Thursday, September 8, 2011

Embroidery from a Court Coat Silver Thread 1770 -1780

Silver thread hand-embroidered in a foliate pattern with silver pailettes on blue wool broadcloth.  The total weight (mainly silver) is 29.8 ounces!  The interior neckband is made from leather.
Embroidery, representing an enormous investment of labor, was all but ubiquitous on the suits of wealthy men in the 18th century. Even as popular styles simplified, the fashion for heavily embellished menswear would survive in royal courts well into the 19th century. To achieve such incredible designs often required a workshop of artisans, who embroidered the fabric before the coat pieces were cut - such a shop is illustrated in Diderot's 1751 Encyclopedie, showing the lengths of fabric stretched on hoops to be stitched. Once the pieces were embroidered, the customer could make his selection and have it sent to his tailor, to be cut out and made up into a perfectly fitted, custom-made suit in a matter of days.

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Ivory Silk Satin Two Piece Wedding Gown 
Lined in Silk Twill, c. 1895

This refined wedding gown shows the "Leg O' Mutton" sleeve that epitomizes its time period - by making the shoulders look broader, the waist and hips look smaller. The woman's body was further sculpted by the addition of a restrictive corset, and over that, the boned bodice would have added still more shaping.

A perfectly quintessential wedding dress of this period, the fully boned (whalebone, not metal) bodice closes with a hook and eye closure at the center front. The fitted under sleeve is tight on the arm, with the puffed silk over sleeve flaring above it.  Ivory silk satin outer fabric lined in silk twill. 

The trained skirt is flatlined with white cotton, and closes with hooks and eyes at center back.  The lace and crinoline 
baleyeuse(pleated lace in the interior hem) is present and in good condition, quite unusual.     

The 1890s was a period of exaggeration. The wide "Leg O' Mutton" sleeve, so named because of its resemblance to the leg of an animal, served to broaden the shoulders, and by comparison, make the waist and hips appear smaller. The sleeve reached its peak about 1895, and as it began to deflate and its optical illusion diminish, corsets grew more restrictive and hats began to expand to compensate. The importance of a large bust was also paramount - advertisements are full of creams and vitamins to help women grow their bosom, and if those failed, other companies would happily sell them external bust improvers in the form of boned crinoline bodices or padded brassieres.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Men's Black Wool Frock Coat from 1860-1880

Just imported from France an early men's black wool frock coat 1860 - 1880.  Buttons covered in silk satin.  Full skirted with darts at the waist for fitting.  One button on each cuff.  One interior breast pocket and two tail pockets.  Fully lined in black wool.  Sleeves lined in brown and white striped cotton.  Machine stitched, three lines of under stitching on the collar.  Padding in the shoulders.  

The Frock Coat occupies a fairly straightforward position in the annals of fashion history.  A double-breasted version such as this, favored by Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) bore his name, and was considered to be more elegant than its single-breasted cousin. Etiquette manuals of the 19th century are filled with advice for when and where to wear each variant, and even with what color waistcoat it should be paired for different events (general consensus held that, when visiting, a dark colored waistcoat was most correct, whereas for a "kettle-drum," an informal afternoon event along the lines of a social tea, white was expected). Often associated with professional men, such as doctors and lawyers, it was also appropriate wear for a variety of morning occasions, including weddings and funerals. Nearly always black, and always wool, its blocky, skirted cut and construction changed very little from the 1850s through the 1920s, when it was replaced for every occasion save Court by the less formal "morning coat," favored by George V of England. 

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Silk Lampas Floral Gown c. 1758 

Silk lampas large scale floral vine pattern museum dated 1758 (written inside the bodice).  Self fabric attached stomacher.  The gown is original except for the muslin underbodice.  Large wing sleeves.  Beautiful pleats in the back of the skirt.  This gown was deaccessioned from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
A woman's dress during the middle years of the 18th century had really only two options for styling - the flowing Robe a la Francaise and the less formal Robe a l'Anglaise. Luxury and personal taste were reflected primarily in the choice of textile and trimmings. It was a point of contention among many moralists of the day that it was often impossible to tell a well-dressed maid from her mistress, and a beautiful gown like this would not be out of reach for a well-to-do woman of the middle class. However it would probably be her best, for Sundays or a wedding.
This gown is sold.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Men's Silk Brocade Waistcoat from the Mid Nineteenth Century


Just imported from France an early men's waistcoat from the mid 19th century.  Cream colored silk brocade waistcoat with two hip pockets trimmed with piping.  Six thread covered buttons.  Lightly padded on upper chest.  Lower front reinforced with leather back tie and buckle closures with original brass buckle.  Back in off white cotton duck.  

With dress options limited for men, one of the few options a gentleman had to display color was his waistcoat. However, even that was strictly prescribed - The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness from 1873 indicated that it was suitable to wear a white waistcoat to a ball, or in the city while visiting, but by 1875, Routledge's Manual of Etiquette informed readers that "white waistcoats are no longer in fashion." One further note of wisdom was added, too. "If any friend should say to you 'what a handsome waistcoat you have on!', you may depend that a less handsome waistcoat would be in better taste." Simplicity and restraint were prized above all.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Rare Unworn Royal Worcester Maternity Corset c. 1892 

This cotton Royal Worcester maternity corset c. 1892 was donated by the president of the Royal Worcester Corset Company to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1950.  Deaccessioned from the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York with original acquisition tag with accession numbers.  

This single layer cotton coutil maternity corset has two bust gores and two hip gores on each side for comfort during an uncomfortable period of life.  It is half boned with whale bone, and wrap-around adjustable straps support the back without compressing the stomach.  The center front panel has narrow horizontal rows of elastic for comfort.  An extremely unusual survival in unworn condition.

In her 2001 book The Corset, Valerie Steele blames the corset for numerous reproductive health issues that plagued women during the 19th century, up to and including miscarriages. She notes how many maternity corsets so closely resembled ordinary fashionable models, and how many women used their corset as an attempt to hide their pregnancy. This model is the exception. With its half-boned construction and wrap around adjustable straps in place of lacing, the Royal Worcester maternity corset supports the bust and the back without compressing the uterus, along the same lines as a modern belly band. 

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blue-Grey Emile Pasquier Silk Reception Gown c. 1885, from the Brooklyn Museum of Art

This stunning two-piece ensemble consists of a tailed bodice of triple plume pattern brocade and a trained satin skirt. The bodice is trimmed in large teardrop shaped faux pearls, accented with looped silver tinsel and rows of glittering crystal beads. Bodice is fully boned with whalebone, and even the original dress shields are still present (filled with wool or cotton wadding, for absorbency). There are small pads to fill out the upper chest, and the center front closes with hooks and eyes below the deep V neckline. The waist tape is labeled "Maison Emile Pasquier Paris."

The skirt hem has a deep scallop at center front above pleated mousseline de soie over a cadet blue silk underskirt.  This may have been for fancy dress because of the volume of ornament and overall exotic feel of the dress, but it may also have simply belonged to a very bold, very wealthy woman.

The Museum at FIT displayed a contemporaneous Pasquier gown in their 2007 
Luxury exhibition with the following label text : "Fashions of the fin de siecle used shimmering and elaborate surface decoration to create the image of Woman as an expensive, desirable object. Women in highly ornamented outfits literally embodied their husbands' wealth, becoming paragons of seductive artifice. Jean Baudrillard called this 'a production of value through exteriority.'"

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