A Victorian Woman’s Layers

If you’ve ever wondered what women in the 19th century wore underneath their dresses, this video should illuminate you. Watch the layers get removed in the video from 1897.

Assisted by a maid, first comes off the dress and then a petticoat. She takes off a pair of drawers, followed by her corset to reveal a chemise. Her stockings come off. And then lastly the chemise.

When Hats Were Huge, Literally

The few years between 1908-1912 could be considered the king of hats. During these five years, hats grew to overwhelming proportions — not only a large brim, but an colossal crown was very chic.

To support such a mammoth size, the foundation of the hats were mostly constructed from buckram and thick metal wiring. Over the base, silk and velvet were popular materials. Some hats were made of straw.

La saison à Trouville, toilettes | toilettes à Auteuil, both from Gallica Bibliothèque Numérique

This was the period when Coco Chanel opened her first shop at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, creating hats before she became a couturier.

And there was no shortage of decoration. Artificial flowers, buckles, feathers, ribbon, rosettes, and lace were de rigueur. It seems the more over the top they were, the better, when it came to trims.

hat, c. 1910, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

hat, 1910, from Philadelphia Museum of Art

hat, 1909-12, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the crowning glory was none other than the ostrich plume. Hats could be piled with ostrich feathers. They were luxurious and voluminous. One advertisement in a 1909 Sears catalog raves “most becoming dress hat literally loaded with ostrich plumes.” And another from the same page describes the trim as “a single 17-in. ostrich plume in black, applied from the left side of the crown, drooping across the front to the right brim.”

Sears catalog no. 124, 1912, pages 119 & 124, from Winterthur Museum Library

About 1913-14, women’s preferences changed and the crown shrank. No other period in the 20th century has seen hats like these.

illustration of women in hat, 1910-14, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

photo of Phyllis Le Grand by Bassano Ltd, May 15, 1911, from National Portrait Gallery, London

Could you imagine the balance it would have required to keep one of these things atop your head? Even though they aren’t heavy, I can imagine they’d be quite unwieldy perched on your coifed hair.

Exhibition File – Fandemonium

brisé fan, probably American, 1910s, from Kent State University Museum

The heat is back, at least in Chicago. So it seems appropriate to feature this week’s exhibition, Fandemonium at Kent State University Museum. Fans are more than just functional, of course. They take on many shapes and styles, elevated with various ornamentation. You’ll get to see 50 fans from three centuries in this show. There are some real stunners in it.

Fandemonium runs until October 6.

Address: Kent State University Museum, 515 Hilltop Drive, Kent, Ohio
Hours: Wednesday 10-4:45, Thursday 10-8:45, Friday-Saturday 10-4:45, Sunday 12-4:45
Admission: adults $5; seniors $4; students and children $3; KSU students, staff, and faculty and children under 7 free, any Sunday admission free
Website: www.kent.edu/museum/exhibits/exhibitdetail.cfm?customel_datapageid_2203427=3211161

Also, check out this lovely virtual tour for Fandemonium.

Illustrations by Sam Battersby

Rose | Rabbit Family Portrait, by Sam Battersby

Have you ever seen an artist’s work and think, man we are on the same wavelength? That’s how I felt when I first saw Sam Battersby’s illustrations in her Etsy shop Matou En Peluche.

Her work is graphic, bold, and simple. Working in pastel, pencil, and charcoal, her illustration has a powerful two-dimensional quality. There’s a definite retro vibe about it, and Sam clearly has a penchant for fashion history.

Art Deco Afternoons | Wood Nymphs, by Sam Battersby

When I asked her about her interest in historic fashion, her answer slew me — she told me that her favorite museum in the universe is the Victoria and Albert Museum in London because she has spent “days and days and days” in the fashion and costume exhibitions. Well, me too. When I did my study abroad in London, I went to the V&A eight times in three weeks just to see the fashion displays. I would have gone more, but I had to go to class.

Yvonne | Poppy at St - Tropez, by Sam Battersby

I asked Sam about her artistic process. She told me, “usually I have an idea for a drawing, which I have in my head, and I’ll play around with that with plain paper and a pencil until I want to commit to the pastel and charcoal. Sometimes the idea is a complete success, but sometimes what I thought would be a terrific idea completely fails, but then it always leads me down another interesting path, so whether an idea works or not is sort of irrelevant really. They all work in one way or another!”

I think it’s fairly obvious why I love her work and why I can’t decide which piece to get. Some of the illustrations are such classic fashion sketches. In portraits, she captures the aura of the women without a lot of distraction. For instance, the flappers with their blunt bobs and rouged cheeks are reduced to shape and color, giving them their edge. And other pieces have that wonderful retro whimsy. I’m looking at you, mermaids. The illustrations that capture all three — fashion, aura, whimsy — are the best in my opinion.

Hot Pink Bathing Beauty | So Chic, by Sam Battersby

Check out the rest of Sam’s work on Matou En Peluche.

Exhibition File – Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, from Art Institute of Chicago via The Culture Concept Circle

So it’s really the summer of fashion exhibitions in Chicago. I hope you’ve heard about the show Impression, Fashion, and Modernity. Conceived in Chicago by Art Institute of Chicago curator Gloria Groom, the show first traveled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and now finally it takes its place at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition uses fashion as a lens to view Impressionism painting. By painting women (and some men) in the fashions of the day, the Impressionists showed the world they were truly modern artists.

Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert by Claude Monet, from Musée d'Orsay | French Day Dress, 1865-67, from Metropolitan Museum of Art, both via Artlog

The exhibition looks at the relationship between fashion and art during the 1860s through 1880s. Chicago’s installation includes 75 major figure paintings, some that were not included in both of the other installations. Garments accompany these works, showing the real life inspirations or close resemblances these artists worked from. Some of the pairings are quite incredible.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is really a multidisciplinary exhibition at its finest. I’ve seen “Fashionism,” as I heard another Art Institute of Chicago curator call it, three times now — once at the Met and twice in Chicago. While I liked the Met’s installation a bit more, Chicago’s will still blow your mind.

Don’t miss this exhibition if you can make it to Chicago. This is its last stop, and it closes September 29. There are also some really great public and member programs running in conjunction with the show, so check them out as well.

Address: Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Hours: Monday-Wednesday 10:30-5, Thursday 10:30-8, Friday-Sunday 10:30-5
Admission: adults $23 (Chicago residents $18, Illinois residents $20), seniors and students $17 (Chicago residents $12, Illinois residents $14), members and children under 14 free
Website: http://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/impressionism-fashion-and-modernity

The Millinery Shop by Edgar Degas, c. 1882-86, from Art Institute of Chicago via The Culture Concept Circle

Shining Shots

corset, 1740-1760, and panier, 1770, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Yesterday I came across a gallery of images for the new Musée des Arts Décoratifs exhibition La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette, which explores the mechanics of foundation garments.

The photography is extraordinary. Shot by Patricia Canino, the undergarments are superbly lit so that they glow against the dark background. I had to share them.

bustle, 1887, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

butterfly bustle hoop, 1872, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I’ve been to my fair share of historic fashion shoots, and it is incredibly difficult to execute these kind of images. First, the technical skills required to mount these garments must be flawless. The camera picks up the smallest wrinkles, so the form must be moulded to fit the piece perfectly. Then there’s creating symmetrical bows and finding the best drape of the fabric. The camera can spot stray specks of dust that the eye doesn’t catch. Sure photoshop can help, but the final image will be so much better if one takes care of those details from the start. And then lastly, it takes time and talent to light and photograph clothes like this.

paniers, 1775-1780, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

corset, 1770-1780, photographed by Patricia Canino for Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I love underwear. It’s fascinating to me to examine the understructures that literally create the fashionable shape. And these images really show them off in the best light.

Fashion History Nerd Week

Remember my plug for the Costume Society of America National Symposium in Vegas? Well the time has come. I’m at the symposium all week and will be nerding out to some great fashion history presentations. This is the time of year I can really revel in my passion with other people who are just as enthusiastic about fashion history and dress.

If you are attending, please don’t be shy, and come say hi!

Exhibition File – Punk: Chaos to Couture

Punk: Chaos to Couture graphic, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is the time of year that fashion historians wait for with anticipation — the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute fashion exhibition. This year’s theme is Punk: Chaos to Couture. Curated by Andrew Bolton, the exhibition design is sure to thrill with sensory overload.

According to the Met’s website, Punk “will examine punk’s impact on high fashion from the movement’s birth in the early 1970s through its continuing influence today. Featuring approximately one hundred designs for men and women, the exhibition will include original punk garments and recent, directional fashion to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to-wear borrow punk’s visual symbols.”

The major themes in the show include New York and London, Clothes for Heroes, Hardware, Bricolage, Graffiti and Agitprop, and Destroy. It’ll look at the DIY aesthetic and the ways the original punk movement inspire designers working today.

I’m actually going to New York this weekend specifically to see the show. I saw Bolton’s AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion exhibition in 2006, and it was over the top. I’m still kicking myself for not finding a way to New York to see his famed Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show — the 5th most attended exhibition at the Met.

The show opens to the public today and runs until August 14. Some of the reviews are out:

Robin Givhan says that “Even If Punk Can’t Shock, Fashion Still Can.”
Suzy Menkes thinks the exhibition is “Punk Without the Down and Dirty.”
Sasha Frere Jones decries the show as “The Day That Punk Died Again.”

I’m trying to reserve judgement, even though these reviews do not say the most flattering things about Punk. This is not the first time Bolton has been accused of not contextualizing the fashion he exhibits. His shows are not for fashion historian purists. I’ll let you know what I think after this weekend.

Address: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 215 Centre Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 9:30-5:30, Friday-Saturday 9:30-9, Sunday 9:30-5:30
Recommended Admission: adults $25, seniors $17, students $12, members and children under 12 free
Website: www.metmuseum.org/Exhibitions/listings/2013/PUNK?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=punk

Stylish in the Rain

The saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. Sure is fitting for Chicago with the deluge of rain we’ve been having here.

I dug up this 1956 video on umbrellas via the British Pathé archive last night. In it a group of British umbrella makers put on quite the show of whimsy and style. Not sure many of the umbrellas would be very practical in the rain though.

Which was your favorite?

Exhibition File – Behind the Veil

Wedding season is approaching quickly (as my husband can attest). A new exhibition at the American Textile History Museum kicks it off with an examination of the wedding dress. The show focuses on women’s stories of their bridal attire.

Behind the Veil: Brides and their Dresses looks at more than 100 years of wedding garments. The choices women make to represent themselves, their love and commitment, the life transition, and their cultural values are all taken into account in this exhibition. Traditional and alternative styles are all on view.

And on April 21, don’t miss the Wedding Dress Presentation Workshop hosted in conjunction with the exhibition.

Address: American Textile History Museum, 491 Dutton Street, Lowell, Massachusetts

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 10-5

Admission: adults $8, children 6-16, college students, and seniors $6, children under 6 and members free

Website: athm.org/exhibitions/current_exhibitions/behind-the-veil-exhibition.php