet today.
1856 - Iowa State University Library

An explosion of colour - 1831

More 1830s loveliness - c.1836 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ballgown c.1865

There does seem to be a bit of a theme going on here.  Victorian ladies only wore carefully matched neutral colours.  Brash or clashing colours = tart.  I've also heard it said that only earthy colours were worn because of the absence of chemical dyes.  I hate to tell these people that until recently in the UK red smarties were coloured by crushed beetles (cochineal) and you should see the bright yellow you can get from onion skins. The first aniline dye "Mauve" was discovered in 1856 with other colours soon following.  Whilst some fashion plates did show earth colours nicely matched with bonnets, just as many showed a complete mash up of colours - the brighter the better.

4. Bonnet ribbons were not cut in swallow tails. 

 Queen Victoria has kept her bonnet tie ends cunningly hidden in most of the images I have of her so here is Princess Alice instead (far left) Taken 26 May 1857


 Not sure if this is a bonnet or a headdress - early 1850s (source Dennis A. Waters Fine Daguerreotypes)

Early 1860s Bonnet (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 Fancy cut ribbons 1/6 plate daguerreotype c.1850s  (Many thanks to Mirror Image Gallery for permission to use this image)

I love my (not very interested in costume history) husbands response to this, which was surely if they had a pair of scissors and a ribbon some people would cut it other than straight.  Luckily I had already seen evidence of swallow tails  before I went and re-trimmed every bonnet ribbon I own (which are all swallow tailed).  On period photos I have seen bonnet ribbons cut straight, angled, curved, swallow tailed and zigzag.  So ladies go wild with you and cut your ribbons as you please!

5. Victorian ladies didn't wear green dresses 

  Watercolour of Queen Victoria - Winterhalter 1855

 I love this dress - Silk plush Promenade dress c.1855-57 Victoria & Albert Museum

 1856 evening gown (Ye Olde Fashion Tumblr)
1850s day dress (Old Rags Tumblr)

No idea how this one came about.  Not much I can say about it other than it is untrue.

6.Well to do Victorian ladies of fashion did not have dresses made of silk, only cotton.

 Silk dress worn by Queen Victoria on her state visit to Paris in 1855

 Silk dress c.1842  (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 Afternoon silk dress c.1865 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 Silk visiting dress c.1845-50 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 Silk dress c.1857 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Please excuse me while I stop laughing.  This was a snarky comment made at one of my own costumes.  Luckily I was too amused by it to be upset.

 I am very amused

Well that's all the ones I can remember at the moment, though I'm certain I've forgotten a couple.  I hope this has been amusing if not instructive - and remember don't believe everything you're told! ;)


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

CDVs ~ Floral headdresses ~ 1865-1887

Two more CDVs from my collection today, and both featuring headdresses.  The first is a lady photographed by John Lancaster, Birkenhead.  This would date the photo between 1865 - 1877.  I particularly like the large ribbons flying away at the back. 


This CDV is by E. Gregoson of Halifax and Blackpool which dates it slightly later (1870-1887).  I adore her outfit particularly the fabric of the dress and wish we could see what colour it was. I'm not so sure about the sheer volume of flowers upon her head though :D

Monday, 14 January 2013

Two CDVs c.1863 - 1865

Two similar CDVs from my personal collection today.  The first is a lovely lady photographed in the  mid 1860s by Robert Knott, Little Bolton.  I love the trimming on her bodice, her agate brooch and rosette belt.

The second CDV was taken by Cundall, Downes and Co which dates it between 1863 and 1865.  Particularly like the trim with the little dangles :)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Mid Victorian engageantes (undersleeves) - Part 1

I must admit to having a particular liking for Victorian undersleeves or engageantes - pronounced  "on-gah-jhant" (thank you sewing academy!)  .  Often made on the finest cotton lawn and with delicate embroidery and/or lace for me they sum up the elegance of the crinoline era.  They also have the benefit of being quite small which makes them good for collecting :)  

 These undersleeves (the latest addition to my collection) are a little different to the others I own.  Most of them are full sleeves made from straight tubes of fabric gathered in at the wrist.  This particular pair however are cut shaped and while not what I would call tight fitting they are certainly not as "poofy" as your average engageante.  

The whitework embroidery is designed to be seen from one side and they have a simple lace trim on the cuff to finish them off.  

The seam allowance is pretty much non existent, the sleeves are sewn raw edges together 1 millimetre from the edge.  Only on the top edges are turned under.  There is later and much coarser stitching running down both sleeve lengths and for some reason this later stitching puts a large seam on the outside of the sleeve, perhaps an emergency repair?  Possibly due to the lack of seam allowance one of the sleeves came to me completely unstitched (though there is evidence of it being made up).  

Whilst a shame this does make them perfect for study.  I'm currently in the process of making up a pattern from them, which when I get chance I'll hopefully post on this blog.