Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in victorian (27)

Wednesday
Aug282019

Marvellous Mauve

A couple of years ago I wrote a story about different shades of purple, and I touched on the discovery of the first aniline dye in 1856 that became known as mauve, the French word for mallow flower after which the colour is named. Originally it was probably a darker shade than contemporary notions of it, as it was first likened to Tyrian purple which is much darker. The first mauve dye was replaced with other synthetic dyes in 1873: a lighter, less-saturated shade that we are familiar with today. As Wikipedia succinctly describes it, ‘mauve contains more grey and more blue than a pale tint of magenta’.

Three shades of mallow flowersHowever, while it was a synthetic dye, in the 1850s it was still quite expensive to process, and if not for Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, taking a liking to it because it supposedly exactly matched her ‘violet’ eyes, the colour might have disappeared. Queen Victoria subsequently gave it the thumbs-up, and for a time it was all the rage, reaching its heights of popularity in the 1890s.

… for a time it was all the rage, reaching its heights of popularity in the 1890s

As with many trends, however, it soon reached over-saturation in the market and eventually it became passé, synonymous with ladies of a certain age. Even in the twentieth century, it was associated with aging, as it was one of the shades white-haired ladies chose to rinse their hair with to remove unlikable yellowish tones. Today of course that trend has been turned on its head and grey hair tinted with pastel shades is all the rage with young people!

Empress Eugenie, 1854, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter – Franz clearly thought, "Pfft, purple eyes, MY EYE!"

Wait, what about the purple eyes?

I was interested in this notion of the Empress’s supposed violet eyes, and some research lead me to learn that Elizabeth Taylor was another celebrity famed for her violet eyes. Paintings are not necessarily true to life, and photographic evidence is obviously unreliable as it is too easy to digitally enhance hues or use colour filters in-camera.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1960 (ph unknown) and 1985 (ph Helmut Newton); she definitely seems to have naturally blue eyes that have been enhanced by the colour processing in the first photoAfter a lot of reading, I can state definitely that the human eye does not naturally come in shades of purple; ie people cannot be born with it. Put simply, the colour of an iris changes depending on how much light reaches it, and can be enhanced by coloured clothing or makeup surrounding the eyes; both Empress Eugénie and Elizabeth Taylor had blue eyes: one wore purple garments, the other purple eyeshadow. [See Further Reading below]

Back to fashion …

Since my original story, I have since found new mauve items in differing shades all from thrift stores: a merino wool jumper, a prettily hand-knitted vintage wool cape, and a vintage angora, pearl-beaded beret. The jumper is modern, but I am not sure of the age of the latter two; the beret was missing pearls when I bought it, but the cape is pristine and could be a modern knit made using a vintage pattern. My printed velvet pants are modern, by the Australian label Charlie Brown.

Scroll down and check out some more mauve outfits from the Victorian era to the present.

Further Reading

The biology behind eye colour in humans

Were Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes really violet?

But wait, Liz Taylor had double eyelashes!

Just how did Lizzie make her blue eyes look purple?

Photos: August 2019

Victorian walking dress, 1896Victorian evening dress, 1896Victorian silk striped walking dressSilk taffeta evening dress, 1860-18651930s fur jacket (sold)1930s bias gown (for sale)1940s catalogue – how I would love to buy this set, especially at those prices!Model Evelyn Tripp, wearing a dress and matching hat, ph Frances McLaughlin-Gill for VogueModern outfitRosie tote in mauve

Thursday
Aug152019

Of the Same Stripe

Bathing suit, c. 1910sI love a stripe, it’s no secret. The other day while browsing on Pinterest, I spotted a nineteenth century black and white striped skirt (below) that was part of a beachwear set, and I was smitten. I would wear this off the beach today if I could but find one!

The skirt that bowled me over: Beachwear, late 1860s–early 1870sStripes are the simplest pattern of all, and when they are bold they make the most graphic and eye-catching statement. I’ll take stripes of any colour, but especially white with either black, blue, red or green.

Here are some other amazing black and white striped garments and accessories to bowl you over.

NB All images were found on Pinterest, but where possible I have traced them to their ultimate source – click each image to jump through.

Jacques Doucet, 1890sParasol, 1897 (image originally from The Met)Petticoat, c. 1900Underskirt, c. 1900Jeanne Lanvin, 1930sEvening dress, Madame Grès, c. 1975

Saturday
Jul062019

The Luxury Hat

Felt is an ancient fabric, and perhaps the first made by man: it is made rather easily as it is not woven and does not require a loom. According to legend, in the Middle Ages a wandering monk named St Clement – destined to become the fourth bishop of Rome – happened upon the process of felt-making quite by accident. It is said that to make his shoes more comfortable, he stuffed them with tow (short flax or linen fibres). Walking in them on damp ground, he discovered that his own weight and sweaty feet had matted the tow fibres together into a kind of cloth. After being made bishop (with the power to indulge his whimsy), he set up a workshop to develop felting production … and thus he became the patron saint for hatmakers, who of course use felt to this day.

Parisian costume, 1826Men and women’s beaver top hats, Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion, 1876Today most felt is made of wool, but in the past, animal fur was used to make a high-quality felt. Animal fur has tiny, microscopic spines which lock together much like Velcro when heat and moisture are applied. Beaver was the superior fur because its spines were prominent and helped produce a high-quality felt; hats made from it date back to at least the sixteenth century, and they were a staggeringly expensive luxury item. Naturally, to reduce the cost of fur felt, other furs were used such as rabbit or hare, camel, and angora (mohair).

Men wearing beaver hats, 1886But it was another type of hat altogether that toppled the beaver from its luxury perch at last: the silk top hat. First invented in 1797 and scandalising the general public with its fearsome appearance, by the mid nineteenth century, the silk top hat cost half the price of beaver, and overtook it in popularity owing to changes in lifestyle which meant the hardy fur felt hats were not needed.

50s hat of angora fur felt; authorised reproduction of a Claude Saint-Cyr designI was initially attracted to this red 1950s pixie hat because of its dramatic shape, and the pearls (which I love) sewn all over it. It is made with Melusine, a felt made from rabbit fur. Melusine has long, fine fibres that are brushed to create a silky long-haired finish. In the past I had presumed ‘fur felt’ was a misnomer, and that such fabric was actually made from wool to look like fur. I was a bit sad when I realised this hat was real rabbit fur; however, at least it is vintage and recycled.

An amazing pink fur felt reproduction Regency hat, by Jane Walton, 2019I have a few other vintage hats also made from melusine, all from the 50s and 60s. While wool felt is certainly more common these days, you can still buy new fur felt hats (some sources nebulously state the fur is a ‘by-product’) – even top hats made from beaver that are worn by top cats at Ascot – and they are still quite expensive.

Photo: June 2019

Wednesday
May222019

Did Someone Mention Giant Bows?

Bows are practical, and bows are frivolous. From one’s shoelace, to a pussy-bow blouse, to a multitude of non-functioning bows decorating a ballgown. They just look pretty, especially when they are tied with a luxury fabric. Or they look louche, à la those blouses on the Gucci runway.

My t-shirt is made from cotton and silk chiffon – the sleeves are so delicate and pretty. It is by Bettina Liano, an Australian label that launched in the 1980s and is famous for its denim line. I bought this tee in a thrift store, however, as I did the bow headband for amusement’s sake – I have not actually worn it out.

It is a big bow. Alas it is not quite as big as the giant bow on the Edwardian hat on the cover of Ladies Home Journal that I shared yesterday. I think I would feel more comfortable wearing an enormous bow on a hat than as a headband; or even a scarf tied in a huge bow would fit my style better.

Scroll down for a few bows of the past.

Photo: December 2016

Mon Vignon, Paris, 1860s Bubblegum pink silk two piece, self-fabric bow trim to shoulders and skirt hemLucile afternoon dress, 1917–20Balenciaga, 1951Yves Saint Laurent haute couture, 1983Gucci Fall/Winter 2011-2012
Pussybows at Gucci Fall/Winter 2011-2012

Wednesday
Apr172019

Victorian Glory

Yesterday I was waxing lyrical about my Victorian cape – here it is in all its glory! Isn’t it amaa-aa-zing? I first saw it from the rear, on a mannequin in the window display of a Sacred Heart Mission op shop. I stared at it in amazement and disbelief. At first I thought it was a costume from a theatre perhaps, but when I enquired if I could try it on and swept it away to a changing room, I saw that it was an original piece.

It is wool, with a silk lining and fringe, and cornelli embroidery on the yoke. The label is also still intact, and reads, in gold embroidered script on a cream background: “Mesdames Niblett, Crighton & Burton”, and in smaller text, “75 New St Birmingham”. It does have a few moth bites and holes, which is not surprising considering its age, and a previous owner covered a few up with tiny lace leaves – you can see them in the second picture.

It has a lovely weight to it and a delightful swishy swing.

I am wearing it here with a vintage 1970s mauve dress and 1950s cherry casque, an outfit I wore to my niece’s wedding last year. (I actually wore it with a different cape, one of red cashmere.) On the morning I was very indecisive about which coat to wear, but the red won out as I love that colour it worn with purple. I ended up wearing this cape to the Opening Night of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband – which I thought was an ideal occasion, as the play was written in the Victorian era. I recall it was a cold night, and the cape was very warm – not to mention an extravagant indulgence to wear! It has a lovely weight to it and a delightful swishy swing.

This is the second Victorian cape that I own, the first being a shorter, hooded skating coat of red and white striped velvet, which I bought from Persephone Vintage on Etsy a few years ago. It too has a long fringe, of red and white chenille. I can’t say that I’d want to gad about in weighty Victorian gowns and their even more fearsome foundation garments, but I must say I do enjoy wearing the capes of the era, and how much more exciting than a prosaic duffel coat for example, or some other even more utilitarian coat? Life’s too short to wear a parka.

Photos: July 2018