Saturday, September 17, 2016

Scatter #118

    And here we are again, my friends.  It's Saturday and it's Scatterday. It's time for your weekly dose of random fabulousness, so sit back, relax, and lets get this party started!
    To start us off we have a visit from his royal highness, King George V of England on a state visit to Delhi in 1915.  The portrait was done by Christopher Clarke, and it's about as potent an example of in your face cultural appropriation as you can imagine.  Sure, part of the reason the king is attired this way is to do honor to the people of India.  But it's also a manner of his claiming ownership over the country by not only wearing the garb of Indian royalty, but by injecting articles of western military apparel into the mix. His gauntleted gloves, his sword and the elaborate shoulder cord are all items of European military uniform.  It is an unsubtle statement of sway.  Gorgeous yes, but seriously divided in it's meanings.
    I find this effort by Proenza Shouler to be an interesting experiment in texture and proportion.  Just using the position and shape of the embroidered surface the eye is fooled into perceiving the waistline to be higher than it really is.  Also the oval cutout on the chest, combined with the arcs on the sleeve heads confuse us, since on its own the oval would seem to broaden the shoulder line, while the inward curving shapes on the sleeves undo that.  It's also interesting that we are being toyed with a bit.  While we have a cut out, where the navel might be exposed, what we see instead is part of the garment underneath the dress.  There is something distinctly armorial about the manner of the decoration, which calls chain mail into mind, but a totally 21st century version of it that, once again undoes that meaning, by poking holes through the protection in key places.  The choice of shoes for the runway? Sorry, no.
    King Johan III of Sweden is cutting quite a dash in his sugarloaf hat and fantastically embellished duds in this portrait by Johan Baptista van Uther from 1582.  Though he is primarily remembered for his attempts to close the gap between the new Lutheran church and the Catholic church, he is clearly a fellow who knew the importance of visual display on the part of a monarch.  No one looking at him could doubt his power and importance.  The sugarloaf hat is tall, even for the fashions of the day. His doublet and cloak are so laden with padded goldwork embroidery that they must have weighed a great deal, as well as being stiff.  But this ensemble is clearly meant for one thing, making sure you know who the boss is.  And a very stylish boss he was, too.
    In 1880 in the USA a sadly unknown dressmaker configured this rather unusual afternoon/ visiting dress.  The entire structure of the dress is of red orange silk faille from the tiny knife pleats at the hem to the top of the standing collar.  What makes this extraordinary is the double tiered crocheted layers over the skirt that both end with complex bead embellished fringes. This dates from a time before the sudden burst of interest in crocheted clothing, so it's quite unusual.  The lady who ordered this must have been quite well of to afford such a lavish, hand-worked detail on her dress.  And the glass beads on the fringes must have made an interesting sound as she moved.  We are lucky this survives.  Those crocheted panels could have been taken from this dress and used for something else later.
    In his final menswear collection before he left Dior in 2010, John Galliano really pushed the edges of what we were ready for.  The result is, to be honest, rather disjointed, but the emotional impact is undeniable. There is a perverse sexiness to the clothes, with their combination of party and combat modes.  We are shown a concept of the male that seems entirely capable of moving freely from one edge of the sexual continuum to another, and as such we are being deliberately challenged to see differently, think differently.  To me it is one of the primary things the design community can accomplish if it chooses to.  Now, 6 years later, this image is not nearly as in your face as it was when the model walked the runway, which only reinforces the value of such challenges. We do learn, albeit slowly.
    We don't think about it much when we look at the clothing styles of the late 1800s, but accommodations were indeed made for pregnant or nursing women.  This image pairs two night wear garments that address those special needs.  The top is loosely cut and comfortable, and has buttoned slits on the sides that can be undone so a mother could easily nurse her child without having to fully undress.  The pantalets are designed with a capacious space in front to comfortably handle a woman's expanding shape over the months of pregnancy, and the back has lacings to adjust the fit further should she need to.  And of course, ladies of means could spend the majority of their indisposition wearing their tea gowns, which allowed them to be without a corset if they wished.  Asa  final note, there do exist some examples of pregnancy corsets that have a split in the front to allow for a growing belly while still keeping everything else in its fashionable position.  Ridiculous now, but normal then.
     This imperious looking fellow is Henry Danvers, first Earl of Danby, as painted by Anthony van Dyke in the late 1620s.  What I often find interesting about such portraits is how they both reveal and conceal the way people actually dressed during the time the painting was done.  This image of Danvers does both things.  In general it reveals little about what was normative in daily or even formal apparel.  This is an ensemble designed for the express purpose of setting him apart from the rest of us, and may have been for his formal investiture into the peerage.  But there are small clues that are present that tell us about the time in bits and snippets.  His shoes have both the oddly placed heels and the huge ribbon roses popular at the time.  The placement of the belt, high on the torso is consistent with what was fashion at the time.  His ruff is stylish, and surprisingly moderate.  And lastly his face has a crescent shaped black patch on it.  The fashion for patching was one of our better oddities. The make up in use for both sexes was lead based, like putting house paint on your skin, and in consequence many developed pock marks from skin cancer.  Small pieces of black card or fabric were worn over the pocks to conceal them, often cut into interesting shapes.  So, it's by the details, not the totality that we get some glimpses of the time.
    When I came across this I was honestly divided in my feelings.  Part of me found it witty and surreal in aspect. Part thought it a trifle vulgar. And honestly part of me thought it a pointed remark on how women get sexualized for display.  It's interesting to me that the real reason this has such impact is not the choice of material, the cut, or the corseted waist, it is the skin-like color of the fabric that makes this such a challenging look.  Do this exact design in black and it would pass without remark.  Even in white our response to it would be milder.  But show it in a mockery of flesh and it becomes a deliberate act of provocation.  Sally LaPointe S/S 2017.
    When this form of undergarment came into being in the late 1800s it was a surprising innovation.  Women who wore the "combination" were a mite racy, and certainly forward thinking.  It's no big surprise that many of the erotic postcard images of the time show women in them.  Probably the biggest reason they were thought provocative was that they allowed a woman to dress and especially undress more rapidly since there were fewer things to deal with.  Also, since they buttoned in front a lady needed no assistance to shed her combination.  I suspect some gents thought with pleasure on what sort of undergear they might discover once behind closed doors.
    This mourning brooch is a lovely and sentimental piece of American history.  It once belonged to Martha Washington.  When in 1799 her husband George died, she has a small locket of his hair placed within the brooch, and later, when herself died, a locket of her own hair was added to it.  It's made of gold, with a bow knot of garnets and trailing ribbons of white and green enamel.  It's a charming memorial to them both and their life together.
    All three of these sweet girl's dresses date from the 1880s and show some of the range of style that existed for little girls whose families had plenty of cash to spare.  More than just clothes for kids these diminutive garments were a physical expression of wealth and status.  Of course it was a reflected status since it wasn't the child who was being touted that way.  Dressing your children expensively and in clothes that required significant care meant you had not only the money to order them made, but the staff to maintain them, and a governess to make sure they didn't run about in the dirt.  These clothes were also a wordless lesson to little girls about what they could expect of the future and their lives in it.  These clothes were a daily class in behavior.
    Speaking of behavior, lets look at cross dressing as our last entry today.  I came across this and though it made me smile for its relative naivete, it also got me musing again about the power of transformation;  how it affects us personally when we choose to step outside of our role and into another, and how it affects how others see us, and respond to us.  As someone who has cross dressed in a costume sense in my dim past I can say that it changed me forever, those dips into the shallows of the world of women.  Sure it was the most superficial of attempts, but I came away from it feeling as though I had momentarily merged with the women around me.  I certainly began to think more deeply about what women face, not just in their dress but otherwise.  I examined my own behavior while I was so dressed, and what it said about me, my understanding of women at the time, and our culture's requirements of them.  I am heartily in favor of everyone giving it a go. With an even partly open mind we can learn a lot.

So that's a wrap for this week, folks!  Have a great weekend!

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