Category Archives: Uncategorized

William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016

Click

I’m always up for a good surprise, and that’s what I got when visiting The Mint Museum recently. I was going to meet a long-time online friend, Lynn Mally, who writes AmericanAgeFashion, and I hadn’t really thought too much about the exhibitions. I knew they were showing theater costumes from William Ivey Long, but since the show wasn’t “historical” I wasn’t too enthused about seeing it.  I was wrong.

One of my first thoughts about this show is it is a fantastic example of just how much clothing exhibitions have changed from just a few years ago. This is not a bunch of costumes lined up to show how pretty or extraordinary they are. Instead, the visitor is treated to mood boards, sketches, fabric swatches, historical inspirations, and, yes, some pretty spectacular costumes.

Long is best known for his work on Broadway, but he also did the costumes for a famous North Carolina play, The Lost Colony. This drama has been presented during summers since 1937 at Manteo, NC, and as a youngster, Long’s family all worked on the play. In 2007 the theater’s costume shop was destroyed by fire, and William Ivey Long was called on to design new ones.

For each play featured in the exhibition, there were tables set in front of the display to show Long’s design process. One of the first steps is to establish a color palette, which Long does using watercolors.

Using historical references, and in this case, photos of the costumes that were destroyed in the fire, Long made detailed sketches for each character. Swatches of potential fabric choices were obtained, and studied until narrowed down to the ones that would be used to make the costumes.

It’s a bit jarring to see theatrical costumes so close up, as they are designed to be seen at a distance. So close one can see that Queen Elizabeth’s fine gown is not silk and gilt, but polyester and metallic trim. Her strings of pearls are obviously fake. But it is how the costume translates to the audience that counts.

Click

This costumes are from Little Dancer, a play about artist Edgar Degas, and the girl who inspired his famous sculpture.

Here you see the material that gave further meaning to the costumes. Long’s sketch is surrounded by the material he used to develop each costume.

You can tell that these dresses are representing the 1930s, right? While these are not faithful representations of what women wore in the 1930s, to me it was obvious what period of fashion they represented. These are from On the Twentieth Century.

And here are some of the swatches Long worked with in his design process. I love how he used the plaid, but cut it on the bias.

Click

These costumes are from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This costume was designed for Laverne Cox for her role in the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can only imagine how amazing this show was!

Long put thought into the smallest detail, including the accessories for Cox’s role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

In 2015, Fox presented Grease Live! with  Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit in the starring roles. And while it may be hard to image Grease without Travolta, Hough was a superb Sandy. There were several of Long’s costumes on exhibit, including these from the Hand Jive sequence.

A real strength of this exhibition was the use of video to show the costumes as they were seen in the shows.

And here’s Lynn, standing proudly beside the costume we “draped”. Another strength was the hands-on activities like this one. There was also the opportunity to design a costume using a clever set of drawing templates. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get a photo of our efforts.

How do costumes help develop the character on stage? The Mint gives visitors an opportunity to think about how the costumes relate to the character.

My thanks to The Mint for such a beautifully presented exhibition. You can see William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016 in Charlotte through June 3, 2018.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Uncategorized

Vintage Miscellany – February 18, 2018

Is winter ever going to end? Is it just me, or has this been a particularly depressing season? Maybe what I need is a good old-fashioned weenie roast. Thanks to Lynn at American Age Fashion for the photo.

And now I’ll try not to add to the depression with the news…

      • The last link comes with a bit of commentary. I’ve stated before that I have mixed feelings about the reporting fashion history gets in non-history websites.  On one hand I love that fashion history seems to be having a moment in the sun, but on the other I find it really hard to trust the telling of a fashion history story by a reporter who is not familiar with the subject. A new concern came up last week on twitter – that of non-history writers taking the information found in fashion history discussions and rewriting it for their more general audience.  Of course, this practice happens in all sorts of disciplines, not just history, but history is what I pay attention to and what I care about.

      • The article that started my thinking on this subject appeared on The Atlantic site. Being about pyjamas and WWI, it was just the sort of thing I’m always looking for, but the problem was that I’d already read this information. It wasn’t on The Atlantic site, but in a Twitter thread authored by fashion historian Lucie Whitmore. To be fair, the author of the article gave all the credit for the research to Ms. Whitmore, but it turns out, Whitmore had been contacted by the author and declined to participate in the article. So the author wrote it anyway.  Legally, there’s nothing wrong (that I know of anyway) but it made me sad that Whitmore lost control of her research because she shared it freely in a Twitter workshop.

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized, Vintage Miscellany

Vintage Miscellany – January 21, 2018

Someone’s photography practice produced a delightful record of a woman at her sewing machine. It was taken on June 25, 1932, and I could tell you the camera settings the photographer used. Unfortunately, I don’t know who she is, nor where the photo was taken. It’s interesting to see what was and was not important to someone all those years ago. Today, the who and the where would tell us much more than the how.

And now for some news…

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized, Vintage Miscellany

Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

This is Helen Ambrose. In 1923 her sister, Emily, made a photo album for her with photos of their family and friends. It’s nice knowing the names of many of the people pictured, and also the places, though I came up empty when searching online for Helen.  Most of the photos that are labeled were taken in Hinsdale, Illinois or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I bought this album for several reasons, the main one being that it shows Helen in quite a bit of her wardrobe, so that you can get a good sense of her style. We can start with her dark cotton knickers and matching sports shirt. Even better, we get a good look at her canvas shoes and hat.

She must have liked this sport ensemble, as she is wearing it in quite a few of the photos, and seemingly at different times. Here she is shown wearing it with a different hat. The object of her attention is Harold Reynders. He is a regular cast member in this year of Helen’s life.

This photo was taken on the same day at the same location, a golf club in Villa Park, Illinois. It must have been a very informal place to have allowed a woman to play in pants, or maybe they just mistook her for a boy!

There are also photos of Helen wearing her knickers with a middy blouse. Note that she has not yet bobbed her hair, even though she seems comfortable wearing pants in public. In all the photos she is wearing this same hairstyle with the coils at the sides. It gave long hair the look of being short, but it looks a bit old-fashioned for 1923.

Many of the photos are of various members of the extended Ambrose family, including these two little unnamed cousins.

And here’s the middy with a skirt. The skirt does seem a little long for a young woman in 1923, but the year before, skirts lengths did take a move toward the floor. They then began the upward journey to the knee, a length most associated with the 1920s.

Helen is wearing a suit that appears to have been made from jersey, possibly cotton. She’s seen wearing it a lot, and with good reason – she looks great in it. I love the scalloped edge of her collar, and the dark tie around her neck.

Here she is in another suit, this time with a blouse and vest. And note how the hem on this skirt is just a bit shorter than the others. Could Helen have been a teacher? She looks a bit too polished to be a schoolgirl.

The album is quite fragile, and the white ink Emily used to label the photos is fading badly. That’s Helen, Emily, and a friend, Iva. On the right in the wonderful, but unfortunately unflattering, dress is Aunt Em and a possible uncle.

This is Grandmother and Daisy. I’m guessing that Daisy is the child and not the cat, but I could be wrong. I have a strong suspicion that Grandmother never did shorten her skirts.

This photo was not labeled, and I don’t think it is Helen. It does illustrate an interesting tidbit I read in an article in a 1975 American Heritage magazine:

“There was an enormous number of surplus sailor hats at the end of WWI, and soon “Army & Navy” stores were swamped with them. They made good fishing hats, tennis hats, and headgear for general lounging; but pretty girls also discovered that something about a sailor hat, perched atop vagrant curls and hovering over big blue eyes, was irresistible.”

In this case the entire ensemble was appropriated.

Finally, there are some swimming photos, taken at Reed’s Lake, which I think is near Grand Rapids. The bathing suits are great, but it’s their caps that I covet.

And check out the boathouse. A lake near me has one such boathouse remaining from this era, and it is now a historic landmark.

I really don’t want to get into the business of collecting photo albums, but sometimes I come across one that illustrates the times so well that I can’t resist. It’s really a shame that this has been separated from family members who would treasure the contents, but we can honor Helen’s life by letting her teach us about her life and fashions in 1923.

19 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs

In Ideal Haunts – Photos of the Adirondacks

Click to enlarge the photos.

I’m always on the looking out for vintage and antique photos showing women engaged in sporting and travel activities, so when I ran across a little album of one woman’s trip to the Adirondack Mountains of New York, I excitedly exchanged a fist full of dollars for it. I’ll hope you’ll agree that I got my money’s worth.

The homemade cover identifies the setting as the Adirondacks, and several of the photos are captioned with the name of a lake or mountain. But even though many of the photos are partially loose and I can see the backs of them, there’s not a single name recorded. What a shame! I do think that the keeper of the album was the woman on the left above, as she features prominently in many of the photos, even some extras added at the back of the album that do not seem to have been made on this particular trip.

There are also no dates, but it’s pretty easy to narrow it down. Mohawk Camp was built in 1897. Judging by the clothing of all the woman in the photos, I think this was made just a few years later. The women are all pretty much wearing the casual “uniform” of the “New Woman” of the early twentieth century – the shirtwaist blouse with dark skirt. The shirtwaists are mostly in the droopy front style, sometimes referred to as the “pouter pigeon.” Most are wearing pompadour hairstyles with hats perched atop.

Mohawk Camp was like many of the Adirondack “camps” in that they were as much hotel as they were camp. There was usually a range of accommodations, where one could sleep in a tent or lean-to, and when that grew tiresome, they could upgrade to a cozy bed in the hotel or a cottage.  Camp Mohawk was located on Fourth Lake in the Fulton chain. The lakes were numbered up to Eighth Lake, and our traveler viewed them all.

You’ll notice a lot of women in these photos, often in the company of a man. He’s probably a hired guide. According to The Adirondacks Illustrated by S.R. Stoddard and published in 1912, a guide was a necessity, and could be arranged for $3 a day. Maybe all these women pooled their money to pay for their guide.

Here we see our traveler trying her hand with a fishing pole. She labeled this photo as Bubb Lake. It is possible that the woman sitting in front is wearing a divided skirt, and her shoes look very practical for the woods. Still, none of the women look as though they are ready for roughing it in the woods, with skirts that don’t seem to have been shortened for walking. Bubb Lake is about three miles from Camp Mohawk, so this would have been a day hike.

On other days, boats (and guide) were hired for exploring the various lakes. This is Fifth Lake.

In what is the most unusual photo of the group, the traveler is the only woman seen in this venture out with a diver.

Back at the camp, the group is more formally attired for a game of croquet. Is that our traveler, third from right?

Picnics were arranged, and here we have one of the few appearances of a child. Maybe she belonged to a member of the staff.

For visitors who wanted a rougher camp experience, a night in the lean-to would fit the bill. Otherwise it was ideal for just hanging out.

Back in civilization, here is our traveler with two companions. Neither seems to be in the camp photos. These photos were glued in the back of the album, but it is possible they could pre-date the Camp Mohawk trip.

Here is the trio, in a photo taken the same day, at least their hats lead me to think that is the case. Our traveler has changed in to a white ensemble, quite appropriate for the shore.

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Goodbye to Worn Fashion Journal

For the past seven years or so I’ve looked forward to the twice-a-year delivery of the best, most insightful, and entertaining fashion magazine on the market.  Worn Fashion Journal was an independently published magazine from Canada.  Over their ten years of publication everything from buttons to fashion museums was covered, always with an eye to the cultural and historical aspects of the subject.

I had already learn of the magazine’s closing when I was contacted by writer Madeleine Cummings.  She was working on an article about how feminism figured into the evolution of the gymsuit, and she wanted to know more about my collection of the garment.  I’m always happy to talk about vintage sportswear.

The article is very good, and I’m pleased to say that the bit where I talk about my collection is exactly as the conversation with Madeleine went.  I’m always a bit wary of interviews, as the things one says are not always stated in the same way once they make it to print.  That was not the case with Worn.  After Madeleine submitted her article, I was contacted by an editor at Worn to make sure all the facts were correct.  That had never happened before, and I was impressed with the standards this publication had set for itself.

Back issues are still available on the Worn website, but the best way to get a good taste of what Worn was all about is to order the Worn Archive book.

Probably my favorite content in the final issue (not counting the gymsuit article, of course) was a feature titled “A completely Random Glossary From A to Z.”  The entry for K is “Kitty Foyle Dress, and the one for T is “Toggle.”  Completely random, but also completely engrossing.

I wish all the people at Worn Fashion Journal the best.  Thanks for making the world of fashion journalism a whole lot more interesting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Viewpoint

Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables

The Fashion History Museum has a newly opened exhibition at the  Peel Art Gallery Museum in Brampton, Ontario,  Waist Management  It’s all about how undergarments have been used to help women achieve a fashionable silhouette, something that is apparent in just one photo from the display.

A while back I wrote about selling items from my collection and how I’d do it only if I were convinced that the person wanting an item wanted it more than I.  The truth is I’ve also been known to actually give things away if I know someone needs it.

Back in the very early days of Ebay I was smart enough (actually that would be lucky enough) to buy a bit of the lingerie line that Emilio Pucci designed for Formfit Rogers.  At the time it was considered to be a poor alternative to the wonderful silk jersey vintage Puccis that were already getting nice ending prices on the auction site, but the lingerie was cheap and so I bought a few miscellaneous pieces.

After the onslaught of fast fashion made of tissue paper thin poly, the thin nylon Formfit Puccis soared in price.  They were seen not only as wearable clothing, but gained deserved respect as a part of fashion history.

Several months ago I was mindlessly browsing the site I love to hate, Pinterest, and noticed that the Fashion History Museum had begun posting parts of the collection.  In their lingerie section was a Pucci Formfit Rogers matching bra and girdle.  I was pretty sure I had a matching piece, and a quick look through my catalog revealed that I did have a matching robe.

I emailed Jonathan at the museum to ask if he would like to have my piece for the museum’s collection, and of course he did.  I sent it off along with another donation and an ad that showed that this design dates to 1969.

I was delighted to get the photo in my inbox last night.  Knowing that something I had accumulated is now being used to educate others about fashion history is a great feeling.

12 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Museums, Uncategorized