Tag Archives: edwardian

Exhibition: Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie at Biltmore Estate

For the past four years or so Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has had a spring costume exhibition. And by costume, I mean movie and television costumes, not historical dress. This year’s exhibition featured the costumes from the 1997 film, Titanic.  I know the movie has a lot of fans, and if you are one, you really need to see this one. You have until May 13, 2018. And I’m showing here fewer than half of the costumes on view, so if this is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

First I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the movie, which I’ve seen only once, way back in 1998. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of tragic endings. Also, I’m not as well-versed in pre-1915 fashion as I’d like to be, so feel free to disagree with any of my observations and opinions. And keep in mind that these are movie costumes, and as such have to portray more than just historical accuracy.

The exhibition started with the above suit, worn by Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater as she boarded the Titanic. This is one of my favorites, and it seems to me to be one of the best as far as what a young rich woman would have actually worn in the situation. There is, in fact, a photograph of a very similar suit in a 1912 Les Modes fashion publication, which must have been designer Deborah L. Scott’s inspiration for this suit.

A quick note about accessories: some of the ones you’ll see in my photos are the ones used in the movie, like Rose’s parasol. The gloves, however are different, with the movie ones being short little gauntlets that turned back to reveal a purple lining. It’s a very charming detail, and shows just how much thought was put into the overall look.  Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, who was with me on this visit, thinks the hat is different as well.

Many of the clothes in the exhibition were the ones worn by Winslet, but you also get a good look at those worn by minor characters, including the men. That’s Captain Smith on the right, with the Countess of Rothes. Note the way the skirt drapes into that center piece. A couple of other dresses had the same treatment, which I thought was interesting. I did find a similar dress by Lucile (who was on the Titanic), though that center piece was not so prominent.

This dress was worn by Kathy Bates as Molly Brown (before she became unsinkable). In 1912 the trend was toward a slightly above the natural waist waistline, which is seen here, and in most of the dresses in the exhibition. I thought the skirt looked a bit full to be the height of fashion in 1912. At the time of the sinking, Brown was 44 years old, and photos of her after the sinking show her wearing a skirt with a similar silhouette. And according to photographs, she seemed to be partial to black.

This is another Molly Brown costume. Surely she didn’t wear black all the time, and I could not find if she was in mourning at the time. I think the fullish skirt looks odd.

More black, this time worn by, I think, an extra. I have a few questions. Was there really that much emphasis on the center front of the skirt? Wasn’t 1912 a bit early to be seeing so much black in women’s gowns? Shouldn’t this skirt be slimmer?

This costume was worn by Rosalind Ayers as Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile), so I guess it could be assumed that this is meant to be one of Lucile’s own creations. I did find a similar 1912 Lucile dress, but without the weird skirt detail, and without the train. And also without all the black.

Click to enlarge

All these dresses were worn by extras. According to interviews with  Deborah L. Scott, most of the costumes for the main actors were designed and made by her team, but many of the extras wore actual period clothing. They also sourced vintage fabrics and trims and incorporated them into the newly made costumes. These dresses could be made of old fabrics, as they sure looked right to me.

There were two outerwear pieces worn by Frances Fisher as Ruth Dewitt Bukater. One of the strengths of the exhibitions that have been at the Biltmore Estate is the setting. The clothes just looked so right in this Belle Epoque house with all its fanciness.

Others are not so fortunate, having been put in Plexiglas cages placed in the visitors center and the estate hotels. This cape seems to have been made with a combination of new and old materials. In the movie it is seen with the muff and hat seen in the previous photo.

But back to Rose. Again we are faced with quite a bit of black. This was a beautiful dress, though, and it’s no wonder Jack fell for Rose while she was wearing it.

If memory serves me correctly, this dress was worn by Rose in a dream, and was the white version of a black and red one she wore to a dance.

The one dress that was pretty much made just for effect was this one, the dress Rose wore when she and Jack went into the water. It was important for the dress to flow and float attractively.

The day we saw this exhibition was a warm and breezy one, and the staff had opened many of the windows. That allowed a nice breeze in some of the rooms, and gave movement to many of the costumes. This one was especially pretty with the motion. An unexpected result was that the shoes, which were just placed on the floor under the dresses were in full view. With these I could even see the (modern) label!

I know this photo is really bad, but it’s important that I show the context. The wind was blowing back the dress so that the shoes, which were meant to only peek out a tiny bit, were in full ugly view.

Something else that really surprises me about the Biltmore exhibitions is that they have always used the ugly plywood platforms you can see above. A little dark neutral paint would look a lot nicer. I mean, really! Plywood in a Belle Epoque mansion?

One of the great parts of the Biltmore Estate tour is that it includes the downstairs. For the exhibition they placed the clothes of the lower class passengers in a recreation of the dance party scene in the servants area.

This is I suppose, a dressing gown. It was worn by Rose, and a chair where she deposited it. I just can’t see this as a late Edwardian garment, though it does give a nod to the popularity of “Oriental” themes. And the robe itself looks cheap in reality. I am not a fan.

I really think Rose’s clothing should have been a bit lighter, though artists like Coles Phillips did portray young women in black in 1912.

Some of the costumes have been on display before, but I read that this is the largest Titanic costume show yet presented. Now that it has been organized, it might possibly be seen elsewhere in the future.

The lengths we go to in order to get the good photo.

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Circa 1900 Seaside Promenade Dress

My collecting is expanding slowly back in time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to anything that dates before 1915. But in order to have a comprehensive collection showing how sportswear developed, one must make adjustments, as in the case of this dress. It was love at first sight, and so I added a dress for seaside promenades to my group of antique clothing.

I’ve looked at pictures of old dresses and at old fashion plates until my eyes crossed, and I still could not decide on a date. The sleeves are lighted gathered, the back of the skirt is gathered and has a bit of a tiny train effect, and there is a little peplum at the waist. It will not hurt my feelings at all if you want to help me pin down a date on this pretty dress.

Not quite sportswear, this dress nevertheless was meant for a casual walk along the boardwalk. The collar and fabric stripes fairly scream “nautical”.

Note: the hem looks dirty, but it is not. I’m guessing my stellar photography skills added the dirt.

The bodice has no permanent way to close it, so I’m guessing pins were used. Actually, a former owner had applied velcro, which I removed. I looked for signs of hooks and eyes from the past, but did not detect any old stitch marks. They could have been there, however.

The fabric is a fantastic cotton cord, which adds to the sporty look of the set.

The peplum effect is more pronounced in the back.

Maybe you can see here that the sleeves are gathered. They are also shaped with a bend in the elbow.

I think what really made me want this dress was that I was so crazy about a similar one in the collection at the Museum at FIT. I took this photo of their Uniformity exhibition in 2016. Maybe I need to do a reproduction tie and belt.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Edwardian Bathing Beauty Tobacco Silks

I  was all ready to write about 1940s snowflake sweaters (the bitter cold has an effect…) when I spotted these little lovelies at Dandelion Vintage.  These little scraps of silk, which measure around 2″ X 3″,  came as free premiums in tobacco or cigarette packs.   There were lots of different themes, such as flags and flowers and colleges, and the tobacco companies hoped that consumers would collect the entire set of a theme.

People did collect them, and quilters often incorporated them into their work.  For some reason it seems that many of them ended up in crazy quilts –  those quilts that just developed willy-nilly as the fabric scraps became available.

These are so beautiful, and I’ve been very tempted to collect them.  As pretty collectibles, they make a nice display.  What they are not good for, however, is learning about fashion history.  These are probably from the first ten years of the 20th century, when bathing suits were still worn below the knees.  In reality, the necklines were often quite high, and the more modest bather even added inserts to raise a V-neckline!  And in the silks, the ladies are shown with the popular figure silhouette of the day, which would make a corset necessary.  While I’m sure some women, especially in fashionable bathing spots, were still wearing a corset when bathing, most photos from this era showing ordinary women show that the wearing of corsets at the beach was a thing of the past.

I suppose that the illustrations were spiced up a bit as the main users of tobacco at the time were male!

See more photos

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Filed under Collecting, Summer Sports

Victorian Exercise Dress and Edwardian Gymsuit




I was recently able to purchase fourteen pieces of vintage sportswear.  The family of a  long-time collector of historical dress was selling her collection due to illness.  They hired a person to inventory the collection, who contacted me.  From the inventory I was able to reserve some pieces I was interested in, which was a good thing because they soon found a buyer for the entire collection, minus the fourteen pieces they promised to sell to me.

Sometimes photos can really be misleading, especially if you think you know what you are seeing.  The person doing the inventory tagged this as a 1900 gymdress, and from the photo she sent to me, I was inclined to agree.  So I was really surprised when it arrived, I put it on the form to photograph it, and realized that the bloomer legs were much longer than the just below the knee length common during Edwardian times.

To test the proportions, I tried the suit on myself (quite scratchy..can’t imaging actually exercising in this!).  It was then that I noticed how dropped the shoulder line is. And the bloomers came almost to my ankles.  I’m short, but the fit and proportions were correct.  After consulting several people who know much more about Victorian clothing than I, the conclusion was reached that this probably dates to around 1865 – 1870.  That makes this a very early exercise dress!

Unfortunately, there would have been a skirt, probably 6 to 8 inches shorter than the bloomers, that the wearer would button over the bloomers.  I’m afraid they were separated long ago.  And the waist was enlarged, with a waistband of different fabric inserted.  The gold braid is original.  Could it be college or class colors, as this was most likely worn by a college girl?   Sometimes I wish these old clothes could talk!


Another of the pieces I bought is this circa 1910 gymsuit.  At first glance it looks a lot like the 1870 one, but many improvements were made in the 40 years between them.  This one is made from cotton, and it is much shorter and less bulky.  The short sleeves and the looser neckline provide so much more comfort to the wearer.  The collector seemed to think this came from U.C Berkeley, but she could not say why she thought that.

The buttons at the neckline come undone, and there are a series of snaps obscured by the belt.  The gymnast would just step in and button up.

This photo was taken in 1912 in Riverside, California.  The woman is probably holding an exercise wand, a weighted stick that the exerciser would wave around to strengthen the arms.

Comments:

Posted by KeLLy Ann:

The second one is just so, …righteous!
I love it.

Friday, October 29th 2010 @ 8:11 PM

Posted by Jan:

So much fabric! I can’t imagine actually exercising in them but they are fabulous nonetheless 🙂

Saturday, October 30th 2010 @ 5:04 PM

Posted by Em:

Utterly amazing!

Saturday, October 30th 2010 @ 6:59 PM

Posted by Lisa:

The second one looks too fancy to be used for exercise – such cute details! As always, I love the fashion history that you provide. I learn so much from your posts.

Sunday, October 31st 2010 @ 5:54 AM

Posted by Sarsaparilla:

Oh my! What fabulous finds! I would think that this 1865-70 exercise dress must be one of the few surviving examples.
I would have loved to see you modeling it! Too bad so scratchy – it would make a fun Halloween outfit.
– Susan

Sunday, October 31st 2010 @ 6:21 AM

Posted by Amanda:

That woman with the exercise wand is scary – reminds me of a school nurse I once had who scared the bejesus out of me!

Tuesday, November 2nd 2010 @ 3:29 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad you all found these to be interesting. It is amazing what used to pass as “Comfortable.”Amanda, maybe she was the gym teacher and the wand was used not on the arms, but one the students!

Thursday, November 4th 2010 @ 6:38 AM

Posted by Ingrid:

Love this post. I used to wear my Mother’s 40s wool hockey tunic as a jumper when I was in high school in the early 70s.

Saturday, November 13th 2010 @ 12:56 PM

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing