The Perfect Dress For A Night On The Town: Historical Fashion

Elsa Schiaparelli, Surrealist Fashion Desiger

Usually when I am selecting a historical costume to present for my Historical Costume blog series, I chose something for centuries ago and presented in a painting, usually a portrait.

This month is different. If you are a reader of my blog then you know that I studied fashion design at F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology). Because of that connection and the fact that the museum is shut down because of this pandemic I decided to show the great fashions the museum possesses.

So for May 2020, the spotlight shines on this stunning red number and the female designer that doesn’t shine as bright on her legacy as it does on Coco Chanel (her biggest rival). That designer is Elsa Schiaparelli.

On September 10, 1890 Elsa Luisa Maria Schiaparelli was born in Rome to Maria Luisa, a Neapolitan aristocrat, and Celestine Schiaparelli, a scholar in the Islamic world and Middle Ages, who was Dean of University of Rome. Raising in this cultural and academic surroundings, Elsa developed a love of ancient cultures, its lore as well as its religious rites. She wrote a book of poems entitled Arethusa based on the ancient Greek myth of the hunt. But she had her wicked moments, which got her sent to a Catholic boarding school. No happy to be there, she held a hunger strike and was permit to leave.

Instead of returning home to Rome, Elsa headed to England for a job a friend arranged for her. Well, that didn’t work out but her life did change. While in England, she attended a lecture on theosophy–a philosophical or religious thought based on a mystical insight into the divine nature. The lecturer was Wilhem de Wendt, who went under various alias, and claimed to have psychic powers and numerous academic credentials. He claimed to be a detective, criminal psychologist, a doctor, lecturer, and even performed in Vaudeville. This man became Elsa’s husband on June 21, 1914. She was twenty-three and Wilhem was thrity.

Elsa began helping with his work, promoting his act. In 1915, the couple was forced to leave London when Wilhelm was convicted for practicing the then illegal fortune-telling. The couple made their way around France before departing for America in 1916.

In New York City, they rented out offices for their Bureau of Psychology, which was the same act they did in England. This caught the eye of the F.B. I. so Elsa and her husband headed to Boston to continue their “work.”

On June 15, 1920, the couple became a trio with the birth of their daughter, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha was born. Gogo as she was called by her mother. Wilhelm abandoned the ladies. Then in 1921, Togo was diagnosed with polio. That same year, the mother and daughter returned to New York. A year later, mother and daughter sailed to France.

In France, Elsa’s friend, Gabrielle “Gaby” Buffet-Picabia, wife of Dada and Surrealist artist Francis Picabia, would bring her into a circle that would inspire Elsa for the rest of her days and became a major part of her style. She developed friendships with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Stuckin.

Elsa now began making clothes. Couturier Paul Poiret (a major designer of early 19th century) encouraged her to open her business. Though she received favorable reviews her business closed in 1926.

Not one to give up, Elsa launched her new collection of knitwear in 1927. She used a special double layered stitch that Armenian refugees created and sweaters with surrealist trompe l’oeil images. The Pour le Sport collection expanded in 1928. It included bathing suits, ski-wear and linen dress. The business grew that in 1931 she added evening wear and the shop moved to 21 Placve Vendome.

Then the world changed. In 1939, France declared war against Germany and then a year later on June 14, Paris fell to the Germans. Elsa and her daughter sailed to New York for work and she remained there until the end of the war.

Naturally, the fashion house closed but when the war ended, Elsa returned to Paris and reopened her house where it remained open until 1954. Elsa died at 83 on November 13, 1973 in Paris.

Elsa Schiaparelli changed fashion in a ways you might not be aware of. She first introduced zippers that matched the fabric, brooches like a buttons on clothing and even modern day catwalks are thanks to her. She also introduced a new color called Schiaparelli Pink, a shocking bright pink that you probably have seen hundreds of times.

This evening gown is from circa 1955 and is haute couture, which translates to made to measure. The gown is constructed of red silk faille and pink silk. The vibrant color has not fade or lost its vibrancy. The classic strapless gown appears to be boned or corseted to keep its shape and give support to the lucky lady who might have donned this gown. The hourglass silhouette accentuates a woman’s figure that was popular in the 1950s. A drape sash cuts across the hips for a train lined in the pink silk drapes asymmetrically.

The gown was sewn by hand by Schiarapelli’s fashion house workers and must have taken weeks to construct after being fitted and refitted to the measurements of the woman and model who donned this gown.

As for accessories that a lady would have wore with this, I would have gone with a simple yet refined look. Perhaps, pink strapped shoes that match the pink of gown so with every step, perfectly manicured red toes peeked out from beneath the hem. I would wear my hair swept up to show off the shoulders and perhaps, diamonds or simple necklace to highlight a perfect expanse of flesh. Maybe a shawl to cover up from the evening chill.

Wearing this gown, you can’t help but feel utterly sexy and classy. Perfect to got to the theatre or a ball and dance the night away even to fall in love.

A Favorite Queen: Queen Anne

Queen Anne by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Around 1690, Sir Godfrey Kneller painted the portrait of Queen Anne of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which during her reign these nations would become the United Kingdom. This portrait is 92 inches by 56 1/4 and is oil on canvas. Sir Godfrey was German born and a Dutch trained painter. In 1676, Kneller traveled to England to see Van Dyck’s works who dominated English art for more than 30 years. He became principal painter to the King–William III of William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. This portrait of Queen Anne was not his first portrait of this Stuart Queen. His other works date circa 1686 portraits. This portrait can be seen in the Primary Collection at the National Portrait Gallery in London. That is after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

On February 6 1665 at St. James’s Palace, Anne was born to her mother Anne Hyde and her father, James, heir presumptive to Charles II. She was the second daughter. On 6 February 1685, James, the Duke of York, became King of England, Scotland and Ireland but in 1688, the Glorious Revolution happened and James was deposed. His eldest daughter, Mary, who was married to William III of Orange became the isle nation’s monarchs.

By this Anne was married to Prince George of Denmark who she wed in 1683. Since Mary and William did not have children, Anne was the heir apparent. Roughly a year later, Anne gave birth to her first child, a daughter who was stillborn. This would be the beginning of tragedy for the Stuart Queen. She was pregnant seventeen times in life. None of her children survived, either she miscarried, the child was stillborn or lived for a month or a couple of years. Only one child lived the longest–Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, died at eleven on July 30 1700Her last child–a stillborn–was born fourteen years before her death. A woman who never enjoyed great health these losses must have destroyed her body, heart and soul with each loss.

As a child, Anne was suffered an eye condition that caused excessive watering. She was sent to France for medical treatment. And her health never improved. She developed gout, which impaired her mobility so she was carried around on a sedan chair, and she grew obsese. Modern doctors speculated about possible causes for her health issues but certainly the pregnancy wrecked her body as well as the loss of her children. That must have ripped pieces of her.

Nevertheless, Queen Anne changed history. On March 8, 1702, Anne became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. She was crowned on 23 April 1702. In May of that year, England entered the War of Spanish Succession. But the most enduring act she had committed was the Acts of Union. Wales formed part of the English crown. Scotland was independent sovereign state. In 1707, the Acts of the Union was signed and these nations became known as the United Kingdom.

In October 1708, her husband died. Then in 1713, the queen lost the ability to walk. By March she was seriously ill and all awaited her. She still attended to her state duties but cancelled on in July 1714. She suffered a stroke on 30 July and died on 1 August 1714.

Anne was buried beside her husband and children in Henry VIII chapel in Westminster Abbey on 24 August 1714.

In the 1690s Queen’s Anne’s style of costume was at the height of fashion. Nothing less is expected of a monarch.

Anne has donned a mantua, a style that would exist at the height of fashion for more than fifty years in different variations. The woman’s overdress or gown was worn over an underskirt. The unboned bodice, loosely fitted, attached to the overskirt with a long train. The overskirt parted in the front to reveal the petticoat. This outfit was worn on social and formal occasions.

Let’s dissect her costume. The mantua is a gold pattern silk, bejeweled by pearls and a black stone, onyx perhaps or even black diamonds (She is queen after all) The train is lined in ermine, the royal fur.

Her body is tightly corseted and the gold silk is cut to fit precisely over the corset. It feels as if we have caught still dressing and the costume has a more relaxed feel to it. The deeply scooped neckline of the bodice seems to barely hang onto her shoulders and hanging from the arms is the scalloped sleeve with black, teardrop jewels on each scalloped edge and dotted with a pearl. The shape of the sleeve has an Roman quality to it as if Queen Anne is telling the world that the UK is the new empire, which it would transform into one day.

Beneath her bodice, she has a done a lace trimmed chemise. The lace probably Flanders lace peeks out from the bodice edge and hangs from the full, loose sleeves to drape to her forearm.

Anne would also have donned stocking and shoes which cannot be seen in the portrait. In this time period, her shoes would have been heeled and constructed of matching material. She would have spent the money on such a luxury.

And a luxury she could have enjoyed was to be dripping in jewels. Yet, she has no necklace, earrings, or rings. However, this time period, less jewelry was worn than before and the jewelry of choice was pearl.

Anne has pearls on. A pearl and black stone slash cuts across from her left shoulder to her waist. A rosette or brooch of black gems holds or simulates the holding of her long train draped about her lower body, which would dragged behind her and require servants to hold. Another Roman influence, perhaps. But on the pedestal, we can see a crown, golden and jeweled, just to remind people she is the monarch.

If Anne wanted to put on that crown, I think it would have been fitting for her hairstyle. The fashionable one of the era. Her dark hair is brushed back from her face and piled high on her head. The top would be curled and pinned and long curls draped over her shoulder, the fashion length.

Queen Anne was a fascinating woman with a tragic life. I hope this post and the fictional movie The Favorite and novel by the same name sparks your interest in this queen.

Dressing a 13th Century Historical Romance Heroine

You may not know this but I love fashion especially historical costume. I studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology so it is natural that I blend my two passions together: Writing and fashion.

In my medieval Highlander Romance, The Laird’s Right, my heroine Portia de Mowbray is an English woman who finds herself kidnapped by Laird Alec Cameron. Portia may be surrounded by Highlanders but she sticks to her English styled garments. The Laird's Right Cover A Medieval Scottish Romance

During the medieval times, the style is different from our modern day style but both function and fashion play an important part. After all, that is what clothing must do.

For Portia, she would be wearing numerous items both under and outer garments. First off, our tough Portia would have worn hose and garters with fancy buckles to hold them up (after all there was no elastic) and a chemise with long sleeves and a high neckline. The chemise would have been constructed of linen. And she would not be donning any underwear. No panties or bra for Portia.

Now Portia would slip her côte over her head. The côte was a wide garment. It was wide at the shoulder and narrowed at the wrist. It’s the image we all have the medieval princess that is plastered around us. The natural waist was usually belted. Portia would have worn two layers one made of a linen then a wool or silk one even a velvet one to show off her status.

She’s not finished getting dressed yet.

Of course, Portia isn’t walking away yet because she needs shoes. In the 1250s, her shoes would be a soft shoe with more of a pointed toe that could have been embroidered in a floral motif or scrolls. Anything that she thought was fashionable or like. Back then, there was no right or left foot shoe so it would look odd to our eyes. Also it would have been constructed of leather.

Now she would choose some accessories. A belt for her côte, one made of silver or gold even with jewels, depending on what she might afford. Portia could put on a brooch or a jeweled collar or pendant to add a little flash. She might have taken gloves and her drawstring purse and dirk that may have jewels on the hilt.

Now with Portia dressed, she must do something with her hair. Perhaps, she has better skills than me or her maid does better than Portia. Her long blonde hair would be parted in the center and plaited. She might have her braids twisted into a bun since she is a widow. Her head would be covered with a coif, wimple or barbette even a gold or silver chaplet to give her that romantic look.

So, Portia is ready to face the day but if it was a chilly one, she would have had a cloak, which would have been a long mantle trailing on the ground and fastened in the front with a brooch. That too would have reflected her status and her fashion choices. It would have been wool or velvet. It could have been trimmed in fur and even fur-lined.

Maciejowski_Bible_Woman
The most basic of what Portia may have looked it once dressed. Though, with more flair as she has a bit more coin.

 

To your modern eyes and sensibilities, would you don these garments? Sounds pretty comfortable to me.

 

The Outrageous Wishes of This #MFRW Historical Romance Author

dandelion-nature-flora-white-51426.jpegIn case you do not know, I am a fan of Outlander both the novel series and the TV series. As a fan, I follow both Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan (on social media not in some stalker way). Well, Sam is an outdoorsy kind of man who climbs Munros (Munros are mountains in Scotland that are over 3,000 feet). The view from them is spectacular. One of my wishes is to climb or as they say, bag a Munro with Sam Heughan and raise money for charity. 

You see that wish isn’t crazy because of the company I want to have on the climb but the fact that I have fibromyalgia and arthritis. For me, walking from my bed to the kitchen in my NYC apartment is like a trek. I have to nap after I take a shower. I feel as if I have the flu every day of my life. So, climbing over 3, 000 feet is a test and a wish that seems an impossibility.  But oh, to see Scotland from that view…Heaven, Paradise…

pexels-photo-54300.jpegDo you watch late-night tv? I do. My favorite host is Conan O’Brien. I have loved that lanky, red-head since he hosted the Late Late Show. Conan has whole episodes where he travels to a country or region. A recent one was his trip to Israel and Palestine.  In one segment, he went to the Dead Sea and just floated in the milky blue waters. And I was so jealous. The water is so dense with salt that you cannot sink. People say the waters and salts are great for aching joints (that’s me) and for the skin (also me since I have skin). So, the next wish is to swim in the Dead Sea. 

Another love of mine is fashion. I love —haute couture—the skill, ultra lux fabric, and the designs…I think I need to fan myself. Naturally, that moment to don a creation has to be a high-fashion, Vogue-esqe fashion shoot.  I can see it, me posing with my hair perfectly styled, make-up flawless and diamonds and precious jewels shining under the lights and complimenting the most fabulous haute couture gown with a swooping train that cascades down the Grand staircase in the MET Museum.   Fashion Heaven.

After those three wishes come true, I’m flying to France and to Versailles. My mother had this porcelain doll dressed in 18th-century fashion, she had blonde hair and I just knew she was Marie Antoinette. I fell in love with Versailles (much like other people have) But I do not just wish to visit. I wish to stroll through Versailles by myself. As a child, I love to lay on the floor as an adult I still do. Imagine laying down on the floor in the Hall of Mirrors…or strolling through the rooms with the sounds of your footsteps and creaks and groans of the royal palace and no other noise. No one to distract you as you wander from room to room, up and down staircases or through the gardens with the sweet scents and soft air carrying the buzz of insects.

My last wish is a simple one and one of two that will come true one day. I wish to sit outside a home that overlooks the  North Sea on one of the Shetland Isles and look out to the horizon and become hypnotized by the surroundings.   Nothing more than that. 

Simple wishes I hope are fulfilled in my life. What about you? Do you have anything you wish to do? ♥

Don’t forget to visit other blogs. Maybe you’ll be inspired.

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Ready, Set, Dress

RWA Nationals starts next Tuesday and I’m prepared. I have business cards and most importantly, my outfits are planned out and just waiting to be donned. I’ll be posting my daily dress so check back for that. I’m only missing a pair of comfortable shoes. I have a few ideas but will have to wait for weekend to check out my choices.

As a writer, I generally spend my day in comfortable clothing, old t-shirts, shorts, pj bottoms, sweats basically college gear, which really helps with my body pains. Anyway, I’m ready to dress and waiting to go to my first Nationals. Too attend the workshops, meet Rachel Gibson, the author who inspired me to write romance, meet friends from Twitter and Facebook. I will be weak, tired, overwhelmed, excited, happy, inspired and I think two weeks will be needed to recover but that’s fine.

This is a chance, an opportunity to mingle with a large crowd of romance writer, editors and agents. And I plan to dress for it in my personal style. And I’m hoping that it jolts up my confidence, has me feeling comfortable, stylish, professional, and ready to take on the world.

When was your chance to get closer to your dreams? Do you remember what you wore? How it made you feel?