Posts Tagged ‘Victorian’

Here are the beautiful photos from Highland Park. One could not ask for a better backdrop than the voluptuously, lacy lilacs.

I tied a sash around the waist, which was unnecessary. But I thought it jaunty, and have lost a few pounds unintentionally from when I did the bodice fitting. I never tight lace for fittings, so tying the corset looser was not an option. I hoped the sash would compensate for the looser fit, and it is pretty.

The photos were taken by the incomparable Annette Dragon. She does incredible work!

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Dress Front with sleeves pinned on

The underskirt is 99% finished. Hah! All that remains are some extra hooks for closure. The back portion of the underskirt I trimmed differently then the front portion, which was common for the period. I was rather sick of rigid, straight up and down pleats, so I took a long piece of doubled over 16.5″ wide plum silk (8 inches when folded and turned), and pleated it in on itself  4 times every 8 inches. 8 seemed to be something of a magic number with the underskirt, because lots of things ended up being done in 8s. I don’t think there is any significance to this.

20090511_0002I have some sleeves, though they are not lined, sewed in, finished off, or decorated. They are pinned on for the photos. I used the plaid because I had a good amount of it left over and hated to waist it. It’s not one of those fabrics that you can coordinate with a lot of other things. It’s demanding stylistically, but wonderful, wonderful to work with. As far as fabric goes, I can safely say it’s the best I have worked with. It ranks a 10 in texture liveliness, personality, color, and ease to work with. I bought it on e-bay, and basically based the entire dress around it.

The sleeves are made in two pieces, so they have a slight natural bend at the end. I cut a big circle, then a hole in the middle, and ever so slightly gathered it into the bottom of the arms at the 4 cardinal points of the sleeve hole. I think I’ll sew plum pleating to the inside – if I have time – and I will trim where the circle meets the sleeve with a bow and such.

The side view looks so much better when worn, primarily because the dummy bends to the right and back, and because it has no derriere. Absolutely none.

20090511_0003I’m sewing some antique lace to the inside of the collar. It looks authentic because it is real antique, probably late 1800 lace. There was exactly the right amount.

The back bow will be basted, because there isn’t much on earth that looks more stupid than a screwed up out of place bow moving around a dress, or moving around anything for that matter.

This dress would not have been worn in high summer, but this time of year is perfect for it. It would have been a walking dress, worn to parks. I like to think it’s Parisian. Who else but a French woman would wear purple plaid silk?


I wish so much I could let everyone feel the dress! It feels fantastic with all of that silk, and the rustle is so inspiring! What the previous red and black bustle dress did for drama, this one does for texture and tactility. You just want to touch it!

She will embark on her maiden voyage in less than 48 hours… no more posts for a couple of days. Back to work.

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I’ve postponed finishing the skirt, primarily because I can’t make up my mind yet about how to allocate resources. In the meantime, i have started the ever so particular polonaise. Below are shots of the plaid pinned to the interliner, which is then loosely pinned to the dummy.

I changed the design. There will be a heavily pleated panel extending from the mid-back bodice (under the ‘V’), which will probably be poufed. From the side back bodice panels, I am sewing two side panels. You’ll just have to wait and see what it looks like.

Side Bodice

Side Bodice

Back center bodice

Back center bodice


Side from a distance


Back from a distance

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The Back

The Back

Here are drawings of what I plan to do. The drawings were quickly done, but they get the point across. It will look like a purple plaid frothy puff with lots of bows! What would be better for spring?

The Front

The Front

I wrestled for a while with my plans for the seaming. The plaid poses some curious problems, foremost being that the lightest colored, lilac stripes – which I want to be vertical – run horizontal across the bolt. Where I had expected no problems with creating a long train, as I had planned to do, I realize that to cut the back panel all in one piece I would need to make the white stripe horizontal, and this draw the eye wide. So, I came up with a solution and can now proceed.
The sashes are a recent addition. First, they will cover up some of the seaming I’ll need to do. Second, I think they are so Tissot. Third, they add froth. I am shooting for as much froth as possible, without making the waist and body disappear. When it comes to making a purple plaid silk dress, the more froth the better.

I hemmed the skirt and turned the waist band today, which didn’t take very long. In fact, it was almost nothing, so I’m not bothering with pictures.

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Bustle Portion of the skirt is attached to the top of the 3 panel train

Bustle Portion of the skirt is attached to the top of the 3 panel train

I made some small progress on the underskirt today.

The train is gathered and sewn into the cotton tape. The idea is that more cotton tape will be used to do more rigging in the future. But I decided that I wanted to cover the rigging with a darted panel. So the darted panel was sewn to the cotton tape as well. I will sew more rigging when I’m ready to attach the whole thing to a waist band.

An Apron is sewn onto the front 3 panels. It's gathered at the sides.

An Apron is sewn onto the front 3 panels. It's gathered at the sides.

I cut the apron and trimmed it with a pleated flounce. The apron is then sewn to the front panels.

The front panels and back panels are still not attached to each other, but I’m basically ready to sew them all together then insert the whole contraption into the waistband. Maybe tomorrow?

A friend wants to take photos of me and the new dress, so I have a deadline for completion: a week and change. Should be fun.

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Front Panel

I started cutting into the gown fabric today after making the pattern pieces and a mock up of muslin. I will document here how to construct a dress. I couldn’t work on it too intensely today, so everything is all basic.

Here is a shot of the front panel pinned to the dummy.  Understand, this is the base skirt. It will be adnored with puffs, pleats, scallops, and an apron that is also adorned. I’ll get to the apron later.

Front panel with wedge-shaped side panels

Side Panels attached to the front panel

There will be an attached back train of modest size.  It is made up of three panels of the silk, sewn together. I gathered the train into a piece of sturdy cotton tape. Right now, it’s just pinned to the tape. The train is not yet sewn to the front panels for reasons that will become clear later. Basically, it’s being held on the dummy by friction.

Keep in mind, that the three train panels are something like 7 feet across, all of which needed to be gathered into the 19″ piece of cotton tape. There is a lot of stuff going on there, and things are not as simple as they appear.

Back train attached pinned to front panels

A rather wide apron will be attached going across the three front panels and sewn into the seams above the train. The cotton tape that holds the train will be held to the waistband with rigging, and two purple panels that cover the rigging.

The Brown dress in the middle is the inspiration for my Polonaise design. Coming soon.

The Brown dress in the middle is the inspiration for my Polonaise design. Coming soon.

To the right is the 1874 Godey fashion print that is the closest thing to what I have in mind for the back of the polonaise. Of course, it’s brown and not plaid. 

The proposed underskirt will be much more elaborate than the one shown on the brown Polonaise in the 1874 print. Also, the front of the Polonaise will be shorter, which will allow for a lovely apron. But I really liked the long train effect on the brown polonaise.

I am already in love with my grape-popsicle colored silk. It’s so soft, so sturdy, an so easy to work with. It rustles and drapes like a dream, and the color is just so Victorian.

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Think Victorian women outspent Victorian men on personal consumables?  Think again.

It has been a common misconception that the Victorian American woman was a little more than fond of retail therapy and large scale personal consumption. Much of the basis for this misconception has been that the little data that has been analyzed has been approached from the standpoint that those buying the consumable goods are those consuming them. Add to that the contrasting images of males and females we have culturally assumed for the Victorian era (women in large poufy dresses and Parisian hats, compared with the austere, polished and serious patriarch from the male fashion plates) and we have a nice historical myth. But  just because Victorian women purchased more goods, does not mean they consumed them.


Big Spender

Consumer Society in America has an article that claims that according to the 1890 census, men consumed 2.5 times more on clothing than women. And that’s not all. Though men’s clothes were at the top of list ($446M), liquor and alcohol came second ($290M). Then footwear ($274M) and tobacco ($197M).  Compare the almost $200M spent on tobacco with the $183M American women in 1890 spent on women’s clothing. Further down the list are perfumes and cosmetics, sporting goods, billard table materials ($2.8M!), and some other androgenous cosumables such as pocketbooks and watches that were likely consumed more by men.

The article states that the numbers are accurate, since the census did purposefully divide men and women’s clothing into two separate categories. What this does not include are clothing items made at home, in which case women were producing what they consumed. Men would have been more likely to buy more of their clothes off the rack, rather than relying on a wife or female member of the family to produce them at home.

But, as the article continues, even if the clothing items are entirely removed from equation, the consumption of men and women becomes basically identical. If, for example, the census numbers missed a third of female consumption on clothing, that would still only put women at about 44%, claims the article. So the assumption that Victorian consumerism was highly skewed towards the feminine is entirely wrong.


Appealing to Feminine Frugality

Though this is just a theoretical scenario, could it be possible that women were better at keeping their clothes in good shape? With all that liquor and tobacco being consumed, there were bound to be some casualties (think clothes with cigar holes, sloppy eating). Also, I believe that women’s clothing, particularly those in the middle class, was more designated into functional categories. She had house dresses, visiting dresses, walking dresses, perhaps a formal dress. Though this is just a theory, perhaps feminine ritual resulted in women dressing appropriately for the purpose. Other factors entering into the equation could be that women had more structure to their clothes – such as boning – that preserved their clothing from wear.

There is also the possibility of price discrimination across genders. Men were the income earners. Their image was important. Women, on the other hand, did not earn income, and were usually dependent on a male family member for spending money. Women in 2009 will spend more money than a man on their clothing and hair because they likely perceive a financial benefit resulting therefrom: better job, richer boyfriend. She may be on the dating or job market for years, whereas a Victorian women could be married before she was 20.

In any case and for whatever reason, unless there were a lot of women running around in men’s clothes, drinking copious amounts of  alcohol and smoking cigars (a la Lilian Russell), women were not the big consumers of the Victorian era.

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