Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

Over the next weeks I’m sharing what I found.


This week’s historical influence is the Doric Chiton.


I’m inspired by the simplicity of the Ancient Greek Doric Chiton. I wear long dresses and skirts in summer at home and I find they are cool and comfortable, but not sloppy in certain fabrics. A cotton weave is best.

Clothing in ancient cultures were draped and folded, tied or attached by a T-shape pin called a “peplos pin.”

It’s hard to read my comment above but the modern dress is by Prada, spring 2020. The basic silhouette and ties at the shoulders speak Doric Chiton to me.

Tune in next week for another post on Finding Historical Fashion Today.


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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

I hopped right on it and started looking when the class began in January and it took me pretty much the whole semester. It wasn’t something you could get done in one sitting (I think that some of the other students might have tried). It was old-school cut and paste and I really had fun with it.

I’m going to share my findings with ODFL readers over the next weeks. First up is the Schenti:


Tune in again next week.

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Another one of my go-to movies is Miss Potter.

This 2006 film tells the bittersweet story of Beatrix Potter (played by Renee Zellweger) and the challenges she faces getting her children’s books (Peter Rabbit et al!) published  at the turn of the last century, when women just didn’t do such things.

No indeed, women instead must get married and despite Mrs. Potter’s best efforts to introduce her daughter to the right sort of suitor, Miss Potter says, ” I didn’t want to be marrying a man simply because he was rich enough to take care of me!” Then she met Norman Warne a publisher, and someone who connects with and appreciates Miss Potter. Warne is played by Mr. McGregor … a little Peter Rabbit inside joke … that would be Ewan McGregor.

Zellweger’s charming vulnerability is always a pleasure to watch and she does not disappoint in balancing the tenacity with the loneliness of her character, who easily wins our hearts. The costumes, by three-time Academy Award winner Anthony Powell, are an array of Edwardian treats: gored skirts paired with shirtwaists (button down blouses), high collars, belts, and small hats. Tailor-mades too, which were women’s suits made by tailors not seamstresses, who until the 1890s had made all women’s clothing. The men don three piece suits, detachable collars, and ties! I very much enjoy the London street scenes of the early 20th century as well as some beautiful countryside scenes.

There’s a bit of sadness in Miss Potter, but nothing dark and of course it ends on a hopeful note. “Pleasant and unadventurous” is what one reviewer said about this film and funny enough, that’s just my cup of tea right now.


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We are studying the 19th century in Fashion History class so now is a good time to discuss the ball gown I had made some years ago.

I had been attending the Gaskell Ball, which was a formal Victorian dance held several times a year at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland. Quite the time travel event, the Gaskell Ball (named for the Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell) gathered a couple hundred people all dressed in formal attire mostly 18th and 19th centuries, a few 20th.  Men in tails or kilts and women in satin or velvet gowns with swishing hoop skirts, elegantly yet swiftly spun in pairs around the large auditorium keeping up with the pace of the band called Brassworks. There were waltzes, polkas, and my favorite Congress of Vienna .

When not dancing, people strolled the room as if part of a royal court. They nodded to one another, perhaps fluttered a fan or tipped a top hat. It was all rather dreamy.

(Most of the women made their own gowns. Probably members of the various costume guilds in the area. There was always a flurry of last minute hand sewing going on in the Ladies Room before the start of the evening, not to mention a lot of heightened emotion.)


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For my first Gaskell I wore a 1930s style cream color lace gown, which was lovely, BUT I soon decided I wanted my own 19th century ball gown. That began an adventure into patterns and fabric, seamstresses and fittings.


Women’s printed cotton dress with demi-gigot sleeves. c. 1830-1835.

I started at Lacis – a fabulous Berkeley store featuring all things antique and vintage from lace and lace making tools to patterns, books, notions, jewelry and a collection of clothing much of which is now part of their museum. At Lacis, with the help of my mother, I settled on an 1830s gown pattern by Past Patterns (technically not Victorian, but close enough). It has the distinct 1830s demi-gigot sleeves, slightly high waist, and full skirt. This time period in fashion was all about the sleeve and there was a lot of variation in puff, from extreme to “demi.”

The next step was to find a seamstress and Lacis recommended Deborah Starks, who actually specialized in Art Deco wedding gowns, but she was willing to take on this project, luckily for me because she did an excellent job and I know it was challenging.

On to the fabric. My mother guided me toward something dressy and suitable for evening. I went with a peach brocade. I liked that the fabric didn’t need any embellishment. After seeing lost ribbons and bows scattered on the Gaskells dance floor and women in tears over ripped ruffles or collapsed hoops, I knew I wanted no fuss. The brocade gave the look without the hassle.

To fill out the skirt, I thought a crinoline would work and I went to a bridal shop. I remember the saleslady had a really hard time understanding:  “No, I don’t want a wedding gown,” I explained. “Just the crinoline for an 19th century … never-mind. Just show me the crinolines, please.” This was the very beginning of themed events, when not so many of us were doing it and the idea of dressing in period costume was puzzling to most people.

Then the shoes. There was no way I could be period accurate with the shoes. Soft satin slippers were not a good idea on that fast moving dance floor. I needed protection and frankly, at least some height. Again my mother assisted in shoe shopping at Nordstrom, where I found a cream leather and lace shoe by Amalfi with a two inch Louis heel.

I chose for the evening bag, or reticule as they were called back then, a little pouch bag that had belonged to my grandmother and was embroidered with silver thread.

IMG_20200425_173143What to do with my hair? Well, that was tricky as the styles of the day were complex and not flattering (see image left). I kept it simple and pushed back my hair with a green ribbon, letting a few curls fall around my face.

It was a cold December night when I debuted the gown. My dancing friends and I took photos and proudly participated in the opening march where we all sang Rule Britannia. Full of energy and excitement the ball sped by as quickly as a Victorian waltz and left my head spinning, too.

In addition to the Gaskell Ball, I have worn my gown to a masquerade dance, a Victorian-themed Christmas party, and once to the Victorian literature class I took in the MFA program at Mills College.

The Gaskell Ball, sadly, is no more and there are few opportunities to sport this  gown. Over the years I have considered selling it, but then I think not. Even though Victorian dances are long gone, there is still the dress and with it many fond memories of times past.

Recently, during this pandemic, I put the gown on and wore it around the house for a few hours. What fun to revisit the soft rustle of the crinoline, the texture of the fabric, and the overall feeling of elegance wearing something so lovely.



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Excessive dress vs. toned-down attire. Left image from Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume & Style. Right image from Survey of Historic Costume.

Just now English clothing is all the wear. Rich man’s son, sprig of nobility, counter-jumper – you see them dressed all alike in the long coat, cut close, thick stockings, puffed stock; with hats on their heads and a riding-switch in their hands. Not one of the gentlemen thus attired, however, has ever crossed the Channel or can speak one word of English … No, no, my young friend. Dress French again, wear your laces, your embroidered waistcoats, your laced coats; powder your hair to the newest tune; keep your hat under your arm, in that place which nature, in Paris at any rate, designed for it, and wear your two watches, with concomitant fobs, both at once. 

Louis-Sebastien Mercier (1740-1814), French dramatist and writer. This quote is from The Waiting City: Paris, 1782-1788.

In the last 25 years of the eighteenth-century, Anglomania was all the rage in French fashion. Both men and women had grown tired of the French excessive look and turned to the simpler styles of the British. Frenchmen appreciated in particular the excellence in British tailoring and except for appearances at court, they adopted a more casual mode of dress.



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Figure left: Early 18th century three piece suits made of the same fabric were called Ditto Suits. Figure right: Three different style banyans in the late 18th century. Both images from Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Tortora, 5th ed., Fairchild Books.

I never thought I’d say this, but while studying fashion history I have been just as, if not more, interested in men’s fashions as women’s. Men’s fashions from the 15th through the 18th centuries are fascinating for their silhouettes, layers, and extensive decoration.

In the 18th century men were sporting a shirt with breeches, a waistcoat (vest), and a narrow coat –  all in beautiful sometimes embroidered fabrics. But at home the coat was hung away and replaced with the banyan. This loosely fit garment was what we might think of as a robe or dressing gown.

Called “undress at home” the look was more relaxed yet still fit for company and portraits. Some fabrics used for banyans included Indian cotton, silk, velvet, or brocade and often gentlemen topped the ensemble with a nightcap and perhaps toasted the evening with the other kind of nightcap.

How are we doing out there? Holding on OK? I hope so.

Remember to Keep Calm and Keep Your Distance.


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How about a little fashion distraction?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fashion history class I’m taking was on hold for two weeks while the instructor figured out how to move it online. Well, we’re back at it now and I’ve been reading about the hoop skirt called farthingale.

In mid-16th century Europe, skirts for women became more rigid. Up until then, layers of petticoats were worn to create shape, but to achieve the desired stiffness and the cone shape, more support was needed.

Enter the farthingale. Made of whale bone, cane, or steel, farthingales graduated in size from waist to hem and were sewn into a petticoat.


In addition to the rigid cone shape skirt, ruffs around the neck were popular as well as a jeweled belt called a demicient, that hung from the V-shape waist all the way to the hem of the skirt. Image, c. 1584.

This look was a favorite of the Spanish, who didn’t give it up for years while England later adapted the hoop into different shapes such as the bum roll, which gave more bulk just under the waist (see image below).


A fancy lady at a ball sporting the a bum roll in addition to the farthingale underneath her skirt. c. 1582. Image from Survey of Historic Costume (Fairchild Books)



Image from Fashion: The Definitive History (DK Publishing)


This week we have our second exam. I have to say I enjoy studying for these exams (we have three) because the subject is so fascinating and of course, I appreciate the distraction.

Remember, Keep Calm and Keep Your Distance.

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51tGfYjaB2L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_She looked overdressed and dangerously hot, but sunstroke or suffocation had not yet finished her off … I still thought she would be better off without so many tunics. Perhaps in a fine mansion with marble veneers, fountains, garden courtyards deep in shade, a leisured young lady might keep cool, even swaddled in embroidered finery with jet and amber bangles from her elbow to her wrist. If she ran out in a hurry she would instantly regret it. The heat haze would melt her. Those light robes would stick to all the lines of her slim figure. 

Marcus Didius Falco, fictional character of the mystery novel, The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis.

I’m a fan of mystery novels, but good ones are hard to come by. A few years ago I listened to a BBC Radio 4 dramatization (starring Anton Lesser) of one of the Marcus Didius Falco series, which take place in Ancient Rome. When I recently had the opportunity to read The Silver Pigs, the first in the series published in 1989, I was hooked. Well-written for starters, and full of historical detail. Ms. Davis certainly did her research. She says that she had trouble getting published at first. Editors didn’t think a mystery set in Ancient Rome would be of interest. Ha! Now her books are often used in high schools as supplemental reading.

There are around 21 books in the series. Plenty to read while we all stay home to avoid COVID-19.

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In this French Court painting (c 1582), the ladies are wearing farthingale under their gowns to get that desired wheel shape. The men are sporting jackets with wide ruffs at the collar, breeches, and hose. 

… I would only add further that he ought to consider what appearance he wishes to have and what manner of man he wishes to be taken for, and dress accordingly; and see to it that his attire aid him to be so regarded even by those who do not hear him speak or see him do anything whatever. 

Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), Italian courtier and Renaissance author.

This quote is from the book “The Courtier” by Baldassare Castiglione published in 1528.

In Fashion History class the first exam (of three) is behind us (yes, I did well!) and we are now studying The Italian Renaissance and The Northern Renaissance.

I found this quote in our text book, Survey of Historic Costume, by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank. Throughout the book are quotes about fashion by individuals from different periods.

As for the quote – I say excellent advice for then and now.


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Image One: German Duke of Saxony sports an entire suit of Panes, which in this case there are no tufts of fabric pulled through – just the slashes. c. 1514.

Image Two: Queen Elizabeth I. c.1575. 

Image Three: A close-up of the Queen’s Panes with the added jeweled Sleeve Clasps. 

In the mid to late sixteenth century, there was a trend for Panes or Slashes – actual slashes in the fabric of an outer garment with tufts of the under-garment (chemise) pulled through. In some cases small jeweled pins called Sleeve Clasps were used to fasten the panes.

What a look! I almost like the entire suit best because the slashes don’t get lost among all the other busy embellishments the Queen’s got going on with her ensemble. (But, she IS the Queen so there’s no such thing as too much.)

If I were a fashion designer I would be inspired by panes. I envision a quilted coat – slim, not bulky – with slashes and the batting in maybe a bright color poking through. Stitching around each slash. I’m not sure that could even work, as I’m not a quilter, but anything goes in one’s imagination.

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