Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fine Examples of Extant Costuming

Amy, Patty, Me, PJ, and Tonia - Ravenwood Castle, 1999
Playing "dress-up" is not just a pastime for children, but an adult diversion which originated in Western culture with the Greeks. Whether to parody or to dramatize a character in an ancient Athenian performance, or to disguise oneself from roaming spirits on the eve of Samhain, costuming, in the sense of counterfeiting one's appearance with an alternative mode of dress (whether acted in the spirit of malevolence or goodwill), will forever remain an irresistible human amusement.

Funny to realize, then, that costuming is not just a recent, late-century phenomenon spurred by the popularity of Renaissance and medieval festivals, Shakespeare in the Park, Rocky Horror, old west shows, and Pirates of the Caribbean. This week, when researching modes of dress, I ran across some delightful examples of extant costumes from the late-Victorian era to the first half of the last century. I hope you find these costume examples as exceptional as I do; moreover, I hope they further inspire your love for costuming and refresh your creative imagination.

1). Colonial-inspired devil's ensemble, constructed of red silk velvet and various synthetics (Brooks Costume Company), circa 1953. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

2). Elizabeth costume (although this gown's understructure uses a pannier-like hoop) constructed of cream embroidered silk, trimmed with metallic thread and synthetic gems (Paul Poiret), circa 1910-1920. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

3). Mid-1700s costume constructed of bronze silk and white/ivory cotton, circa 1890. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

4). Elizabethan fellow's ensemble constructed of multicolor wool and cotton, circa 1931-1935. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

5). A whimsical dress constructed of embroidered and appliquéd silk, trimmed in multicolored glass beading (Henri Bendel), circa 1919. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

6). Harem pant ensemble constructed of turquoise and ivory silk - trimmed in metal beading and embroidery work (Charles Worth), circa 1870. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

7). Russian-inspired boy's costume ensemble constructed of white and blue silk with matching leather boots and wooden cane (Brooks Costume Company), circa 1925-1926. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Blessings and happy sewing!


  1. Lovely post, being something other than our everyday self has been with us since we started wearing clothes :) for religious and amusement purposes. Thanks for sharing these outfits, the devils costume is the best, I am inspired to recreate for Halloween!

  2. Lorna, I'm with you, the devil's costume is my favorite (thinking I might want to make something like it for myself)! It's fascinating how past eras of costume enthusiasts have represented historical dress. I wonder what our descendants will say about our renditions of the fashionable past one day? ;)

  3. Many of these were not meant to be historical representations but masquerade costumes. The wealthy have always held costume balls with major designers and houses designing and constructing many of them.

    But either way, they are gorgeous and it is a treat to see them.

  4. I suppose I should have clarified and said artistic interpretation rather than representation - lol! Indeed! The Vanderbilts were well-known for their costumed masques, as well as Henry VIII and the Venetian nobility (who were downright notorious). If only to be so frivolous! :)

  5. The blue and yellow outfit looks very much like a Swiss Guard uniform from back in the day.