Friday, December 6, 2019

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The Countess of Melbury's Ball c. 1789 - Inspo!

The Met, 1780s Italian gown. Inspiration for my own gown for this event.
Next March, 2020, I am attending the Countess of Melbury's Ball in Walnut Grove, California.

The event is set in 1789, and I've already been patterning and cutting, and stitching a little bit on my dress. So far it's just a plain ole Italian gown, the basic cut and construction of which carries from the mid-1770s all the way to the mid-1790s.

I like having versatility in dress (and they did too, back then), so I'm looking for ways to tether my costume to 1789 a little more specifically. Enter the fashion plates...

LACMA, fashion plate, 1789
Magasin des Modes, January 1788 - sortof a zone front robe a la turque combo.
Magasin des Modes, February 1788 - the 1780s are a lawless wasteland.
Interestingly, while I was compiling my 1788-89 Pinterest board, I didn't find much in the way of depictions of ballgowns specifically. The way I would identify evening dress is: sumptuous fabric, low, exposed decolletage, dressed hair (no hat), short sleeves (3/4 or 5/8). And yet, 99% of extant images show kerchiefs or chemisettes, hats or caps, and a lawless wasteland of styling that - to be honest - is leaving me confused!

Magasin des Modes, March 1789 - what do you think? Is this evening attire?
Ann Frankland Lewis, 1789 - notes say "The Windsor Uniform - worn at the ball at Windsor given on the King's recovery 1789." So this is specifically noted a ballgown and she appears to be wearing a kerchief and event-specific cap.
La famille Gohin by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1787. This French portrait shows the woman in white wearing what I would identify as something appropriate for evening. I see her gown skirt is tied back in a swag in a similar way as the Ann Frankland Lewis drawing above - maybe I'll try this.
I suspect the fashion choices, and the choices about what sort of garments were depicted in paintings and fashion plates, had to do with social and political sentiment and unrest around this period. Needless to say, there was a lot going on in 1789, and generally across the history of western dress we tend to see more extravagance/expression/outlandish modes during periods of uncertainty.

It might be 1788 if you've got spots, stripes, swags, fringe, lace, scallops, AND flowers. Journal des Luxus, 1788.
So then what does this mean for my sartorial plan for evening dress of 1789? Well, jury is still out on that one. I  may experiment with contrast cuffs and collar, spangles, and a very fine silk gauze kerchief. Maybe I'll pull one side of the gown skirt back with a tie, or perhaps wear a wide fringed sash around the waist. Just a few ideas.

In the meantime, I've got the gown to construct first!

More info:

The Countess of Melbury's Ball
March 14, 2020
Grand Island Mansion
Walnut Grove, California (outside Sacramento)

The evening will include dinner, dancing, gaming, and performances. Off-site accommodation and taxi service is available.

Also, to search 18th century fashion plates by year, I highly recommend Dames a la Mode Tumblr here.




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Monday, December 2, 2019

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Book Review: Women of the 1920s: Style Glamour, & the Avante-Garde by Thomas Bleitner

Louise Brooks
On the eve of the 2020s, the spell of the exciting and revolutionary 1920s looms large. It was an unforgettable era with deep cultural shifts and powerful aesthetics. Women, in particular, sought new ways of expressing and defining themselves in all aspects of society. They present a fascinating topic, though the expansiveness of their experiences may prove a daunting subject to approach if you are unfamiliar with the influential names and their stories.


Here, Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, & the Avant-Garde provides a gateway to the world of notable women in the jazz age. In this visually fascinating book, Thomas Bleitner presents the stories of 17 women who were incredibly influential in their fields. The varying areas of culture are split into 5 chapters; Literature and Art, Society and Fashion, Photography and Film, Cabaret and Dance, and Adventure and Sports. Each section contains a brief introduction to that sphere of culture through establishing notable names, locations, and events before laying out short chapters on each woman. Infamous names, such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Amelia Earhart are, of course, present. But for those less intimate with the period, a variety of less commonly known women such as Tamara de Lempicka, Lavinia Schulz, and Suzanne Lenglen are also included.

Tamara de Lempicka
Overall, the book is a concise 163 pages, sprinkled with photographs and art. The effectiveness of this book lies in the fact that it does not attempt to provide extensive biographies for these 17 women. There is just enough information to capture the reader's interest in the individual. At the end of the book are a few pages of recommended reading, not just on the subject of the 1920s, but on each woman. The next step in research is laid out for those that want more than an overview.

Edward Steichen for Vogue, 1928
As for the biographies, I was pleased to find that the content was filled with contemporary quotes, which helped to steer the discussion clear of the authors personal opinions and assessments. It speaks to their public impact and personal relationships in a way that a modern voice cannot. The academic in me would have preferred these quotes to be followed by citations, but I don’t feel that this book was intended for that purpose or audience. It is the perfect light read for someone who has always been curious about the era, these influential women, and their impact on a unique culture.

-- Nicole

*This post contains affiliate links.
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Friday, November 29, 2019

Winter SALE at American Duchess & Royal Vintage


La la la la la - it's that time of year where we put, like, everything on SALE!

Here are the links:

American Duchess

This year we have the traditional FREEBIES - a free pair of stockings, buckles, or a button hook on any regularly-priced shoes or boots.

Clearance & Imperfects!



Books & Pattern Discount Bundles

Plus we have a nice full stock of all the favorites - Camilles, Tavistocks, Renoir, Londoners, Astoria, Gibson, Manhattans, Maes, and more.

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Royal Vintage

Clearance & Imperfects!




And, as always, we have free shipping on most orders, and free exchanges in the USA.

The sale runs November 29 - December 2, 2019:


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Friday, November 22, 2019

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The Isabella Mactavish Fraser Pattern & Documentary!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are very proud to release to you today the Isabella Mactavish Fraser gown pattern and construction PDF along with our short documentary about this famous tartan gown and its re-creation this past June 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Click here to go download this FREE pattern booklet!
This entire project have been a labor of love for most of this year. Abby and I worked with an amazing team to recreate this gown in two days. The process was documented in photos and on film, and we have developed all of the bloods, sweat, and tears of this endeavor into this pattern booklet and video for everyone to enjoy.


The pattern is FREE to download on AmericanDuchess.com (with a little coupon offer when you do 😉). It contains the gridded pattern, photos, diagrams, measurements, drawings, links, and detailed instructions of how this gown was made. We hope you enjoy it!
Click here to download this FREE pattern booklet

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

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The Reno Tweed Ride, 2019

Chrissy wore her bicycling pants, spatterdashes, and a corset on her Columbia 1920s reproduction bike.
The same weekend we invaded Virginia City with our Spoop-Troupe, we enjoyed the local Tweed Ride.

Tweed Rides are a *thang* all over the world, but the Reno Tweed Ride is only in its second year. Despite its youth, there was a pretty good turnout with about 30 riders and more at the picnic spot.

The Reno Tweed Ride, 2019
Chrissy and I tweedled up and chose our mounts - mine was my trusty beach cruiser I've had for 11 years; Chrissy's was a bright red Columbia 1920s replica with handy wicker panniers. But the showpony amongst us was definitely Chris on his hand-built 1930s-style motorized bike.

My trusty beach cruiser with the cupholder, lol

It's Mr. Chris! He does exist!
Getting Chris to come out to a costume event is a raaaaaaaare treat indeed, but he couldn't sit this one out. Chris loves to build and tinker, and he particularly loves bikes of all sorts, so the great beauty that is this motorized bicycle finally got a public running, though he peddled it for most of the way (understandably), only firing up the engine once or twice.

Me, Chris, and our motorized bike child.
(I'm totally going to basically wife-steal this motorized bike and make it my Starbucks stallion. 100% need jodhpurs for this).

Handbuilt - Chris is very detail oriented, so it's the small touches on this bike that bring me the most joy - the leather seat and tool case from England, the white tires and grey frame...LOVE!
We again had lovely, perfect weather. The ride was a very short distance to a local park where we had lunch, tea, and played games, then rode back to the start point, where drinkies and music were enjoyed.
Carolyn sketching at Sierra Water Gardens, in her jodhpurs and straw flat cap.

Vivien rocking her 1890s bicycle sweater and adorable witch hat.

Sam competes at Tea Dueling - she won!

Chrissy and Lauren M. at the Tweed Ride picnic.

Riding back to Sierra Water Gardens after the picnic...

Adrienne and Vivien at the Tweed Ride Picnic. They look great!

For my "costume" I wore my Walker Slater trousers and vest from Edinburgh with my favorite cap from Buxton, UK. It's not really a costume, lol, these are just my clothes.
Almost all of these great photos are by Eighty 8 Studios, which is wonderful because it can be pretty tricky to take photos on a bicycle! Huge thank you to Eighty 8 for taking and sharing these.
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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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The Nevada Statehood Ball - An Evening in 1864

The crew - Abby, Chrissy, me, and Caroline at the Nevada Statehood Ball, 2019 - photo by Chase Stevens.
A few posts ago I shared how I refit my 1860s Aubergine evening gown, bringing it back to life for hopefully many more years of wear.

Now it's time to share some photos from the event! A group of us invaded the Nevada Statehood Ball at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, NV, and had an absolutely splendid time whirling about, laughing, eating cake, and feeling pretty all night long.

Gathered outside Piper's Opera House, Virginia City, NV - photo by Chase Stevens.

Abby and Susan looking amazing at Piper's - photo by Chase Stevens.

Abby and Chrissy swirling across the dance floor at Piper's Opera House - this one made the Las Vegas Review-Journal - photo by Chase Stevens.

Chillin' in the lobby on a tiny chair - photo by Chase Stevens.

ABBY - resplendent in her first mid-Victorian gown. Photo by Chase Stevens.

Getting in a little Victorian rotary waltz where we could - me, Abby, Chrissy, Susan - photo by Chase Stevens

Everyone looked great! Left to right - Abby, Chrissy, Liza, Caroline, me.

Lacing train! Caroline, Abby, and Chrissy getting dressed in the visitor's center.

It was *cold* that night - the first very cold night of the season, so we raided Nicole's closet for appropriate mid-Victorian cover-ups. I borrowed Nicole's gorgeous black wool and velveteen paletot and wrapped on a vintage fur collar for extra cuddles. Now I want a paletot very badly, despite hardly ever doing mid-Vic stuff.

The (re)finished 1860s ballgown. I'm much happier with the fit of the bodice, particularly on the shoulders, and the silhouette of the skirt is much improved as well. This is one of my favorite costumes I've ever made. I feel like an elegant queen when I wear this!

I accessorized the ballgown with opera gloves, Dames a la Mode jewels, and a very quick "head doily" I threw together the night before, made from a bit of lace, ribbons, silk flowers, and scraps of purple silk salvaged from the bertha.

Huge and special thank you to Chase Stevens, who has generously shared his photographs with us.
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Thursday, November 7, 2019

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A Spoopy Day in Virginia City, Nevada


The Spoop-Crew in Virginia City, NV. No actual buckets of blood were consumed, but we thought about it....
Several weekends ago a group of friends came to visit us here in Reno.

We all decided to invade Virginia City, our local mining-old-west-tourist town, with the general costume theme of "spoopy" (a meme-generated misspelling of "spooky").

We had bustles, Edwardians, 1920s, 1930s, punk rock Victorians, Camille Clifford, time witches, and a whole lotta fun exploring the town. Here are a few photos...

Photos are by...
Nicole - @silk_and_buckram
Chrissy - @thelacedangel
Lauren M - @madamedestroyer
Vivien - @freshfrippery
(and me)

Vivien, Abby, and Nicole chillin' on C Street, looking fab. Photo by Christina.

Nicole made a new Edwardian suit for the occasion, from a stunning figured russet silk and vintage black lace trim. Photo by Vivien

Samantha in 1920s velvet - photo by Vivien

Vivien rocks her "Crimson Peak" historical cosplay, complete with creepy and fabulous clasped-hands belt.

Some of the creepy crew - Sam, Amanda, and Lauren M. pose in the very haunted Virginia City graveyard.

Bustlin' - photo by Lauren Moyer

The American Duchess girl gang - me, Abby, Nicole, and Chrissy - photo by Vivien

Victorian rockstar Chrissy in Madame X paired with the most adorable late Victorian jacket made by Nicole, and rocking some seriously (19)80s vibes. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

We had great weather for the day, and a beautiful high desert setting.

Abby and me disrespecting the dead. Photo by Vivien.

Sam representing the "younger" end of our historical spectrum in 1920s. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

Sam, Amanda, Nicole, Abby, and Adrienne rendezvous on the Virginia City boardwalk. Photo by Lauren Moyer. 

We rode the "short train" to Gold Hill and back, with a little history lesson about the silver and gold mining. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

Witchy vibes - Lauren M. in one of the well creepy doorways of Virginia City, NV.

Chrissy turning heads at local spoopy bar Death & Taxes - photo by Nicole.

I pulled out my 1880s wool and velvet bustle gown, a perfect choice for the very temperate weather and dirty venue. This gown isn't perfect, and it's undergone one size alteration already, but I really like it and enjoy wearing it, despite the weight.

My wool and velveteen 1880s gown with linen plastron and whitework jabot. I love this dress - it has tassels! My hat was made by Liza M. and I've got Renoir Victorian Button Boots for my shoes. I actually wore the wrong corset this day so my bodice didn't fit quite as it should've - ah well!


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