Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is Swans' Down, Exactly?

I have recently been obsessed with items of clothing or accessories trimmed with swans' down, and I have been inspired to make some items like that. In the comments section (which I always read and sometimes actually reply to), I was asked how I'd do this. Would I use marabou boas, or actually fluffly little bits of down? How do you handle such tiny feathers? Well, this is a great question, because I really should explain what swans down is! Let us start in the 19th century, and use my favorite source for fashion matters - Godey's Magazine. I found an 1855 article called "Furs for the Ladies; and Where They Come From." While this article is mostly about furs, it includes this line:
"Substitutes for fur have been found in the plumage of birds. Thus, swan' s-down, goose-down, egret-down, and the silvery plumage of the grebe, are convertible to ladies' use. The down from the egret is so costly, that only four sets have been made during a century, the last having been fabricated in Paris for the great Exhibition in Hyde Park."

Add to this the fact that I've found references to using down of different widths, and you can probably guess that they don't mean boas. In fact, I believe that swans down is a lot more like fur, where the hairs are still attached to the animal skin, except this time we're talking about feathers still attached to the bird skin. So here you have garments trimmed with only a band of down, probably cut in strips from a larger bird pelt...

But you could also use a wide piece of down to make an entire muff!

And here are two pink coats and one cape, trimmed with varying widths of down.

 Now, for all practical applications, I have no intention of skinning swans. Marabou boas are made from tiny down feathers, though I think they come from turkeys (it is certainly not swans). They are easy to find, cheap to procure, and convenient to sew on to garments. So I am personally sticking to the boa approach for my faux-swan's down, but it is good to know what you are mimicking!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

1920s Rhinestone Shoe Heels

Fezziwig's Ball was yesterday, so I should owe you pictures. But mother has most of the good ones, so you have to wait! I also owe you pictures from the Dickens German Cotillion performance last week, and the Salem Light Infantry Levee and Ball before that. I am the worst. But since I am too tired to fix all that the night after a ball, let me distract you with something shiny!

I was browsing about on the Augusta Auctions website one day, when I came across these absolutely drool-worthy shoes heels from the 1920s. The title for them is "Cream & Blue Jeweled Shoe Heels, 1920s" and the description says they are a wood shank with pearlized celluloid overlay, decorated with rhinestones and brass beading.
Similarly, the also had "2 Pair Black Jeweled Shoe Heels, c. 1920s," made of wood with celluloid overlay and rhinestone/brass beading inserts.
And then  "Aqua Jeweled Shoe Heels, 1920s," again made of the same materials.
Wow. This is a thing. A beautiful, fun, sparkly thing. The Kyoto Institute also has some awfully cute ones. AND LOOK HOW MANY OF THEM. These are so amazing, and so varied. Different colors of celluloid, different colors of rhinestones, varied patterns and designs... I love them so much.
Too bad they're all detached from their shoes, right? Well, let's look for some more examples then! These appear to belong to the Bata shoe museum. I absolutely love the use of colored crystals, and the fact that they get repeated on the shoe itself. These are fantastic.
Or there are these ones from Shoe Icon, which have a crazy pattern, swirly gold straps, and sparkly rhinestone heels. Awesome.
These pink ones are lovely too! They are even for sale here. I mean, you could actually go BUY these shoes. Wow.
Or you could buy this pair on ebay here. I love these because they show that you can wear a sparkly silver heel on an un-rhinestoned solid colored not sliver shoe (made of green velvet, no less). Amazing.
And then of course, sometimes you need an alternative to subtle... like all over rhinestone shoes!
I have a dremmel... and a bunch of point-backed swarovsky rhinestones... Quick! Somebody fine me a pair of pumps to destroy! Also, let me know if you have a good idea for how to fake pearlized celluloid... hmm...

Friday, December 2, 2011

When One Tiara Is Not Enough

Sometimes you need a really spectacular, jaw dropping, sparkly, incredible, gorgeous tiara. And then there are those times where one tiara won't do the trick. In that case, I suggest you take a page out of Empress Josephine's book and wear TWO TIARAS AT ONCE. Or at the very least, a tiara and a fabulous matching comb, or a band and a tiara... or even a tiara in front and a crown in back. WOAH! It actually never occurred to me that you could do this, and then I thought it was perhaps just and odd thing about Josephine. But I have now concluded that this trend can be identified in the Regency period not just in Josephine, not just in other Bonapartes, but in lots of people! Or at least royal people totally decked out in court dress. Observe!
First, Josephine Bonaparte: these are the images I most think of.

This one is interesting too... a big band, and two other somethings in the back?

 This is obviously a tiara and a comb, but it is still pretty cool.

Not sure here, but the stand up pearls in the back suggest more than one tiara-object going on.

Look! Tiara plus crown. Oh yeah.
And this one is also a tiara plus crown, I think, even though it is really difficult to see. Not sure how to make it clearer, but I'm pretty sure that's what is happening.
But now let us look at someone who is not Josephine sporting a similar look. Awkwardly enough, it is Maria Louise, Napoleon's second wife. Nice tiara and crown.

And here is Marie Pauline Bonaparte:
And let us not forget Hortense Bonaparte. The first one is quite subtle, but there is totally something far back on her head with green gems in it. For the other one, she certainly has a band of some sort in front and a small tiara further back on her head. Cool.
But it is not just the Bonapartes who wear this double-crown look. Here is Empress Maria Anna Carolina (yeah, I'm using some things that are definitely later than regency... but they are such cool examples that it can't be helped).

Anna Maria 7th Duchess of Bedford.

Maria Isabel de Borbon.

Queen Teresa of Bavaria, who wins my vote for favorite tiara plus crown combo. Not only that, but she is totally mixing gold and silver, which I am always nervous to do. Very nice.

Karoline Auguste von Bayern.
 Queen Desideria.

 Princess Auguste-Amalie of Bavaria.

Caroline Murat, one that is dim but really looks to me like there is a second hair ornament in the back, and one that is just too complicated to be a single tiara, though I can't make out the parts and it seems asymmetrical (like a tiara, a comb, and a crown? I just don't know now!).
So isn't that cool? I want to wear piles and piles of jewelry!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fringe Tiaras as Bodice Jewelry

Fringe tiaras are beautiful and fabulous. They look like this, and have been favorites of royalty throughout the 19th century and beyond. Sometimes they have rounded points, or pointy points, or two types of interlocking spikes... but they all have this approximate Russian-kokoshnik-esque shape. You can wear them perched on your head, or if you're from the 1920s slide them down to the forehead like a bandeau.

A lot of these tiaras can be worn either as tiaras or necklaces. Extra bang for your buck, right? Actually, convertible tiaras are surpisingly common, and you can find all kinds of cool things (like tiaras where you can pop the jewels out and they are mounted on clips or broach backs, or the tiara breaks into pieces to be worn as a set of bracelets and rings... all sorts of things!). But since I'm focusing on fringe tiaras, let's stay on topic. I think it is neat that the nature of the many-pointed-pieces lets the tiara spread out to lie flat as a necklace. It is very simple and clever.

 But wait, there's more! I think this is totally neat and brilliant. Here is Queen Alexandra wearing what I believe is one or two fringe tiaras... around her waist, attached to the pointed bottom of her bodice. Like an amazing sparkly spikey belt or girdle! HOW COOL IS THAT?

 And here is a picture of Lilly Langtry, doing what looks to me like the same thing. Awesome!
 This is different, but here is are two cool dresses with beaded trim, applied to create a similar effect. I guess this is what you do if you can't afford an amazing fringe tiara. Oh, I need one! Or rather, two (to go around my waist, obviosly!).