Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in 1900s (8)

Tuesday
May212019

Feathered Fantasies

Models at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, showing off scandalous new gowns showcasing the S-line (and their figures), and enormous hats of course, Paris 1908During the Edwardian period, the ideal image of womanhood was to look fragile and delicate, and the fashion was for the flattering S-line, with long luxurious hair piled high to show off slim necks. Enormous hats fantastically trimmed were the crown of these ensembles, designed to complement and set off the feminine silhouette.

The years of the Edwardian British period covers the short reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, although sometimes it includes the years up to WWI. At this time, hats were a crucial part of the dress code for people from all walks of life, young or old, rich or poor. There were different hats acceptable for each strata of society – but all wore hats, all the time. Women changed their hats with their outfits several times a day and would never step out tête-nue (with a bare head) – that was considered a huge social solecism. It was acceptable only for beggars to be hatless.

1909A lady and an assistant settle down to the pleasures of selecting and decorating a stylishly large hat from the befeathered and beribboned collection available at the Paquin couture house millinery rooms, 1909. From ‘The Golden Age of Style’ by Julian Robinson, Orbis Publishing 1976Milliners could and did go to town, extravagantly decorating these wide picture hats with silks and velvets, ribbons and artificial flowers, and after the death of Queen Victoria, bright colours becamse hugely fashionable. The most popular millinery trim of all were feathers, for throughout history, plumes on hats have been a sign of status and wealth. The rich of this time were no exception – some of the hats were insanely huge, even obscenely ostentatious.

Feathers of all kinds were fashioned by the 800 plumassiers in Paris that employed around 7000 people. Anything from little spiky trimmings to boas, tufts and sprays of feathers called aigrettes were cut, dyed and arranged from a wide variety of feathers: cockerel, pheasant, marabou, ostrich, ospreys, herons or birds of paradise. Sometimes even whole stuffed birds perched atop these monstrosities.

Bird of paradiseSuch decorations were extremely expensive; a hat trimmed with natural bird of paradise plumes could fetch a price of $100, a fortune in those days – that is over AU$4,400 or US$3,045 in today’s values. (For comparison I spotted a YSL black rabbit fur felt hat on Farfetch for over $3000 – it does have an elegant shape and details, for example tasselled ties, but that seems laughably overpriced for a comparatively unexciting hat made of inexpensive materials.)

The feathers of the Roseate spoonbill are so gorgeous they almost lead them to extinctionAnother bird that was hunted almost to extinction is the roseate spoonbill – in the late nineteenth century its feathers were literally worth more than gold – $32 per ounce, compared with $20 for gold. [al.com] Their almost total disappearance was one of the factors that lead to the formation of the Audobon Society, dedicated to conservation, eventually leading to the banning of the usage of feathers from endangered species.

Fashions at LongchampFashion from Paris – Les Modes February 1907c. 1912 Jane Renouardtc. 1900 The Bonita Hat – Huge oblong circle shape made of black plush with flamboyant turquoise lining that shows. It is trimmed with black and turquoise ostrich plumes. There is a turquoise and purple ribbon and velour 'grapes' on the ribbon. Originally sold on Ruby Lane.Three out of four hats featured feathers or whole birds, such was the popularity of plumage in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Today, feathers are still popular of course, but milliners have become more creative with the feathers from farmed ostriches, pheasants, ducks and cockerels.

During the militant phase of the Suffragettes and Blue Stockings around 1908, fashion began to simplify, and while hats were still de rigeur, they too fell in line with Reform fashions, for not even Suffragettes would cease wearing hats entirely – they were reluctant to outrage the establishment so utterly. Huge bows in sumptuous fabrics became more favoured for trimming, with the first cloches appearing in 1917, heralding the way for a vastly different style of hat in the 1920s.

Simpler hats of the latter Edwardian years, top right 1910, all others 1912Hat featuring a fabulously huge bow, Ladies Home Journal, 1910

Photos: Vintage images found on Pinterest; I have tried to include information and original links where available.

Additional reference: The Century of Hats, Susie Hopkins, Chartwell Books 1999

Tuesday
Mar262019

Fashion Follows Sailor Suit

Late last spring, just as the warmer weather was beginning in Melbourne, I amused myself (and my work colleagues) by adopting a nautical theme for a week. I have long loved stripes – a nautical staple – and the classic colour combination of blue, red, and white which I very often choose to wear, nautical theme or not.

Traditional sailor suits … influenced the design of the new bathing suits and other clothing …

Nautical fashion has for many decades been popular for the warmer seasons, with its obvious link to seaside activities. The fashion first took off in the mid nineteenth century, when ‘sportswear for the new woman’ first started being produced. Traditional sailor suits, ie, naval uniforms with flap collars, stripes and bellbottoms, influenced the design of the new bathing suits and other clothing designed for regattas, yachting, boating and seaside promenading.

Coco Chanel in the interwar periodFrench sailors; the marinière or tricot rayé (striped sweater) is a cotton long-armed shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, characteristically worn by quartermasters and seamen in the French navy.Coco Chanel was another enormous influence after adopting the sailor-collared top (as opposed to Breton striped tees) worn by the local fishermen and sailors in the resort town of Deauville, where she opened her first store on the coast of France in 1913. At the same time, ‘Middy’ blouses, inspired by the uniform of midshipmen were worn by school children for gym activities; by the 1920s they were a huge women’s fashion trend.

1920s middy shirtFashion in the decades after followed suit, adopting the look not just for sportswear, but for daywear, and to the present day we are still wearing nautical influenced garments (although it still seems chiefly only for daytime). Every nautical motif once can think of has been deployed by fashion designers in both blatant and subtle iterations, from the triumvirate of the three most popular colours of blue, red and white; stripes and flag graphics; middy tops and sailor collars; neckties and pussy bows; every type of nautical hat – boaters, fisherman and sailor caps; high-waisted bellbottoms; to naval trim such as gold buttons and braid, and rope, anchor and sailboat motifs. 

It’s fun, it’s sporty and casual, easy and breezy, and denotes summertime and carefree holidays so very particularly – no wonder nautical fashion has remained popular!

Click through to view my gallery of all my nautical looks of the week, and keep scrolling for nautical looks throughout the decades.

Read more about nautical Fashion

Stories on nautical fashion by Vintage Dancer and Blue Velvet Vintage are worth a read – both include some great images from different eras.

Genealogy Lady has written a short history on the middy blouse.

Frenchly reveals that Coco Chanel did not make Breton stripes a thing!

For seaside fashion of the nineteenth century, visit Mimi Matthews.

Nautical fashions through the decades

Victorian era, c 1890sEdwardian wool bathing suit1920s swimsuit1930s nautical daywear fashions1940s dress (LIFE magazine)1950s1960s1970sMarch 1982February 1992, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington wearing Ralph Lauren on Vogue's coverLes Indes galantes collection, Lascar dress, Haute couture, spring/summer 2000, Jean-Paul GaultierZuhair Murad, RTW Spring 2016All images found on Pinterest unless otherwise indicated with direct links.

Tuesday
Sep132016

“Get this Corset Off Me!”

In this day and age Western women take breathing easily for granted. But once upon a time it was not so easy. A century and a half ago women’s breathing and digestion was severely restricted by the regular wear of a corset; muscles were weakened, and more besides, depending upon how tightly the corset was laced. (Multiple petticoats must have been a pain too, not to mention straight shoes – lefts and rights were not invented until approximately the mid nineteenth-century.)

It is no wonder that in these circumstances the scandalous tea gown came to be invented.

What do you generally do when you come home? You make yourself comfortable. We kick off our shoes, remove our restrictive workwear (sometimes including even our bras) and don instead tracksuits, leggings, jeans or pyjamas and wear slippers or go barefoot. We throw ourselves onto our couches with a sigh of relief, and enjoy a tipple of our favourite beverage.

Edwardian lady wearing a tea gown. Image from 'Seduction' by Caroline Cox, Mitchell Beazley, 2006. (No image credit captioned.)Why should not the Edwardian lady have been the same? Picture her coming home and exclaiming to her maid as she rips the elaborate hat off her head, “Get this corset off me! Let me put up my feet and drink a cup of tea.” She lounges back in her boudoir with a sigh of blissful relief and stretches her legs and wriggles her toes, and takes big breaths in between ladylike sips of restorative Earl Grey.

“Get this corset off me! Let me put up my feet and drink a cup of tea.”

And what was she wearing while she relaxed? At first perhaps she was wearing merely a wrapper over her chemise and bloomers, which meant she was not dressed to receive company. But what if her best friend paid her an afternoon call? She couldn’t receive her in her underwear! (Imagine if you did that today.)

And then the tea gown was born.

Broderie anglaise 'boudoir dress' by the House of Doeuillet; illustrated by André Marty for 'La Gazette du bon ton', 1913. From 'The Fine Art of Fashion' by Julian Robinson, Bay Books (no publish date listed – late 1980s?)Woman's tea gown, Miss Bishop 1870s; Silk satin with supplementary weft patterning, linen machine-made lace, and silk plain weave trim.

What, exactly, is a tea gown?

Tea gowns were worn from the 1870s until the 1930s, and essentially are gowns that can be put on and taken off without the assistance of a maid. They are extremely feminine; long and loose without defined waists, cut on princess lines and made from luxurious fabrics. Sleeves were at first tight, but by the 20s and 30s were also relaxed, so that the whole effect was flowing and languid, and principally, informal.

a tea gown was considered a hybrid somewhere between a wrapper (or bathrobe) and an evening gown

Because a tea gown was considered a hybrid somewhere between a wrapper (or bathrobe) and an evening gown, early versions were designed to look like a robe worn over a dress. The under-dress was waisted with a sash, and the robe on top was loose and open, and it usually featured a train. The tea gown generally had a high neck, as daytime garments always did, distinguishing it from the décolleté evening gown.

Fabrics featured lace; floral embellishments as part of the Art Nouveau movement; medieval details, historical elements from the 17th and 18th centuries; and also exotic details from the Chinese, Japanese and Indian arts popular at the time.

This 1899 engraving shows the stark difference between a day dress and a tea gown.Elaborate tea gown from the House of Rouff, c. 1900. Woven silk damask embroidered with glass, metal thread and beads, and embroidered net and lace. V&A

Emily Post, in 1922, describes it thus:

‘Every one knows that a tea-gown is a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress. It has always a train and usually long flowing sleeves; is made of rather gorgeous materials and goes on easily, and its chief use is not for wear at the tea-table so much as for dinner alone with one’s family. It can, however, very properly be put on for tea, and if one is dining at home, kept on for dinner.’ – Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, 1922.

Why were tea gowns so scandalous?

Silk tea gown in a glorious saffron shade, by American designer Jessica Franklin Turner, c. 1929. Perhaps at first the tea gown was worn in real privacy, then in the company of intimate friends over tea, macaroons and a cosy chat. Then one day a close gentleman friend might have come calling in the afternoon, and what harm in having him come in for a cup of tea too?

The design of the tea gown must have slowly evolved during this process, becoming more elaborate as it escaped its tenure in the boudoir and entered the dining room, then other friends’ dining rooms, and eventually out into the world. But at first it was considered scandalous because to wear a tea gown, or glorified wrapper, was to be en deshabille – that is, undressed. And to receive gentlemen callers thus attired showed a woman had shockingly lax morals – even, perhaps, lovers.

to wear a tea gown, or glorified wrapper, was to be en deshabille – that is, undressed

Much was made of the scandalous nature of tea gowns because of the supposition that naturally one must be entertaining lovers simply because it was so easy to remove, and one was practically naked beneath it. Surely not every woman who wore one had a lover! I maintain that the far greater attraction was the freedom of movement and breathing it allowed. Why else would it have emigrated from the boudoir? For at the turn of the twentieth century, reformers were campaigning for women to rid themselves of the corset once and for all, and the tea gown was proclaimed as an ideal garment. Its superior comfort must have been obvious to any woman who wore one. Some of the previously widely-proclaimed ills of daily corset-wearing have been debunked today, but there are still genuine health concerns – read about them in this modern corsetry guide.

By the 1920s and 30s, tea gowns more resembled just another style of afternoon dress, but even then with global lifestyle changes after industrialisation, two World Wars and revolutions in the class system, it became an impractical garment: a relic of an era and way of life long-gone. Today such a gown would – ironically – be considered quite dressy, perhaps something we might wear formally to a garden party or a wedding, but in fact its liberating spirit lives on, albeit in less graceful forms.

Chiffon dress, its bodice is overlaid with paisley embroidery, and is cut away to reveal a black lace knee-length slip – very much reminiscent of tea gowns; Christian Lacroix, c 1992; from British Vogue.Tea dresses styled haute grunge, by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, c. 1992; from British Vogue

Fashion Notes

My modern silk dress is of course not an authentic tea gown, but its colours, floral print and flowing lines all brought to mind the tea or afternoon dresses of the 1930s that I love. Its simple cut and ‘short’ length (ie, lack of train) do however make it more wearable as a day dress, which does fit in with the ethos of a tea gown. The earrings are hand made by myself from jade and Indian beaded beads; the ceramic ring is a souvenir from Barcelona; and the supremely comfortable ballet flats are by Sambag. (Both dress and shoes were bought second hand from thrift stores.)

~

To read about the evolution of tea gowns in greater detail, visit The Dreamstress, written by Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian.

Read more about the history and mythology of corset-wearing at Yesterday’s Thimble, by Lisha Vidler.

Photos: April 2016

Tuesday
Jul052016

Boho v. Bohemian

Boho style has never appealed to me, and I lay the blame squarely on Sienna Miller. In the Nineties and early Noughties, she became so ubiquitous and synonymous with this style that I had to suppress a shudder at the sight of her whenever I flipped the page in a magazine. She was everywhere, extolled and lavished with praise, as was the gypsy style she popularised.

In my mind, ‘boho’ seems sometimes to be interchangeable with the word ‘hideous’. It is indiscriminately used to describe anything with a vaguely hippy appearance, and often involves yards and yards of enveloping Seventies polyester knit, paisley print, miles of fringing, a granny’s-worth of crochet, tiered gypsy skirts, pirate boots (preferably in tan leather or suede), floral leather thong headbands (with or without a crystal pendant), multitudes of long necklaces and an excessive quantity of rings worn on practically every finger at once (see below).

The closest I came to anything boho during my style evolution was a printed Indian full skirt I wore when I was at art school. My mum told me I looked like a gypsy. (Gypsies were a common sight when she was growing up in Yugoslavia in the Forties and Fifties.) I actually found it quite difficult to dress up for this photoshoot, and it took me two attempts to find something emulating boho style.

Today the term ‘boho’ is popularly taken to be an abbreviation simply for ‘bohemian’, but in fact its style origin is more particular, and comes from the French term ‘bobo’. It is ‘short for bourgeois bohème. Parisians who are both upscale and artistic. Similar to the original meaning of the American ‘hipster’, but generally laced with a uniquely French je ne sais quois.’ [Urban Dictionary]

But this is still a very superficial description of the boho chick – I wanted to know who were the original Bohemians, and what distinguished them from their style counterpart of today.

The Origin of the True Bohemians

The original Bohemians sprung up in the late nineteenth century. As Wikipedia describes it: ‘Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits.’ Or as Virginia Nicholson, author of Among the Bohemians – Experiments in living 1900–1939 [Viking, 2002], puts it:

‘Subversive, eccentric and flamboyant, the artistic community in England in the first half of the twentieth century was engaged on the bold experiment of refashioning not just their art, but their daily lives. They were the pioneers of a domestic revolution.’

Artists, poets, and writers such as Rupert Graves, Augustus John, Dora Carrington, Virgina Wolf, the Bell family of the Bloomsbury Group and many, many more paved the way for how we live today.

Vanessa BellThey in turn were inspired by the emigrating Romanies. The origin of the word ‘bohemian’ is interesting. Today the French Bohémien is translated as ‘Gypsy’, but the original Boii were refugees from the area known until recently as Czechoslovakia. From the early days of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, a diaspora of these people fled into Western Europe. They joined groups of disreputable wandering minstrels, unfrocked priests and monks, and from then the word ‘Bohemian’ became associated with such nomadic groups of similar style. When the first genuine Romanies appeared in France with their colourful and vagabond lifestyle, they were immediately associated with the previous refugees. By the sixteenth century, all gypsies were indiscriminately named bohemians.

The Kalderasà invade Britain, 1911 (from Among the Bohemians, by Virginia Nicholson)Augustus John, who modeled his life on the vagabond gypsy and was possibly the original bohemian, was an artist active in the early twentieth century. At the turn of the century after discovering the world of the gypsies in the encampments outside Liverpool, he wrote, ‘Henceforth I was to live for Freedom and the Open Road! No more urbanity for me, no more punctilio…’ Clothing was already deliberately neglected in defiance of his respectable upbringing; he then adopted an exhibitionist style, wore gold earrings, wild hair and beard, which, in his own words, ‘often failed to recommend me to strangers’.

The bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous.

His mistress and later second wife, Dorothy McNeill appeared in his paintings metamorphosed as ‘the gypsy goddess Dorelia, her graceful figure swathed by Augustus in yellow folds or sculpted in blue draperies. In his paintings her head is scarved or turbaned, and smocked children caper at her feet, which appear bare from beneath the folds of her long dress. A bright medieval-looking tunic follows the contours of her form. She raises her arms to the sky.’ [Nicholson] Here is the boho babe personified!

Dora Carrington (left) with fellow bohemiansThe bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous. Bohemian women bobbed their hair, shockingly wore trousers, and discovered the freedom of sandals after the confinement of uncomfortable shoes. They slept under the stars and climbed trees barefoot. Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability. Though they were expensive, the wearing of sandals indicated anti-affluence— Dorothy John, when seen wearing sandals, was presumed destitute.

Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability.

Hallmark Style of the Modern Boho Babe

According to popular modern notions, bohemian are airy-fairy hippy chicks dressed mostly in romantic, earthy garments, who are fond of wafting around in fields with a breeze ruffling their Rapunzelesque locks with their eyes half-closed pensively. In short, they are inspired by the popular notion of the nineteenth century gypsy, oblivious of their English artistic antecedents.

But what do boho chicks actually wear? Long, flowing layers in printed fabrics, whether they are bursting into flower or a riot of tribal patterns seem to be the most popular iteration. Embroidered, fringed, or beaded fabric is also acceptable, and anything that looks ethnic or exotic. These garments are worn with long beads and feathers, and sequinned or studded belts. Tan leather is preferred as it looks more earthy. Hair is worn long and usually parted in the middle, accessorised with plaited leather thong headbands (my version is a rather tongue-in-cheek exaggerated take on this!). The natural habitat of the boho babe is the music festival, such as Coachella or Glastonbury.

Talitha Getty's style inspires designers still today (click through to read more)Here is Loulou de la Falaise wearing a turban, also adopted by the original bohemians in emulation of gypsiesPoppy Delevingne wearing an Erdem dress and Olympia Le-Tann clutchHere is Sienna Miller, the ubiquitous boho babe herself! (Link to original image broken)Talitha Getty would be the boho chick’s patron saint, and she really did live a bohemian lifestyle in Marrakech. Another Seventies icon with a true bohemian lifestyle is Loulou de la Falaise. Besides Sienna Miller, other celebrity boho babes of this era are Poppy Delevigne, the Olsen twins and Nicole Ritchie.

The average boho chick is clearly not a genuine bohemian in the sociological sense; she is simply acting out a stereotype, temporarily adopting a fad or fashion style for the summer (or just the weekend).

I wonder who are the true bohemians today, and what are they wearing? I suspect they are still much like Augustus John and his band, somewhere on the fringes of society, living life fully and marching to the beat of their own drum.

Photos: March 2014

Wednesday
Dec302015

Box Clever

Ever since I collected these vintage leather lace-up gloves from my old club one clean-up day, I have wanted to do a boxing story especially for Boxing Day. Originally I wanted to wear the gloves, but was never quick enough to organise a friend to come press the shutter for me (as I obviously could not operate a camera shutter remote wearing gloves). Finally I decided to go ahead anyway, as I love the way the laces allow the gloves to hang around the neck – a classic look not possible with modern gloves that fasten with Velcro.

Hattie Stewart, from the Bronx, New York (image from Pinterest)Researching women’s vintage boxing attire was extremely entertaining as of course with the Victorian mania for keeping women as covered up as much as possible during sporting activities, this meant donning all sorts of paraphernalia, such as silk sashes around the waist, ribbons in the hair, and pretty frilled socks and shoes. The image of Hattie Stewart from the Bronx, New York was my main inspiration for my outfit – it was the ribbons and the multi-coloured sash that sold me on it.

The only vintage items I am sporting are the gloves themselves, the silk ribbon in my hair, and a silk kimono I bought in an antique store in Vietnam years ago. I had to make do with a Gap tank and Adidas shorts, and leather fold-up ballet flats by Yosi Samra (super soft and comfortable, by the way). I laugh every time I see the lace socks paired with running shorts!

The Bennett Sisters, c1910–15

I haven’t done any boxing classes for a year or two – martial arts having given way to fine arts – but I still do a bit of shadow-boxing as part of my warm-up when I go running. Doing this shoot reminded me how much I miss sparring, although if I do take it up again in the New Year, I think I will be wearing more practical garments!

Photos: A few days ago

Clara Bow in Rough House Rosie, 1927Women boxing in heels in the 1920s (click through for more images of women boxing)Fraulein Kussin and Mrs Edwards fought on 7 March, 1912