Thursday, February 28, 2013

1873: “A lady should never receive morning callers in a wrapper.”

“The most suitable dress for breakfast is a wrapper made to fit the figure loosely,” advised Florence Hartley in her 1873 publication The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, Fashion, and Manual of Politeness.

In her chapter Entitled “Home Dresses” Hartley notes that while the wrapper should be loosely Fitted, it should not fit too loosely, as it was a woman’s goal to appear trim and neat, Even first thing in the morning.

According to the author:
“The most suitable dress for break- fast, is a wrapper made to fit the figure loosely, and the material, excepting when the winter weather required woolen goods, should be of chintz, gingham, brilliantine, or muslin. A lady who has children, or one accustomed to perform for herself light household duties, will soon find the advantage of wearing materials that will wash. 
A large apron of domestic gingham, which can be taken of, if the wearer is called to see unexpected visitors, will protect the front of the dress, and save washing the wrapper too frequently.”

Once breakfast was complete, it was time to change for the morning’s activities. The author Cautioned that “a lady should never receive morning callers in a wrapper.”

The selection of mid-19th century wrappers Shown here are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collections unless noted otherwise.

One of my personal favorites, this colorful and striking American-made, paisley wool wrapper is of One-piece and opens down the center. There are 15 pairs of disk buttons with cords trim the opening although it is actually closed by hooks and eyes. ca. 1854.
Wrappers were still common in the early years of the 20th century, though clearly most women could not acquire a wrapper such as this delightful one designed by Charles Frederick Worth in 1900. created for Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), Worth designed the wrapper (as well as numerous other items) for her visit to the Exposition universelle internationale de 1900, Paris. Fabricated of Silk taffeta, lace, satin, the fabric features a hydrangea blossom floral pattern with shades of purple, lavender and green. The High neck is trimmed with lace and the Watteau back is every bit as romantic as the name suggests. @Chicago History Museum Collections.

The author in a modern day 
Version of A Wrapper - 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Claire Pettibone: "An Earthly Paradise" & Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Bridget Swift
Bridal Blogger

Three years ago, while working with a historic garment and textile collection, I was captivated with the wedding gowns and dresses. I began following the work of designers who brought the elegance and romance of the past to the present while infusing it with an understanding of what it entails to be a modern bride. 

It was purely by chance that I stumbled upon the work of  Claire Pettibone --in her creations, I had definitely found elegance. I have followed  Pettibone’s collections ever since, enthralled with her historical and artistic inspirations. As an art history student and student of fashion, her work had a direct, visceral appeal. Over the fashion seasons, Pettibone has expanded from her hub in California to a national and now international audience.  Her trunk shows are increasingly appearing in the UK. But honestly, who could resist?

When Claire Pettibone releases a new collection, I feel as if she has stumbled upon a new history book and creates her collections to share the love she has for her new discovery. Her gowns act as time machines or enchanted garments, transporting the wearer away from the present and into a beautiful world of Pettibone’s creating. Last year, we examined her Windsor China Rose selection.  (See blog archive, October 2012.) Her latest collection, An Earthly Paradise, is a view of the world through rose-colored glasses. Using the work of Victorian-era artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema as her inspiration, Pettibone breathes new life into the floral trend that is soft rather than suffocating. Alma-Tadema’s Victorian era work made him one of the most popular and highly paid artists of the time. His work was rooted in his love of the ancient world, from the white marble of Greece, to the banks of the Nile. 
One of Alma-Tedema’s most famous works, The Roses of Heliogabalusis (1888, Private Collection), depicts a scene from the life of a Roman emperor who smothered his guests with rose petals. This painting served as Pettibone’s backdrop for the collection’s runway show -- the gowns appeared to rise from the rose petals that spilled from the painting and onto the catwalk. Like the petals, Pettibone’s beautiful creations leapt from their ethereal homes a into the wedding plans of brides today. Claire Pettibone is a pioneer for the unique bride, going against the one-note dress. I will look forward to her next collection.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (8 January 1836-25 June 1912).

About Bridget Swift:
A gradate of Wheaton College in Norton, MA., Bridget is currently Research & Marketing Associate at Silk Damask Consulting. She has worked as an archival and curatorial assistant at both Wheaton College and Strawbery Banke Museum.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

L'Heure Bleu….A Gown of Midnight Blue Velvet

Astrida Schaeffer
Guest Blogger
Author  & Guest Curator, Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail
Principal, Schaeffer Arts

L'Heure Bleu….A Gown of Midnight Blue Velvet

L'Heure Bleu… that twilight moment when daylight and darkness shift and glimmer like the deep blue velvet of this sumptuous 1890s walking gown. Every movement brings a play of texture and light in the lustrous silk pile of the gown's underskirt, sleeves, and bodice. Flashes of color peek through the spectacular voided velvet panels of the overskirt and bodice front, where midnight blue velvet on a deep crimson ground is woven to look as though elaborate brocaded ribbons were cascading down the fabric. The clever play of blue and red carries through to the grape-like clusters of crocheted balls on the skirt and the two-tone cording edging the bodice - even the buttons have a peek-a-boo aspect, teasingly displaying a red core covered with blue thread.

Victorian construction savvy is in full display here - it is all about presentation and illusion. The waist seems tinier when framed by oversized sleeves and gently flaring hips. The seeming jacket and blouse are in fact a bodice with false jacket lapels, and the rich red silk lining of the "jacket" reveals itself to be only a narrow facing. The shell of the "blouse" is masterfully tailored to hide its shaping darts along the edge of the voided velvet bands so the garment almost looks woven into its curvaceous form, and the expensive fabric barely extends past the falling edge of the lapels.

This dress easily finds it place alongside contemporary late 19th century aesthetic trends: the astonishing patterning of the voided velvet brings to mind the motifs of American architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, while the shifting shimmer of the velvet pile is reminiscent of the vibrant use of light and technology found at 1889 Paris Universalle with its iconic Eiffel Tower. As with the other decorative arts of the era, this garment is designed to accentuate form and beauty, exquisitely performing its task of drawing an admiring eye to the woman wearing it while on promenade.
Once worn to impress, the midnight velvet gown is now a treasured part of the Irma Bowen Textile Collection at the University of NH, which grew out of one woman's passion for clothes and their construction. When Miss Bowen came to teach home economics at the university in the 1920s, she began to collect examples of past fashions from friends, colleagues, and townspeople in order to let her students see first-hand how styles evolved and what techniques were used. Now a highlight of the University Museum's holdings, the Bowen Collection comes full circle in the current exhibition, Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, up through March 23. Visitors can examine 25 dresses and accessories from all sides and explore touch samples to understand the techniques used to trim them. Companion book to be released in 2013!

Images courtesy, Brian Smestad, Photographer

See more about the exhibition at www.izaak.und/museum,, or on FaceBook go to SchaefferArts Costume Exhibition & Care.

About Astrida:

Astrida Schaeffer has been working with historic fashions and textiles for over 25 years as curator, mannequin maker, reproduction seamstress, researcher and author.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"The Turncoat: Renegades of Revolution" A Novel by Donna Thorland

Guest blogger
Donna Thorland
Author of “The Turncoat” 

The story behind the story is that I wanted to reach out to audiences that might not have picked up a book about 18th century America and show them that the era was dangerous and sexy--in much the same way Assassin's Creed 3 has done. The book is loosely inspired by the story of Quaker spy Lydia Barrington Daragh (1728-1789) who saved Washington's army from a British sneak attack in the winter of 1777. In movie terms, it would be Dangerous Liaisons meets La Femme Nikita. But I knew that if I made a trailer, my friends in the pubic history community would expect accurate costumes, weapons, and locations. The book is set in occupied Philadelphia, but I live in Boston, and the 1747 Shirley Eustis House stands in for locations in the City of Brotherly Love.

Costume enthusiasts will be interested to know that the blue gown was copied by Lavender's Green ( for us from this one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (below) (

The embroidered linen jacket and silk petticoat worn in the image above was designed by the Silly Sisters ( Finally, at the close of this post, there is a lampas silk brocade gown worn in the trailer that I couldn't resist trying myself! 
To bring my debut novel, “The Turncoat” to a wider audience, we also produced a trailer, which was a project in and if itself.  My colleague, Peter Podgursky and I produced and directed the trailer.  It was filmed on the Red Epic camera by Charles DeRosa over two days at the Shirley Eustis House in Roxbury, Massachusetts (, the only colonial governor’s mansion still standing in America. Starring Angie Jepson Marks, Liam McNeill, Georgia Lyman, Douglas Cochrane and Alan White, with fight choreography by Kim Carrell, appearances by the members of Gardner’s Regiment, the First Foot Guards and the Tenth Regiment of Foot, and a score written and performed by Emmy winner David Klotz.

About Donna Thorland
Donna holds degrees in classics, art history, and film from Yale and the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. She has been a public historian, a Disney Fellow, a sorority house mother, and a primetime television writer. Her debut novel, The Turncoat, will be released by Penguin NAL March 5th, 2013.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pink Indulgence: 1790s slippers & 1957 evening shoes

It appears that I am still feeling "in the pink" after the previous entry on Mrs. Eliza Hamilton, so decided to be indulgent by posting two lovely pairs of low heeled shoes or slippers from that ever-informative treasure trove, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The pair of pink silk slippers, c.1790s, are from the UK. They feature a leather sole, with a heel of less than 1 inch. There is no label or attributed maker. With scant information, we can step back and savor the slippers as the delicate pieces they are, illustrative of the aesthetic transformation from the early Georgian to the Neoclassical style. There is a profound shift in palette, texture, shape and style, as fashion morphed from weighty, bold, colorful and richly decorated footwear to lighter (in tone and materials), lower and more linear flats which accentuated the lines of Neoclassical dresses, pelisses, and shawls.

The pink evening shoes, 1956, were designed by the renowned Roger Vivier (French, 1913–1998) for the House of Dior. These richly decorated silk shoes incorporate metallic thread, plastic and glass, all supported on a a heel of just over 1 inch. They are gorgeous confections.

Evening shoes: Gift of Valerian Stux-Rybar, 1980 Accession Number: 1980.597.1a, b

Slippers: Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1966 Accession Number: C.I.66.35.2a, b

Monday, February 4, 2013

"The pink of fashion:" Mrs. Eliza Hamilton Visits SweetBriar, 1818

From the 1814-1822 diary of Samuel Breck (1771-1862):
August 3, 1818 

Mr.& Mrs. Andrew Hamilton  and Miss Ellen Lyle made a call. Mr. Hamilton is lately from England and drove down in a very stylish London Barouche—chariot; that is to say, a chariot with lamps etc which can be thrown open so as to form a Barouche. A seat is fixed on the rear for the footman to sit in, with his face to the horses. It is a beautiful vehicle, uniting style to taste, but heavy, requiring four horses to draw it. 

Mrs.Hamilton in her dress was the pink of fashion, having lilac boots, with feathers and shawl to match, and her gown etc highly and richly decorated. This extravagance is habitual with her, and finery in her attire is a hobby and daily occupation with her. She appeared affable and ladylike in her manners, and looked as well as I could see through a thick veil, both blooming and pretty.

English & French fashions, 1815.
morning dress and walking costume, 
Journal des Dames
While the passage is in and of itself of interest for the detailed description of Mrs. Hamilton’s very fashionable visiting ensemble, it is also revealing of what might be called the “Discourse of Fashion.” The very manner in which Mr. Breck chooses to describe her Appearance as “The pink of fashion” is a literary Expression, Most likely going back to the age of Shakespeare. It refers to the height or epitome of something. The expression was still in common usage in the Later 19th century. For example, William Thackeray (1811-1863), uses the expression “in the very pink of the mode” to mean “at the very height of fashion.” Even Charles Dickens (1812-1870) made use of the expression (although for a different purpose) when he opined that an Italian town he had visited was “the very pink of hideousness and squalid misery.”

The comment that she was “through a thick veil, both blooming and pretty,” with “blooming” referring again to being in the pink - of health, complexion and fashion.

And what of her visiting garments? She was English, married in London and, given the arrival in the Barouche with a Footman (no doubt liveried), especially attuned to the latest in Fashion. The description says as much:  She wore lilac boots, with matching feathers and shawl, and her gown was highly and richly decorated.

This British dress (1816-21), from the Victoria and Albert Museum, features detailed smocking with muslin puffs and softly gathered sleeves. Given the time of year, it would have fit the description in 1818 of a decorated gown. 

One can envision the dress, accented by a lilac shawl (see below) and the very popular half boots. Imagine the green damask boots below from @vintagetextile in lavender, with the same shade used in the plumes of her hat or bonnet. Clearly, Mr. Breck's remark that "extravagance is habitual with her, and finery in her attire is a hobby and daily occupation" was a topic of discussion in their Social circle.

A look at fashion Plates from the Regency period, such as Ackerman’s and La Belle Assemblee, provide Compatible visual imagery to her textured and Coordinated visiting garments.

About Samuel Breck

The diarist, Samuel Breck, was a Philadelphia merchant, musician, horticulturist and philanthropist. Born in Boston in 1771 into a prosperous family, he married Jean Ross, the daughter of a successful Philadelphia merchant. He moved to his country estate, known as “Sweetbriar” (now part of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia) and constructed a fine transitional Federal/late Georgian style house in 1797. Breck’s diary contains reference to Marquis de Lafayette and Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, among others.
About Sweetbriar

Sweetbriar is open for tours by appointment only. Please call 215-222-1333 to make an appointment.

View of SweetBriar by David Hughes

French Walking Dress, 1817, La Belle Assemblee