Thursday, March 31, 2011

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion

This exhibit looks amazing. These are some of the most beautiful early 19th century clothes I've ever seen. I keep wanting to say "Regency," but technically you should call these things "Napoleonic," and in the US we're talking about "Federal," but regency is the best term for getting people to immediately identify what you're talking about - it is tough to know what to do about that. But enough of these semantics, here is the real point. This exquisite exhibit was up in Italy, and on the website you can vote for where you'd like to see it next. I beg you to go vote for New York. Seriously, if the exhibit were to come to New York, I would promise to go see it and write about it. GO VOTE!
Also, while you're there, check out the amazing photos. They only have a few up, but already I'm inspired to make several new projects based on what is there. You can also check out videos about the exhibit. Apparently Napoleon paid people well, but then expected them to spend a lot (and thus help out the economy). I find the notion of Napoleon walking up to some lady and saying "Yeah... I've already seen that dress at least twice before. Go buy another one," kind of hilarious. Oh Napoleon, you funny guy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fright Night Remake

Fright Night is a totally adorable movie from 1985. Charley Brewster loves horror movies, but is convinced that his neighbor is a vampire. Nobody believes him, and his girlfriend enlists the help of Peter Vincent, a washed-up horror movie actor and Charley's hero. Vincent does a hokey test to prove that the neighbor is not a vampire and put Charlie at ease, but also accidentally discovers that Charley was right. Whoops. So obviously, they have to kill the vampire now. It is just an adorable old vampire movie, and I like those things.
When I heard there was going to be a re-make, I was horrified. Surely they would mess it up! But then I discovered that Charley Brewster will be played by none other than Anton Yelchin from Charlie Bartlett. Suddenly, I feel much better about this movie's prospects. Also, Peter Vincent will be played by David Tennant, which is also very promising. This is all very good news.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Charlie Bartlett

Once upon a time, I saw a trailer for Charlie Bartlett. It looked like potentially the best movie ever. I got excited. I waited for the release. They postponed it. Still I waited, expectantly hoping. They postponed it again. I began to worry. Then I began to worry more, because at this point I'd been waiting and excited for so long that I was not sure any movie could live up to these expectations. I prepared myself for disappointment.

I was wrong. When I finally got to see Charlie Bartlett, I was not disappointed. It was fabulous. Go watch it! Charlie Bartlett is a rich kid who just wants to be liked. A string of non-malicious and yet illegal ventures (which did, admittedly, make him popular) has gotten him kicked out of several private schools. Now it is time for public school. His somewhat out-of-touch-with-reality yet very sweet mother worries when he gets beaten up by the public school bully, and sends him to a psychiatrist. Eventually, Charlie sets up with an office in the boys' bathroom, listening to the problems of his fellow students and dispersing medication as is appropriate (while faking different disorders for a string of psychiatrists to get the prescription drugs). What Charlie fails to recognize is that dealing prescription drugs is never really appropriate. Whoops. In a very Pump Up the Volume sort of way, Charlie accidentally takes over the school from the troubled-alcoholic-principal-and-father-of-Charlie's-love-interest, and has to grow up and put all his actions to rights etc etc etc.
Why is this movie so great? Mostly because of Anton Yelchin. I can't even say enough good things about him, but he is wonderful as Charlie Bartlett. He is also wonderful as Chekov in the new Star Trek movie (which I also though was great). Anton Yelchin is great. I am so glad he became an actor instead of an ice skater (his parents are Russian figure skaters). The rest of the cast is great (I think it may actually have been the mother that made me fall in love with the trailer, and Robert Downey Jr. is great as the principal). The plot is darling, and there are some really delightful lines. In a movie where Anton Yelchin really is the show, the subplot with Murphy the bully almost manages to steal the show. Seriously, Murphy is great.
This movie is so charming. I totally love it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

1880s Fancy Dress Gypsies

Ardern Holt's 1887 book, "Fancy Dresses Described: or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls" is available to read online at This is a little late (1887, while the event is aiming more for the 1860s) for CVD's La Traviata Ball (April 30!). The descriptions are great for gypsy inspiration anyway, and here is a lovely plate showing an Esmeralda costume. Let me remind you (or tell you) that Esmeralda is not only a gypsy, but a dancing gypsy. She confesses a murder she did not commit because they threaten to crush her foot in a vise. Seriously. So that is pretty much perfect! Notice some of the recurring themes and how they also showed up in my previous gypsy posts - gold trim, red black and gold or yellow, coins as trim, sashes, tambourines, etc. I wish I knew who "Zitella" was, but she sure sounds like a gypsy to me.ESMERALDA. A rich gipsy dress in yellow, black, and scarlet satin, made short, trimmed with coins and gold braid; a sash of gold tissue tied about the hips, a tambourine carried in hand ; bracelets above and below elbow, united by coins ; stay-bodice with coins and gold braid ; gold net with sequins; ornaments, sequins. Sometimes (as in Coloured Illustration No. V.) the skirt is red, trimmed with gold, and the bodice takes the form of a loose black jacket, with full yellow vest of
soft silk.

ESMERALDA, PRETTY. Yellow satin box-plaited skirt, with lace flounces, draped on the side, with red satin embroidered in gold ; black satin bodice and jacket, embroidered in gold, with pockets at side ; large black and gold scarf tied at the side.

GIPSY, QUEEN OF GIPSIES, FORTUNE, FORTUNE-TELLER, PEDLAR, BOHEMIENNE, AND ZINGARI. For the pedlar and fortune-teller order of Gipsies, a short red, black, or print skirt, loose red bodice, with belt ; yellow handkerchief round neck, red cloak, straw bonnet, and basket stocked with laces, clothes-pegs, cheap jewellery, packs of cards ; bright red petticoat with band of black velvet and gold braid on either side. Algerian tunic, velvet bodice, low square short turreted sleeves, trimmed with gold braid and sequins, gold cord from shoulder attached to a small dagger at the waist ; chemisette of soft muslin with puffed sleeves tied at elbow with black velvet ; orange and red handkerchief tied round head, the ends crossing at back fastened with large gold pins ; coin ornaments. Or, a striped woollen petticoat, a blue jacket, cut V-shape at neck, lined with maize; a muslin apron and bib, playing-cards sewn to skirt; worsted handkerchief tied over head. The more ornamental Gipsy Queens, &c., wear short dresses of red, yellow, and black satin betrimmed with gold, as follows : Red satin petticoat, with black velvet and gold hieroglyphics, trimmed with coins and gold fringe ; gold satin upper-skirt, covered with a gold trellis-work, and Vandykes with coins, Spanish balls, and fringe ; silk scarf of many colours round waist, stay-bodice of black velvet, trimmed with gold, short sleeves, black velvet bag ; gold crown with coins, bracelets and armlets united by chains, coin ornaments ; a tambourine in hand. This is equally applicable for a Zingari or Bohemienne, except that a gold net and coins is best fo'- the head. High black satin boots with gold trimmings, or black shoes embroidered in gold, and sometimes a white chemisette above the low bodice, black gloves, black stockings ; pale yellow flowered skirt, draped with jonquil satin, crape sash studded with stars ; red satin bodice over
lace ; yellow gauze draped across the shoulders ; scarf of red and yellow gauze about the head. (See also Portuguese Gitana, Preciosa, and Esmeralda, and Coloured Illustration

GITANA. Red shirt, black tunic, with black velvet bands embroidered with gold and coins; red body and cap; black gloves and shoes. {See Gipsy and Portuguese.)

MASCOTTE. Dress of cream cashmere, body and skirtslashed with crimson silk and gold, with epaulettes of the same ; tunic embroidered with gold, edged with gold fringe, looped with gold girdle and tassels; toque of crimson and gold ; vivandiere's canteen and gauntlets. Also dark brown wobllen dress and straw hat, large bunches of poppies and field flowers outside ; gold collarette ; vivandiere's barrel and gauntlet gloves. The gipsy costume worn by Mdlle. Dinelli in
the third act of La Mascotte was composed of a drapery of crimson and gold, shorter on one side than the other, but nowhere reaching the ground. Coloured silk stockings and shoes, with sandals of gold reaching to the knee ; a handkerchief of red and gold tied over dark flowing hair; tambourine; no gloves or mittens worn.

MEXICAN GIPSY. Black satin vandyke skirt, with red satin scarf over black, and red satin bodice covered with sequins ; red satin head-dress and Mexican ornaments.

CARMEN (heroine of Bizet's Opera). In first scene wears a Spanish dress, short skirt, forming three tunics, white, blue, and red, all trimmed with gold braid, the top covered with a lattice-work of gold braid ; white muslin loose bodice, short red or black satin Senorita jacket over it ; black mantilla. Second dress (a gipsy costume), short skirt of Armenian embroidery
in all colours, arranged with bands of the same at the back. Muslin bodice; Spanish jacket of silver cloth, with short and pendant sleeves. Necklace of many rows of silver coins; armlets and bracelets of the same. Head-dress, silver braid, coins, and roses of three colours. Third dress
(a brigand woman), short stuff petticoat, striped blue, yellow, black, and red; scarf of same draped round it. Yellow waistcoat, brown Senorita jacket, with long sleeves, trimmed with
black ball fringe. Linen cuffs and collars, blue necktie, red handkerchief tied about head. Round Spanish cap (black). Fourth costume, exquisite Spanish lady's dress, short white satin skirt, with three rows of gold blonde, headed by bands of ruby satin, bordered with gold ; down the front bows of gold braid tagged ; stay bodice of white satin, with gold buttons, pointed back and front. Senorita jacket of ruby satin, with long sleeves, gold blonde ruffles. Mantilla of gold blonde, diamond ornaments, roses at the side. With all but the brigand dress gold-embroidered stockings and shoes. Prosper Merimee describes the wayward gipsy as wearing a short black silk, with low bodice and short sleeves, or square bodice with elbow sleeves, plain skirt, rather full, black mantilla, and a great bunch of white jasmine fastened high on the head. A large plain black fan, or
one of the cheap Spanish fans. Madame Dolaro wore in the second act of the opera a short dress of blood-red cashmere, made with a full bodice, and a mere shoulder-strap for sleeve; round this was wound three times, beginning at the shoulder, a scarf of black gauze, with wide stripes of gold. No ornaments but a scarlet flower placed high in the hair. Red, black, and yellow, blue and silver, all good combinations. Patti, in the first act, wore a short dress of deep orange satin, trimmed with black chenille lace ; black velvet Spanish jacket over a white chemisette ; bright green sash and shoes ; black mantilla. In the second act, a gold satin dress, embroidered with crimson flowers ; white silk gauze bodice, long hanging gauze sleeves, sewn with red coins and golden drops ; a black gauze scarf with silver stripes round the hips. In the next act, dark blue and yellow striped petticoat, a pointed band, red velvet jacket ; cap of black velvet with scarlet. In the last scene, a short bright pink skirt, cream silk tunic, embroidered with roses and pomegranate blossoms ; light cherry-coloured velvet bodice with bands of gold, white blonde mantilla over high comb, fastened with roses, fan painted with Spanish bull-fight.

MICAELA (Carmen). Short white cashmere skirt, bordered with band of blue ; blue over-skirt, trimmed up the front ; low square bodice, with grenat velvet, revers of the grenat velvet bordering white stomacher ; white linen headdress, fastened with gold pins, and flowing at the back ; muslin cap. (Le Cceur et la Maift). Short striped red and yellow petticoat ; three tunics above of red, matching red stay-bodice, cut square in the neck ; large straw hat j wreath of flowers. Black grelots and gold fringe and coins ; large ornamental pattern of gold, worked up the front and sides ; above this a scarf of black lace, almost covered by a tunic of scarlet and gold ; Oriental silk tunic, pointed on one side, and knotted on the other ; low black body, cut square, trimmed with gold chains and coins ; handkerchief of the same red and gold material, tightly tied round the head ; black stockings embroidered with gold spangles and shoes en suite. Or short
black satin skirt bordered with gold braid and coins ; crimson satin tunic ornamented with gold butterflies and stars ; black and crimson satin jacket, with coins; crimson satin headdress
with gold sequins; anklets and necklets of gold coins. Tambourine.

ZITELLA. Red cap with coins ; black velvet bodice and red waistcoat, embroidered and laced with gold ; red gold-embroidered tunic, studded with coins and bound with black velvet, and bordered with gold fringe ; petticoat of black velvet, with broad band of hieroglyphics in- gold, and gold fringe ; silk sash in red, gold, and black.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gypsy Fancy Dress Costume at the Met

This is another lovely item from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute. What is the best part? The lovely little red bolero covered with gold trim? The fabulous headdress with attached coins? The yellow skirt with wide black lace (doesn't it look like the Cachucha dresses from yesterday? I told you so!)? Well, it is beautiful. The date given is 1880. This is a little late for La Traviata, but there is no reason to hesitate to incorporate any of these cool gypsy elements into your outfit for the ball on April 30. I know I will be doing just that...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

La Cachucha

Ok. Technically, these aren't gypsies. But while I was searching for lovely pictures of balletic gypsies, I started finding all these pictures of Fanny Elssler dancing la cachucha, and several of other ballerinas also labeled with the term. So these aren't gypsies, but they are cute, Spanish inspired ballerina girls. I find that the thick strips of black lace on a colored skirt is a recurring theme in 19th century gypsy costumes.

According to wikipedia (yeah... high quality research for you), La Cachucha is "a Spanish solo dance... danced to an Andalusian national song with castanet accompaniment. Also, "Fanny Elssler (1810-1884, Vienna) was the first one to make this dance popular: she first introduced the Cachucha to the public in the ballet The Lady of the Lake (1812) and later in Jean Coralli's ballet Le Diable Boiteux (1836, "the Lame Devil"). So... now you know. But mostly I just thought they were cute.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inspiring Ballet Gypsies

Well, not all of these are gypsies. We have Esmerelda, Gitana, and Paquita, but I've also included some very similar peasant-girl ballet dresses, and even a troeador. I love cute gypsy girls! These are mostly from the 1840s and 50s. I think my outfit for our upcoming La Traviata ball must have some serious mid-19th century ballet costume influences.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Zeffirelli - Noi Siamo Zingarelle

Well, here are the gypsies that started it all. By which I mean, the party scene that convinced me that we need gypsies. If you haven't seen the Zeffirelli film of La Traviata, go do so. It is beautiful and dramatic and romantic and tragic and all things lovely. But mostly, check out the scene with the gypsies.

By the way, any matadors that want to come to the ball are also totally welcome. Bring it on.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Event Announcement - La Traviata Ball

Once upon a time, I decided that something was missing. Yes, our balls are beautiful. Yes, we have high standards for historical accuracy. Yes, they are the best and most affordable fairy tale experience available in the area. But I knew something was missing.

Gypsies. In the words of Blackadder, hot dancing gypsies. I was watching a lovely version of La Traviata and got to the party scene where gypsies descend, singing "Noi Siamo Zingarelle." Gypsies know how to party. The took a beautiful, extravagant ball, and made it wild.

So make sure to keep April 30 free! If Returning Heroes had too strict a dress code for you, pull out your best gypsy gear and come visit! Or recycle your 1860s ballgown from the last ball. Or just show up! This ball is going to be spectacular. Hope you are ready for:

La Traviata Ball

Saturday, April 30, 2011
8 to 11 pm

Berlin’s 1870 Town Hall
Berlin, MA

As usual, more details are available at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers website (here), and questions can be directed to

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Modes Revolutionnaires, Paris, Sept. 1789

How fun! I've been going through a big Scarlet Pimpernel phase, and reading a book about fashion in the french revolution. In honor of that, I bring you this very cool plate courteosy of the New York Public Library.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Edwardian Garters

First of all, she is so cute! I love Edwardian underwear. More importantly, this is an interesting opportunity to see how you wear your drawers or combination, while also taking advantage of those beautiful garters hanging off of so many Edwardian corsets. You just bunch them up a little and go with it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pre-Regency Jumper, Countess du Barry 1789

Apparently I have a regency jumper obsession. There aren't that many examples, but I'm finding them really interesting. Here is an example of what sure looks like a jumper, though the painting dates pretty early (1789). It is a Le Brun painting of the Countess du Barry, and I'm sure it is meant to be all artistic and drapey rather than really fashionable or a record of good every-day wear. On the other hand, if you think about the timing, fashions really were getting kind of relaxed and drapey and artistic. So interpret it as you will, but I think it is rather pretty, and it is interesting to wonder how common jumpers were and when.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March of the Emperors

Do you remember when March of the Penguins came out? Well, this is a very old but very hilarious french advertisement from approximately then. So hilarious that, even now, I remember it fondly. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Dress for Returning Heroes - Mrs. C W Stoughton

A while ago I made a dress vaguely inspired by the very famous Winterhalter painting of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (or "Sisi" as she is less formally known). Mostly I found gauzy white fabric with sparkly gold stars and couldn't resist it. Add to that a lucky chunk of cream silk at a good price, and we were in business. At some point I found a painting of Mrs. C W Stoughton, who was not an empress (just like me!), but who had a strikingly similar dress. Yay! I always love finding more inspiration and justification.Sisi was famous for wearing precious diamond encrusted stars in her hair. This is certainly a look, if you can afford it. As I have mentioned once already, I am not an empress. On the other hand, Mrs. Stoughton's approach really spoke to me. The morning of the ball, I decided to throw together a black velvet diadem for my single Sisi star. Next time I am in Vienna I will have to invest in some graduated sizes to further match the Stoughton solution.
I cut buckram into a shape. I bent wire to match it. Then I tacked the wire to the buckram, forming a ring for my head. I wrapped the back of the ring in black (in fact, I used some junky lace because it wrapped better than wide ribbon, and that is what was on hand - remember, I mentioned that this was mere hours before the ball). Then I cut some little chunks of velvet (note to self - next time cut the velvet while the buckram is still a 2 dimensional template), and sewed them on (by hand, in the car). Ta dah! A last minute solution, with no glue-gun in sight! Oh, and of course I tacked on my sparkly star hair barrette.
I've never attempted this sort of loose hair style before, but I thought I would go for it for the sake of being different. In fact, I don't think I like it, but you need to try these things out to know, don't you? Here is the full effect.
And, because it is important, here is a picture of my family.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sights from Returning Heroes 2011

I am so slow when I have to use actual pictures from events. Sorry. The ball was lovely, and I had so much fun meeting and talking to some truly wonderful people. It was a very nice evening indeed. Enjoy some pretty pictures of people dancing. Tomorrow I will go into the details of my outfit, but today I don't feel competent to explain anything. Look - a rare picture of me actually dancing!