Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Lesson In Reform

The perfect Edwardian silhouette (1903)
The Reform Era of fashion refers to the time between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries (1850-1920) when women's clothing began to change drastically from the stiff and molded hourglass and "S" figures to a more relaxed and natural figure. For the fashionable woman of the era, daily dressing was a lengthy process which often required the assistance of another person in order to accomplish the silhouette most desirable at the time. A woman's dressing ritual usually started with putting on her chemise and drawers and then her stockings and shoes, since once the corset was laced in place it would be near impossible for her to bend over and button her boots. Next, she would slip on a corset cover, a hoop or bustle cage (and bustle pad), and then a petticoat over this - all before she finally put on a gown or suit. Thus, the beauty of the female figure was not contingent on her genetics or physical fitness, but rather on the pinching of her body into a mold which constricted, padded, and caged her natural form - often to the detriment of her health.

Reform Corset 1917
The real physical distortion of the female body during this era is certainly grotesque, if not strangely beautiful in some morbid sense. I am fascinated to think how these women completed domestic and nuptial tasks so tightly confined in their vetements, and while I find the fashion of the Victorian and Edwardian eras simply delicious (despite their sadistic underpinnings), I must applaud the fashion reformers of the era, both men and women, who rallied behind the movement toward sensible, if not more natural fitting,  garments. I have been strapped in a few period corsets in my time (re-enactments, fairs, costuming galas, etc.) and appreciate their restrictive nature, never again to complain that modern social etiquette and professional attire require me to wear a bra - lol! This brings up the issue of the Ladies' Tipsy Tea in May - and no, it's not all about the gown, but about the undergarments which lend to the silhouette of the era. In the spirit of the Edwardian fashion reformist, since I am constructing an Edwardian tea gown, I have decided to design a button-front reform corset. I am very excited about this new project and the results of the completed garment - although reform corsets still laced in the back, the shape was more relaxed, the boning was minimal, and there were no busks in front.

As you've guessed, the idea for the Ladies' Tea in May is to be comfortable (as one can be wearing layers of velvet and lace from chin to toe - lol!) while also achieving that stylish Edwardian figure, and I believe the reform corset is the perfect compromise for this fashion endeavor. Now don't laugh at my coloring - lol! I could not find the coloring pencils (I imagine they are hiding out with Elvis and the missing sock population) so crayons had to do. Notice that I have borrowed most of my gown's structural design from the shirtwaist and skirt featured on page 52 of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2. The only significant change I am making to the ensemble is in the bodice; rather than having an open bodice that reveals a gathered breast panel (as detailed in original garment), the bodice will be closed with a lace yoke and collar. To finish my look, I am searching for a wide-brimmed, black straw hat (which of course I will decorate). I already have my shoes (black leather Oxfords) and stockings - :) Oooo, and a pair of black lace gloves and a parasol...I need those,!

Won't we ladies be a spectacle (did I mention we are starting our little tea party at the neighborhood pub)? Cheers!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Toodledoo Teetotaling!

Happy Spring! March has just whizzed by - I cannot believe that April is almost here - and you know what that means? That means my veggie seedlings get planted in the greenhouse and I start cleaning up my garden after a long winter. This past Saturday, I was a happy girl when me and the hubs went out to water and mix the winter compost pile and this yummy compost juice started seeping through my dormant garden - that means good nutrition for my plants and an awesome fruit yield! Excited, excited, excited!

The last two weeks have been packed with busy work centered mainly around my sister-in-law's wedding gown alterations (beading, sequins, and more beading) and getting third quarter English tests and essays graded for upcoming student report cards. I promised myself I would not even think about working on my Edwardian tea gown for the Ladies' Tipsy Tea until I had Sherry's wedding gown finished and third quarter grades recorded (like I need more irons in the project fire). Friday is the deadline for both the dress and the grades, which means that Sunday, if I feel up to it after a wedding and reception on Saturday, I have the freedom to begin the design elements of my costume. Or, maybe I'll just relax and start Monday - lol! Either way, I will be free, free, free!

On an interesting note, I have inherited a hand stitched quilt top from my husband's Aunt Shelley. This came about when my mother-in-law called and asked if she could drop off a partly finished quilt that Aunt Shelley wanted to give me. The quilt top had been made by Shell's grandmother sometime in the 1960s and she had come in possession of it in the '80s after her granny died. From here, she stuffed it in a duffel bag and forgot all about it, until just recently, when she happened to discover it while packing up her house to move. Shell then passed it over to my mother-in-law to give to me, but not before the quilt top traveled around in my mother's-in-law car trunk (in a trash bag) for a year - lol! God bless, it's an ugly thing, but I thank heaven Aunt Shelley thought enough of me to know that I would care for it. It's a hot mess, too. Lord only knows when I'll have the time to start on it, considering I may have to take the whole thing apart and sew it back together. It's not stitched well - the stitches are wide and loose. I hate the thought of disassembling it, particularly since Aunt Shelley's granny hand sewed it together, but to preserve the integrity of the quilt, I'm sure I have no choice. My intention is to repair it, clean it, and present it to Aunt Shelley completed (as her granny intended). It's a tall order, but what's new in my book of projects - lol!

Oooo, and I treated myself to unneeded fabric (really, when do I ever buy fabric that is truly needed, but rather wanted - lol!). My wholesaler was having a Spring Sale - I became the proud owner of 30 yards of Dupioni silk - love it!! The most difficult part of the purchase was trying to determine which colors I wanted. I settled for a royal blue and champaign. I am delighted with it! I also bought my staple linen, which I use mainly as a lining material - it's just so soft and breathable. I know some costumers like the fancy-pants materials for their underlings (unmentionables), but I'm a practical girl. No one cares about the material that my shift, chemise, or corset is made of (except me), so my underlings are plain ol' simple linen. My next order is going to be satin - I'm running low on some staple colors...

Anyway, Edwardian Tipsy Tea gown sketches and progress pictures to come! Also visit Tonia's blog, Just Blame Jane, to view the progress on her tea gown! Hummm - spirits consumed while wearing corsets and high-laced boots - I'm wondering just how tipsy we should get - lol! Maybe we should stick to teetotaling? Nah! ;)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

'80s Rewind...

Me & Jenny 1988 (Prom)
Have you noticed? I certainly have! Recent fashion trends are revisiting the 1980s, and I love it! Ironically, it wasn't a few years ago that my own daughters told me that '80s couture was the fashion horror of the twentieth century (and here I thought it was the plastic and paper dresses of the 1960s...), and yet today slouch boots, sweater dresses, leggings, and aviator shades are all the rage - it's like I'm in the middle of a Flashdance throwback - or perhaps a Footloose flashback. Whatever the case, you can be my hero, Kevin Bacon...

Aside from the various '80s fashions and fads that adorned my body and thinned my wallet (i.e. Doc Martens, neon colors, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts and Ts, straight-legged Levis, and bold geometric graphics), there are others from the era that should remain closeted forever and ever - here's to hoping that certain fashion oopsies are not on the horizon- ahe? Like...

Grace Jones
The Power Suit. If shoulder pads weren't necessarily pretty in the 1940s, their peculiar aesthetic certainly didn't improve in the 1980s. In fact, what was tolerable in the '40s became a fashion monstrosity in the '80s. With World War II era design, there was a definite shape and form to the jacket or bodice that donned the shoulder pad - garments had a neat and tailored look for the most part, and their proportions didn't usually consume the human form. However, four decades later, it seemed that the objective of the Reagan Era designer was to shape a woman like a Steeler's linebacker. I'm sure the fashion designer's intention for the shoulder pad was to slip a bit of androgyny and mystique into the feminine costume (like the sharp and sleek aesthetic of Grace Jones), but what resulted was a ridiculously exaggerated, heavy, and misshapen look that consumed the natural form of the wearer despite the cut or draping of the garment. Save the androgynous beauty of the Grace Jones silhouette (she wore the shoulder pad - it did not wear her), the same cannot be said for the rest of us who mindlessly sported this fashion poo-poo. There was nothing attractive about it - not in the 1980s anyway... 

Crockett and Tubbs: Or, regarding stylish men's wear, a crock and dud. Again, the Miami Vice look (the over-sized dress coat, the pleated lawn pants, and the loose T-shirt) reinforced the shapeless and exaggerated fashion that defined much of the 1980's. Not only did Crockett and Tubbs rock the shoulder pads, they rocked the sockless loafers, too. This was all fine and dandy for the sexy vice duo on network television, but it wasn't so fine and dandy in real life. Ooooo, child, can you say stinky feet? Keep those dogs snug in their loafers, please! Of course, my prejudice against this particular look may be that I'm an Ohioan, and here, the Miami Vice trend seemed geographically misplaced, like wearing a parka in Ft. Lauderdale. It didn't help any that the men who pimped this style (in my experience) seemed to really think they were on Miami Vice. Remember Glenn in the The Wedding Singer? Yeah, I dated him - well, a guy just like him who thought he was Crockett incarnate. Maybe I could have tolerated the trend a little more if the men who adopted it had not adopted the whole Crockett and Tubbs persona! :) 

This brings me to Madonna, and the millions of teens and twenty-somethings who skipped through the 1980s lip-sinking "Like A Virgin" dressed like slutty rag-dolls in lace skirts and fingerless gloves. While I was never a Desperately Seeking Susan, I had plenty of friends who were (I was more of a Siouxsie and the Banshees kinda gal). Thank heaven this "Material Girl" trend was short lived, reaching its fashion apex by the mid-1980s and dying quickly from there. However, the trend that transitioned from the Madonna look, and had taken hold of the female wardrobe in the last half of the decade, has fought tooth and nail to stay alive - we still see snippets of it on the Jersey Shore and Housewives - I like to call it Lycra Couture - you know, the dresses sold by Frederick's of Hollywood? I'm all about sexy jammies, but I don't wear them in public. There is something to be said about sexy and chic (think Sophia Loren or Heidi Klum), which is cultured, intelligent, and commands respect (it diminishes sexual objectivism) - versus sexy and porn star, which merely commands sexual attention; of course, this is the objective if you happen to be a professional in the adult entertainment industry (think Jenna Jamison - she didn't make her fortune by dressing like a Pentecostal). Love it or hate it, I fear Lycra Couture is here to stay.

Giddy-Up, Horsie: The stirrup pant. *gag* Need I say more? I never owned a pair - EVER. Despite the fact that I was a self-conscious teenager back in the day, I liked clothes that showed off my figure - not to the extent of Lycra Couture - but, I had a nice shape, particularly my legs. And, what did stirrups do? They turned the female gam into a shapeless, straight-lined plank of wood to compliment the shapeless, over-sized sweaters and shirts which were also fashionable at the time. Thus, the Fabulously Frumpy look was born. Where Lycra Couture leaves nothing for the admirer to imagine, either does Fabulously Frumpy - I'm not sure which trend is more detrimental to the feminine physique (some would side on the issue of modesty and cite Lycra Couture as the greatest offender), but in either case it doesn't matter. Bad fashion is bad fashion, and bad taste is bad taste. (Tell a fashion connoisseur that costume design, form, and function is subjective - ha!)

Designer Michael Kors
There are other trends from the 1980s I hope not see, like parachute pants and mutton sleeves (this trend could have happily stayed in the 1890s), but something must be said about revisiting an era in fashion - trend reprisals are usually improved versions of their original concepts. For example, the neon craze that consumed the early 1980s (I'll never forget walking into The Limited and buying a dayglo blue crop-top that said "boy toy"!) was a juvenile trend at best. These colors saturated T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, hair ribbons, leggings, and hoodies - no respectable professional would have been spotted in neon, except in their aerobics gear at the gym. Today's reprisal of neon fashion is high-end couture, chic, opulent, and rich - there is nothing juvenile about it. It matured - and I think this is the key to revisiting a trend. 

Fashion grows up, and so should our style. 


Thursday, March 3, 2011

In the Beginning...

Anymore, very few individuals in western society are formally trained in the garment making industry, compared to a century ago when workshops and boutiques were filled with apprentices supervised by a master tailor or two. Today, most who pick up a needle and thread are home sewers or hobbyists and are, for the greater part, self-taught (like Tonia and me). The tools and resources available now for the prospective garment maker are vast and often overwhelming. I am sometimes asked by friends and fellow sewers how I go about making the garments that I do. Where do I begin? Where do they begin?

More than anything, I believe that the proper execution of a garment, particularly a historical garment, begins with good research – that means foot work. And in the beginning, when Tonia and I started, we did a lot a foot work. Little did we know it, but what we did out of necessity to learn prepared us well in understanding garment construction and fashion aesthetics. 

Then, we were young mothers and wives and had to use whatever resources were available to us to learn - we did not have the time or the monetary means to enroll in sewing or fashion design classes. In the 1990's, the internet was still fairly new - a novelty of sorts. On-line information was scant and very few reliable tailoring or garment making sources existed. We quickly discovered that the best resources for learning could be found in our local libraries, art museums, thrift stores, and our very own closets!

Today, as an established tailor, if I need to research a specific project or design aesthetic, I still get the greater part of my information from the library – from good old fashion books and journals. Why read books and journals when the internet offers such a wealth of information? Because, unlike these printed sources, personal websites are not peer-reviewed - quite simply, it boils down to the quality of information. Most (nearly two-thirds or more) information on the internet is incorrect. Books and journals still reign king when it comes to dependable and responsible research. However, this is not to diminish the accomplishments of garment making professionals whose workmanship and aesthetics are breathtaking – there are many exceptional tailors on-line whose information is especially reliable. But, if you are not sure about an internet source, fall back on peer reviewed printed material.

Museums are another wonderful source – not just for their textiles, but for studying fashion through artwork. Painting, sculptures, prints – they all provide a fairly accurate portrait of fashion during their receptive eras, and this resource is simply indispensable. Where very few individuals (like historians and curators) are privileged enough to inspect the construction of an antique garment (most of which are very fragile), art (although often two-dimensional in form) may be studied by anyone. Keep in mind, the examples that we historical garment makers look to when studying the mode of costume through time are far more numerous (there is a greater sample to pull from) in artwork than in the actual garments available for study. Artwork is an immense resource that should not be overlooked - today, museums often have whole collections on-line for study!

Finally, never pass up the opportunity to browse a good thrift or vintage store. Once, while Tonia and I were at a vintage shop close to downtown Dayton, she found a lovely little straw bonnet from the 1860s, in excellent condition – for $5 (the owners were going out of business)! These shops not only hold secret little treasures, but most carry textiles that you can touch! That’s right – you are free to see with your fingers! lol! You can closely scrutinize and inspect the workmanship of whatever garment you put our grubby little hands on (so to speak), and this is a wonderful experience! Don’t pass it up! Even if you have no intention on buying, you can still look, you can still touch – these shops become your personal learning center.

No matter where you are in sewing experience – even if you are coming from humble beginnings like Tonia and me – knowing the most effective and resourceful way to research a garment in any era will be an immeasurable benefit to your personal growth and knowledge as an emerging garment maker. Never underestimate the education you can get from a good book, a piece of art, or visiting a musty old thrift store! While these resources may not always be as thorough or as comprehensive as learning the craft of garment making in an apprenticeship or classroom setting, they can certainly point you in the right direction toward constructing quality clothing.

Happy sewing and watch those fingers! lol!