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October 1, 2009

But why study historical costume? (Allow me to wax philosophical!)

ladyaclandWhile we were in England, I had two different people (both of whom I met while on the tour but who were not in our group) ask me why we’d bring over a group to study clothing, of all things. Weren’t there far more important things we could have devoted our time to? Clothing just seemed, well, frivolous–lacking any real depth.

Naturally, I beg to differ. And so allow me to give you the philosophical underpinnings of my lifelong passion for the study of historical fashion (particularly women’s clothing) through the centuries.

This topic actually came up the first full day of our London tour when we went through the Globe. Our guide, Kitty, gave a detailed costume demonstration and touched on many of the very things I love to discuss about clothing. But first, a little background.

These post-modern times hold out a schizophrenic approach to dress. On the one hand, we’re told that no one should judge a book by its cover and that clothing really doesn’t matter at all — if I want to wear torn jeans and a wrinkled tee-shirt with bed-head, that’s just fine, and please don’t even think about calling me a slacker. On the other hand, our checkout lanes are stuffed to overflowing with celebrity-soaked fashion magazines full of headlines screaming about the latest “must-haves” and what is “in” this season (and so yesterday from last spring)–the clear implication being that clothes make the man, and you’d better not be left out of the constantly changing parade of style. So how you dress either shouldn’t matter in the least, or it is of utmost importance and should consume your pop-culture-bound life. But what’s reality?

"I don't know, dear.... Don't you think just a few more pearls would better express my status as Marquess?"

"I don't know, dear.... Don't you think just a few more pearls would better express my status as Marquess?"

Let’s get back to our Globe tour, because history has a lot to tell us about ourselves. During Shakespeare’s time, there were “sumptuary laws” dictating exactly who could wear what type of fabric, trimming, lace, jewels, etc. To boil it down to a short synopsis, there was a runaway problem of young men spending themselves into debt to dress “above their station” — trying to imitate the fashions of the nobility whether or not they could afford the expense. And clothing was very expensive for centuries before the industrial revolution brought us giant looms and mills full of laborers (which is another subject entirely, so don’t get me on that bunny trail!). In order to rein in the excesses of expensive fashion, the Elizabethans came up with sumptuary statutes spelling out exactly who could wear what types of finery (even specifying particular colors for certain officials, royalty, etc.). We might scratch our heads at this and wonder what all the fuss was about, but here’s where I think our Elizabethan forebears showed a greater understanding of what clothing communicates than we do–even if their response to it went overboard legislatively.

Benjamin West's depiction of a scene from King Lear, in which clothing plays an important supporting role as Shakespeare explores deceit, disguise, rank, and true nobility.

Benjamin West's depiction of a scene from King Lear, in which clothing plays an important supporting role as Shakespeare explores deceit, disguise, rank, and true nobility.

Our Globe guide, Kitty, mentioned that the nobility often donated their “cast-offs” to theater companies for use as costumes so that an actor could play a proper duke or represent a particular high office realistically. But it was clearly understood that the actor was only playing a part and that what he portrayed would stay inside the theater. In fact, any actor caught wearing the apparel of a noble outside of the theater could be jailed or fined one thousand pounds! This was such a stiff penalty that no one risked it. Now do you begin to see the significance of disguise in so many of Shakespeare’s plays? To put on apparel belonging to someone of another station was essentially to deceive others about your own position in life — a highly risky thing to do in those times. It was dramatically exciting in a way that we can’t quite comprehend in our so-called egalitarian age. Our guide talked about the play we’d be seeing at the Globe, “As You Like It,” in which disguise plays such an important part. The main character, Rosalind, disguises herself as a boy when she flees from her uncle into the forest of Arden. Kitty asked if any of our ladies had ever dressed up as a boy. When one said she had done so for a play, Kitty asked, “Didn’t it make you act differently? Didn’t you immediately put on male mannerisms and try to fit the message your clothing communicated?” Our young actress nodded, acknowledging that the clothing made a huge difference.

vigee-le-brun_self_in_straw_hat

And this is the seat of reality, however we may congratulate ourselves on how “advanced” we are when it comes to not judging books by their covers. The truth is (and always will be as long as humans are humans) that clothes do communicate, and we do read (and misread) the messages they are sending. The fact that we do this comes up for comment in the New Testament, where James admonishes believers not to judge based on appearances:

For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? ~ James 2:2-4

The point is clear: Because clothes communicate something about the wearer, we do have a tendency to judge based on appearances, and we have to work to overcome a judgmental or preferential attitude. If we were angels instead of humans, we wouldn’t need the exhortation. Some take this a step too far and insist that clothing should be merely functional and not at all ornamental. If we have a tendency to judge, then we should just eliminate the possibility by having rigid rules that force everyone to dress the same — or we should create a legalistic code of dress that ensures no one will be tempted to dress to impress. But such approaches miss the mark as much as Elizabethan sumptuary laws did. Top-down approaches to uniformity will never get to the heart of the matter.

Illustration of men's and women's clothing from Greco-Roman times (NYPL Digital Library)

Illustration of men's and women's clothing from Greco-Roman times (NYPL Digital Library)

Clothing always has and always will communicate a message. For the most part, men’s clothing has told the viewer exactly what kind of occupation the wearer held. In Colonial times, if someone was called a “leather apron man,” you knew he was in a trade like soap-making, printing, iron work, or another job requiring manual labor. Occupational clothing goes all the way back to ancient times when men wore short tunics coming to the knees to keep their legs unhindered for hard manual labor in the fields or on horseback — or for fighting and marching, as soldiers did. Even today, we have terms like “blue-collar” and “white-collar” to describe the different fields of work — phrases which had their birth in clothing styles worn by men in particular trades.

For centuries upon centuries, women’s clothing has said, “I am feminine. I am different.” Seeing how this plays out (and how fashion repeats itself over and over again) is utterly fascinating. I love to study timelines of fashion from ancient days forward and across cultural lines (for a good starter timeline, click here — for more, go to this link). You think the bikini was new and shocking in 1946? Think again. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Bikinis show up in Greco-Roman frescos dating back to 1400 B.C. What has been will be again, and understanding what our clothing says about us is important if we desire to communicate a clear message in confused times.

bustledressNo one who has visited my website can doubt that I am a huge fan of femininity and feminine dress. I think it is a tremendous privilege to be female, and I love to dress the part. I love studying how our foremothers clothed themselves in distinctly feminine ways. Yes, there have been excesses and ridiculous turns for the worse in fashion — as much as I may love to look at them, I’m glad I don’t have to live in those over-the-top bustle dresses of the 1880s. ;) But I do love the unabashed celebration of femininity that has persisted down through the centuries, even with all the foibles and fripperies thrown into the mix. How dull would fashion history be if our foremothers had all slopped around in sweats and shapeless tee-shirts? The past century has represented a dramatic and unprecedented shift in the way women clothe themselves. And I’ll be frank here: I don’t think the change has been for the better. You can gripe ’til you’re blue in the face about the “restrictive” corsets and beruffled skirts of the Victorian Era, but you can’t convince me that a woman sweating on an elliptical trainer to be a size two isn’t just as restricted, despite her “freeing” Lycra workout suit. We’re trying way too hard to convince ourselves that we’ve outgrown our ancestors, only to come back around full circle and let pop culture dictate the shape of our bodies and the drape of our clothes.

The study of clothing isn’t therefore just a frivolous hobby for me or something I do for the sheer fun of it. It is fun, but I take it as seriously as I take the study of any other facet of history or literature. Clothing has told a story from the Garden of Eden onward, and to ignore the story or pretend it doesn’t matter is to become bound up in our own age as the be-all and end-all of civilization–which it most certainly is not. When I study portraits of my foremothers, I see character leap from the canvas. I gain a better understanding of biography, of place, of historical antecedents. It’s why I’m so grateful I have photographs of my ancestors dating back to the 1840s. It’s why I absolutely love the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman is represented as clothed with feminine dignity:

She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come. (verses 22, 24-25)

I believe this is our heritage as women–our birthright, so to speak. Femininity is an amazing privilege, and to see it shrugged off as insignificant or unimportant just strikes me as oddly ironic in this age of “equality.” Why does menswear get the upper hand? Why is it the default when it comes to casual Friday or slouching around the house? Do we not see the inheritance we’ve sold for a mess of unisex “style” in our day? Call me old-fashioned, but I think we could learn an awful lot from the unabashedly feminine women who have gone before us. We can glean from what they did right and thoughtfully archive what they did wrong. The key lies in searching out and preserving the timeless feminine style that transcends.

vigee-lebrunmariachristinaportraitSo I design historical patterns. And I take women to museums and art galleries to ponder the fashions of ages past. And I teach my girls to climb trees and swing from branches in sturdy pantaloons and girly dresses because it is absolutely delightful to glory in and enjoy our feminine heritage in a modern context. Restrictive? Far from it. Feminine adornment is freeing. It says I am proud to be a woman; that I tip my hat to my foremothers; that I embrace my place in history without pushing aside its feminine context. Study historical costume? You betcha. Thanks for coming along for the ride with me — and for letting me wax philosophical today. ;)

September 25, 2009

Wednesday in Greenwich

Our entire group got up early to head to beautiful Greenwich for our day there. Most of us wore full Regency ensembles and took pictures against various period backdrops, including the famous Colonnade at the Royal Naval College (used in numerous costume dramas, including the recent “Little Dorrit,” where it served as the “Cirumlocution Office”).

Fan Museum entrance

Fan Museum entrance

Our chief goal this day was to visit the Fan Museum, splitting up into two smaller groups to fit into the two connected Georgian houses that contain the collection.The museum is privately owned and includes fans of all kinds, including ones of carved ivory that defy belief (the detailing is so fine, they look like lace). The history of fan making is clearly illustrated throughout the exhibits, and there is even a fan on display that contains a painted image of a fan “factory” with various workstations showing the steps that went into making a hand-painted silk fan. There were artists’ guilds (begun in Paris) that were dedicated solely to fans. In fact, artists who painted fans were forbidden to paint other works of art for sale or display! To get around this, many would paint a fan-shaped work of art, then fill in the details in the corners so that the painting was technically fan artwork but never cut or folded into an actual fan. There are a few of these framed and on display in the museum. Themes included not only the usual cherubs and classical Greco-Roman scenes but also historical events like royal weddings. One fan in the collection has over 1,500 tiny diamonds set into the ivory guard (the outermost layer of the fan that you see when the fan is folded)! All in all, the amount of work that went into these creations was astonishing. What’s even more amazing is how beautifully they have survived the years of handling (though many were never used but kept as mementos).

Flowers in the front courtyard of the Fan Museum

Flowers in the front courtyard of the Fan Museum.

COMING SOON: Shots of some of the amazing fans in the museum’s display cases (just waiting on Lindsay to get me the pix in proper format!)

While the morning group was touring the museum, the rest of us visited the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College (where Lord Nelson was laid out in state after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar). Lindsay took this shot of me in the upper part of the hall:

img_1503Here’s a shot of a bunch of us gathered in the Colonnade near the chapel (you see the matching Colonnade of the Painted Hall in the background):

Left to right: Amy, Katrina, Me, Wendy, Cassie, Courtney, Catherine, Abigail, and Ana.

Left to right: Amy, Katrina, Me, Wendy, Cassie, Courtney, Catherine, Abigail, and Ana.

It was a little blustery, so we needed our shawls and Spencers, even though the sun was bright and beautiful. You wouldn’t believe how many times we were stopped by people wanting to know if a film was being shot that day! One large group of Italian tourists exclaimed over our group and asked their guide if we were movie stars. The guide (who alone spoke English out of the group) passed their inquiry along, and when one of our ladies told her we were just shooting pictures in period dress, she responded, “Well, I am going to tell them you are movie stars anyway; it will make them very happy!” We all got a chuckle out of that!

I am sitting in the Colonnade with the Painted Hall visible in the background.

I am sitting in the Colonnade with the Painted Hall visible in the background.

The Queen's House is in the background at the end of the Colonnade.

The Queen's House is in the background at the end of the Colonnade.

After touring around the Naval College, we made our way over to the Maritime Museum and Queen’s House, which are basically across the street and through a large park. The layout of the Naval College was designed by Sir Christopher Wren to perfectly frame the Queen’s House and create a  symmetrical view with the river unobstructed from the Queen’s House. You can best appreciate this when you stand in the middle of the grounds between the Painted Hall and the Royal Naval College Chapel and look toward the Queen’s House. A colonnade runs between the Queen’s House and the Maritime Museum, and exactly centered between the two is the Royal Naval Observatory, up on the hill beyond. It’s really striking. In this picture, you see some of our ladies preparing for portraits against the idyllic backdrop of the Royal Naval Observatory and park under the Queen’s House Colonnade. We had gusts of wind to deal with, but the portraits Lindsay took really turned out beautifully. Below is yet another gratuitous pregnancy shot of yours truly taken in the colonnade!

img_1743And here are ladies waiting patiently for their turn to be photographed:

Left to right: Courtney, Molly, Cassie

Left to right: Courtney, Molly, Cassie

And here’s Catherine in her stunning ensemble (I had a real case of Spencer envy when I saw the deep midnight blue velvet!):

102_1246At the very end of our little photo session, one of the guards from the Queen’s House came to shoo us off, insisting that it was illegal to photograph at this location without prior written permission from the royal household! He said that all locations belonging to the queen are copyrighted and cannot be used in photographs. We explained that we weren’t taking pictures for publication–only for personal use–and he replied that it didn’t matter in the least. We were not allowed to stand in the colonnade and shoot pictures. If we wanted to step out into the grass, we could use it as a backdrop, but we couldn’t physically stand upon it and take pictures! This sounded highly illogical to me, and when I later repeated this story to a native, I was told it was a bunch of poppycock and that no locations “belong to the queen” or are forbidden to photographers. Tourists shoot the Queen’s House every day, just as they do Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace. She said that perhaps the guard thought we were shooting a commercial or something for publication, in which case we would need permission — but we were definitely within our rights as tourists! We’d already finished at any rate, so we took ourselves off while the guard clucked and tsked. ;)

102_1251After a quick lunch, we swapped places with the morning group and toured the Fan Museum. Afterwards, the entire group reconvened in the museum’s beautiful Orangerie, which opens onto a fan-shaped garden to the rear. It was heavenly! At right you see a photo of the room all laid out for us, including beautiful dried rose centerpieces, pink and white linens, and fabulously painted walls and ceilings. It really is an outstanding location. We were joined by Suzi once again, and then our surprise guest, Jema Hewitt of Bridal Originals, shared her amazing portfolio of original creations with us. Jema specializes in bespoke wedding garments for men and women with no two designs alike. Her clients have had everything from medieval to Regency weddings and just about anything in between. Jema designed and made the outfit she wore to our tea as well, including a stunning gold dupioni silk Spencer jacket with Swarovski crystal buttons! The gown beneath was made of a royal blue Indian sari with gold trim.

Enjoying a scrumptious tea...

Enjoying a scrumptious tea...

Sarah looks like she's enjoying her tea!

Sarah looks like she's having a lovely time!

Cari clowns with the table centerpiece... She kept us in stitches the entire tour!

Cari clowns with the table centerpiece... She kept us in stitches the entire tour!

Admiring Jema's work as her portfolio pages go 'round the room...

Admiring Jema's work as her portfolio pages go 'round the room...

Catherine studies a photo...

Elegant Catherine studies a photo...

Becca demonstrates her expertise with a fan...

Becca demonstrates her expertise with a fan...

I'm looking at one of Jema's creations; Karen listens intently...

I'm looking at one of Jema's creations; Karen listens intently...

After an absolutely delicious tea (in which the treats just kept coming until we could hold no more), we all gathered in the garden courtyard for a group photo:

Front row: Lily, Catherine, Jema, Becca, Aylwen, Bethany, Ana, Sarah, Me, Suzette, Ashley, Katrina. Back row: Wendy, Amanda, Cari, Celeste, Kristin, Courtney, Molly, Elizabeth, Cassie, Abbe, Amy, Karen.

Front row: Lily, Catherine, Jema, Becca, Aylwen, Bethany, Ana, Sarah, Me, Suzette, Ashley, Katrina. Back row: Wendy, Amanda, Cari, Celeste, Kristin, Courtney, Molly, Elizabeth, Cassie, Abbe, Amy, Karen.

And here’s a shot of our lovely photographer, Lindsay:

img_1926At last we persuaded Lindsay to get into a group shot with the rest of us, and my wonderful husband took pictures with multiple cameras:

Jack of all trades!

Jack of all trades!

This was an absolutely delightful end to our London tour, and we headed back to our hotel brimful of stories and pictures from the day and the week preceding. It was sad to bid farewell to seven of our group members that night, as they prepared for their early morning flight. Those of us staying on for Bath really missed them during our extension! Next time I’ll share about our trip to bath via Jane Austen’s house in Chawton!

September 20, 2009

Dress-up Day at Kensington Palace…

As I mentioned in my last post, Cathy Hay brought a surprise show-and-tell outfit with her to share with the ladies. When she opened her large suitcase and pulled it out, Cassie began fanning herself like she was about to swoon! Turns out she’d been following Cathy’s live journal of the recreation of this stunning outfit, and when Cathy asked for a volunteer model, Cassie immediately waved her hand enthusiastically. Because she was also very close to the same height and build as Cathy, it was a perfect match!

Since we weren’t in a place that had a dressing room, Cassie couldn’t put on the chemise and go quite whole hog, but you can see below that she tried everything else, much to our delight:

First, on goes the flounced petticoat (dripping with gorgeous Nottingham lace)...

First, on goes the flounced petticoat (dripping with gorgeous Nottingham lace)...

Next, the beautiful corset goes 'round the waist...

Next, the beautiful corset goes 'round the waist...

And Cathy laces it up...

And Cathy laces it up...

Then the incredible skirt with hand-applied oak leaves over Duchesse satin...

Then the incredible skirt with hand-applied oak leaves over Duchesse satin...

Closer view of the amazing skirt...

Closer view of the amazing skirt...

On with the bodice...

On with the bodice...

Closer view (you can see how pleased Cassie is!)

Closer view (you can see how pleased Cassie is!)

Cathy has fastened the intricate hooks and eyes, and Cassie dons the gloves...

Cathy has fastened the intricate hooks and eyes, and Cassie dons the gloves...

...and buttons them up.

...and buttons them up.

Now she sweeps 'round the room to give us all the complete view...

Now Cassie sweeps 'round the room to give us all the complete view...

The ladies all enjoy drooling over details...

The ladies all enjoy drooling over details...

Look at that train!

Look at that train!

Detail view of the oak leaf motifs -- and, yes, Cathy hand-applied all 420!

Detail view of the oak leaf motifs -- and, yes, Cathy hand-applied all 420!

We turn up the hem to see the first layer with pleated ruffle beneath...

We turn up the hem to see the first layer with pleated ruffle beneath...

And the inner layer with oodles of flounce for fullness.

And the inner layer with oodles of flounce for fullness.

Cassie goes out into the long Orangerie hall for the runway effect. Stunning!

Cassie goes out into the long Orangerie hall for the runway effect. Stunning!

Cassie, having reluctantly returned the ensemble, thanks Cathy. Oh, what fun!

Then, having reluctantly returned the ensemble, she thanks Cathy. Oh, what fun!

Thank you, thank you to Cathy Hay for coming down all the way from Nottingham to share with our group and let us all handle her “Holy Grail outfit.” She asked how many of us have these–the one amazing costume we want to accomplish before we die. Lots of hands up around the room! And we all left inspired to tackle those dream projects.

After our delicious lunch at the Orangerie, we headed out into the pouring rain for the Museum of London, where we were able to spend an hour at a private study table with costume curator Hilary Davidson, seeing extant garments up close. Unfortunately, only private study photographs were allowed — nothing I am permitted to post! Only wish you could have been there to see the 1780s gown of hand-embroidered and tamboured India muslin, the 1820 pelisse, a doll’s Regency stays, a to-die-for Edwardian tea gown, and more!

Next time I’ll share about our Wednesday in Greenwich!

September 19, 2009

Tuesday Morning at Kensington Palace

All right, I am going to try to play catch-up now! We woke up to a very rainy, soggy day in London town on Tuesday. Fortunately, our plans were all indoors with Kensington Palace and the Museum of London, so the ladies grabbed their umbrellas and headed out. I’d walked so much the day before that I stayed in for the morning. All these lovely photos are from Lindsay.

Late 18-teens portrait in the entrance room of Kensington Palace

Late 18-teens portrait in the entrance room of Kensington Palace

This is a dress from "The Last Debutantes" exhibit, which showcases gowns, shoes, gloves, and more donated by the last debutantes to be presented to the queen in the 1950s.

This is a dress from "The Last Debutantes" exhibit, which showcases gowns, shoes, gloves, and more donated by the last debutantes to be presented to the queen in the 1950s.

Another lovely gown from The Last Debutantes. This exhibit had film exhibits showing how to make a proper courtesy to a sovereign, how to dance (including steps marked on the floor), and how a proper royal table would have been set.

Another lovely gown from The Last Debutantes. This exhibit had film exhibits showing how to make a proper courtesy to a sovereign, how to dance (including steps marked on the floor), and how a proper royal table would have been set.

Ceiling of the great reception room.

Ceiling of the great reception room.

Cradle used by Princess Victoria (who grew up in Kensington Palace).

Cradle used by Princess Victoria (who grew up in Kensington Palace).

Princess Victoria's bedroom...

Princess Victoria's bedroom...

The Red Room (it's actually just a hallway to another room!)

The King's Gallery, which is hung with royal portraits.

Court dress worn by a gentleman in the 18th or early 19th century. (Court dress stayed the same for a looooong time -- very formal.)

Court dress worn by a gentleman in the 18th or early 19th century. (Court dress stayed the same for a looooong time -- very formal.)

Close-up of pocket to show the embroidery detail...

Close-up of pocket to show the embroidery detail...

Breathtaking court gown shot with silver threads...

Breathtaking court gown shot with silver threads...

And the back view...

And the back view...

Close-up of the stomacher

Close-up of the stomacher

Sleeve front detail

Sleeve front detail

Detail of back of sleeve...

Detail of back of sleeve...

The ladies all had a fantastic time going through the palace with Suzi. In the meantime, I had arrived at Kensington’s Orangery to greet our surprise luncheon guest, the talented Cathy Hay of Your Wardrobe Unlock’d! Cathy brought along an amazing goody to share with us that involved another dress-up model demonstration, but I will share that in the next post, as I have SO many photos! You can see my pictures of the Orangery in an earlier post, but here are a couple more of our group gathering for a delicious lunch:

Rebecca, Bethany, Suzette, and Ashley...

Rebecca, Bethany, Suzette, and Ashley...

Me talking with Jema and Suzi

Me talking with Cathy and Suzi

And a photo of our first course:

Smoked salmon with cabbage and mandarin oranges -- delicious!

Smoked salmon with cabbage and mandarin oranges -- delicious!

Well, next time I’ll share the beautiful dress-up photos from Kensington and tell you about our time in the Museum of London’s fashion collection. For now, I must retire so I’ll be ready to head out to church in Bradford-upon-Avon in the morning!

September 18, 2009

What the well-dressed matron will be wearing in Bath tomorrow…

We had a lovely journey from London to Bath, although our coach driver encountered more than the usual traffic, putting us here about two hours late. That’s okay — we’re in one piece, and we’ve all been fed and are checked into our darling guest house! I promise to post pictures of the rest of our time in London soon. Unfortunately, I seem to have left my jump drive back in our London hotel, so Lindsay is having to put everything onto another drive for me! :-P

To tide you over, here are photos of my completed costume for Bath (minus hat):

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Bodice front close-up

Bodice front close-up

Full back view...

Full back view...

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

And the back view...

And the back view...

Tomorrow is the Grand Costumed Promenade to kick off the Jane Austen Festival. We are praying for the rain to hold off, as it was overcast all day today. I’ll be sitting in my booth in Queen’s Square while everyone else does the mile-long parade. ;) On tap for the rest of the day is the Fashion Museum of Bath (which is housed in the Assembly Rooms). Our ladies also have vouchers for “Tea with Mr. Darcy” at the Jane Austen Centre and a tour of the Centre’s museum. Lots of fun!!!

September 17, 2009

A peek at Tuesday…

Well, our day in Greenwich yesterday was so full that we just came back and collapsed, sleeping in this morning. So I obviously didn’t do any blogging. I did manage to go through photos with Lindsay, but she hasn’t had a chance to convert them from “raw” format to JPEG, so you’ll just have to wait to see all the yummy pictures from Kensington Palace and the Museum of London!

However, I did snap a few things with my own little camera, so here is a taste just to hold you over:

The famous sunken garden behind Kensington Palace (you see the palace in the background)

The famous sunken garden behind Kensington Palace (you see the palace in the background)

Another view of the garden, which was dormant when I was here in March...

Another view of the garden, which was dormant when I was here in March...

Some of our ladies seated for luncheon in the palace Orangery -- a beautiful, window-filled hall with high ceilings.

Some of our ladies seated for luncheon in the palace Orangery -- a beautiful, window-filled hall with high ceilings.

This is the sculpture in the center of our private end room, which was circular and let us all see each other during lunch.

This is the sculpture in the center of our private end room, which was circular and let us all see each other during lunch.

Finally, here’s a little peek into what we did yesterday in Greenwich. This is a group of us in the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College:

Snapping pictures of one another in full costume!

Snapping pictures of one another in full costume!

Yes, the majority of us spent the entire day in full costume (mostly Regency with a couple of Romantic and Edwardian thrown in for good measure!). We used the Royal Naval College as our backdrop for some stunning portraits Lindsay took of the ladies. When I share some pictures later, you should recognize the colonnade and chapel of the RNC, as they have been used in a large number of BBC costume dramas (including the recent “Little Dorrit”).

I promise to do my best to get pictures up tonight! I’m spending the morning relaxing while my husband and son go to the British Museum and Parliament. Several other ladies have popped off to the Tower. We bade farewell to seven of our ladies last night, and my husband saw them off this morning at 5:30 a.m., bless him! The rest of us will miss them when we head on to Bath tomorrow!

September 15, 2009

Monday Museum Madness!

Admiring tiny ivory carvings in the sculpture gallery above the medieval plaster cast gallery.

Admiring tiny ivory carvings in the sculpture gallery above the medieval plaster cast gallery.

We had an absolutely wonderful morning at the Victoria & Albert Museum, right here in South Kensington. We had a bit of trouble finding my friend, costumier Suzi Clarke, as we came in from the tube tunnel rather than Cromwell Road, so we took a little side detour into the sculpture gallery. Once we managed to find Suzi, we immediately launched into the costuming-focused displays. Instead of going straight into the fashion gallery, though, we took a side detour into the Asian Textiles exhibit, which had several gorgeous gowns made of India muslin and block printed Indian cotton:

A 1780s gown with tabbed bodice over petticoat -- made of scrumptious block-printed Indian cotton.

A 1780s gown with tabbed bodice over petticoat -- made of scrumptious block-printed Indian cotton.

Close-up view of the tabs...

Close-up view of the tabs...

Yet another block-printed 1780s gown, this one with a simpler pointed front (the front closes with pins, which go into the stays and don't stick the wearer!).

Yet another block-printed 1780s gown, this one with a simpler pointed front (the front closes with pins, which go into the stays and don't stick the wearer!).

Close-up of the bodice front...

Close-up of the bodice front...

Side view to show the back silhouette...

Side view to show the back silhouette...

Detail of the wonderful printed cotton...

Detail of the wonderful printed cotton...

Regency gown of tamboured India muslin

Regency gown of tamboured India muslin

Close-up of the tambouring on the bodice...

Close-up of the tambouring on the bodice...

And sleeve detail -- look at that design!

And sleeve detail -- look at that design!

Here is the "sister" dress to the first two block-printed gowns. This one has a jacket with tabbed front and flounce around the hips.

Here is the "sister" dress to the first two block-printed gowns. This one has a jacket with tabbed front and flounce around the hips.

Close-up of the tabs crossing over the plain stomacher...

Close-up of the tabs crossing over the plain stomacher...

Sleeve detail (I tell you, folks, we were all drooling buckets by now! ;) )

img_0828We moved on into the main fashion gallery, where Suzi and I took a seat in the center. Everyone else enjoyed wandering through the exhibit, photographing and sketching. Several came back to our central point with questions, which called for Suzi’s expert analysis and years of costuming wisdom — what a treat to have such a fantastic guide! Lindsay continued to shoot photos as we talked. She apologizes for the dimness of some of these, but lighting is deliberately kept low to prevent fading of the fabrics, so getting clear shots is a bit of a challenge.

Painted silk saque-back gown ca. 1770s...

Painted silk saque-back gown ca. 1770s...

Detail of the back...

Detail of the back...

Another painted silk--this one a jacket over a skirt and petticoat...

Embroidered silk--this one a jacket over a skirt and petticoat...

A set of stays from the 1780s. I loved the tabbed waistline on these.

A set of stays from the 1780s. I love the tabbed waistline on these.

We next attempted to get up into the Textile Room, which is buried in a far back corner of the third floor. The V&A is almost as confusing to navigate as the British Museum because of staircases that only go to every other floor with “half floors” in between in many places. We managed to get from two to four but couldn’t find our way to three without going through the British Galleries. However, these are some of my absolute favorite galleries to visit (one on the second floor and one on the fourth). I highly recommend them if you visit the V&A, as they are filled with beautiful portraits, furniture, and, yes, many historical garments (including James II’s wedding suit!). We tried our best to hurry through to the Textile Room, but it was like herding reluctant cats to get 24 people all heading in one direction! ;) I didn’t mind. I know how distracting these galleries are, and there is so much to photograph (to see pictures of what’s here, check my posts from 2006).

We did finally make it up to the Textile Room, where frame after frame of fabric, embroidery, lace, and such awaits the eager student of fashion. Here are just a couple of things we pulled from the upright files:

Embroidered 18th-century stomacher

Embroidered 18th-century stomacher

And here's another one...

And here's another one...

You could spend absolute days in here, poring over beautifully preserved examples from the 1600s onward. But we began to run short on time, as half our group was headed to Suzi’s after lunch to view her private collection! So we all gathered for a delicious luncheon in the V&A Cafe’, which is one of the finest museum cafes anywhere with hot and cold dishes prepared by expert chefs. Some of our ladies continued to explore exhibits, while those going to Suzi’s headed to the tube.

Suzi's delicious tea spread, ready for our ladies!

Suzi's delicious tea spread, ready for our ladies!

Suzi shows off one of her Worth bodices.

Suzi shows off one of her Worth bodices.

And here's another beautiful one in turquoise silk...

And here's another beautiful one in turquoise silk...

And a Victorian bodice...

And a Victorian bodice...

I’m speeding through highlights only in this post. We have hundreds upon hundreds of photos from yesterday! Wish I could share them all, but it’s just hit midnight here, and we’re heading to Greenwich at 8:15am to the Fan Museum! I’ll post about today’s fun tomorrow night.

Here are two final photos from yesterday — these of some of our ladies waiting in line at the Globe Theater for the evening performance of “As You Like It.”

Carilyn, Cassie, and Amanda, hamming it up and having fun.

Carilyn, Cassie, and Amanda, hamming it up and having fun.

Two mother-daughter pairs and one of our Aussies...

Two mother-daughter pairs and one of our Aussies...

All but three of us opted for “Groundlings” tickets, which means standing room right around the stage — really the best view in the house. Being rather pregnant myself, I opted for a seat in the second tier right at the railing, renting a cushion to sit upon! ;) We thoroughly enjoyed the play, complete with spectacular costuming as usual. Wish I could share photos, but no photography is allowed during performances. You’ll just have to come over here and get to the Globe yourself!

See you tomorrow!

September 14, 2009

Dressing "Ophelia"

costumerack Okay, as promised, here is the step-by-step costume demonstration we enjoyed at the Globe Exhibition Saturday with Lindsay as our model! (At left you see the rack of sample costumes from various Globe productions.)

This is Lindsay in the linen chemise with very finely knit stockings (you see Kitty kneeling at right). James is pointing out the fineness of these stockings. Working classes wore very rough, wide-gauge stockings.

This is Lindsay in the linen chemise with very finely knit stockings (you see Kitty kneeling at right). James is pointing out the fineness of these stockings. Working classes wore very rough, wide-gauge stockings.

Kitty and James "cross-garter" Lindsay. This was the best way to secure stockings so they didn't fall down during the day. The garters are long fabric tapes that cross behind the knee and are tied above the knee.

Kitty and James "cross-garter" Lindsay. This was the best way to secure stockings so they didn't fall down during the day. The garters are long fabric tapes that cross behind the knee and are tied above the knee.

Now Lindsay's doeskin shoes are laced on. These are buttery soft and have cutwork on the top.

Now Lindsay's doeskin shoes are laced on. These are buttery soft and have cutwork on the top.

Lindsay has slipped on the corset and waits for Kitty to lace her up.

Lindsay has slipped on the corset and waits for Kitty to lace her up.

"Suck in!"

"Suck in!"

Now we get a back view as Kitty finishes the lacing.

Now we get a back view as Kitty finishes the lacing.

Kitty is tying the Spanish Farthingale to brass-tipped cords hanging from the waistline of the corset. This supports the Farthingale so it doesn't slip down.

Kitty is tying the Spanish Farthingale to brass-tipped cords hanging from the waistline of the corset. This supports the Farthingale so it doesn't slip down.

Time to add the bumroll (or French Farthingale), which gives the skirt its distinctive "pouff" at the hipline.

Time to add the bumroll (or French Farthingale), which gives the skirt its distinctive "pouff" at the hipline.

This is the hand-blocked skirt, which is an exact reproduction of a skirt in the Museum of London.

This is the hand-blocked skirt, which is an exact reproduction of a skirt in the Museum of London.

Over her head goes the skirt...

Over her head goes the skirt...

...and James and Kitty tie it in place as they did the Farthingale.

...and James and Kitty tie it in place as they did the Farthingale.

Lindsay shows off the skirt, front view...

Lindsay shows off the skirt, front view...

...and James turns her around to show the "shelf" created behind by the bumroll.

...and James turns her around to show the "shelf" created behind by the bumroll.

Now the partlet is tied--a little demi-blouse that goes between corset and jacket.

Now the partlet is tied--a little demi-blouse that goes between corset and jacket.

Kitty shows us the jacket before it goes on Lindsay. Note the front ties and contrasting color to match the skirt.

Kitty shows us the jacket before it goes on Lindsay. Note the front ties and contrasting color to match the skirt.

Kitty ties the jacket in front.

Kitty ties the jacket in front.

Lindsay makes an adjustment and turns around to give us the full view...

Lindsay makes an adjustment and turns around to give us the full view...

A shot to give you the jacket front in full...

A shot to give you the jacket front in full...

And all that was missing was the hat! Lindsay has let her hair down as a young girl of Ophelia's age would.

And all that was missing was the hat! Lindsay has let her hair down as a young girl of Ophelia's age would.

Isn't she demure?

Isn't she demure?

Full back view...

Full back view...

And now, what went on must come off...

And now, what went on must come off...

Kitty has the bumroll beneath her arm, so you can see the shape clearly.

Kitty has the bumroll beneath her arm, so you can see the shape clearly.

Untied, the Farthingale slips off over the shift.

Untied, the Farthingale slips off over the shift.

James holds the Farthingale while Kitty unlaces the corset.

James holds the Farthingale while Kitty unlaces the corset.

And, finally, Kitty unties the garters.

And, finally, Kitty unties the garters.

Now you know why ladies of means had servants to dress them! ;) Hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through Tudor fashion. See you again soon!

September 13, 2009

At last — a REAL post!

I finally have all the photos formatted so I can share our days with you! Here are some shots from Friday’s kick-off to the tour so you can see how we started out. First off, this is Nigel, our wonderful tour guide, who met us at Heathrow and took us on a two-hour narrated coach ride all over London, telling stories around every corner and pointing down practically every alleyway:

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After 28 years on the London police force, he should know this town like the back of his hand! He’s also a great history buff and thoroughly loves England. It was a fantastic time. We stepped off the bus at several spots for photo ops, including the Albert Memorial in Kensington Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

Our group started out chipper and talkative, but jet lag started to hit hard toward the end, and we were ready to check into our hotel, the Millennium Gloucester in South Kensington. We deliberately left Friday afternoon free so that our ladies could unpack, settle in, or hit some sightseeing spots of their choice. A bunch went to the Tower of London together. My husband and son went to St. Paul’s to hear the boys’ choir while I stayed back to unpack and take care of the rest of our check-in process (including getting Internet hookup–so important!).  We grabbed some yummy Portuguese food for supper from a place around the corner from our hotel, then crashed for the night.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a delicious full English breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant before gathering to head to Shakespeare’s Globe for our group tour. With this many Jane Austen fans in one place, you can imagine the kick we got out of having a guide named “Kitty.” ;-) She was an absolutely lovely lady who obviously has a passion for Shakespeare and for the theater itself. She led us through all the levels of the Globe so we could see the stage from all angles, explaining who would have sat where and why and showing us the incredible artistry that went into recreating the entire theater authentically. Workmen built the timbered structure entirely by hand, using tools from the time period (some of which had to be made especially for the Globe project). All of the beams are fastened together with wooden pegs, and the walls are of lathe and plaster.

A view of the stage from the yard.

A view of the stage from the yard.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

After a 40-minute tour through the theater, we stepped into the Globe Exhibition museum, which includes artifacts from the time period, plus a glorious gallery of costume!

One of several gents' outfits on display...

One of several gents' outfits on display...

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

Here is what’s most amazing about the productions staged at the Globe: For period plays, all of the costumes are made entirely by hand, using only materials that would have been available in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. All of the lace is hand-made, and all trimmings are created from originals in museum collections around Britain. So being able to view these outfits up close with no glass to interfere was nothing short of heavenly! Lindsay took all these gorgeous pictures so you can see the level of detail. It’s astonishing that so much work goes into outfits that will be worn on the stage and seen from a distance. Seeing them up close is a revelation.

Another fabulous gent's costume...

Another fabulous gent's costume...

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

Two costumes were behind glass because of the intricacy of their workmanship. This photo shows a gentleman’s costume that was created by a donor for the Globe Exhibition:

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This gown defies belief — from the custom-woven fabrics to the hand-made lace ruff, it is just mind-bogglingly intricate:

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

And here's the back view...

And here's the back view...

saturday-globe-28After we finished the exhibition tour, Kitty let us know there would be a costume demonstration at 12:30 and 1:30, dressing a volunteer from the crowd in “Ophelia’s” costume from the most recent production of “Hamlet.” Part of us opted to go to lunch and catch the 1:30, but those who had other plans for the afternoon went to the 12:30. Here’s Courtney dressed in Ophelia’s shift, taking her turn as model. We didn’t get any other pictures from the first demonstration, but you’ll get to see Lindsay go through it in my next post!

saturday-imperial-war-museum-11My small group moved on to the Imperial War Museum after the Globe. This wasn’t just a stop for my son (who absolutely loved it!) but for me, as I wanted to see the Children’s War exhibit, which covered the history of London during the bombings in WWII and had heart-breaking stories of evacuee children who did not see their parents for anywhere from two to five years. The photos below show mannequins wearing clothing donated by these (now grown up) children, many of whom saved their identity tags, the toys they took in their pockets when they left home, and letters they wrote home to their parents:

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The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

102_1193The most fascinating part of this exhibit is a two-storey “home front” house with fully-furnished and decorated rooms. Here is a series of photos I shot while walking through the house. You can see period furniture and wallpapers. The windows are not mullioned windows but are taped in that pattern — they had to tape the windows for safety during bomb raids. Rather than utilitarian “Xs”, they created the look of leaded glass!

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The tiny kitchen...

The tiny kitchen...

102_1198There were a lot of posters and advertisements encouraging women to recycle and mend clothing, reuse as many items as possible, and use up every scrap of food. There is a similar exhibit in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, but I enjoyed this one more, as the rooms are not behind plexiglass, and you can really see things in detail. The gift shop had a wide array of vintage reprints from this time period, as you can see from this shot I took of one shelf — lots of books on fashion, hairstyle, makeup, food, and more.

Halfway through the museum, I took a tea break to put my feet up, enjoying this lovely Victoria Sponge with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, plus a pot of Earl Grey tea. Yum!

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saturday-ye-olde-cheshire-cheese-2We decided to hit the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shop for supper, but the directions I got from the Internet took us into a quiet residential side street in Chelsea — nowhere close to where we needed to be! We finally broke down and hailed a cab, which took us to the opposite side of town off Fleet Street (closer to the theater district). Lesson learned — don’t trust website directions implicitly; double-check them! But it was well worth the drive, as this is London’s oldest pub, rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire. The restaurant upstairs was filled to capacity, so we ducked our heads to get down the narrow staircase and ordered directly from the bar. Let me tell you that this is one of the best-kept secrets in Great Britain. If you want to save 50% off your supper bill, order directly from the bar. You can get take-away food or eat it at a small pub table. The atmosphere was delightful, as you can see in the shot below. We enjoyed cottage pie, steak pie, and fresh salad greens with home-made vinaigrette. Everything was delicious and very inexpensive, especially for London.

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We walked ourselves back to the St. Paul’s Underground, where Lindsay snapped these beautiful photos:

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

After settling back into our room, we had a knock at the door and found several ladies out in the hall ready for a gab fest. With group members going in all different directions yesterday, it was really fun to hear where they’d been and what they’d found. Several ladies hit the Portobello Antiques Market and snagged great bargins. Others brought back gorgeous pashmina shawls at a stunning bargain-basement price. It was delightful to see all the treasures. We were joined by still more ladies over the next couple of hours and sat up until far too late talking, swapping sewing stories, and laughing. This is the most wonderful, congenial group you can imagine — just like a party of sisters. We all wish you were here!

More tomorrow…!

September 12, 2009

Time slipped away from me…

Well, I had every intention of blogging all about yesterday and today this evening, but it’s 1 a.m. London time, and I’ve just had the most delightful gab-fest in my room with half a dozen other gals, so I’ll have to blog tomorrow night. ;)

I downloaded wonderful Friday photos from Lindsay’s camera, but they’re in the wrong format, so I can’t even give you a sneak peek. So sorry to keep you in suspense! We have had a complete blast, and I look forward to sharing in detail ASAP. In the meantime, here’s a fun shot to tide you over — this one from our tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, where Lindsay got pulled for the costume demonstration, dressing in “Ophelia’s” 100% authentic outfit from the shift out:

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Wish you were here! I promise longer “postcards” very soon! :)

Warmly,

Jennie

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