Tag Archives: fashion
September 15, 2010

Wednesday at Berrington Hall and Hereford Museum

Well, dear readers, it has been a red-letter day for anyone in love with historical fashion. I’ve never heard so many grown women squeal like schoolgirls! From start to finish, it was an amazing treat. So let me walk you through it!

First off, we boarded our coach for the two-plus-hour drive north, winding through absolutely gorgeous countryside (including a short nip through Wales):

We passed through Hereford on up to Leominster (which we learned is pronounced “Lemster” by the natives and not “LEE-oh-minster” as we’d thought!). After winding down the country lanes, we arrived at the entrance gate to Berrington Hall, which looked far too narrow for our coach. Yet our driver managed to get us through three gates and over a cattleguard before one of the docents came frowning out to tell us we’d gone the wrong way in, as the coach park was in back and accessed by a different gate! Never mind that no one told the driver this when he called or that the first gate was not marked “NO Coaches!” Oh, well. We still managed to get to the proper place to park and headed in for our appointment with costume curator Althea Mackenzie, who is caretaker to the famous Snowshill collection (now at Berrington) and the Hereford Museum collection (more on that later!).

Berrington is a wonderful estate. Famous landscaper Capability Brown’s son-in-law built it in the 1780s, and it was the last landscape job Capability did. The outside of the house is rather austere, but that was done on purpose by the architect, who wanted to lead the visitor into a surprise jewelbox of perfectly symmetrical rooms with Wedgewood-style moldings and fittings. Here’s a short tour of a few of the rooms:

The opening hall is exactly as it looked in 1783, with the addition of two French tapestries added by the next generation of owners.

Detail of the Greek-inspired door trimming

One of the French machine-made tapestries (sorry it's a bit blurry; I am still getting the hang of the low light setting, since flash wasn't allowed!)

Next we entered the drawing room, another perfectly proportioned room, down to the matching mirrors, picture arrangements, curtains, and even symmetrical furniture. Jane Austen would have been right at home in this room:

The stunning ceiling of the drawing room

The back hallway is even more magnificent than the front entrance! This staircase leads up to the family rooms.

Here is what lights the staircase--a glorious glass dome!

A view under the dome from the balcony overlooking the hall below...

This is the back of the main house inside the courtyard.

One half of our group toured the house while the other half enjoyed the delights of the private study table with Althea. Then we switched off. I cannot show you any of the things we looked at from the stores, as they are all copyrighted by the National Trust, but when I am able to look up call numbers, I will post them so you can Google them for yourselves. Suffice it to say that you would short out your keyboards drooling if I was able to share pictures!

After we all finished at the study table, we gathered for luncheon in our own private Edwardian Tea Room below stairs:

Lunch was absolutely delicious with an assortment of sandwiches, soup, and scones with jam and Devonshire cream, and, of course, tea. Yum! We finished up and walked back through the grounds toward the coach:

Looking into the walled orchard/garden...

Beautiful allium!

Looking past the fountain towards the house...

A lone water lily in the fountain...

View across the velvety lawn in front...

This is called "The Triumphal Arch" and serves as side entrance to the grounds...

A peep through the courtyard archways to the view beyond...

After boarding the coach, we buckled in for the short ride back to Hereford, where we were to meet up with Althea at the museum for still more up-close study. We were told to go to the main museum building, so we toured it for a bit and enjoyed its exhibits (lots of hands-on things for the children–hurrah!).

My girls trying out the play kitchen.

Too much fun!

This case contains original fabrics from the 1740s-1780s.

Detail view of the fabric. We saw such bright colors today--lots of pinks and greens especially from this period.

A purse "embroidered" with (are you ready for this?) beetle wings! Thanks to Stephanie for pointing this out!

After waiting a good 20 minutes and seeing no Althea, we asked again at the desk if she was expecting us and knew we were there. They decided to ring her up and found she was actually at another museum building several blocks away and expecting us there! Oy! So we packed ourselves off in a hurry to get to the museum’s resource center, which contains a simply mind-boggling number of storage bins, drawers, shelves, racks–you name it. Once again, I can’t show you anything we looked at, but you can see our ladies walking down the long corridor next to the storage cases:

What treasures lie in store?

These run on a neat trolley-type system that pulls the shelves apart along tracks so you can walk in between and get to all the drawers and bins. Althea gave us much more of her time than we deserved, and we oohed and ahhed for a good hour and a half. We could have stayed a week and not seen everything. This was absolutely the highlight of the day, with all our ladies getting to see things from different time periods and areas of interest. Never to be forgotten!

After a quick stop to get some water and other odds and ends, we headed back to Lacock Village for our evening meal at The Red Lion Inn, which is an absolutely charming spot (its exterior was used as the Meryton Assembly Room in the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice”).

Cozy!

Charming!

Ladies awaiting their suppers...

A happy (and delicious) ending to our wonderful day...

The Chicken and Stilton is not to be missed!

Great conversation and lots of laughter...

Nothing better than candlelight...

So we’ve finished out our day tired but happy. Tomorrow we travel southward to Exeter for still more historical costume at Killerton House and Rougemont House. If all goes well, I’ll be telling you about it tomorrow night! Sweet dreams!

October 11, 2009

At the Fashion Museum in Bath

18th-century gown of silk with silver trimmings.

18th-century gown of silk with silver trimmings.

Now, at the outset, I have to apologize for how dark most of these photos are. It’s not Lindsay’s fault at all. The Bath Fashion Museum has a fabulous collection, but, unfortunately, its displays are just about the worst when it comes to overall layout and, most especially, good lighting. You spend most of your time squinting into glass cases that reflect your own image back better than they showcase what’s inside. Yet some displays have lighting so bright that you have problems with overexposure. Suzi has refused on principle to visit the museum for years–LOL! But, all griping aside, the collection is lovely, and I hope in future they improve the layout and design. There’s such amazing potential in the Assembly Rooms for gorgeous display; it’s bound to happen one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a peek at what Lindsay captured.

A selection of ladies' underthings through the centuries. The ornate slips (teddies) are from the 1920s.

A selection of ladies' underthings through the centuries. The ornate slips (teddies) are from the 1920s.

These incredibly ornate men's gauntlets are from the 1600s.

These incredibly detailed men's gauntlets are from the 1600s.

Gorgeous 18th-century saque-back gown, surrounded, oddly enough, by wine glasses. Go figure...

Gorgeous 18th-century saque-back gown, surrounded, oddly enough, by wine glasses. Go figure...

Sleeve detail from another 18th-century gown...

Sleeve detail from another 18th-century gown...

This Regency gown is absolutely covered in silvery beads.

This Regency gown is absolutely covered in silvery beads.

Early 1830s gown with sheer sleeves over the trademark wide, puffed sleeves of the Romantic era.

Early 1830s gown with sheer sleeves over the trademark wide, puffed sleeves of the Romantic era.

Mourning dress that belonged to Queen Victoria. She was incredibly short-statured.

Mourning dress that belonged to Queen Victoria. She was incredibly short-statured.

Ornate bustle gown from the 1880s.

Ornate bustle gown from the 1880s.

Stunning ballgown from the 1890s.

Stunning ballgown from the 1890s.

And a close-up of the luscious bodice!

And a close-up of the luscious bodice!

Wish I could show you more, but the lighting just didn’t give Lindsay enough help. :P Next time I’ll share pictures from our gorgeous Sunday in Bath!

October 10, 2009

Saturday in Bath: Jane Austen Everywhere!

img_2166After the overcast, chilly Friday, I didn’t have high hopes for good weather on Saturday, but I sure prayed for it! Lo and behold, we awoke Saturday morning to streaming sunshine and warming temperatures! As the day went on, we were treated to bright blue skies, gorgeous white clouds, and balmy temps in the 70s. It was amazing–a perfect day for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival and Grand Costumed Promenade. We ate a delicious breakfast at our B&B and dressed in all our Regency finery. What a beautiful group our ladies made as they walked to the starting point of the promenade! I may be a little biased, but I believe we had the most authentic and elegantly dressed group of ladies. It was such a delight to see them all. Above you see several of our ladies walking to the Pump Room, where the promenade would assemble. I did not walk in the parade but sat at a booth in Queen’s Square, where the promenade would end around 12:30pm. I had the pleasure of meeting over two dozen of my customers from all over the world, which was a great treat.

Without further ado, here are pictures from the promenade for your enjoyment!

Abby has the most incredible natural grace and beauty. Isn't she photogenic?

Abbe has the most incredible natural grace and beauty. Isn't she photogenic? Love the bonnet!

A bunch of our ladies (and my eldest son) gather for the promenade...

A bunch of our ladies (and my eldest son) gather for the official world record count at the Assembly Rooms. From left: Lindsay, Abbe, Catherine, Courtney, Molly, Katrina, and Cassie (with Master Chancey in front).

Courtney and Molly stop for a snap...

Courtney and Molly stop for a snap...

Another shot of our ladies--so many gorgeous outfits!

Another shot of our ladies--so many gorgeous outfits!

And another, this time adding Aylwen and Wendy on the right.

And another, this time adding my mother-in-law on the left and Aylwen and Wendy on the right.

Aha! We managed to capture Suzi with Aylwen and Wendy. Isn't her turban smashing? She got stopped for photos all day.

Aha! We managed to capture Suzi with Aylwen and Wendy. Isn't her turban smashing? She got stopped for photos all day.

The well-dressed Regency gent on his cell phone...

The well-dressed Regency gent on his cell phone...

Looks like they're ready to get moving!

Looks like they're ready to get moving!

The gent on the left made the outfits for everyone in his family!

The gent on the left made the outfits for everyone in his family!

All costumed participants gather at the Royal Crescent--409 in all, breaking the world's record for most people in Regency dress in one place at one time!

All costumed participants gather at the Royal Crescent--409 in all, breaking the world's record for most people in Regency dress in one place at one time!

My wonderful husband and sweet mother-in-law pose for a shot at the Royal Crescent.

My wonderful husband and sweet mother-in-law pose for a shot at the Royal Crescent.

Back in Queen's Square, several ladies relax to enjoy the lovely weather. From left: Becca, Ana, Bethany, and Sarah.

Back in Queen's Square, several ladies relax to enjoy the lovely weather. From left: Becca, Ana, Bethany, and Sarah.

My son thoroughly enjoyed his day as a Regency boy, including climbing trees in Queen's Square!

My son thoroughly enjoyed his day as a Regency boy, including climbing trees in Queen's Square!

And leaping down!

And leaping down!

Cassie, Wendy, Katrina, and Catherine enjoy "Tea with Mr. Darcy" in the Jane Austen Centre's Tea Rooms. Yum!

Cassie, Wendy, Katrina, and Catherine enjoy "Tea with Mr. Darcy" in the Jane Austen Centre's Tea Rooms. Yum!

Karen and Lily have a sunny spot next to the window.

Karen and Lily have a sunny spot next to the window.

I wish you could see Lily's amazing outfits in person. She and Karen had the most stunning hand-blocked fabrics and created beautiful garments.

I wish you could see Lily's amazing outfits in person. She and Karen had the most stunning hand-blocked fabrics and created beautiful garments.

All in all, we had a fantastic morning. It was just a perfect day for walking around Bath (which is such a walkable city). Next time I’ll share the photos Lindsay took Saturday afternoon in the Fashion Museum at the Assembly Rooms. :)

WHOOPS! Here are pictures I took that I forgot to post the first time around!

The S&S Patterns booth in Queen's Square, complete with my demi-mannequin and her outfits!

The S&S Patterns booth in Queen's Square, complete with my demi-mannequin and her outfits!

The bonnet/hat booth next to me. They had some fabulous bonnet forms that we have a hard time finding in the States.

The bonnet/hat booth next to me. They had some fabulous bonnet forms that we have a hard time finding in the States.

My son, mother-in-law, and husband. Nope, doesn't seem we managed to remember to get a picture with all of us in it! Fiddle-dee-dee!

My son, mother-in-law, and husband. Nope, doesn't seem we managed to remember to get a picture with all of us in it! Fiddle-dee-dee!

I had to grab a few shots of Constance's (Suzi's friend, who came with us) fantastic Spencer jacket. It was my favorite out of all I saw.

I had to grab a few shots of Constance's (Suzi's friend, who came with us) fantastic Spencer jacket. It was my favorite out of all I saw.

Full-length view...

Full-length view...

Sleeve detail. Yummy!

Sleeve detail. Yummy!

October 6, 2009

For everyone who asked about Miss Molly's dress…

Miss Molly and friend at the Fan Museum... (Photo Courtesy of Amanda)

Miss Molly and friend at the Fan Museum... (Photo Courtesy of Amanda)

I’ve received more questions here and on Facebook about Molly’s lovely gown, which she wore in Greenwich during the tour. Molly borrowed the dress from a friend and has graciously gotten the information from her on how it was made! Here you go:

A young lady named Anna used to frequent the S&S Message Forum, and she was an 1860s lover. She made some of the most gorgeous costumes from that era I’ve seen and had many historical balls. In fact, she’s the one that inspired us to try and get balls started here. But I digress… She made a simply stunning white and pink ball gown for a friend of hers that my sister just fell in love with. You can see pictures at http://www.thegracefullady.com/ladiessociety/christmas_ball04.htm , third row down.

That gown was my starting point. I really love working with Sandra Altman’s amazing patterns, so I choose Past Patterns‘ #704 1863 Ball Gown Bodice as a base for the bodice. The sleeves she just wanted big and puffy, and that was simple enough for me to draft. Anna also had instructions (click to see them) on one of her websites for making a historically accurate 1860s skirt, so I used those for the skirt.

For the trim at the neckline, I made it up as I went. Scrap crepe for the blue center and white satin ribbon for the edges. It took a little tweaking for it to hit exactly where I wanted it.

Thanks for sharing, Molly!

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 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 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!

July 23, 2009

Counting down to the big fall tour!

england-trip-day-1-london-109I can’t believe we are just seven weeks out from the big historical costuming tour! My husband and I will be leading a group of 23 ladies through a one-week tour of London’s best spots for studying the fashions of history — including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, Kensington Palace, the Greenwich Fan Museum, and Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve also left time in the schedule for visiting the National Portrait Gallery and other wonderful spots all around London Town. It’s going to be fantastic!

I’ll be “live blogging” during our tour, September 10-17, and then again during our weekend extension to Bath for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival. Stay tuned for lots of wonderful photos by our group photographer, Lindsay Keen of Deep South Images.

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