Archives for posts with tag: costume

Triangle factory, photo in workshop of shirtwaisters

The 8th of March has just been and gone. Pre-packed sprigs of yellow mimosa in the supermarket and tacky adverts…. I have never liked this ‘celebration’ of women. It’s sad and, yes, even slightly insulting. But I am bringing the topic up because I have been thinking about – and wearing – white shirts quite a lot recently. The link of course is the Triangle factory fire in New York city back in 1911.

On the 25th of March that year the blouse (or ‘shirtwaist’ as they were then known in the States) factory that we can see in the image above, went up in flames. The doors were closed, the workers locked in. 123 women died and 23 men. A tragedy. Many of these women were immigrant family bread-winners. Their death sparked unionist and female political activism across America and beyond. The 8th of March is dedicated to them but sadly few women today are aware of this.

The shirtwaist was worn by all women at the turn of the century. Rich and poor alike. The two young women below were approximately the same age but even the simple blouses reflect the very different social status and economic possibilities.

J.Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard,1888,Amon Carter mus texas

John Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888, Amon Carter museum, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Pelizza da Volpedo,Dolore, Acc Car Berg

Pelizza da Volpedo, Suffering, 1900c, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy

In fact, the simplicity of the white blouse caused sartorial difficulties in certain respects: it was wonderfully modern and easy, you could match it up with anything. It was democratic, plain cotton for everyone. But in the world of haute couture this was not always a good thing. Distinction was needed. And this, in terms of the white blouse, came via the use of lace. White lace blouses had the same ‘function’ as the cotton ones but they were obviously more dressy and definitely more expensive – and suitably delicate for the ladies of leisure of the Belle Époque.

camicia pizzo di Vernon, Scandinavia, 1915-17c

Vernon lace blouse, 1915-17c, Scandinavia

 

Some were in between on the social scale there were

female students:

Mrs Gray s group,1909,McCord mus

Canadian female students, 1909, McCord museum Canada

Actresses:

opuscolo settimanale,1902,Fondo Gnecchi

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And sporty types:

divided skirt for cycling, USA 1900c

American lady in blouse and divided cycling skirt, 1900c

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Lady paddling or rowing, 1900c

But who started off such a wide-spread and long-lasting fashion? It all began in the 1850s and not up, or down, but in the middle. The white blouse is one of the most sensible middle class inventions ever!

It was first worn by middle class teenage girls under jackets (often in velvet) and with a silk skirt. This would have been part of a ‘set’ comprising different bodices for different occasions. This was a mix and match concept. A clever way to get good use out of a silk dress, an ‘investment’ buy in those days. In the image below, the girl on the left wears her rust coloured silk taffeta skirt with a black jacket and the white blouse. (The skirt seems too long, but that is just because she is not wearing her wide, fashionable crinoline as she is in the countryside visiting her friend).

W.Gale, The confidante, 1857, Tate B

W.Gale, the confident, 1857, Tate Britain, London UK

Older generations soon followed: by the 1860s the blouse was worn by most women on a daily basis. In hot climates and on very informal occasions such the one in the image below, the ladies would remove the jacket of their two-piece suit (a concept straight from the male wardrobe – but that’s another story)

S.Lega, Il canto di un stornello,1867, Pitti

 

Silvestro Lega, the song, 1867, Pitti gallery, Florence, IT

In the two portrait below we can see how the blouse was also worn under the one-piece dress. The reason for this is practicaityl: hygiene (the white cotton blouse would soak up the sweat and could be soaped and boiled up innumerable times. Women had several of them).

foto,Amalia Oieri,CRAA

Italian lady, 1860c

P.A.Renoir, donna 1868

 

A.Renoir, woman in the garden, 1868c, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland

The model in the Renoir painting was Lise Tréhot, a dressmaker. She probably made her own white blouses! And here she is in a photo wearing a white blouse

Lise_Tréhot_in_1864, model for A.Renoir, dressmaker

(For more on the white blouse see my post from October 1914 on World War I fashion)

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Felice Casorati, the red jacket, 1939, MART Rovereto, Italy

 

In this, and the following posts, I shall let my selection of images speak for itself. Colour can be quite fascinating, especially when worn in contrasting combinations.

I will begin with a personal favourite of mine: red and burgundy. The brightness of the red is reflected yet absorbed by the muted tone of the burgundy. Exciting.

mark-rothko1

Mark Rothko

Back in the Renaissance it was actually men who favoured this colour combination

D.Ghirlandaio,man,met NY

Domenico Ghirlandaio, man,  15th century, Metropolitan museum New York USA

Alfonso I d'Este,Duca di Ferrara marito Lucrezia Borgia

 

Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d’Este Duke of Ferrara

By the 1800s, initially due to Romanticism and Renaissance revival,  it was very popular with women too

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J.E. Millais, actress Kate Dolan impersonating Portia, 1886, Metropolitan  museum, New York

J.S.Sargent, Ena e Betty Wertheimer,1901,tate

John Singer Sargent, Ena and Betty Wertheimer, 1901, Tate Britain, UK

In the above portrait, the contrasting combination of colours is not in the actual dress – which is a rich light burgundy –  but it’s created by the eye-catching red flowers worn in the sensual dark hair of the sitter.

Charles James,evening dress,1949,Kent state uni usa

 

Charles James, evening dress in silk and velvet, 1949, Kent State university collection, USA

Fashion Italy 1960

Sorelle Fontana atelier Rome, Wool and velvet day suit, 1960 (1960 Italian fashion magazine photo)

nike 2014

Nike sports shoe, 2014

journal des dames et des modes, moda femminile,1913

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Paris, 1913

This post wants to investigate the ‘rise’ (literally) in fashion of the collar for women during the period 1913-18. As we saw in the last post, by 1914 the negative effects of the war had driven French fashion designers to invent a new style and to promote it assiduously in the hope of reviving interest,  sales and more importantly, an industry which gave work to 1000s of people.

28830-elizabeth-branly-1916-elegant-parisienne-hprints-com

La Baionnette, 1916

The new  war silhouette, with its full but short skirt was young and dynamic, cheeky yet elegant .  Corsets had practically been forgotten, replaced by more comfortable brassieres. The waistline positioned slightly above natural level. The collar of coats, jackets and blouses became a new focal point: rising up high to frame the neck, elongating the line from head to bust. The new haircuts – kiss curls framing the face while the long tresses were pulled up high behind the head to look like they had been cut (that was only happening in the most bohemian of circles around 1915).

Paquin, manteau de ville, 1915

Les Modes, Paris, 1915

These high rise collars were particularly suitable for winter fashions. They stood high thanks to a stiff lining or, as we can see above, thickened by the addition of fur. They framed the face perfectly and kept the neck warm.

They remained popular for several years.

Alvaro Guevara,Mrs Fairbairn Nancy Cunnard,1919,NGV Melbourne

Alvaro Guerara, Mrs Fairbairn (Nancy Cunnard), 1919, N.G.A. Melbourne, Australia

There was something masculine in this way of pulling the collar up around the ears, maybe yet another influence from uniforms to be seen everywhere in Europe during those years. The heavy, thick wool greatcoats buttoned right up and worn with the collar turned up for extra protection from wind and rain.

australian soldier, WW I

Australian soldier, WW I

WAAC army auxiliary corps, greatcoat wiith fur collar

WAAC  – female army auxiliary  corps, WW I,  in wool greatcoat with fur collar

More masculine/feminine fashion contaminations in the images below:

cover les modes

Les Modes, Paris, 1915

28872-piere-colombier1918-aviator-la-panne-au-chateau-airplane-breakdown-hprints-com

La Baionnette, 1918

The shirt or blouse for women of this period deserves a closer look too. It had remained popular from the previous decade but  was totally revised in shape. New influences were at work on the imagination of the designers.  The blouse, which  had of course existed for decades (since the 1850s to be precise) now also became an interesting mix of feminine and masculine.

Premet, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, 1914

The collar was wide and kept well open, supported beneath by the stiff collar of jacket or coat. When worn with a light fabric dress only it was probably starched stiff and well ironed into shape.

E.L.Kirchner,Erna e Gelda, 1913c

E.L.Kirchner, Erna and Gelda, Germany,  1913

The earlier blouse was distinguished by its femininity denoted by plenty of lace and ruffles. The neck was closed in as it was not proper to show skin during the day.

hairstyles

Journal des Demoiselles, Paris, 1900c

At the same time though, it must be noted that a new kind of female was emerging, the educated middle class young woman who worked. She was more likely to wear a ‘masculine’ style shirt + tie. She was after all claiming her new space in a male centered society.

Mrs Gray s group,1909,McCord mus

Female student,s 1909, Canada

By 1914

Lewis, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, 1914

The new blouse was not mimicking men’s fashion. It was taking its linearity and transposing it into the feminine sphere. A perfect blend to represent the new generation of women to emerge from a devastating war, when for the first time they will be expected to ‘wear the trousers’ in a Europe that will have lost most of its young men.

camicia pizzo di Vernon, Scandinavia, 1915-17c

Vernon lace blouse, 1915-17c, Scandinavia

ventaglio,punched skin leaf,ivory,1590-1600, MFA Boston

Punched leather and ivory fan, 1590-1600c, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

Can fashion make a noise? Can what we wear and the way we wear it make specific noises?

Probably the first type of sound we associate with fashion today is some form of music. The extra loud music of fashion shows or the background melodies of department stores. Nowadays music is also an essential part of fashion advertising, it forms the sensorial backdrop that sticks in potential customers’ minds.

What about the noise that fashion items (clothes, shoes, hats, fans, etc.) actually make when we wear them? Are these sounds distinctive and recognizable? Are they instinctively associated with  a particular item or even style throughout history?

Here is a selection of items which make or made, each in their specific fashion eras, a bit of a noise:

THE 1500s

During the pre-industrial  era sounds and sound perception would have been quite different from today (just like the perception of light and darkness would have been different in pre-electricity days). So when looking at these objects we should take into consideration that the noise pollution surrounding the wearer and the listener, would have been made up of other types of sounds from those we are familiar with today.

THE METAL CORSET

corsetto metallo, lombardia 1560-80,MPP mi

Metal corset, Italian, 1560-80c, Poldi Pezzoli museum, Milan, IT

This type of metal corset was quite common amongst upper class women from the middle of the 16th Century (examples survive in museums around Europe). As we can see by looking at the right hand vertical edge, there are two sets of hinges center back. The corset therefore was front opening (it has a small clasp at the front to keep it closed). We can imagine that if the hinges were not kept well oiled,  it would have made a screechy  jarring noise on opening and closing it. Not a pleasant sound.  But then not a very pleasant fashion item.

THE FAN

Tiziano, ragazza con ventaglio,1556,G Dresden

Titian, Girl with fan, 1556c, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden

Fans were very popular in the 1500s, as they still are today in many countries around the world. Back then, women (who were wearing  those rigid corsets and tightly laced bodices) would have suffered from the lack of air in a crowded room, an overly incensed church interior or simply the heat of the  summer months. Fans were functional as well as decorative. In a previous post I mentioned 16th century  feather fans, but before and alongside these, many women used paper fans such as the one used by the young woman in Titian’s painting . We can imagine the swoosh swoosh noise as she flips it back and forth between her fingers.

 

CHOPINS (platform slippers)

These were a form of female footwear which (in one form or another) became fashionable in various countries in Europe during the 16th century. They were essentially a very sophisticated version of the wooden clog worn by peasants everywhere throughout the middle ages and beyond.

chopines, veneziane, XVI sec, castello sforzesco MI

Chopins, leather covered wood platform sole, punched leather uppers,16th Century, Civiche Raccolte Arte Applicata, Milan, IT

These chopins in the Castello  Sforzesco museum in Milan are of a moderate height (much higher ones were the norm in Venice at this time – examples can be seen at the Costume museum in Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice). Yet they are interesting for the shape of the base – it resembles an animal’s hoof (possibly an elephant’s). The wide base provided some stability to a very precarious piece of footwear. The upper is so short and the back of the heel so narrow, that one wonders just how the lady could walk in them. Throughout the wooden clog-wearing centuries, people must have been used to a certain degree of noise emanating from them. They were generally worn out of doors on packed earth roads or in some areas even  paved streets from Roman times. A common sound associated with the lower classes. If I have to imagine the sound that these chopins created, I think of a muffled thud thud noise. An aristocratic sound of covered wood gently thumping down on terracotta or tiled floors, as the lady – swiftly lifting the hem of her dress so as not to trip – walked through the halls of her palazzo.

Before you think I am weird go see the previous blog and you will know what this is about.

So what happened in Europe once Christianity arrived, did they or didn’t they wear underpants? well things get difficult for the dress historian here due to the proximity of underpants to genitals and the reproductive organs. Anything to do with sex quickly became taboo, which means we are very short on images and even written evidence on the wearing of underclothing.

But here is something interesting. Have a really good look at the figure on the far left, inside the hut ( and while you are at it the guy sitting next to her).

Yes she is not wearing underpants and yes her genitals are on show. The question is WHY?.  Possibly a reference to staying indoors during the winter months, keeping warm and having sex. But back to underwear: with the use of long linen undershirts women did not generally wear underpants (except at that time of the month). The T shaped undergarment  was enough, it hid the woman “shame” and absorbed sweat and body odor. Linen could be boiled in hot water or scrubbed on riverside stones, unlike wool or the silk used for outer clothing by the higher classes.

Limbourg brothers, month of February, Les tre Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, 1412

Limbourg brothers, month of February, Les tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, 1412

 les-tres-riches-heures-du-duc-de-berry-fevrier-february-detail
Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc Du Berry

linen underpants, 15th century, Lengberg castle, Germany

linen underpants, 15th century, Lengberg castle, Germany

Ok they are in bad shape despite excellent conservation, but they are an amazing find (found with other underwear) and they are from the same period as the above image.

So in conclusion we can say that some women did and some women didn’t wear underpants in the middle ages.

 

mosaic at Piazza Armerina, Sicily

mosaic at Piazza Armerina, Sicily

girl's leather underpants, museum of London

Its THE question which comes up in history of dress lectures year in year out… morbid/fetishist student interest for this topic aside, it is a GREAT question.
As children we all looked under our dolls’ dresses to see if there was underwear there, as adults we tend to look at the exterior first and usually dont think about what is underneath at all. But as all dress historians know, what really makes an outfit is what is worn under the clothing to shape the body.

SO this will be a key topic at FASHIONARCHAEOLOGY

For women in Ancient Roman times we have evidence of underwear: the famous sicilian mosaics (image 1)  which also address the important topic of women and physical exercise in the past  and  the hugely important Roman London find – a pair of girl’s leather underpants (image 2, now  in the Museum of London)  physical/matrial evidence to support the visual material. Amazing!!