Monday, August 21, 2017

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The "Jane Austen Goes to Ikea and then to Jane Austen Festival" Gown

This year was my first visit to Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, at beautiful Locust Grove historic site.

I had been to Locust Grove before on a rainy November afternoon rather a few years ago. I adored the house then, but longed to see it "brought to life" by this famous event.

I knew I would need a gown to handle the heat of Kentucky in Summer, something light and cool but also fashionable. It was an easy choice to explore the late 1790s after studying and creating the gown and millinery for the American Duchess Guide earlier this year.

My inspiration came from Kyoto Costume Institute, a couple of the transitional open robes in bold floral prints worn with white-work petticoats. While this direction was a bit more involved than the simpler round gown, I felt that the plainer petticoat would help balance the floral print.

The petticoat was an exercise in stash-busting - several different pieces put together and tea-stained for uniformity. It didn't come out quite how I'd hoped, but it gave the effect I was going for. I may revisit petticoat option later...
And yes, the floral is from Ikea. Huzzah for curtains! I was very happy with this textile - 100% cotton with a linen-ish look, lightweight enough for a gown, and with a pleasing design. My only quibble (if one can even quibble when one is using curtains for costuming) is that the design is screenprinted on and a little tough to get a needle through in some places.

I had originally planned to pleat the back skirt, but because I had already finished the bottom edge of the bodice and the top edge of the skirt, I stroke gathered and whipped the volume instead, which worked well with the sash and was secure and full enough for the right look.
The petticoat is a suspender style, opening on the side. Because of the sheerness of it I wore split drawers beneath, which may not be entirely accurate but they solved *many problems.*

The gown bodice is constructed on a linen lining and underbodice that pins at center front. The front - two pieces on drawstrings tying at center front - is then applied over the top. I love this transitional method so often seen on 1790s gowns, as it means you can use the same underbodice repeatedly and just do a different design over the top - surplice, bib front, gathered round or V-neck, etc. For reference, Abby's 1790s dinner gown is the very same bodice/underbodice, but how different these gowns look! It's merely a matter of what sleeve style/length, what front style, open robe or round gown? (Don't worry, we go over all of this fun in the book, too).

The bodice - top is the back, bottom is the front. You can see the linen left plain and just hemmed where it will later be covered by the gathered front pieces.
For the event, I wore the gown and petticoat with a silk sash, ruffled chemisette, and Dashwood Regency Slippers in brown/tan. In the morning I wore a Caroline hat I re-fashioned from an old straw hat (many are the bows. many!), then changed into the turban cap for our formal dinner.

Dashwood Regency Slippers in brown/tan for Saturday. I wore the black/black on Sunday.

A bit hard to see, but the straw Caroline hat served me well for sun protection and added fluff. Thank you to Tony Tumbusch for the photo <3
Best of all, I didn't die. We were lucky to have rather favorable weather this year, and my gown was comfortable and easy to wear, breathable, and quite cool. I was surprised to have been more comfortable on Saturday dressed as a lady in stays and petticoats than I was on Sunday as a sailor dressed in trousers and waistcoat!

For more information and tutorials on making your own 1790s gown and millinery, you'll love our upcoming 18th century costuming manual, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, now available to pre-order on Amazon. <3

Millinery and Accessories - the turban cap and chemisette are two pieces we made for the book. Coral necklace by K. Walters At the Sign of the Gray Horse.

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Friday, August 18, 2017


The Robe a la Turque - Part 2 - The Gown

Italian Gown in yellow silk taffeta worn with a ruffled voile apron and cap, and fashionable black silk hat with black "Dunmore" shoes. Mid-1780s.
One thing I love most in costuming is versatility. I love that our Georgian foremothers re-trimmed old gowns, refashioned old frocks, and mixed-and-matched their clothing and accessories in different ways to achieve different looks. Being able to wear something for more than one occasion is economical, and this was at the forefront of my mind in planning my Turkish-inspired costume.

In studying the portrait, I concluded that the costume was a throw-together of various pieces to hand. A gown here, a belt there, oooh a shiny sash, how about this polonaise robe, wait put some fur on it...there we go. I can just imagine the actors and actresses of Comedie Francaise raiding a big trunk of garments, assembling them into various "characters," like the Sultana here.

So that is what I did too.

I started with an Italian gown. Lucky for me, Abby cut a muslin 18th c. bodice on me recently and I was able to get straight to assembly after a quick test fit. I tweaked the front closure from center front pinning to overlapping on an angle, to create the fold-down lapels seen on the gown in the portrait.

The lapels of the bodice are lined in purple silk, trimmed with silver leaves.

The trim had to be applied to the purple lining silk prior to the assembling of the outer and lining fabrics, so no stitches showed through.
I also added Flippy-Flappies, which were tricky and needed fiddling more than once. Additionally, my diagonal "zone" seams went all wibbly-wobbly on me and I had to piece in some extra silk to make up for the gap. Still a mystery to me how that got quite so off!

Pinning a flippy-flappy into place on the muslin bodice front. I had to adjust these a couple times.
For the back, I stuck with the simple two-piece back rather than adding additional seams. This meant quicker assembly of the CB seam and an easy fitting through the two side-back seams. I even reference our own book (The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking) multiple times to be extra sure I was doing things in the right order and with the right seaming techniques.

Center back seam assembled with internal boning channels. I worked on the bodice over the split bum, which helped me curve the back waist edge down into the point.

The finished gown back. I pulled my stitched a little tight on the CB seam which caused a little rumplage - this is a watch point for you guys when working with thin silk!
One thing I really love about Italian Gowns is that they really do go together super fast. The longest process was in trimming and lining the front of the bodice to fold down into those lapels. Aside from that, once the front and back pieces were together, I pleated up the skirt, stitched it to the bodice, leaving the raw edges turned down on the inside, and hemmed it. The last steps were to set the sleeves (thanks, Abby!), apply the shoulder straps, and tack in the lace tucker.

Pleating up one side of the gown skirts. I didn't do a great job, to be honest. Better next time....

Last bit of gown construction - applying the shoulder straps after the sleeves have been fitted. This is fiddly, but it sure does feel good to get it done!
Just like that, the gown was down. It felt great to have something completed that I could wear if I did not finish all the rest of the pieces for the Turkish costume. And, of course, my favorite aspect is that it can be worn different ways - either as a fashionable outfit with a split bum, apron, hat, and cap, or snazzed up a la Turque.

The yellow Italian Gown worn as fashionable European dress. The bodice is pinned closed up to the neckline, hiding those trimmed lapels completely, especially with the breast bow. The gown skirt is tied up and the ensemble worn over a split bum and matching yellow silk petticoat with a fluffy voile apron. To finish the look, a large 1780s cap, black silk hat, and black "Dunmore" shoes and "Dandridge" buckles. There is nothing "Turkish" about this ensemble.
Fashionable dress, mid-1780s

...but can you believe this is the same gown? Here the gown is worn over bright pink shalwar (pants) and a high chemisette. While still worn over stays, I did not wear any hip or bum padding. I roughly tacked on a decorative front panel to the skirt, looped up to show the purple lining and silver trim, which tied in with the lapels of the bodice worn open. The addition of the blue robe, a few accessories, and a change of cap and shoes render this outfit ready for the stage.
Turkish-inspired stage costume, 1790.
Never fear - I know there's a lot more going on with the Turque than just the gown, and I have posts on the way for the poofy-pants, the robe, the accessories, etc. Stay tuned!

And if you'd like to learn how to make a late 18th century gown like this, pre-order a copy of our Georgian mantua-making and millinery manual, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, releasing November 21st. We present detailed how-to's within on how to make both caps, the apron, and the black silk hat that appear in this post, in addition to step-by-step instructions on constructing the Italian gown in the accurate 18th century way.
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Monday, August 14, 2017


The Robe a la Turque, part 1

Mademoiselle Guimard in Turkish Dress by Greuze, 1790 - LACMA (detail)
Who doesn't love the feeling of completing a project you've been obsessing about for *years* and getting to wear it to the big event of the year? I know it seems silly - Lauren, gosh, just make x-y-z already - but as our lives get busier and time shorter, it's hard to stick to any project at all, let alone one with so many facets.

I'm feeling proud of my completed 1790 Ottoman-inspired stage costume. It is some of the best (and fastest) work I've done, but more interesting to me are the levels of history and culture this ensemble deals with.

At the Costume College gala - don't worry, I'll show you all the parts and pieces of this costume later (in better photos). Yes, I'm teasing you.
Originally I thought the portrait of Mademoiselle Guimard by Greuze, 1790, just depicted a woman in the popular Turkish-inspired dress so loved in France in the 18th century. As I peered into the world surrounding the creation of the portrait, though, I realized that Guimard's ensemble differed from the fashionable "Robe a la Turque" quite a bit. This helped me make decisions in how to construct the parts of this stage costume.

"Costume of the Sultana used in the Comedie Francaise in the plays where there is a role for this costume" (1779). Because I could not see the bottom half of Guimard in the portrait, I used this plate as secondary reference.
To break this down from the skin out, here's what I wore:

  • shift
  • stays
  • shalwar (pants)
  • gown
  • sash
  • belt
  • kurdi (robe)

I will go over each of these pieces and their construction in the next few posts about this project.

Ultimately, what I ended up creating from Greuze's portrait was what I believe to have been a stage costume thrown together from a variety of pieces made in the Western fashion rather than original Turkish pieces. The whole look together formed this European fantasy of Ottoman dress while having very little do with it, especially in the construction.

My original drawing and notes from way back. For the most part I stuck to this.
As a stage costume, the bright primary colors, extravagant textures, and shimmering trims would have read wonderfully and been a feast for the eyes. Oddly enough, viewing the Chagall exhibit at LACMA two days before wearing this costume really helped me understand the needs and intentions of theatrical costume, quite different from those of fashionable dress, even if both have the same Turkish influences.

In the end, I felt glamorous and authentic in this costume, but authentic only to the portrait of Guimard. To fashionable dress of France in 1790s or to real Ottoman dress of that period there was no faithfulness then nor now. And this fascinates me.

An example of the fashionable Robe a la Turque. Cabinet des Modes - November 1786. This is pretty similar, but it will have been constructed differently with the yellow bodice and striped robe likely being stitched together. 
Parts of this costume were quite easy while another part was the hardest technical challenge I've ever attempted. Stay tuned for more posts on each of these pieces and how they were made in the Eastern fashion using Western methods.
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Friday, August 11, 2017

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Trends - Late 18th Century Flippy-Flappies

The Met - Robe a l'Anglaise - 1785-87
When we start out in costuming for a particular era, we think in centuries - the 18th century, the 19th century - and quickly move into thirds. What were fashions like at the beginning, the middle, or the end? Then, as we learn obsess more, we define the decades separately from each other, and finally - if you're a particular kind of nerd like Abby Cox - your resolution is as fine as years and sometimes even season or months within a year. When you've whittled it down to decades or years, you start to notice particular trends in fashion that are lost in the wider view of a period.

One of these trends has recently piqued my interest. I call it, them, Flippy Flappies - bodices with tabs at the waist, popular for the second half of the 1780s (possibly earlier) to at least 1790 (possibly later). That's a pretty narrow few years, but during this time, Flippy Flappies were all the rage.

Patrick Berria "Zone Gown" - link is dead. This is a great example of a late 1780s Flippy Flappy bodice with an underbodice.
The underbodice from the Patrick Berria gown (dead link).
I first noticed the Flippy Flappies on the Mademoiselle Guimard portrait, 1790, that I've been studying so closely for my Costume College ensemble, as well as on the famous, delicious pink and white striped Italian Gown in The Met (C.I.66.39a, b). Then I began to see them more often:

Detail of the portrait of Guimard by Greuze, 1790, LACMA - you can see the tabbed bodice and an overlap at the front "point." that falls open with the lapels at the neckline. The white beneath is the underbodice.
Cabinet des Modes - November 1786 - great example of a Robe a la Turque with a cutaway gown and flippy-floppy underbodice.

Portrait of Madame de Serres by Joseph Boze, 1787.

A ridiculously amazing gown from Villa Rosemaine, 1780s - these flippy floppies are pinked, but still lined with linen squares beneath.
*Many more are to be found on my 1780s Pinterest board.

I have yet to discover any particular cause or reason for the trend. There may be none more than just fashion for fashion's sake, but quite often short-lived trends flare up from contemporary politic events, regional interests, or the whims or conditions of royalty. It would be interesting to cross-reference what was going on in Europe at the time that may have spawned this "Harlem Shake" of bodice design.

Dressed in Time's Flippy Flappy late 80s bodice at Costume College 2017 - so cleanly finished!
The Flippy Flappy bodice seem to often be what we call "zone fronts," with the cutaway look, but not always. Some of the FF's are hemmed, bound, and some pinked (cool!). I hemmed mine and it was a pain-in-the-tookus, and in seeing Dressed in Time's recent exploration into this style I much prefer her method of binding those tricky raw edges.

An example of a non-zone front flippy-flappy bodice, from Les Arts Decoratifs, dated 1780-89. This gown is a round gown, which could have easily been worn with a cutaway robe on top, a la Turque.
I look forward to sharing all the trials and tribulations of my own Flippy Flappy gown, which I shall share with you in future, detailed posts - but I would like to explore the 1780s and early 1790s more in the future. It was a bit of an "anything goes," wacky few years with potential for much creativity and expression.

My own Flippy Flappy bodice in progress - what a pain those tabs are! Next time I will pink them like in the Villa Rosemaine gown!
For all posts relating to Guimard and the Turkish outfit, click here.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017


Podcast Episode 10: Corsetry Goodness with Cathy Hay of Foundations Revealed

Hello Lovelies!

We're BACK with new and exciting episodes of Fashion History with American Duchess! While at Costume College, we were able to snag a bit of time with Cathy Hay, the Founder & CEO of everyone's favorite costuming and corset making subscription sites: Your Wardrobe Unlock'd and Foundations Revealed

Putting that Selfie Stick to good use while recording our episode on a hotel bed! ha! :D

We had a lovely time chatting about all sorts of different things related to her business, its future plans, the Symington Corset Collection in Leicestershire, England, and just general girl chatty goodness!

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

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Abby's Jane Austen Fest Dinner Dress - Done!

Hello Lovelies!

Abby here and I am in full "July has been full of travel and awesome but now I need a nap nap" mode over here at American Duchess headquarters. There was so much going on this month between Jane Austen Festival and Costume College that Lauren and I are just now sitting down trying to get back down to the normal business at hand.

This means that it's time to get back to the fun stuff - like blogging (& podcasts & facebook live streams!). Weee! So first up on my list is to talk about my late 1790s dinner dress that I wore to Jane Austen Fest. (Previous Posts - Here & Here)

Enjoying the hell out of "Golden Hour" at Locust Grove.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with how this outfit came out. It wasn't my original plan, but dammit, I love this outfit! While adding the gold fringe trim did make my neckline a touch wonky (it made the under-bodice pull up just enough to get on my nerves...), I am really happy for that last minute addition... more sparkle! More gold! It didn't itch either! Hooray!

Since my original plan was to wear a tunic and I wanted a brooch to sit at my shoulder to "clasp" the tunic at the shoulder, I was already on the hunt for some good jewelry choices. When my tunic plan fell through I just ended up buying 2 of the same Wedgwood brooches with the idea that I would wear one in my turban wrap and another at my center under-bust to help draw everything together. I then had a massive stroke of luck when Lauren, Nicole, and I went to my favorite vintage store in Louisville, Kentucky - The Nitty Gritty. Not only did I find 2 hats and a dress all for me but they also had a larger sized Wedgwood brooch that would be much nicer for the under-bust! Yes! Woo!

I used the Wedgwood brooches to help anchor the
turban to my hair since it could want to slip around a bit
While at Jane Austen Fest on Saturday, Serendipity took over, again, and low and behold Taylor of Dames a la Mode had a late 1790s gold chain with Wedgwood & matching earrings set on sale! It was like she made it for me, only she made it a year ago and, luckily for me, it didn't sell at last year's event! I snatched it up immediately (along with more pearl & hoop earrings that I'm obsessed with) and wore it the rest of the day. That necklace was just the Wedgwood cherry on top.

I really love this's so perfect! (And damn that pesky under bodice slid up!) 
I wore this gown all day long at Jane Austen Festival (over 12 hours) and I was just beyond comfortable for dinner, drinking, and after hour shenanigans with Lauren yelling for Willoughby and trying not to completely fall down a hill! This is probably my new favorite gown I own, because of how cool (literally and figuratively) and comfortable it is to wear. I even wore it again on Friday night at Costume College!

Maggie and I were Turban Wrap sisters all day. <3 

Finally, as a shameless plug - this gown was created based off of the lining and sleeve patterns that are in our book The American Duchess Guide To 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear them with Style. My turban wrap, reticule, and under petticoat are also all directly from the book, and so if you would like to replicate this style all of that information will be available on November 21st! If you're thinking of flirting with the late 1790s ladies, don't hesitate - she is so much fun!
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