Friday, October 31, 2014

One Shot - 1872

    Those of you who have been reading my posts a while know how much I love the transitional stages that Attire goes through.  This dinner dress by Charles Frederick Worth is just such an article.
By the 1870s the huge volume of the crinoline had collapsed like a parachute hitting the ground, but the amount of materials in use simply shifted position.  At first, they simply shifted back behind the body.   That process continued though, and in fairly short order, the material began to bunch up and climb towards the waistline, forming the first iteration of the bustle shape.
    Part of the underlying reason that the amount of material stayed constant was that lavish fabric usage was one way to distinguish oneself as of a better class of folk.  When we add to it the use of intensely colored, aniline dyed silks and passementerie, and the dressmaking skills of the couture, we are bound to get a result that is going to proclaim without hesitation that this person is someone of note.
    So, lets look around at this thing, shall we?
    The low squarish bodice opening marks this as a dinner dress.  The decolletage would be broader and possibly a trifle lower for a full evening, or ball dress.  The same with the half length sleeves.  Sleeves would be shorter, or merely vestigial for evening wear.
    Purple shades were very popular, as aniline dyes were widely available in purple tones, and the new dyes worked wonderfully well on a broad range of textiles, but especially, as in this case, on silk.
    One of the other things that marks this as a transitional piece, is the skirt front.  Both the draped apron and the skirt front still have a good deal of volume, which will evaporate in just a few years as the intensely trim cuirass shape comes to dominate the 1880s.
    And then there are the trimmings.  The yards and yards of long silk chenille and bead fringe would have been very expensive trim, and most likely made up for Mr Worth to his specifications at a passementerie atelier.
    Some final curiosities of this look is the placement of the waist, and the shape of the lower portion of the bodice.  The waistline is still at the slightly high point it held during the 1860s.  That too, is about to change with the cuirass shape upcoming. the waistline will drop to just below the natural point.  Also, the lower part of the bodice has a slight arc, mimicking a bit of tummy.  That final thing will disappear, not to return till the mid- 1950s, for a momentary guest appearance.  From this point on, the shape will become ever more erect and straight fronted.  And the cuirass shape, due in a few years, will create women as a rigid post, wildly festooned with surface decorations, like a rococo column.
    This image is shown with the optional mancherons, or half sleeves, and dickey, that would allow this to be an afternoon dress as well.
    So, thanks to Mr Worth, for making this. I'm sure he had no notion it would become the subject of a historical discussion. And thanks, as always, to the inestimable Metropolitan Museum of New York for having this extraordinary thing in their collection.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lets Look At Maria

    There are times when a certain person, by the force of their presence and appearance can shift the direction of the social consciousness.  In the case of opera singer Maria Callas, it was both her form and her style that shifted things for people the globe over.

    Prior to Ms Callas' appearance on the opera stage, the accepted notion was that opera singers, in general, were going to be large, and not especially stylish people.  Callas changed that idea forever when during her career she went through a weight loss, and emerged transformed.  She was trim, exotically beautiful, and super stylish in a truly modern way. She wore couture, wore it with distinction, and helped a whole generation of women to start painting a winged eye with their make up.  But her contribution, stylistically, was more far reaching than that.
Our predisposition was to imagine that an opera singer needed physical size in order to produce the vocal power needed for their strenuous art.  But with her intense nearly 3 octave voice, Callas put the lie to that notion, and helped transition opera to where it is now.
In the current opera world, appearance is becoming as vital as voice, and so the large and in charge idea is fading out.  This is, in part, because opera everywhere is struggling to maintain audience, and in order to draw in a new crop of opera goers, the feeling is that presenting a more current image of physical attractiveness, however artificial it might be, is only going to help matters.  So the new crop of singers is being told that they need to look as good as they sound.  Its becoming all about a total package, while opera is branded to move further into the 21st century as still having relevance.
    So, Maria Callas played a sartorial, as well as a musical role during her life and career.  She broke molds and records on stage; and her personal, physical transformation, helped break molds off stage, and behind the curtains as well.

    Her place in this transition stands as an object lesson of how a person of influence, by their style choices, and other appearance choices, can shift the paradigm of the Attire language as it is spoken.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


    To an extent, this is a departure for me from what I typically would discuss here.  But after giving it some further thought, I do think this is germane to the overall topic of Attire's Mind.
    Rene' Gruau, born in Italy, but raised in France, was without question the single most influential illustrator of fashion in the 20th century.  What he did, with his remarkable editing eye, and impressive graphic strengths, was not only to give voice to the fashions of the day, but to invest them with an energy, passion, intelligence, and humor that had never before reached he level he found.  Sometimes his images were of shocking simplicity, and yet he still managed to convey an extraordinary amount. So important was his work, that he not only affected sales, especially for Dior, with whom he is most commonly connected, but also helped to make changes in the clothing themselves, through is irresistible imagery.
Where he really sings, for me, is that he does more than detail the clothing effectively.  We often get a real sense of emotion and mind from the model's expressions.
    Now, why does this relate to the Attire language?  Because how we present ourselves artistically is, in a way, the ultimate fantasy level of what we desire to achieve in the real world with out clothing choices.  Gruau as an artist, understood this, and presented women, and now and then men, with just such a fantasy to aspire to.
  In a sense, what he did was show us the final goal, and by presenting that goal in such a n emotionally powerful way, urged us to try and attain it.
    So take a good look at the work of this amazingly talented man.  He was born in 1909, and worked right up until his death in 2004.
  For me, this stuff is utterly breathtaking.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Punctuation Marks

    When we assemble our apparel for the day, the individual words that will make up our sentence sartorial, we need a few punctuation marks to help the whole thing make sense.  That is the position typically filled by the category we call accessories. The accessory, though often performing a useful function, as in shoes or scarves, sometimes has no purpose whatever beyond personal adornment, and the creation of a certain emphasis for the sentence we are wearing.
    But more often than not, the accessory fills both the practical and impractical roles simultaneously because of its style.
    How many times have we either seen employed, or used ourselves, a kick ass pair of shoes, or a remarkable hat, bag, or piece of jewelry to punch up an otherwise sedate looking Attire sentence?  All the time.  I do it myself routinely.  For me its usually shoes that get the nod to bring it up a notch.
   But whichever thing or things you choose, remember that from an Attire language standpoint, too many accessories is like repeating yourself in conversation.  It quickly becomes tedious.
So confining yourself to one or two of these more obvious punctuators, allows both they, and the whole desired comment being made to voice with clarity.
    Are there those who can get away with a myriad of accessories all at once and not look ridiculous?  Sure; but for most of us, its a tough thing to pull off.  When you see someone with a lot of accessory items in play at once, and its working, its usually because they all relate to one another harmoniously in style, color, texture or point of origin.  For example, someone wearing masses of bakelite bangle bracelets in differing colors is less at risk of seeming to be overdoing it; because the jewelry in use is all related to itself.
Whereas, when items that have zero connection to each other are employed, we tend to find the result, at very least, confusing, if not down right offensive.
    A well chosen accessory can convey a message of intellect, artistic mien, sexuality, or emotional state.  When I wear my brilliant purple suede Moods of Norway shoes, I'm out to party, I want to have fun, and be perceived as being fun.  When I haul out the garnet pendant I have from the 20s, I'm implying both a greater formality, and also an appreciation for history.  Or when I wear one of my ascots, I'm going for full on gentleman.
    However you want to present yourself, whether that is quietly, or with a blaring fanfare, its the accessories you have to hand that can make that clothing sentence really precise.
  And precision in our Attire communications is a good idea. The more we speak our clothing with clarity, the more we are able to help others to understand us.  And understanding each other is a goal to be wished for, and worked towards.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fin de Siecle

    The end of the 19th century is a worthy time to take a look at for a number of reasons; but the primary focus this time is going to be the ending, not only of a century, but of a way of thinking and being for women.
    The fin de siecle, as its called, which encompasses the bridge between the 19th and 20th centuries, was the last time that women were completely encumbered by their clothing to the point where most activity was impossible.  It was also the final point at which every last item a woman wore, and in this case I am referring to women of means, was lavished with decorative details, both structural and applied.
  And finally, it was the end, really, of the fierce application of dress regulations covering every conceivable situation.  From this time onward all these things would begin a process of slow and nearly continual diminishment.  That this took nearly a century of time to happen is no real surprise, since the rules governing women's behavior and dress had been held with such strength for so long. 
    In less than one decade, however, from the end of the 19th century, women's clothing shifted dramatically towards a looser fit, higher hemlines, and less abundant detailing. As well, the number of required accessories a woman was expected to carry dropped off, never to reappear.

    The concept of a woman as a precious object of material display, unsuited to anything other than servitude and beauty, had cracked, and was about to being its long tumble.
    So, here is a sampling of that time that marked the end of one place for women, and the beginning of the long trek to another.


    These images all stand as markers of that end time.  That we can gaze on these and see their loveliness now, is owing in part to their intrinsic attractiveness, but also to the veil of distance through time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

One Shot - Tailleur Bar

    From the Spring/Summer collection of Christian Dior in 1947 there came a tailored suit, which became one of the single most iconic garments ever produced, and launched a broad change in how women dressed, but far more importantly, how they thought of themselves.  That suit was called, simply, Bar.

    Made with a tightly fitted tussah silk jacket, with a deeply indented waistline and a padded basque that accentuated the hips, paired with a vast pleated black silk skirt that dropped the hemline several inches, Bar was a bald faced shout for change.  As a garment, it was completely different from what women had been wearing the prior decades.  The World War had imposed harsh restrictions, and women had grown used to making do, using less, and having skirts that hung at the knee, but not much lower. They had also grown used to the relative freedom of having had less compression on the waistline in styles for the past 40 years.  Suddenly they were being told that they needed to corset themselves again, and that skirts were about to become more cumbersome.
    The initial reaction was fiercely divided.  Some women applauded the change as a welcome break with the privations of the past, and rushed to shed the mannish shouldered dresses and suits they had been wearing for 10 years.  They wanted overt femininity again.  They wanted pretty for its own sake, without restrictions.  And so they were ready and willing to clap a copy of Bar onto themselves, and feel all grown up sexy again.
    The other reaction, just as pronounced, was staunchly negative.  Particularly in places like England, which were still facing clothing rationing, the extravagant textile use seemed vulgar and wasteful, even unpatriotic.  And furthermore, many women bristled at the idea of stepping backwards to a vision of the female they thought was gone.  After forty years of comparative freedom from corsetry and confinement, the idea of subjecting themselves to it again, rankled.  And psychologically, many women saw it as a method of shooing them back into the kitchen, after a good long time of being out in the world, doing man's work.
    In the end, the style took hold and the New Look became the dominant style force. More women wanted to divorce themselves from the horrors of the War and the Depression. They wanted to step forward and away from all that, even if it was, in a sense, a step backwards.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Scatter #27

   Well, well, well.  Its that time again, isn't it?  Yep, its time for me to pour forth the detritus of my overcrowded cranium all over you unsuspecting folks.
   Ready?  Good.  Here goes.

   The first item today is this promotional still from an 1881 theatrical production of a play called "The Forty Thieves".  The actors are Kate Vaughn and E W Royce.  What I find interesting about this is how the man's costume is actually, if inaccurate to place, at least relatively believable.  The lady's costume is however completely fantastical and bears no relation whatever to the place or supposed time the play is set.  Put your finger over the lowest part of her to obscure the pantaloons, (the only part of her costume that connects at all with an Arabian setting).  Without the pantaloons what we have is an entirely acceptable, if a trifle ostentatious,  evening dress of the 1880s.
    Next we have this arresting image of Dom Nicolau, the Prince of Congo, photographed by Omar Victor Diop for Project Diaspora, which chronicles rulers and others determined to resist colonialism.  Living from 1830-1860 he was the first African ruler to openly, and in writing, protest the fierce colonialism that overtook Africa.  The photographer, Diop, recreated this gentleman for his Project Diaspora.  The image appeals to me first as an item of resistance to oppression, second, as a chronicle of time, and third for what it says about the influence of culture upon culture.  The Prince is wearing textiles not found in his native country, and his shoes communicate a knowledge of, and interest in a sport unknown to him before colonials arrived in his land.
    This Edward Steichen photograph from 1931 is of the young Martha Graham.  I love the transformative quality of her costume, as if makes her into something amorphous and pliant, far removed from the reality of her shape.  Our apparel choices, even ones as carefully considered as this must have been, allow us to voice something unique about ourselves and our condition. Plus, Graham becomes a kinetic sculpture in this.
    This is also a photograph by Edward Steichen.  This time its a fashion image of a woman in an evening coat by Paul Poiret.  One of Poiret's many contributions to the apparel dialog was the development of what he called the cocoon coat.  This coat, in endless variations, survived his tenancy as a designer, and still gets pulled  out and used now and then along the runways of the world.  Why?  Because the coat is easy to wear, flattering to many, and possesses an innate drama to it in its wide sweep.  Wearing a coat like this, you're nearly required to make a few grand theatrical gestures.
    At a time when a lot of the female stars were being promoted as just plain sex symbols, Ava Gardner stood out among them.  Not only was she dazzling, but she was obviously intelligent, smoking hot and stylish as hell.  This fashion image is a great one. Sure, to contemporary sensibilities its a trifle on the matchy side, with all the jewelry precisely copying the coat color, but the overall image is an amazing one.  Even with that smouldering look she's serving up, I wanna have her over to dinner and get her laughing.
    As a part of how we are translating our understanding of world conditions, we've been increasingly drawn to images in fashion that refer to disrepair, crumbling and age.  Even the coat being promoted in this shot has the feel of being faded out from previously brighter colors.  We do draw our inner thought up to the surface and put it on our backs, we do it all the time.  side note, for thems as wanna know, he's model Maximiliano Patane.  You're welcome.
    In 1972 a film was done by Luchino Visconti about the life of Ludwig of Bavaria called, oddly enough, Ludwig.  This image is of actor Romy Schneider, who played Empress Elisabeth (Sissi).  I post this image because, for its time the costume work was remarkable in its accuracy.  One of the chronic problems in historical film is that women's costume usually has the wrong foundations in place, skewing the body shape away from what was actually worn.  In this shot, really the only mistakes are with hair and makeup.  Hair was dressed up a good deal, but there would have been more of it, especially for a woman of her class.  And the makeup is pure 70s screen siren.  Otherwise?  Bang on.
    A week or so back I did a One Shot post about the court suit of the later 1700s.  This one here is a favorite of mine for its wonderful minty green and for the incredible gold bullion embroidery work it bears.  Bullion work is more complex and time consuming than other embroideries.  In much of this work a padding layer of wadding or string is laid down first and the gold metallic pieces are cut, threaded and laid over the padding to create additional volume and texture.  In this case, all the flowers and most of the connecting vines are padded. The flowers then are worked in brickwork stitch using metal strip.  Even the buttons have been done with bullion work.  this suit must ahve cost a fortune.
    These fantastic earrings of gold  are over 2000 years old, coming from the Etruscan civilization in Italy.  These are truly dazzling.  What a testimonial to art and craft.  I'm gobsmacked.  That is all.
    Bringing up the rear today, model Dylan Williams from Book Moda #3 as photographed by Matteo Felici.  I can't really tell if this coat is yellow rubberized knitted material or whether its been molded to look like it. In either case, I love the rather surreal aspect of it.  Its perfectly styled, allowing the coat to do all the work and alluding to the surreal nature of it with the plants in his hand.  Love this.

Okay folks, that's all for this edition.  Go out there and be FABULOUS.