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.

The Princess wore…

Josephine- Eleonore-Marie-Pauline De Gaard De Brassac De Bearn, Princess de Broglie

I love fashion. In case, you didn’t know, I studied fashion design. I can make a dress out of a scrap of fabric. So, it’s natural that I blend the things I am passionate about fashion, history and writing.

This is a new feature of my blog that focuses on historical costume or historical fashion (depending on what term you wish to use).

For this blog, I chose to focus on my favorite portrait. The portrait of Josephine Eleonore Marie Pauline De Galard De Brassac De Bearn, Princess de Broglie painted by Ingres in 1853. This work of art is located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art–the MET– in New York City. If you get to see it in person, you will be hypnotized and enchanted by both the skill of the artist, Ingres and by the sitter herself, Princess de Broglie.

Before I get into the costume, let me tell you the Princess’ story. Josephine was known for her beauty. Look at the portrait, you can also see that she appears shy. The princess was known to be profoundly shy. Though, her exterior form is striking (possessed the fashionable figure of that time with her sloping shoulders), there was more to this woman. She was deeply religious and highly intelligent. During her life, she published three volumes of essays on religious history.

Josephine was married to Albert de Broglie on 18 June 1845. She was the mother of five sons. Born in 1825, she would not live to an old age. She contracted tuberculosis and was died in 1860 at 35 years old. Her husband lived into 1901 and heartbroken, he never remarried.

Her portrait was completed when she was 28 years old. Her beauty and personality were captured in oil in the most beautiful garment I have ever seen. So, let’s get to what she’s wearing.

Princess De Broglie is wearing a blue satin evening gown embellished with a lace bertha and dangling blue satin ribbons. Lace trims the ruched ribboned neckline and sleeves and down the center front of the bodice is a row of matching blue satin ribbons.

The princess is dressed for an evening probably to attend a ball. The dress follows the fashion of the early 1850s France. This French time period is called the Second Empire. Fashion was having a Rococo Revival. The details of this style was a short-waisted bodice and dome-shaped skirt as well as the bow detail and the lace on the neckline and sleeves that mimic 18th century fashion.

What is she wearing beneath the gown? In order of dressing, she has donned a chemise, cotton or linen, tucked into pantalettes and a corset over that. The support garments would be additional petticoats.

Now for the finishing details, her hairstyle. Her thick, black hair is parted down the middle and pushed back and pinned and finished with pearl-laced maribou feathers attached to matching blue ribbons pinned on both sides of her head.

Her accessories include a white or ivory cashmere shawl finished with a border of gold embroidery. She has a matching gold and white or ivory face and white silk gloves. I believe just on the edge of the chair is a velvet black cloak she would have donned before heading out. These items are located on the chair.

The accessories she has on her person are gold and pearl strand earrings. She has a simple gold necklace with a gold pendant. On her wrists are two braclets. On the left arms is a pearl braclet that loops around her wrist five times and is clasped with a metal detail–most likely gold. And on her right wrist is a gold and ruby bracket.

Are you as hypnotized by this portrait as I am? What do you love about it?

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.