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Posts Tagged ‘Survey of Historic Costume’

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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Above images are from Survey of Historic Costume, 5th edition, by Phyllis G. Tortora (Fairchild Books)

Did you know that women in Ancient Rome were not allowed to wear Togas? 

 

The Roman Toga (fabric draped and wrapped around the body) was a complex garment, a symbol of Roman citizenship made and worn a certain way to reflect different roles in Roman society.

Although initially for both men and women, by the 2nd century B.C. togas were restricted to male Roman citizens. An average male Roman citizen wore a linen tunic under a plain white Toga Virilis made of wool. Someone special like a high-ranking official wore the Toga Praetexta – a toga with a band of purple several inches wide along the edge of the fabric.

What you wore communicated who you were.

It was the same for women.

Free, married women sported a long, sleeveless dress with shoulder straps called a Stola. They wore the stola over a tunic. Topping off the outfit she might have worn a Palla, which was a draped shawl that wrapped around the body and was sometimes pulled over the head.

I’m learning all this and so much more in Fashion History, a class I’m taking this semester at City College of San Francisco taught by local costume designer Judith Jackson. This is a fast and furious course in western costume history from ancient times to present day. I have previously taken three classes in the Fashion Department at CCSF, including Fashion Icons of the 20th Century, Hot Topics in Fashion, and my favorite – Textiles Analysis also taught by Ms. Jackson who is an excellent instructor.

My fashion plate is very full with this class and every moment taking notes, reading, studying, writing is pure pleasure. Stay tuned in the coming months as I share other fashion history facts.

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