Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the 1840s fashionista

and a host (a small host) of other things vaguely to do with textiles and style.

So! Of late the Gochenour household (okay fine just this resident of the Gochenour household) has been All About watching Movies! In the last five days I've seen:
  • Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 version with Kiera Knightley -- seen the 5 hour BBC one already)
  • The Princess Bride ("You keep using that word. . . I do not think it means what you think it means. . .")
  • Sleeping Beauty (the 1959 Disney version, which I saw last as a 12-year-old! yeah, it's REALLY BAD)
  • Love in the Afternoon (in the genre of "Audrey Hepburn goes to Paris and falls in love with a much older man" movies, it's right up there)
  • Kirikou et la sorcière (haven't formed an opinion as yet? French children's movies are not so much something I'm familiar with)
Those were all watched on my trusty Dell! (which, side note, I have just replaced! with an Asus. But it still works, so I am currently typing on the Dell.) BUT ALSO. My mom and I actually went to see a movie in a theater! The Ruth Sokolof Theater north of Old Market (which neighborhood is apparently called "NoDo," short for "North Downtown," by some foolish folks who apparently don't realize how moronic that sounds), to be precise. What did we see? Jane Eyre, the new remake staring Mia Wasikowska (Alice from Alice in Wonderland and one of the kids in The Kids Are Alright) and Michael Fassbender (known for having a name that sounds like it would a great brand for electric guitars or amplifiers. what. oops.)

I wore the new copper cuff bracelet I bought in the Souk in the Old Market, so I suppose I was in a stylish frame of mind. Or stylishly observant state of mind? In any case, I was in the mood to notice details.

I have a fascination with costuming that is all out of proportion to my actual knowledge. Both my mother and my maternal grandma are what I would consider textile artisans -- my grandmother regularly pieces and quilts bedcovers and wall hangings, and my mother majored in textiles and clothing design after making almost all her own clothes throughout high school. We have always had books like English Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (C. Willett Cunnington, a reprint by Dover) and Everyday Fashions as Seen in Sears & Roebuck Catalogue Between 1880 and 1920 (paraphrase) floating around the house. Later, my mom went to work for a while at a historic house built in the 1870s or so in Omaha, and more information diffused my way, in the form of the original garments she would occasionally bring home to patch up for display. So while I remain blissfully thumby when it actually comes down to sewing something (I can use a sewing machine! really! it just jams up all the time and then I have to figure out how to rethread it), I have a general knowledge of what dress shapes happened when through most of the 1800s and the sorts of processes one might use to construct them.

I'm also curious about the process of historical costume design and adaptation -- when I checked up on the costumes from Pride and Prejudice, I came to the conclusion that the designer had chosen to sleek-ify the actual 1810s fashions into something a little more elegant to the modern eye. I was curious to see how Jane Eyre dealt with the costumes -- how accurate they were to a given time frame, but also if and what they changed as a concession to the modern viewer. The original book was published in 1847, and one assumes that Charlotte was writing the thing for a couple years before that and set it in her own modern time. After some searching (the results of which I'll give you more of below), it looks to me like the costumes were dead on the money for historical accuracy. Jane's clothes in the movie are plain, but the frequent closeups give you time to appreciate the shapes and proportions and edges and construction details. I should note quickly here -- I didn't look much at men's fashions, because I find them both silly-looking and rather boring in this era. So.

One of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of lace shown -- at cuffs, at necklines, on shawls, and so on. Women during the 1840s had relatively few clothes and often dressed them up with different types of inserts and add-ons. Jane had a black dress with a slight v neckline that her chemise poked out out of, around the edge of which there was a very subtle bit of lace, which she wore while Mr. Rochester entertained. You could see pretty easily how she could just sew on a different piece of lace for a different look.

When I got home I was hungry for more of what made 1840s dress awesome: Lace, pleats, fitted bodices. The internet brought me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute's database, which has many thousands of pictures of different period clothing. (All the photos in this post, unless noted, are from that site.) I plugged in "1830" and "1840," bringing up lace shawls like this one, and lace pelerines like the one below (pretty sure Judi Dench was wearing one of these at one point.) Both of these are American-made, cotton and/or linen, from about 1830.

I also got into my mom's books a little. These are largely unhelpful when looking for graceful and simple lines of Jane's everyday dresses, as they focus on the higher end of fashion and all the attendant frou frou.

The movie runs from sometime in the late 1830s to the early 1840s, judging by the costumes. Jane's aunt wears a dress very similar to the one on the far left, a British walking dress made of cotton from 1830, in the beginning of the movie. I don't think Jane had any major sleeve poofs like the second two dresses (silk, French and British respectively, made between 1830-1835), but the detailing around the waist and the bodice is very similar to the movie's costumes.

These are from the 1840s -- the first two are American cotton dresses from between 1840-1845, and the third is a silk French dress from 1840. The center one is almost a dead ringer for one of the dresses Jane Eyre wears, though I'm not sure hers had quite as full of sleeves. The waist of the bodice comes to a small point, like most of the dresses in the movie.

This was a detail shown frequently in the movie -- the tailoring of the back of the dress that emphasizes a delicate waist (which Mia Wasikowska certainly has.) Obviously they wore stays and corsets, but it's still a striking effect.

Jane's charge Adele is shown in a blue plaid dress very like this cotton American-made one from 1840. I remember the tucking in the front and the low, straight neckline. That tucking detail, incidentally, survived in children's clothing for quite some time -- I remember seeing it in the 1864 clothing for the American Girl doll Addy and the 1904 clothing for Samantha (the costumes of which were usually pretty scrupulously researched, I think.)

This is from the Cunnington book my mom has, showing hairstyles between 1840-1846. These are on the tame end of the spectrum; this era was a pretty doofy one for women's hair. Lots of little curl puffs by the ear (modified Princess Leia is what I dubbed it in my head) showed up in the movie, such as those worn by St. John's two sisters. The wicked aunt had a hairstyle I've run across but didn't show here -- a high bun on the top with two long dangly locks of curls on either side of the head. Jane herself was thankfully spared this treatment -- her hair was parted straight down the middle, draped over her ears, and pulled back into a braid which was wrapped into a bun.

There were also a lot of bonnets in this movie and this era, varying from the bucket-shaped or ridiculously silly (what young Jane wears in her boarding school) to the intricate and elegant (the bonnet Jane wears in the ending scene.) Sadly I could not find anything like the marvelous straw bonnet Jane finishes the movie in (chosen obviously for the dramatic dappled shadows it threw across her face), but here's a silk one from 1840.

One thing I find kind of frustrating about modern clothing is the frequent lack of attention paid to construction detail. I pulled the diagram above from a photo of the Cunnington book I mentioned -- you can see the dozens of little pleats that went into making the fitted bodices and full skirts. I'm sort of plotting some sort of short garment with fitted pleats like this. . . which will probably never happen, but I can dream. Another search pulled up the following (modern) item -- a child's dress from Sugar City (and another version of it by Home Made Happy.) I could see incorporating this type of pleating detail in a fairly casual garment.

I also love the idea of lace inserts on top of modern clothing that can be switched out and changed out. There's a lot of creative potential here. . .

Side note: I also got a leather cuff bracelet at the Souk. I am pretty happy with it as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment